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Title: "Tex"
Author: Mulford, Clarence Edward, 1883-1956
Language: English
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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 ""Tex"" ***

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[Illustration: At sight of a rattler his gun leaped into crashing life
(Page 314)]



                                 "TEX"


                         By CLARENCE E. MULFORD



                               AUTHOR OF
        _"Bar 20," "Bar 20 Days," "Bar 20 Three," "Buck Peters,
             Ranchman," "The Coming of Cassidy," "Hopalong
                Cassidy," "Johnny Nelson," "The Man from
                             Bar 20," etc._



                           A. L. BURT COMPANY
                          Publishers New York

           Published by arrangement with A. C. McClurg & Co.
                          Printed in U. S. A.



                               Copyright
                          A. C. McClurg & Co.
                                  1922

                         Published March, 1922

                     _Copyrighted in Great Britain_


               _Printed in the United States of America_



                                CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I  The Trail Calls
II  Refreshed Memories
III  Tempted Anew
IV  A Crowded Day
V  A Trimmer Trimmed
VI  Friendly Interest
VII  Weights and Measures
VIII  After Dark
IX  A Pleasant Excursion
X  Speed and Guile
XI  Empty Honors
XII  Closer Friendships
XIII  Outcheating Cheaters
XIV  Tact and Courage
XV  A Good Samaritan
XVI  Buffalo Creek in the Spotlight
XVII  The Rush
XVIII  "Here Lies the Road to Rome!"
XIX  A Lecture Wasted
XX  Plans Awry
XXI  An Equal Guilt
XXII  The False Trail and the True



                                *"TEX"*



                              *CHAPTER I*

                           *THE TRAIL CALLS*


Memory’s curtain rises and shows a scene softened by time and blurred by
forgetfulness, yet the details slowly emerge like the stars at twilight.
There appears a rain-washed, wind-swept range in Montana, a great
pasture level in the center, but rising on its sides like a vast,
shallow saucer, with here and there a crack of more somber hue where a
ravine, or sluggish stream, lead toward the distant river.  Green
underfoot, deep blue overhead, with a lavender and purple rim under a
horizon made ragged and sharp by the not too distant mountains and
foothills.  An occasional deep blue gash in the rim’s darker tones marks
where some pass or canyon cuts through the encircling barriers.  A
closer inspection would reveal a half-dozen earthy hollows, the rutting
holes of the once numerous buffalo which paused here on their periodic
migrations.  In the foreground a white ranchhouse and its flanking red
buildings, framed by the gray of corral walls, nestles on the southern
slope of a rise and basks in the sunlight.  From it three faint trails
grow more and more divergent, leading off to Everywhere.  Scattered over
the vast, green pastures are the grazing units of a great herd, placid
and content, moving slowly and jerkily, like spilled water down a
gentle, dusty slope.  But in the total movement there is one thread with
definite directness, even though it constantly turns from side to side
in avoiding the grazing cattle. This, as being different and indicating
purpose, takes our instant attention.

A rider slowly makes his way among the cattle, by force of habit
observing everything without being fully conscious of it.  His chaps of
soft leather, worn more because of earlier associations than from any
urgent need on this northern range, have the look of long service and
the comfort coming from such.  His hat is a dark gray sombrero, worn in
a manner suggesting a cavalier of old. Over an open vest are the
careless folds of a blue kerchief, and at his right hip rubs a holster
with its waiting, deadly tenant.  A nearer approach reveals him to be a
man in middle life, lean, scrupulously neat, clean shaven, with lines of
deep humor graven about his eyes and mouth, softening a habitual
expression which otherwise would have been forbiddingly hard and
cynical.

His roving glances reach the purple horizon and are arrested by the
cerulean blue of a pass, and he checks his horse with a gesture
hopelessly inadequate to express the restlessness, the annoying
uncertainty of his mood, a mood fed unceasingly by an inborn yearning to
wander, regardless of any aim or other condition.  Here is a prospect
about him which he knows cannot be improved upon; here are duties light
enough practically to make him master of his time, yet heavy enough to
be purposeful; his days are spent in the soothing solitudes of clean,
refreshing surroundings; his evenings with men who give him perfect
fellowship, wordless respect, and repressed friendship, speaking when
the mood urges, or silent in that rare, all-explaining silence of strong
men in perfect accord.  His wants are few and automatically supplied:
yet for weeks the longing to leave it all daily had grown stronger--to
leave it for what?  Certainly for worse; yet leave it he must.

He sat and pondered, retrospective, critical.  The activities of his
earlier days passed before him, with no hypocritical hiding or blunting
of motives.  They revealed few redeeming features, for he carelessly had
followed the easy trails through the deceptive lowlands of morality, and
among men and women worse even than himself in overt acts and shameless
planning, yet better because they did not have his intelligence or moral
standards.  But he slowly rose above them as a diver rises above
treacherous, lower currents, and the reason was plain to those who knew
him well.  First he had a courage sparkling like a jewel, unhesitant,
forthright, precipitate; next he had a rare mixture of humor and
cynicism which better revealed to him things in their right proportions
and values; and last, but hardly least by any means, an intelligence of
high order, buttressed by facts, clarified by systematic study, and
edged by training.  In his youth he had aimed at the practice of
medicine, but gave too much attention to more imaginative targets and
found, when too late, that he had hit nothing.  His fondness for
drinking, gambling at cards, and other weedy sowings resulted from,
rather than caused, the poor aim.  Certain unforgivable episodes,
unforgivable because of their notoriety more than because of the things
themselves, brewed a paternal tempest, upon which he had turned a
scornful back, followed Horace Greeley’s famous advice, and sought the
healing and the sanctuary of the unasking West.

In his new surroundings he soon made a name for himself, in both
meanings, and quickly dominated those whose companionship he either
craved or needed.  An inherent propensity for sleight of hand provided
him an easy living at cards; and his deftness and certainty with a
six-gun gave him a pleasing security.  However, all things have an end.
There came a time when he nearly had reached the lowest depths of moral
submersion when he met and fought a character as strong as his own, but
in few other ways resembling him; and from that time on he swam on the
surface.  It would be foolish to say that the depths ceased to lure him,
for they did, and at times so powerfully that he scarcely could resist
them. For this he had to thank to no small degree one of the bitterest
experiences of his life: his disastrous marriage. Giving blind love and
unquestioning loyalty, he had lost both by the unclean evidence
unexpectedly presented to his eyes.  In that crisis, after the first
madness, his actions had been worthy of a nature softer than his own and
he had gone, by devious ways, back to his West and started anew with a
burning cynicism.  But for the steadying influence of his one-time
enemy, and the danger and the interest in the task which Hopalong
Cassidy had set before him, the domestic tragedy certainly would have
sent him plunging down to his former level or below it.

Time passed and finally brought him news of the tragic death of his
faithless wife, and he found that it did not touch him.  He had felt
neither pity, sorrow, nor relief.  It is doubtful if he ever had given a
thought to the question of his freedom, for with his mental attitude it
meant nothing at all to him.  He had put among his belongings the letter
from his former employer, who had known all about the affair and the
names and addresses of several of his western friends, telling him that
he was free; and hardly gave it a second thought.

Turning from his careless scrutiny of the distant pass he rode on again
and soon became aware of the sound of hoofbeats rapidly nearing him.  As
he looked up a rider topped a rise, descried him, and waved a sombrero.
The newcomer dashed recklessly down the slope and drew rein sharply at
his side, a cheerful grin wreathing his homely, honest face.  Pete was
slow-witted, but his sterling qualities masked this defect even in the
eyes of a man as sharp as his companion, who felt for him a strong, warm
friendship.

"Hello, Tex!" said the newcomer.  "What’s eatin’ you?  You shore look
glum."

Tex thought if it was plain enough for Pete Wilson to notice it, it must
be plain, indeed.  "Mental worms an’ moral cancer, Pete," replied the
cynic, smiling in spite of himself at the cogitation started in his
friend by the words.

"Whatever that means," replied Pete, cautiously. "However, if it’s what
I reckon it is, there’s just two cures."  Pete was dogmatic by nature.
"An’ that’s likker, or a new range."

"Somethin’s th’ matter with you today, Pete," rejoined Tex.  "Yo’re as
quick as a reflex."  He studied a moment, and added: "An’ yo’re dead
right, too."

"There ain’t no reflection needed," retorted Pete; "an’ there ain’t
nothin’ th’ matter with me a-tall.  I’m tellin’ you common sense; but
it’s shore a devil of a choice.  If it’s likker, then you lose; if it’s
driftin’ off som’ers, then we lose.  Tell you what: Go down to Twin
River an’ clean ’em out at stud, if you can find anybody that ain’t
played you before," he suggested hopefully.  "Mebby there’s a stranger
in town.  You’ll shore feel a whole lot better, then."  He grinned
suddenly.  "You might find a travelin’ man: they’re so cussed smart they
don’t think anybody can learn ’em anythin’.  Go ahead--try it!"

Tex laughed.  "Where you goin’?" he abruptly demanded. He could not
afford to have any temptations thrown in his way just then.

"Over Cyclone way, for Buck.  Comin’ along?"

Tex slowly shook his head.  "I’m goin’ th’ other way. Wonder why we
haven’t got word from Hoppy or Red or Johnny?" he asked, and the
question acted like alum in muddy water, clearing away his doubts and
waverings, which swiftly precipitated and left the clear fluid of
decision.

"Huh!" snorted Pete in frank disgust.  "You wait till any of them
fellers write an’ there’ll be a white stone over yore head with nice
letterin’ on it to tell lies forever. You know ’em.  Comin’ along with
me?" he asked, wheeling, and was answered by an almost imperceptible
shake of his friend’s head.

"I’ll shake hands with you, Pete," said Tex, holding ont his deft but
sinewy hand.  "In case I don’t see you again," he explained in answer to
his friend’s look of surprise.  "I’m mebby driftin’ before you get
back."

"Cuss it!" exploded Pete.  "I’m allus talkin’ too blamed much.  Now I’ve
gone an’ done it!"

"You’ve only hastened it a little," assured Tex, gripping the
outstretched hand spasmodically.  "Cheer up; I don’t aim to stay away
forever!"  He spurred his mount and shot away up the incline, Pete
looking after him and slowly shaking his head.

When the restless puncher stopped again it was at the kitchen door of
the white ranchhouse.  As he swung from the saddle something stung him
where his trousers were tight and he stopped his own jump to grab the
horse, which had been stung in turn.  A snicker and a quick rustle
sounded under the summer kitchen and Tex took the coiled rope from his
saddle, deftly unfastening the restraining knot.  The rustling sounded
again, frantic and sustained, followed by a half-defiant,
half-supplicating jeer.

"You can’t do it, under here!" said Pickles, reloading the bean-shooter
from a bulging cheek.  "I can shoot yore liver out before you can whirl
it!"  Pickles was quite a big boy now, but threatened never to grow
dignified; and besides, he had been badly spoiled by everybody on the
ranch.

"Whirling livers never appealed to me," rejoined Tex, putting the rope
back.  "Never," he affirmed decidedly; "but I’m goin’ to whirl yourn
some of these days, an’ you with it!"

"Those he loves, he annoys," said a low, sweet voice, its timbre
stimulating the puncher like a draught of wine. His sombrero sweeping
off as he turned, he bowed to the French Rose, wife of the big-hearted
half-owner of the ranch.  If only he had chosen a woman like this one!

"I seem to remember him annoyin’ Dave Owens, at near half a mile, with
Hoppy’s Sharps," he slowly replied.  "Nobody ever told me that he loved
Dave a whole lot."  At the momentary cloud the name brought to her face
he shook his head and growled to himself.  "I’m a fool, ma’am, these
days," he apologized; "but it strikes me that you ought to smile at that
name--it shore played its unwilling part in giving you a good husband;
an’ Buck a mighty fine wife.  Where is Buck?"

"Inside the house, walking rings around the table--he seems so, so--"
she shrugged her shoulders hopelessly and stepped aside to let Tex
enter.

"I don’t know what he seems," muttered Tex as he passed in; "but I know
what he is--an’ that’s just a plain, ornery fool."  He shook his head at
such behavior by any man who was loved by the French Rose.

Buck stopped his pacing and regarded him curiously, motioning toward an
easy chair.

"Standin’s good enough for me, for I’m itchin’ with th’ same disease
that you imagine is stalkin’ you," said Tex, looking at his old friend
with level, disapproving gaze.  "It don’t matter with me, but it’s plain
criminal with you.  I’m free to go; yo’re not.  An’ I’m tellin’ you
frank that if I had th’ picket stake that’s holdin’ you, all h--l
couldn’t tempt me.  Yo’re a plain, d--d fool--an’ you know it!"

Buck leaned back against the edge of the table and thoughtfully regarded
his companion.  "It ain’t so much that, as it is Hoppy, an’ Red, an’
Johnny," he replied, spreading out his hands in an eloquent gesture.
"They could write, anyhow, couldn’t they?" he demanded.

"Shore," affirmed Tex, grinning.  "How long ago was it that you answered
their last letters?"  He leaned back and laughed outright at the guilty
expression on his friend’s face.  "I thought so!  Strong on words, but
cussed poor on example."

"I reckon yo’re right," muttered Buck.  "But that south range shore
calls me strong, Tex."

"’Whither thou goest, I go’ was said by a woman," retorted Tex.  "’Yore
people are my people; yore God, my God.’  I’m sayin’ it works both ways.
You ought to go down on yore knees for what’s come to you.  An’ you
will, one of these days.  Think of Hoppy’s loss--an’ you’ll do it before
mornin’.  But I didn’t come in to preach common sense to a lunatic--I
come to get my time, an’ to say good-bye."

Buck nodded.  Vaguely disturbed by some unnamed, intermittent fever, he
had been quick to read the symptoms of restlessness in another,
especially in one who had been as close to him as Tex had been.  He went
over to an old desk, slowly opened a drawer and took out a roll of bills
and a memorandum.

"Here," he said, holding both out.  "Far as I know it’s th’ same as when
you gave it to me.  Ought to be seven hundred, even.  Count it, to make
shore."  While Tex took it and shoved it into his pocket uncounted and
crumpled the memorandum, Buck also was reaching into a pocket, and
counted off several bills from the roll it gave up.  These he gravely
handed to his companion, smiling to hide the ache of losing another
friend.

"I shore haven’t earned it all," mused Tex, looking down at the wages in
his hand.  "I reckon I’m doin’ this ranch a favor by leavin’, for there
ain’t no real job up here no more for any man as expensive as I am.  You
got th’ whole country eatin’ out of yore hand, an’ th’ first thing you
know th’ cows will catch th’ habit an’ brand an’ count ’emselves to save
you th’ trouble of doin’ it."

"You’ll be doin’ us a bigger favor when you come back, one of these
days," grinned Buck.  "You shore did yore share in trainin’ it to eat
out of my hand.  For a while it looked like it would eat th’ hand--an’
it would ’a’, too.  Aimin’ to ride down?"

Tex’s eyes twinkled.  "How’d you come to figger I’m goin’ down?"

Buck smiled.

"No, reckon not," said Tex.  "Ridin’ as far’s th’ railroad.  I’ll leave
my cayuse with Smith.  When one of th’ boys goes down that way he can
get it.  I’ll pay Smith for a month’s care."  Reading the unspoken
question in his friend’s eyes, he carelessly answered it.  "Don’t know
where I’m goin’.  Reckon I’ll get down to th’ SV before I stop.  That’d
be natural, with Red an’ Hoppy stayin’ with Johnny."

"They might need you, too," suggested Buck, hopefully.  If he couldn’t
be with his distant friends himself, he at least wished as many of them
to be together as was possible.

"I’m copperin’ that," grunted Tex.  His eyes shone momentarily.  "Yo’re
forgettin’ that our best three are together.  Lord help any misguided
fools that prod ’em sharp.  Well, I’m dead shore to drift back ag’in
some day; but as you say, those south ranges shore do pull a feller’s
heart."  He looked shrewdly at his friend and his face beamed from a
sudden thought.  "We’re a pair of fools," he laughed.  "You ain’t got
th’ wander itch!  You don’t want to go jack-rabbitin’ all over th’
country, like me!  All you want is that southwest country, with yore
wife an yore friends on th’ same ranch; down in th’ cactus country,
where th’ winters ain’t what they are up here.  I’m afraid my brain’s
atrophied, not havin’ been used since Dave Owens rolled down from his
ambush with Hoppy’s slugs in him for ballast."

Buck looked at him with eager, hopeful intentness and his sigh was one
of great relief and thankfulness.  He need not be ashamed of that
longing, now vague and nameless no longer.  His head snapped back and he
stood erect, and his voice thrilled with pride.  Tex had put his finger
on the trouble, as Tex always did.  "I’ve been as blind as a rattler in
August!" he exclaimed.

"Not takin’ th’ time to qualify that blind-rattler-in-August phrase, I
admits yo’re right," beamed Tex.  He arose, shoved out his hand for the
quick, tight grasp of his friend and wheeled to leave, stopping short as
he found himself face to face with Rose Peters.  "A happy omen!" he
cried.  "Th’ first thing I see at th’ beginnin’ of my journey is a
rose."

She smiled at both of them as she blocked the door, and the quick catch
in her voice did not escape Tex Ewalt.

"I was but in the other room," she said, her face alight.  "I could not
but hear, for you both speak loud. I am so glad, M’sieu Tex--that now I
know why my man is so--so restless.  Ruth, she said what I think,
always.  We are sorry that you mus’ go--but we know you will not forget
your friends, and will come back again some day."

Buck put his arm around his wife’s shoulders and smiled.  "An’ if he
brings th’ other boys back with him, we’ll find room for ’em all, eh
Rose?"  He looked at his friend.  "We’re shore goin’ to miss you, Tex.
Good luck.  We’ll expect you when we see you."

Tex bowed to Rose and backed into the curious Pickles, whom he lightly
spanked as a fitting farewell; and soon the noise of his departure
drummed softer and softer into the south.



                              *CHAPTER II*

                          *REFRESHED MEMORIES*


The dusty, grimy, almost paintless accommodation train, composed of
engine, combination smoking-baggage car, and one day coach, rumbled and
rattled, jerked and swayed over the uneven roadbed, the clicking at the
rail joints sensible both to tactual and auditory nerves, and calling
attention to the disrepair into which the whole line had fallen.  In the
smoking compartment of the baggage car sat Tex Ewalt, sincerely wishing
that he had followed his first promptings and chosen the saddle in
preference to this swifter method of traveling.

All day he had suffered heat, dust, cinders, and smoke after a night of
the same.  It had been bad enough on the main line, but after leaving
the junction conditions had grown steadily worse.  All day he had
crossed a yellow gray desolation, flat and unending, under a dirty blue
sky and a dust-filled air shimmering with heat waves.  He had peered at
a drab, distant horizon which seemed hardly to change as it crept
eastward past him, at all times barely more than a thin circle about as
interesting and colorful as a bleached hoop from some old,
weather-beaten barrel. Wherever he had looked, it had been to see
sun-burned grass and clouds of imponderable dust, the latter sucked up
by the train and sent whirling into every crack and crevice; occasional
white spots darting rearward he knew to be the grim, limy skulls of
herbiverous animals; arrow-like trails cut deep into the drought-cursed
earth, and not too frequently a double line of straggling, dispirited
willows, cottonwoods, and box elders, marked the course of some prairie
creek, whose characteristic, steep earth banks, often undermined, now
enclosed sun-dried mud, curling like heated scales, with here and there
pools of noisome water hidden under scabs of scum.  Mile after mile of
this had dulled him, familiar as he had once been with the sight, and he
sat apathetic, dispirited and glum, too miserable to accept the pressing
invitation of a traveling cardsharp to sit into a game of draw poker.
Gradually the mild, long swells of the prairie had grown shorter,
sharper, and higher; gradually the soil had become rockier and the creek
beds deeper below the rims of their banks.  The track wound more and
more as it twisted and turned among the hills, and for some hours he had
noticed a constant rising, which now became more and more apparent as
the top of the watershed drew nearer.

He dozed fitfully at times and once the sharper had roused him by
touching his shoulder to ask him again to take cards in a game.  To this
invitation Tex had opened his eyes, looked up at the smiling poker
devotee and made a slight motion, dozing off again as the surprised
gambler moved away from one he now knew to be of the same calling as
himself.  Towns had followed each other at increasingly long intervals,
insensibly changing in their aspect, and the horizon steadily had been
narrowing. Here and there along the dried beds of the creeks were rude
cabins and shacks, each not far from an abandoned sluice and cradle.
Between the hills the pastures grew smaller and smaller, their sides
more precipitous, but as they shrunk, the number of cattle on them
seemed to increase.  Rough buildings of wood or stone began to replace
the low sod dugouts of a few hours ago, and he knew that he was rapidly
nearing his destination.

Suddenly a ribbon-like scar on the horizon caught his eye.  It ran
obliquely from a northeastern point of his vista southwesterly across
the pastures, hills, and valleys, like a lone spoke in some great wheel,
of which the horizon was both felloe and tire.  At this he sat up with a
show of interest.  Judging from its direction, and from what he
remembered of it at this section of its length, it would cross the track
some miles farther on.  He nodded swiftly at this old-time friend of his
cattle-driving days--he had been a fool not to have remembered it and
the cow-town not far ahead, but the names of all the mushroom towns he
had been in during his career in the West had not remained in his
memory.  Years rolled backward in a flash.  He could see the distant,
plodding caravans of homesteaders, or the long, disciplined trains of
the freighters, winding over the hills and across the flats, their white
canvas wagon covers flashing against the sky, the old, dirty covers
emphasizing the newness and whiteness of their numerous patches.  But on
this nearing trail, winding into the southwest there had been a
different migration.  He almost could see the spread-out herd moving
deliberately forward, the idling riders, the point and swing men, and
the plodding, bumping chuck wagon with its bumptious cook.  This trail,
a few hundred yards wide, beaten by countless hoofs, had deepened and
deepened as the wind carried away the dust, and if left to itself would
be discernible after the passing of many years.

The name of the town ahead and on this old trail brought a smile to his
lips, a smile that was pleasantly reminiscent; but with the name of the
town came nearly forgotten names of men, and the smile changed into one
that was not pleasant to look upon.  There was Williams, Gus Williams,
often referred to as "Muttonhead."  He had been a bully, a sure-thing
gambler, herd trimmer, and cattle thief in a small way, but he had been
only a petty pilferer of hoofed property, for his streak of caution was
well developed.  Tex had not seen him, or heard of him, for twenty
years, never since he had shot a gun out of Williams’ hand and beat him
up in a corner of his own saloon.

The rapidly enlarging ribbon drew nearer and more distinct, and soon it
crossed the track and ran into the south.  He remembered the wide,
curving bend it took here: there had been a stampede one rainy night
when he was off trick and rolled up in his blanket under the chuck
wagon.  They had reason to suspect that the cattle were sent off in
their mad flight through the dark by human agency.  Two days had been
spent in combing the rough plain and in rounding up the scattered herd,
and there had been a sizable number lost.

A deeper tone leaped into the dull roar of the train and told of a gully
passing under the track.  It ran off at a slight angle, the dried bed
showing more numerous signs of human labors and habitations, and when
the train came to a bumping, screeching stop at a ramshackle one-room
station he knew that he was at the end of his ride and within three
stations from the end of the line, which here turned sharply toward the
northwest, baffled by the treacherous sands of the river, whose bank it
paralleled for sixty miles.  Had he gone on in the train he would have
come no closer to his objective and would have to face a harder country
for man and horse.  Gunsight, where his three friends were located, lay
about a hundred miles southwest of the bend in the track; but because of
the sharp bend it lay farther from the station beyond.  From where he
now was, the riding would not be unpleasant and the ford across the
river was shallower, the greater width of the stream offset by a more
sluggish current.  This ford was treacherous in high water and not
passable after sudden rises for a day or two, because the force of the
swollen current stirred up the unstable sands of the bottom.  As a
veteran of the old cattle trails he knew what a disturbed river bottom
often meant.

The wheezing exhaust and the complaining panting of the all but
discarded engine added dismal sounds to a dismal view.  He stiffly
descended the steps, a bulging gunny sack over his shoulder and a rolled
blanket and a sheathed rifle fully utilized his other arm and hand.
Dropping his burdens to the ground he paused to look around him.

It was just a frontier town, ugly, patched, sprawling, barely existent,
and an eyesore even to the uncritical; and cursed further by Kansas
politics which at this time were not as stalwart as they once had been,
reminding one of the mediocre sons of famous fathers.  In place of the
old daring there now were trickery and subtle meannesses; in place of
hot hatreds were now smoldering grudges; where once old-time politicians
"shot it out" in the middle of the street, there now were furtive
crawlings and treacherous shots from the dark.  Like all towns it had a
name--it will suffice if we know it as Windsor. Being neither in the
mining country nor on the cattle range, and being in an out-of-the-way
position even on the merging strip between the two, it undoubtedly would
have died a natural death except for the fortuitous chance which had led
the branch-line railroad to reach its site. The shifting cattle drives
and a short-lived townsite speculation had been the causes for the rails
coming; then the drives stopped at nearer terminals and the speculation
blew up--but the rails remained.  This once flamboyantly heralded
"artery of commerce" swiftly had atrophied and now was hardly more than
a capillary, and its diurnal pulsation was just sufficient to keep the
town about one degree above coma.

Tex sneered openly, luxuriously, aggressively, and for all the world to
see.  He promised himself that he would not remain here very long.
Before him lay the squalid dirt street with its cans and rubbish, the
bloated body of a dog near the platform, a dead cat farther along.
There were several two-story frame buildings, evidently built while the
townsite game was on.  The rest were one-story shacks, and he remembered
most of them.

He picked up his belongings and sauntered into the station to wait until
the agent had finished his business with the train crew, and that did
not take long.

The agent stepped into the dusty, dirty room, coughed, nodded, and
passed into his partitioned office.  In a moment he was out again,
looked closely at the puncher and decided to risk a smile and a word:
"Is there anything I can do for you?" he hazarded.

Tex put his sombrero beside him on the bench and wiped his forehead with
a sleeve.  He saw that his companion was slight, not too healthy, and
appeared to be friendly and intelligent; but in his eyes lay the shadow
of fear.

"Mebby you can tell me th’ best place to eat an’ sleep; an’ th’ best
place to buy a horse," he replied.

"Williams’ hotel is the best in town, and I’d ask him about the horse.
You might do better if you didn’t say I recommended him to you."

"Not if you don’t want me to," responded Tex, smiling sardonically for
some inexplicable reason.  "Reckon he’d eat you because yo’re sendin’
him trade?  Don’t worry; I won’t say you told me."

"So far as I am concerned it don’t matter.  It’s you I’m thinking
about."

Tex stretched, crossed his legs, and smiled.  "In that case I’ll use my
own judgment," he replied.  "Been workin’ for th’ railroad very long?"

"Little too long, I’m afraid," answered the agent, coughing again, "but
I’ve been out here only two months."  He hesitated, looked a little
self-conscious, and continued.  "It’s my lungs, you know.  I got a
transfer for my health.  If I can stick it out here I have hopes of
slowly improving, and perhaps of getting entirely well."

"If you can stick it out?  Meanin’ yo’re findin’ it too monotonous an’
lonely?" queried Tex.

The agent laughed shortly, the look of fear again coming into his eyes.
"Anything but the first; and so far as being lonely is concerned, I find
that my sister is company enough."

Tex cogitated and recrossed his legs.  "From what I have already seen of
this town I’d gamble she is; but a man’s allus a little better off if he
can herd with his own sex once in a while.  So it ain’t monotonous?
Have many trains a day?" he asked, knowing from his perusal of the
time-table that there were but two.

"One in and one out.  You passed the other on the siding at Willow, if
you’ve come from beyond there."

"Reckon I remember it.  Much business here to keep you busy?"

"Not enough to tire even a--lunger!"  He said the word bitterly and
defiantly.

"That’s a word I never liked," said Tex.  "It’s too cussed brutal.  Some
people derive a great deal of satisfaction in calling a spade a spade,
and that is quite proper so far as spades are concerned; but why go
further?  A man can’t allus help a thing like tuberculosis--especially
if he’s makin’ a livin’ for two.  Yo’re not very high up here, but I
reckon th’ air’s right.  It’s th’ winter that’s goin’ to count ag’in’
you.  You got to watch that.  You might do better across th’ west
boundary.  Any doctor in town?"

"There’s a man who calls himself a doctor.  His favorite prescription is
whiskey."

"Yeah?  For his patients?"

"For his patients and himself, too."

"Huh," grunted the puncher.  He cleared his throat. "I once read about
yore trouble--in a dictionary," he explained, grinning.  "It said milk
an’ aigs, among other things; open air, both capitalized, day an’ night;
plenty of sleep, no worryin’, an’ no excitement.  Have many heavy boxes
to rustle?"

"No," answered the agent, looking curiously at his companion.  "I had
plenty of milk and eggs, but the milk is getting scarce and the eggs are
falling off.  I--" he stopped abruptly, shrugging his shoulders.  "D--n
it, man!  It isn’t so much for myself!"

"No," said Tex, slowly arising.  "A man usually feels that way about it.
I’m goin’ up to th’ hotel.  May drop around to see you tomorrow if I’m
in town."

"I’ll be mighty glad to see you; but there’s no use for you to make
enemies," replied the agent, leading the way outside.  He stopped and
took hold of a trunk, to roll it into the building.

"Han’s off," said Tex, smiling and pushing him aside. "You forgot what
th’ dictionary said.  Of course this wouldn’t kill you, but I’m stiff
from ridin’ in yore palatial trains, mile after weary mile."  Rolling
the trunk through the door and against the wall, he picked up his
belongings, gravely saluted and went on his way whistling cheerily.

The agent looked after him wistfully, shook his head and retired into
his coop.

Tex rambled down the street and entered Williams’ hotel, held a brief
conversation with the clerk, took up his key, and followed instructions.
The second door on the right-hand side, upstairs, let him into a small
room which contained a chair, bed, and washstand.  There was a rag rug
before the bed, and this touch of high life and affluence received from
him a grave and dignified bow. "Charmed, I’m sure," he said, and went
over to the window to view the roofs of the shacks below it.  He sniffed
and decided that somewhere near there was a stable. Putting his
belongings in a corner, he took out his shaving kit and went to work
with it, after which he walked downstairs, bought a drink and treated
its dispenser to a cigar, which he knew later would be replaced and the
money taken instead.

"Hot," said Tex as though he had made a discovery. "An’ close," he added
in an effort not to overlook anything.

"Very," replied the bartender.  This made the twenty-third time he had
said that word in reply to this undoubted statement of fact since
morning.  He did not know that his companion had used it because it was
colorless and would stamp him, sub-consciously, as being no different
from the common human herd in town.  "Hottest summer since last year,"
said the bartender, also for the twenty-third time.  He grinned
expectantly.

Tex turned the remark over in his mind and laughed suddenly,
explosively.  "That’s a good un!  Cussed if it didn’t nearly get past
me!  ’Hottest summer since last year!’  Ha-ha-ha!  Cuss it, it is good!"
He was on the proper track to make a friend of the second man he had
met.  "Have another cigar," he urged.  Good-will and admiration shone on
his face.  "Gosh!  Have to spring that un on th’ boys!  Ha-ha-ha!"

"Better spring it before fall--it might not last through th’ winter,
though some’r tougher’n others," rejoined the bartender, his grin
threatening to inconvenience his ears.

Tex choked and coughed up some of the liquor, the tears starting from
his eyes.  He had meant it for an imitation choke, but misjudged.
Coughing and laughing at once he hung onto the bar by his elbows and
writhed from side to side.  "Gosh!  You oughter--warn a fel--ler!" he
reproved.  "How’d’y think of ’em like that?"

"Come easy, somehow," chuckled the pleased dispenser of liquor.
"Stayin’ in town long?" he asked.

"Cussed if I know," frankly answered Tex.  He became candid and
confidential.  "Expectin’ a letter, an’ I can’t leave till it comes.
Where’s th’ post office?  Yeah? Guess I can find it, then.  Reckon I’ll
drift along an’ see if there’s anythin’ come in for me.  See you
tonight."

Crossing the street he sauntered along it until he came to the building
which sheltered the post office, and he stopped, regarded the sign over
its door with open approval, and then gravely salaamed.

"’Williams’s Mecca,’" he read.  "Sign painters are usually generous with
their esses.  Wonder why?  Must be a secret sign of th’ guild.  Why are
monument works usually called ’monumental’?  Huh: Wonder if it is th’
same Williams?  If it is, where did he ever hear of ’Mecca’?"  It was a
refreshing change from the names so common to stores in towns of this
kind and size.  "An’ cussed if it ain’t appropriate, too!" he muttered.
"In a place like this what could more deserve that name than the general
store and post office, unless it be the saloons, hotels, and gambling
houses?"  He started for the door, eager to see whom he would meet.

A burly, dark-visaged individual looked up at his entry. He would have
been amazed had he known that a score of years had slipped from him and
that he was a callow, furtive-eyed man in his early twenties, cringing
in a corner with his present visitor standing contemptuously over him
and daring him to get up again.

Tex’s face remained unchanged, except for a foolish smile which crept
over it as he gave greeting.  "Though I ain’t goin’ to pray, I shore am
turnin’ my face to th’ birthplace of th’ Prophet," he said.  "Yeah, I’m
even enterin’ its sacred portals."  He watched closely for any signs of
recognition in the other, but failed to detect any; and he was not
surprised.

The heavy face stared at him and a tentative smile tried to change it.
The attempt was abortive and the expression shifted to one of alert
suspicion, shaded by one of pugnacity.  He was not accustomed to levity
at his expense.  "What you talkin’ about?" he slowly asked.

"Why, th’ faith of all true believers: _There is but one God, and
Mohammed is his Prophet_.  May th’ blessin’s of Allah be on thee.
Incidentally I’m askin’ if there’s a letter for th’ pilgrim, Tex Jones?"
He cast a careless glance at a cold-eyed individual who lounged in the
shadow of a corner, and instantly classified him.  Besides the low-slung
holster, the man had the face of a cool, paid killer.  Tex’s interest in
him was not to be correctly judged by the careless glance he gave him.

"Then why in h--l didn’t you say so in th’ first place, ’stead of
wastin’ my valuable time?" growled the proprietor, reluctantly shuffling
toward the mail rack in a corner.  He wet his thumb generously, not
caring about the color given to it by the tobacco in his mouth, and
clumsily ran through the modest packet of mail.  Shaking his head he
turned.  "There ain’t nothin’," he grunted.

"It is Allah’s will," muttered Tex in pious resignation. He would have
fallen over had there been anything for him.

"Look here, stranger," ominously remarked the proprietor, "if yo’re
aimin’ to be smart at my expense, look out it don’t become yourn.  Just
what’s th’ meanin’ of all these fool remarks?"

"Why, yore emporium is named ’Mecca,’ ain’t it?" asked Tex innocently,
but realizing that he somehow had got on the wrong trail.

"What’s that got to do with it?" demanded Williams, who could talk as
mean as he cared to while the quiet, cold man sat in the corner.

"Everythin’.  Ain’t you th’ proprietor, like th’ barkeep of th’ hotel
said?  Ain’t you Mr. Williams?"

"I am."

Tex scratched his head, frankly puzzled.  "Well," he said, "Mohammed
came out of Mecca to startle th’ world, an’----"

"He didn’t do nothin’ of th’ kind!" interrupted the proprietor.  "Mecca
was out of Prophet, by Mohammed; an’ a cussed good hoss she was, too.
Though she didn’t startle no world, she was my filly, an’ plenty good
enough for this part of th’ country.  Of course, mebby back from where
you came from, mebby she wouldn’t have amounted to much," he sneered.
"Now, if you got any more smart-Aleck remarks to make, you’ll be wise if
you save ’em till you get outside."

Tex burst out laughing.  "It’s all my mistake, Mr. Williams.  I thought
you named yore store after a poem I read once, that’s all.  No offense
on my part, sir.  Are you th’ Mr. Williams that keeps th’ ho-tel?"

"I am: what about it?"

"I’m puttin’ up there," answered Tex.  "If a letter comes for me, would
you mind puttin’ it in yore pocket an’ bringin’ it over when you go
there?  It’ll save me from botherin’ you every day.  Yore friend at th’
station said I’d find you right obligin’.  An’ he knows a good ho-tel
when he sees it.  He sent me there."

"That scut!" bellowed Williams, his face growing red. "You’ll come after
yore own mail, my man; an’ you’ll do it polite.  There ain’t no mail
here for you.  Good day!"

"I’m patient an’ I can wait.  I didn’t hardly expect to get any letter
so quick, anyhow.  After th’ recent experience of reasonin’ right from
th’ wrong premises, however, I’ll not be a heap surprised if I get a
letter on tomorrow’s train.  Thank you kindly, sir.  I bid you good
day."

"An’ mind you don’t call that cussed agent no friend of mine, th’ job
stealer!"

"Whatever you say; but, don’t forget to bring over that letter when it
comes," sweetly replied Tex, and he carefully slammed the door as he
went out.  Going down the street he grinned expansively and snapped his
fingers because of a strange elation.

"Th’ old thief!" he muttered.  "Heavier, more ill tempered, and
downright autocratic--an’ how he has prospered!  Regular, solid citizen,
the bulwark of the commonwealth.  An’ cussed if he ain’t got himself a
bodyguard; a regular, no-mistake gunman with as mean an eye as any I
ever saw.  Of course, his brains have improved with the years, for they
couldn’t go the other way and keep him out of an asylum.  ’Muttonhead’
Williams! All right: once a sheep, always a sheep.  I’m going to enjoy
my stay in Windsor.  Good Lord!" he exclaimed as a sudden fancy hit him.
"Wouldn’t it be funny if the old fool has been working hard and saving
hard all these years for his old enemy, Tex Ewalt?  He always was crazy
to play poker, and I got a notion to make it come true.  Gosh, if a man
ever was tempted, I’m tempted now!  Muttonhead Williams, allus stuck on
his poker playing.  Get behind me, Satan!"



                             *CHAPTER III*

                             *TEMPTED ANEW*


A hand bell, ringing thin and clamorous somewhere below caused Tex to
gather up the cards with which for two hours he had been assiduously
practicing shuffling, cutting, and dealing.  Putting them away he washed
his face and hands in the tin basin, combed his hair without slicking it
with water, and went down to supper.

He paused momentarily in the doorway to size up the dining-room.  The
long table was crowded by all sorts and conditions of men.  Miners down
on their luck and near the end of their resources because of the long
drought which had dried up the streams and put an end to placer mining
operations, rubbed elbows with more fortunate men of their own calling,
who had longer purses.  Two cowpunchers from a distant ranch sat next to
two cavalrymen on a prized leave from the iron discipline of a remote
frontier post, both types dangerous because free from the restraint
which had held them down for so long a time.  A local tin-horn gambler
and the traveling card-sharp were elbow to elbow, and several other men,
evidently belonging to the town, nearly filled both sides of the table.

At the head sat Gus Williams, most influential citizen and boss of the
town, and he made no attempt to hide his importance.  Next to him on the
left was a lean, hard-looking, shifty-eyed man who seemed to shine in
reflected light, and who showed a deference to the big man which he
evidently expected to receive, in turn, from the others. If it was true
that there was only one boss, it was also true that he had only one
nephew.  To the right of the boss was the cold-eyed person whose seat in
the general store was well back in the corner.  No one moved or spoke
except under his critical observance.  His cocksure confidence irritated
Tex, who was strongly tempted to try the effect of a hot potato against
a cold eye.  He thought of his friend Johnny Nelson and grinned at how
that young man’s temper would steam up under such an insolent stare.
Moving forward under the gunman’s close scrutiny Tex dropped into the
only vacant chair, one near the nephew, and fell to eating, his vocal
chords idle, but his optic and auditory apparatus making up for it. The
conversation, jerky and broken at first, grew more coherent and
increased as the appetites of the hungry men yielded to the bolted food.
The protracted drought was referred to in grunts, growls, monosyllables,
sentences, and profane speeches.  It was discussed, rediscussed, and
popped up at odd moments for new discussion.

"Never saw it so bad since th’ railroad came," said a miner.

"Never saw it so bad since th’ first trail herd ended here," affirmed
the nephew.

"_I_ never saw it so dry, for so long a spell, since th’ first trail
herd _passed_ here," said the uncle, his remark the strongest by coming
last; but he was not to enjoy that advantage for long.

"Hum!" said a cattleman, apologetically clearing his throat.  "I never
saw it as dry as it is now since I located out here."

The miner frowned, the nephew scowled, and the uncle snorted.  The last
named looked around belligerently and smote the table with his fist.  "I
remember, howsomever, that I did see it near as dry, that year I strayed
from th’ Santa Fe Trail, huntin’ buffalers for th’ caravan.  We passed
right through this section an’ circled back.  I come to remember it
because when we crossed th’ Walnut I jumped right over it, dry-shod.
Them was th’ days when men was men, or soon wasn’t nothin’ a-tall."

"I reckon they wasn’t th’ kind that would play off sick so they could
get another man’s job away from him, anyhow," growled the nephew,
introducing his pet grievance. "I run that station a cussed sight better
than it’s bein’ run now; an’ anybody’s likely to make mistakes once in a
while."

"A few dollars, one way or another, ain’t bustin’ no railroad," asserted
the uncle.  "It was only th’ excuse they was a-waitin’ for."

"Nobody can tell me no good about no railroad," said the freighter, his
fond memory resurrecting a certain lucrative wagon haul which had
vanished with the advent of the first train over the line.

"Hosses are good enough for me," said Tex, looking around.  "Which
remark reminds me that a rider afoot is a helpless hombre.  Bein’ a
rider, without no cayuse, I’m a little anxious to get me a good one.
Anybody know where I can do it reasonable?"

All eyes turned to the head of the table, where Williams was washing
down his last mouthful of food with a gulp of hot, watery coffee.  He
cleared his throat and peered closely, but pleasantly, at the stranger.
"Why, it’s Mr. Jones," he said.  "I reckon I have such a hoss, Mr.
Jones. Mebby it ain’t any too well broken, but that hadn’t oughter
bother a rider."

Tex grinned.  "If that’s all that’s th’ matter with it I reckon it’ll
suit me; but I can tell better after I ride it, an’ learn th’ price."

"Want it tonight?" frowned Williams.

"No; I ain’t in no hurry.  Tomorrow’ll be plenty of time, when you ain’t
got nothin’ else to do but show it. Speakin’ of railroads like we was, I
reckon they ain’t done nothin’ very much for this town.  While I’m new
to these parts, I’m betting Windsor was a whole lot better when th’
drive trail was alive an’ kickin’."

Williams nodded emphatically.  "I’ve seen these plains an’ valleys thick
with cattle," he said, regretfully.  "There was a time when I could see
th’ dust clouds rollin’ up from th’ south an’ away in th’ north, both at
once, day after day.  This town was a-hummin’ every day an’ night. Money
come easy an’ went th’ same way.  Men dropped in here, lookin’ like
tramps, almost, who could write good checks for thousands of dollars.
Th’ buyers bought whole herds on th’ seller’s say-so, without even
seein’ a hoof, an’ sold ’em ag’in th’ same way.  Money flowed like
water, an’ fair-sized fortunes was won an’ lost at a single sittin’.
I’ve seen th’ faro-bank busted three days hand-runnin’--but, of course,
that was very unusual.  Mostly it was th’ other way ’round.  All one
summer an’ fall it was like that.  Then th’ winter come, an’ that was
th’ end of it so fur’s Windsor was concerned.  Th’ Kiowa Arroyo branch
line was pushed further an’ further southwest until th’ weather stopped
it; but it went on ag’in as soon as spring let it.  By th’ time th’
first herds crossed th’ state line, headin’ for here, that line of rails
was ready for ’em, an’ not another big herd went past this town.  Of
course, there was big herds drivin’ north, just th’ same, bound for th’
Yellowstone region on government contract, an’ some was bein’ sent out
to stock ranges in th’ West, but they followed a new trail found by
Chisholm, or old McCullough.  I’ve heard lately that Mac is workin’ for
Twitchell an’ Carpenter.  But if you’d seen this town then you shore
wouldn’t know it now.  D--n th’ railroads, says I!"

Tex frowned honestly at the thought of the passing of this once great
cattle trail, for the memories of those old trails lay snug and warm in
the hearts of the men who have followed them in the saddle.  He looked
up at Williams, a congratulatory look on his face.  "Well, that shore
was hard; but not as hard, I reckon, as if you had been a cattleman, an’
follered it.  It sort of hurts an old-time cowman to think of them
trails."

"That’s where yo’re wrong," spoke up the nephew. "He is a cattleman.
Th’ GW brand is known all over th’ state, an’ beyond.  It was knowed by
every puncher that followed that old trail."

"There wasn’t no such brand in them days," corrected Williams.  He did
not think it necessary to say that the GW mark was just starting then,
far back in the hills and well removed from the trail; that it grew much
faster by the addition of fully grown cattle than it did by natural
increase; or that a view of the original brands on the full-grown cattle
would have been a matter of great and burning interest to almost every
drive boss who followed a herd along the trail.  Later on, when he threw
his herd up for a count, the drive boss was likely to have re-added his
tally sheet and asked heaven and earth what had happened to him.  "Well,
them days has gone; but when they went this town come blamed near goin’
with ’em.  It shore ain’t what it once was."

Tex thought that it was just as well, since the town was mean enough and
vicious enough as it was; he remembered vividly its high-water period;
but he nodded his head.

"It ain’t hardly fair to judge it after such a long dry spell," he said.
"Th’ whole country, south an’ west of th’ Missouri is fair burnin’ up.
Th’ Big Muddy herself was a-showin’ all her bars."

"That’s th’ curse of this part of Kansas," said the nephew.  "That an’
job jumpers."

"Yes?" asked Tex.  "How’s that?"

"Station agent a friend of yourn?"

It became evident to Tex that the uncle and the nephew had been
discussing him.  Gus Williams was the only man to whom he had mentioned
the agent.  He shook his head. "Never saw him before I stepped off th’
train today," he answered, looking vexed about something.  "We up an’
had some words, an’ I told him I reckoned he might find healthier towns
further west, across th’ line.  I’m a mild man, gents: but I allus speak
my mind."

"An’ you gave him some cussed good advice," replied the nephew warmly.
"This ain’t no place for any man as plays off sick an’ does low-down
tricks to turn another man out of a job.  If it wasn’t for his sister
I’d ’a’ buffaloed him _pronto_.  Which reminds me, stranger," he warned
with an ugly leer.  "She’s a rip-snortin’ fe-male--but I shore saw her
first.  I’m just tellin’ you so you won’t get any notions that way.  I’m
fencin’ that range."

"Don’t you worry, Hen," consoled a friend.  "Yo’re able to run herd on
her, balky as she is, an’ when th’ time’s ripe you’ll put yore brand on
her.  So fur’s th’ job’s concerned, yore uncle’ll get it back for you
when he gets ready to move.  We ought to ride that Saunders feller out
of town, _I_ say!"

"There’s plenty of time for that," said Williams, as he turned to
address another diner.  "John, show Mr. Jones that gray when he gits
around tomorrow.  Aimin’ to stay in town long, Mr. Jones?"

Tex shrugged his shoulders.  "Got to wait for a letter--don’t know what
to do; but I shore could be in worse places than this here hotel, so I
ain’t worryin’ a lot.  Bein’ a stranger, though, I reckon time’ll drag a
little evenin’s."

Various kinds of smiles replied to this, and Williams laughed outright.
"I reckon you understand th’ innercent game of draw?" he chuckled.

Tex froze: "Sometimes I think I do," he said, and laughed to hide his
struggle against the pressure of the old temptation.  He fairly burned
to turn his poker craft against this blowhard’s invitation, to wipe from
that self-complacent face its look of omniscience.  "An’ then, sometimes
I reckon I don’t," he continued; "but I’m admittin’ she’s plumb
fascinatin’.  From th’ pious expressions around me I reckon mebby I’ve
shocked somebody."

Williams led in the laughter that followed, his bull voice roaring
through the room.  "You’d better buy that hoss before you assist in th’
evenin’s worship," he cried in boisterous good humor, "for I’m sayin’ a
puncher ain’t nowhere near in th’ prospector’s class when it comes to
walkin’; though I reckon th’ boys will play you for th’ hoss, at that,
an’ you’d be no better off in th’ end.  My remarks as how this town has
slid back didn’t have nothin’ to do with our poker playin’, Mr. Jones.
If you feel like settin’ in ag’in’ a Kansas cyclone, you can’t say I
didn’t warn you."

Tex wondered what the crowd would say if he should lean over and pull a
royal flush out of Williams’ ear, or a full-house from the nephew’s
nose.  They might be surprised if they found out that the cold-eyed
gunman at Williams’ elbow carried a handful of Colt cartridges in his
tight-shut mouth.  He had no rabbits to lift out of hats, but that trick
was threadbare from being overworked, anyhow.  He waved both hands, a
smart-Aleck grin sweeping across his face.  "I’ve rode cayuses, punched
cows, an’ played draw from Texas to Montanny, an’ near back ag’in.  So
far I ain’t throwed, rolled under, or cleaned out; an’ I’m allus willin’
to be agreeable.  Where you gents lead I’ll foller, like a hungry calf
after its ma."  His voice had grown loud and boastful and he joined the
swiftly forming card group with a swagger as it settled around the table
in the barroom, his bovine conceit hiding the silent struggle going on
within him.

Tex of the old days was fighting Tex of the new.  The smug complacency
of the local boss stirred up the desire to break him to his last cent,
to make a fool of him in the way others had been broken and made
ridiculous; but the new Tex won: As usual he would play Hopalong’s
game--which was as his opponents played, straight or crooked, as they
showed the way.  He had no real wish for large winnings, for if he made
his expenses as he went along he would be satisfied, and he could do
that from his knowledge of psychology, a knowledge gained outside of
classrooms.  He now had no reputation to defend or maintain, for Tex
Jones was not Tex Ewalt, famed throughout the cow-country.  The new name
meant nothing.  But how pleasant it would be to repeat history in this
town, so far as Williams was concerned!

He always had claimed that he could learn a man’s real nature more
quickly in a game of poker than in any other way in the same length of
time, and he did not mean some one more prominent trait, but the man’s
nature as a whole; and now he set himself to study his new acquaintances
against some future need.  The game itself would not engross him to the
exclusion of all else, for while he was Tex Jones externally, it would
be Tex Ewalt who played the hands, the Tex Ewalt who as a youth had
discovered an uncanny ability in sleight of hand and whose freshman and
sophomore years had given so much time to developing and perfecting the
eye-baffling art that every study had suffered heavily in consequence;
the Tex Ewalt who had found that his ability was peculiarly adaptive to
cards, and who had given all his attention to that connection when once
he had started to travel along the line of least resistance.  So well
had he succeeded that seasoned gamblers from the Mexican line north to
Canada had been forced to admit his mastery.

Before the end of the second deal he had learned the rest of the
nephew’s more prominent characteristics, but had not bothered to
retaliate for the cheating.  On the third deal he was forced to
out-cheat a miner to keep even with the game.  Before the evening’s play
was over he had renewed his knowledge of Gus Williams, and now knew him
as well as that loud-voiced individual knew himself; and he had not
incurred the enmity of the boss, because while Tex had won from the
others he had lost to him.  While not yielding to the temptations
rampant in him, he had compromised and left Williams in a ripe condition
for a future skinning.  At the end of the play only he and Williams had
won.

As the others pushed back their chairs to leave the table, Williams
ignored them and looked at Tex.  "You an’ me seem to be th’ best," he
said loudly.  "So there won’t be no doubt about it, let’s settle it
between us."

Tex raised a belated hand too late to hide his yawn, blinked sleepily,
and squinted at the clock.  "I’m surprised it’s so late," he said.  "It
takes a lot out of a man to play ag’in’ this crowd.  My head’s fair
achin’.  What you say if we let it go till tomorrow night?  I been
travelin’ for three days an’ nights an’ ain’t slept much. You’d take it
away from me before I could wake up."

Williams laughed sarcastically.  "You shore been crossin’ a lot of sand
since you left th’ Big Muddy, but I don’t reckon none of it got inter
yore system."  He paused to let the words sink in, and for a reply, and
none being forthcoming he laughed nastily as he arose.  "Texas is a
sandy state, too.  Reckon you was named before anybody knowed very much
about you."

Tex paled, fought himself to a standstill and shrugged his shoulders.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bud Haines, the cold-eyed bodyguard,
become suddenly more alert.

"Windsor’s got a h--l of a way of welcomin’ strangers," he said.
"You’ll have a different kind of a kick to make tomorrow night, for
you’ll be eatin’ sand. I play poker when I feel like it: just now I
don’t feel like it.  I’ll say good night."

"Ha-ha-ha!" shouted Williams.  "He don’t feel like it, boys!  Ha-ha-ha!"

Tex stopped, turned swiftly, pulled out a roll of bills that was a
credit to his country and slammed it on the table, reaching for the
scattered deck.  "Mebby you feel like puttin’ up seven hundred dollars
ag’in’ mine, one cut, th’ highest card, to take both piles?  Ha-ha-ha!"
he mimicked.  "Here’s action if that’s what yo’re lookin’ for!"

Williams’ face turned a deep red and he cursed under his breath.
"That’s a baby game: I said poker!" he retorted, making no effort to get
nearer to the table.

"That’s mebby why I picked it," snapped Tex, stuffing the roll back into
his pocked.  "You can wait till tomorrow night for poker."  Turning his
back on the wrathful Williams and the open-mouthed audience, he yawned
again, muttered something to express his adieus, and clomped heavily and
slowly up the stairs, his body shaking with repressed laughter; and when
he fell asleep a few minutes later there was a placid smile on his
clean-shaven face.



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                            *A CROWDED DAY*


After a late breakfast about noon Tex got the gunny sack, threw it over
his shoulder and went to the Mecca, nodding to the proprietor in a
spirit of good-will and cheerfulness.  Bud Haines did not appear to be
about.

"I come in to see about that cayuse," he said. "Where’ll I find it?"

"Go down to th’ stable an’ see John," growled Williams.  "You’ll find it
next to Carney’s saloon, across th’ street.  Got rested up yet?"  The
question was not pleasantly asked.

Tex threw the sack over the other shoulder, hunched it to a more
comfortable position, and grinned sheepishly. "Purty near, I reckon;
anyhow, I got over my grouch. I was shore peevish last night; but th’
railroad’s to blame for that.  They say they are necessary, an’ great
blessin’s; but I ain’t so shore about it.  Outside of my personal grudge
ag’in’ ’em, I’m sore because they’ve shore played th’ devil with th’
range.  Cut it all up--an’ there ain’t no more pickin’ along th’ old
trails no more, like there once was.  I don’t reckon punchers has got
any reason to love ’em a whole lot."

Williams flashed him a keen look and slowly nodded. "Yo’re right: look
at what they’ve done to this town.  We ain’t seen no real money since
they came."

Tex shifted the sack again.  "Everybody had money in them days," he
growled.  "If a feller went busted along th’ trails he allus could pick
up a few dollars, if he had a good cayuse an’ a little nerve.  Why,
among them hills--but that ain’t concernin’ us no more, I reckon."  He
shook his head sadly.  "What’s gone is gone.  Reckon I’ll go look at
that cayuse.  You ain’t got no letter for me yet, have you?"

"Le’s see--Johnson?" puzzled the storekeeper, scratching his unshaven
chin.

"No; Jones," prompted Tex innocently, hiding his smile.

"Oh, shore!" said his companion, slowly shaking his head.  "There ain’t
nothin’ for you so far."

Tex did not think that remarkable not only because there never would be
anything for him, but also because there had been no mail since he had
asked the day before; but he grunted pessimistically, shifted the sack
again, and turned to the door.  "See you later," he said, going out.

He easily found the stable, grinned at the bleached, weather-beaten
"Williams" painted over the door and going into the smelly, cigar-box
office, dumped the sack against the wall and nodded to John Graves.
"Come down to look at that cayuse Williams spoke about last night," he
said, drawing a sleeve across his wet forehead.

"Shore; come along with me," said Graves, arising and passing out into
the main part of the building, Tex at his heels.  "Here he is, Mr.
Jones--as fine a piece of hossflesh as a man ever straddled.  Got
brains, youth, an’ ginger.  Sound as a dollar.  Cost you eighty, even.
You’ll go far before you’ll find a better bargain."

Tex looked at the teeth, passed a hypnotic hand down each leg in turn as
he talked to the gray in a soothing voice.  Children, horses, and dogs
liked him at first look. He frankly admired the animal from a distance,
but sadly shook his head.

"Fine cayuse, an’ a fair price," he admitted; "but I’m dead set ag’in’
grays.  Had two of ’em once, one right after th’ other--an’ come near to
dyin’ on ’em both. If I didn’t get killed, they did, anyhow.  It’s sort
of set me ag’in’ grays.  Now, there’s a roan that strikes me as a hoss
I’d consider ownin’.  Of course, he ain’t as good as th’ gray, but he
suits me better."  He walked over to the magnificent animal, which was
far and away superior to the gray, and talked to it in a low, caressing
voice as he made a quick examination.  "Yes, this cayuse suits me if th’
price is right.  If we can agree on that I’ll lead him down th’ street
an’ see how he steps out.  Ain’t got nothin’ else to do, anyhow."

Graves frowned and slowly shook his head.  "Rather not part with that
one--an’ he’s a two-hundred-dollar animal, anyhow.  It’s a sort of pet
of th’ boss--he’s rid it since it was near old enough to walk.  That
gray’s th’ best I’ve got for sale, unless, mebby, it might be that
sorrel over there.  Now, there’s a mighty good hoss, come to think of
it."

Tex glanced at the beautiful line of the roan’s back and thought of the
massive weight of Williams, and of the sway-back bay standing saddled in
front of his store. He shook his head.  "Two hundred’s too high for me,
friend," he replied.  "As I said, I don’t like grays, an’ that sorrel
has shore got a mean eye.  It ain’t spirit that’s showin’, but just
plumb treachery.  If you got off him out on th’ range he’d head for home
an’ leave you to hoof it after him.  I got an even hundred for th’ roan.
Say th’ word an’ we trade."

Graves waved his arms and enumerated the roan’s good points as only a
horse dealer can.  The discussion was long and to no result.  Tex added
twenty-five dollars to the hundred he had offered and the whole thing
was gone over again, but to no avail.  He picked up the sack, slung it
onto his back, and turned to leave.

"I’m shore surprised at th’ prices for cayuses in this part of th’
country," he said.  "Mebby I can make a dicker with somebody else.  Of
course, I’m admittin’ that th’ roan ain’t got a sand crack like th’
sorrel, or a spavin like th’ gray--but that’s too much money for a
saddle hoss for a puncher out of a job.  See you tonight, mebby."

Graves waved his arms again.  "I’m tellin’ you that you won’t find no
hoss in town like that roan--why, th’ color of that animal is worth half
th’ price.  Just look at it!"

"All of which I admits," replied Tex; "but, you see, I’m buyin’ me a
hoss to ride, not to put on th’ parlor table for to admire.  Comin’
right down to cases, any hoss but a gray, that’s sound, an’ not too old,
is good enough for any puncher.  You should ’a’ seen some that I’ve
rode, an’ been proud of!"

"Seein’ that yo’re a lover of good hossflesh, I’ll take a chance of Gus
gettin’ peeved, an’ let you have th’ roan for one-ninety.  That’s as low
as I can drop.  Can’t shave off another dollar."

"It’s too rich for Tex Jones," grumbled the puncher. "See you tonight,"
and the sack bobbed toward the door just as a sudden brawl sounded in
the street.  Tex took two quick steps and glanced.

A miner and a cowpuncher were rolling in the dust, biting, hitting,
gouging, and wrestling and, as Tex looked he saw the puncher’s gun slip
out of its open-top sheath. The fighting pair rolled away from it and
someone in the closely following crowd picked it up to save it for its
owner.  The puncher, pounds lighter than his brawny antagonist, rapidly
was getting the worst of the rough-and-tumble in which the other’s
superior weight and strength had full opportunity to make itself felt.
Suddenly the miner, thrown from his victim by a tremendous effort,
leaped to his feet, snarling like a beast, and knicked at the puncher’s
head.  The heavy, hob-nailed boot crashed sickeningly home and as the
writhing man went suddenly limp, the victor aimed another kick at his
unconscious enemy.  His foot swung back, but it never reached its mark.
A forty-pound saddle in a sack shot through the air with all of a strong
man’s strength behind it and, catching the miner balanced on one foot,
it knocked him sprawling through ten feet of dust and debris. Following
the sack came Tex, his eyes blazing.

The miner groped in the dust, slowly sat up, moving his head from side
to side as he got his bearings.  At once his eyes cleared and his hand
streaked to the knife in his belt as he half arose.  Tex leaped aside as
the heavy weapon cut through the air to sink into a near-by wall, where
it quivered.  The thrower was on his feet now, his face working with
rage, and he sprang forward, both arms circling before him.  Tex swiftly
gripped one outstretched wrist, turned sharply as he pushed his shoulder
under the armpit and suddenly bent forward, facing away from his
antagonist.  The miner left the ground on the surging heave of the
puncher’s shoulder, shot up into the air, turned over once as Tex, not
wishing him to break his neck, pulled down hard on the imprisoned arm,
and landed feet first against the wall, squarely under the knife.
Bouncing up with remarkable vitality, the miner wrenched at the wicked
weapon above him and then cursed as the steel, leaving its point
embedded in the wood, flew out of his hand.

Tex shoved the smoking Colt back into his holster and peered through the
acrid, gray fog.  "If you don’t know when yo’re licked, you better take
my word for it," he warned.  "Seein’ as how yo’re a rubber ball, I’ll
make shore th’ third time!"

A snarl replied and the miner leaped for him, the hairy hands not so far
extended this time.  Tex broke ground with two swift steps and then,
unexpectedly slipping to one side and forward in two perfectly timed
motions, swung a rigid, bent arm as the charging miner went blunderingly
past.  The bony fist landed fair above the belt buckle and it was nearly
half an hour later before the prospector knew where he was, and then he
was too sick to care much.

Tex turned and faced the crowd with insolent slowness. His glance passed
from face to face, finding some friendliness, much surprise, and a few
frank scowls.  He stepped up to the man who had retrieved the puncher’s
gun and, ignoring the crowd altogether, took the weapon from the
reluctant fingers which held it and went back to the front of the
stable, where Graves had succeeded in bringing the prostrate puncher
back to consciousness. Tex ran his fingers over the wobbly man’s head
and face, grunted, nodded, and smiled.

"Bad bruise, but nothin’ is busted.  Why there ain’t I’m shore _I_ don’t
know.  I figgered you was a goner. Here, take yore gun, an’ let us help
you into th’ stable."

Once on his feet the puncher pushed free from the sustaining hands and
staggered to a box just inside the door, where he carefully seated
himself, drew the Colt, and rested it on his knees, his blurred,
throbbing eyes watching the street.

Tex grinned.  "You can put that up ag’in--he’s had all he can digest for
a little while.  Punchin’ for Williams?"

"I’m ridin’ for Curtis: C Bar.  Over northeast, a couple of hours out.
I’m keepin’ th’ gun where it is: th’ miners run this town.  Where do you
fit in?  One of th’ GW gang?"

"Nope; I’m all of th’ Tex Jones outfit.  Stranger here, but shore
gettin’ acquainted rapid.  Got any good cayuses for sale out at yore
place?  Our mutual friend, here, wants th’ Treasury for th’ only good
animal he’s got. Bein’ a stranger is a handicap."

Graves leaned forward.  "That hoss is worth--" he began in great
earnestness.

"--not one red cent to me, now," interrupted Tex, smiling.  "Come to
think of it, I ain’t goin’ to buy no hoss, a-tall.  I’ve changed my
mind."

"We got th’ usual run out on th’ ranch," said the injured man.  "You
know ’em, I reckon.  Poor on looks, mean as all h--l, with hearts
crowded with sand.  I’ll be leavin’ in half an hour if th’ miners don’t
interfere--borry a cayuse an’ ride out with me."

"Nope," replied Tex.  "I ain’t goin’ to buy, a-tall, as I just said."
He turned.  "Good luck to you, friend. Barrin’ th’ soreness, an’ yore
looks yo’re all right," and he went out, picked up the bulging sack, and
passed down the street.  Leaving the sack with the bartender in the
hotel he went on to the station and smiled at the agent, who was joking
with a red-headed Irishman.

"Hello; here he is now," exclaimed the boss of the depot.  "Friend,
shake hands with Tim Murphy.  Tim, this is Mr.--Mr.----"

"Jones," supplied Tex.  "Tex Jones, of Montanny, Texas, an’ New York."

"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Geography," grinned Murphy.  "Th’ lad here was
a-tellin’ me ye gave him a friendly word an’ some good advice.  From
that I was knowin’ ye didn’t belong around here.  I’ll shake yer hand if
ye don’t mind.  Th’ sack wint like an arrow, th’ wrestlin’ trick
couldn’t be bate, I never saw a nicer shot, an’ th’ finish does ye
proud.  Ye fair tickled me when ye wint for th’ soft spot.  ’Tis a rare
sight in street fights, an’ in th’ ring, too, for that matter.  Welcome
to Windsor!"

Tex laughed heartily and gripped the hairy fist.  He liked the feel of
the great, calloused hand, and the look on the smiling, tanned face,
from which twinkled a pair of blue eyes alight with humor, honesty, and
courage. "But did you ever see a man come back as quick as he did?" he
asked.

"’Twas surprisin’ for a bully," admitted Murphy, grudgingly.

"That’s where yo’re wrong: he’s no bully," contradicted Tex.  "He’s a
brute, all right, savage as th’ devil, an’ foul in his fightin’--but he
ain’t any coward.  It fair stuck out of his eyes."

"Trust me to miss anything like that," growled the agent; "and trust Tim
not to," he added.

"Hist, now!" warned Murphy, motioning with his thumb held close to his
vest.  "Here comes th’ lass.  An’ what do ye be thinkin’ av th’ town
now, Mr. Jones?"

"Just what you do," laughed Tex, turning slowly.

"An’ how are ye this day, miss?" asked Murphy, his hat in his hand and
his red face beaming.

"Very well, indeed, Tim," replied the girl.  She glanced at Tex as she
turned to her brother, holding out the lunch basket.  "Jerry, I couldn’t
get any decent eggs--and they had no milk for me."  There was a poorly
hidden note of distress in her voice, and a faint look of anxiety
momentarily clouded her face.  Neither was lost to the observant
puncher.

Tex liked her instantly.  Her voice was full and sweet, of resonant
timbre--a voice one would not easily tire of. Her figure was slender,
and yet full and rounded, promising a wiry strength and great vitality.
The sunbonnet she wore hid most of the chestnut-brown hair, but set off
the face within it with a bewitching art.  Altogether she made a very
pretty picture.

"It doesn’t matter, Jane," smiled her brother, quick to sense her worry.
He pinched the full lips with caressing playfulness.  "I’m getting
stronger every day, and food isn’t as critical a subject as it once was.
The credit is all yours--Jane, meet Mr. Jones.  I was speaking about him
last night."

Tex bowed gravely.  "How do you do?" he murmured. "Conscientious care is
more than half of the battle.  The credit he gave you appears to be well
deserved."

Jane Saunders, accustomed to embarrassed self-consciousness or
stammering volubility, smiled faintly as she acknowledged the
introduction.  The man was as impersonal and as sure of himself as any
she ever had met.  She looked him fairly in the eyes.

"How did you come to advise my brother to go farther west?" she asked,
but while her voice was casual, her look challenged him.

"It was given upon certain conditions of the weather this winter,
Miss--I do not believe I caught the name."

"No fault of yours," she laughed.  "Jerry always ignores it in his
introductions.  It is Jane Saunders.  Then it was only in the nature of
a physician’s advice?" she persisted, her eyes searching his soul for
the truth.

Tex nodded.  "My knowledge of his complaint is very sketchy; but like
all amateurs I paraded what little I had. I thought that perhaps the
winters out here might not be as dry as they are farther west.  No doubt
it was entirely uncalled for.  We will hope so, anyway."

"No, indeed; although I went part way through the course.  What little
time I had left from more interesting activities, I gave to study."

"Ye was speakin’ about th’ aigs an’ milk, miss," said Murphy, his face
alight with eager anticipation.  He chuckled.  "Ye needn’t be askin’ no
more favors av Williams’ black heart.  I’ve a little somethin’ to show
ye all, if ye’ll step down th’ track a bit.  An’ Costigan is goin’ to
get him a cow.  Th’ missus said th’ word, an’ divvil a bit Mike can
wiggle out av it.  Ye’ll have first call on th’ milk, so I hear.  Mr.
Jones, if ye’ll be kind enough to escort Jerry, I’ll lead th’ march with
th’ lass."

"Oh, well," sighed Tex, gravely offering his arm to the station agent,
"I suppose it _is_ yore party; but I’m admittin’ yo’re not overlookin’
Number One.  Lead on, MacDuff."  He caught her quick glance at the
abrupt change in his language, and smiled to himself.  It never paid to
be too well understood by a woman.

"Th’ Irish are noted for bein’ judges av good whiskey, fine hosses, an’
fair wimmin," retorted Murphy.  "I’ll take no chances of any pearls
bein’ cast careless."

"I notice you put th’ wimmin last," countered Tex. "Grunt, Jerry!
Quick, man!  Before Miss Saunders looks around!"

"He said pearly, Mr. Jones," said Jane, laughingly. "I’m afraid he
intended it all to be plural."

"It was wrongly written in th’ first place," complained Tex.  "Tim has
an uncanny instinct; he only met me about ten minutes ago."

"Ten is a-plenty, sometimes," chuckled Murphy.  "But I’ll own to havin’
a previous sight av ye.  Wait now: here we are."

They stopped in front of the toolhouse and watched Murphy walk along one
of the two ties spanning the drainage ditch at the edge of the roadbed.
He unlocked the doors and flung them wide open as a clamorous cackling
broke out in the building.  On one end of a hand car was a crate of
chickens and leaning against it were several bundles of long stakes.  A
pile of new lumber could be seen in the back of the shed, while a fat
spool of wire rested near the stakes.

Murphy turned, his face red with delight at his surprise. "There ye are,
miss," he cried proudly.  "A round dozen av them, with their lord an’
master.  I couldn’t let that Mike Costigan go puttin’ on his airs over
his boss, so now there’ll be aigs for aignoggs that I’ll have a claim
to.  For safe-keepin’ we’ll build th’ coop in yore back yard where it
will be right handy for ye.  Ye can now tell Williams to kape his aigs.
If he don’t understand yer soft language, I’ll be tellin’ him in a way
he can’t mistook."

"You angel!" whispered Jane, tears in her eyes.  She was not misled by
his remarks about eggnoggs.  "Oh, Tim--you shouldn’t have done it!  Why
didn’t _I_ think of it?  And how is it that Mrs. Costigan suddenly needs
a cow?  If I’ve heard her aright, she has stalwart, old-fashioned ideas,
bless her, about nursing children.  And I never knew she was partial to
eggnoggs.  Jerry, what shall we do to them?"

Jerry blew his nose with energy.  "For a cent I’d lick Murphy right now,
and Mike immediately afterward," he laughed, sizing up the huge bulk of
bone, sinew, and toil-hardened muscle of the section-boss.  "Tim, you
and your boys are the one redeeming feature of this country.  And you
redeem it fully.  How long have you been plotting this?"

"G’wan with ye, th’ pair av ye!" chuckled the section-boss, his face
flaming.  "If Casey hadn’t stopped th’ train down by this shed yesterday
we couldn’t ’a’ surprised ye.  Ye never saw a consignment handled
quicker or more gintly."

"And I was wondering why he did it," confessed Jerry. "The brakeman said
he was trying his brakes.  Tim, you should be ashamed of yourself!"

"An’ I’ve been that, many a time," retorted Murphy. He turned to Tex.
"I’ll be leavin’ it to ye, Mr. Jones, if a man hasn’t certain rights
after bein’ nursed for three weeks by a brown-haired angel, an’ knowin’
that th’ same angel nursed Mrs. Costigan an’ th’ twins whin they was all
down with th’ measles.  Patient an’ unselfish, she was, with never a
cross word, day or night--an’ always with a smile on her pretty face,
like th’ sun on Lake Killarney."

Tex looked gravely and judicially at Jane Saunders. "You haven’t a word
to say, Miss Saunders.  The verdict of the court is for the defendant.
Case dismissed, without costs of either party against the other."  He
turned to the section-boss.  "When are we buildin’ that coop, Murphy?"
he asked.

"Tomorrow, Tex," answered the Irishman.  "We’ll be after runnin’ th’
darlin’s up there right away, an’ come back for th’ lumber an’ wire.
That’ll give us an early start.  Th’ sidin’ will let us ride ’em near
halfway an’ save a lot of flounderin’ in th’ sand."

"We’d better come back for th’ darlin’s after th’ coop is ready for
’em," said Tex, grinning.  "If I know coyotes as well as I reckon I do,
th’ harem will be a lot safer in this here shed; an’ I’m glad it’s got a
board floor, too. Lend a hand here an’ we’ll change th’ cargo on this
meek steed.  _Gently, brother, gently pray_.  Now for th’ lumber."  He
burst into a chant: "_I once was a bloody pirate bold, an’ I sailed on
th’ Spanish Main, yo-ho!  Th’ treasure chests were full of gold, which
gave us all a pain you know._"  He glanced at one of his hands and
grimaced.  "Blast th’ splinters.  An’ would you look at that corn?
Blessed if th’ man hasn’t got enough to feed another Custer expedition!
Murphy, you certainly do grow on one!"

Murphy paused with a huge armful of lumber, and looked suspicious.  "On
one what?" he demanded.

"Prickly pear plant, I reckon, in lieu of anything else; or on a
mesquite tree, perhaps, for you shore do know beans when th’ pod’s open.
_An’ it stopped--short--never to go again, when th’ old--man--died,_"
hummed Tex.  "All aboard.  Clang-clang!  Clang-clang!  I can still hear
that bell in my sleep.  Yo’re th’ engineer, Murphy; I’ll act in an
advisory capacity, at th’ same time pushing hard on my very own handle.
Ladies first! Miss Saunders, if you please!  That’s right, for you might
as well ride in state.  Up you go.  From your elevated position you may
scan the country roundabout and give us warning of the approach of
redskins.  _A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, a Jug of Wine, a Loaf
of Bread_--and fried eggs--_Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!_"

"I see no redskins, Advisory Capacity," called Jane, who thoroughly was
enjoying herself; "but hither rides a horseman on a horse."

Tex looked up and saw a recklessly riding puncher coming toward them.
He slyly exchanged grins with Murphy and kept on pushing.

The rider, smiling as well as a swollen face and throbbing temples would
permit, slid to a stand, removed his sombrero and bowed.

"My name’s Tom Watkins," he said.  "I just come down to tell you,
friend, that I’ve learned what you done for me, awhile back.  I’m----"

Tex interrupted him.  "You just came down in time, Thomas, to drop yore
useful rope over that bobbin’ handle an’ head west at a plain,
unornamental walk.  High-heeled boots was never made for pushin’ han’
cars over ties an’ rocks.  An’ I suspect Murphy of stealin’ a ride every
time my head goes down."

"Then I’d be cheatin’ myself," retorted Murphy, looking upon the
newcomer with strong favor.  "Th’ car would be after stoppin’ every time
I rode, like th’ little boat with th’ big whistle."  He turned to the
agent. "Jerry, there’s no tellin’ how fast this car will be goin’, for I
misdoubt that animal’s intentions.  Suppose ye run along an’ throw th’
switch for us.  Hadn’t ye better get down, miss?"

"Not for the world, Tim!"

The disfigured puncher grinned even wider, dropped his rope over the
handle with practiced art and wheeled his horse.  "What’ll I do when I
git to th’ end of th’ rails?" he asked, mischievous deviltry, unabashed
by what had befallen him, shining in his eyes, and there was an eager
curiosity revealed by his voice.

"What’ll he do, Murphy?" demanded Tex.

"He’ll stop, blast him!" emphatically answered the section-boss.

"You’ll stop, Thomas," said Tex.  "As Hamlet said: ’Go on, I’ll follow
thee!’"

"But he’s not nearly a ghost yet," objected Jane.  Her cheeks were
flushed, her eyes sparkling from the fun she was having.  Many days had
passed since she had had so good a time.  It was a treat to get away
from the ever-lasting "Yes, ma’am" and "No, ma’am" which had been the
formula for conversation with everyone to whom she had talked except her
brother and Murphy.

"No, ma’am," said the puncher.  "Not yet."

Jane shuddered and grimaced at Tex as the rider turned away.  "That’s
all I’ve heard since I’ve been out here," she softly called down to him.

"Yes, ma’am," he replied, not daring to look up. The procession wended
onward to the edification of sundry stray dogs, and Costigan’s goats,
tethered near the toolshed, promptly went into consultation as to what
measures to pursue, apparently deciding upon a defensive course of
action if the worst came to pass.

The end of the rails reached, the engineer of the motive power stopped,
sized up the ground roundabout and then looked hopefully at his
companions.  "Reckon we can manage th’ haul.  Totin’ them boards afoot
shore will be tirin’.  Where we drivin’ to?"

Jerry pointed out the little house, but shook his head. "We can’t make
it."

"Cowboy," said Tex, "that ain’t no plowhorse.  When she feels th’ drag
of this vehicle in th’ sand she’ll display her frank an’ candid thoughts
about it."

"Then blindfold her," suggested Tom Watkins.  "She won’t know it ain’t a
steer she’s fastened to.  You fellers can git behind an’ push, too."

"’_Sic transit gloria mundi,_’" murmured Jane, preparing to descend to
earth.

"’_Sic transit_’ glorious Monday," repeated Tex, stepping to assist her.
"Only it ain’t Monday.  Take my honest hand, lady, and jump."  He turned
and looked at the grinning engineer.  "Now, you cactus-eatin’ burro, try
yore handkerchief.  If _our_ idea works, all right; if yore idea don’t
work, it’s Murphy’s fault.  Commence!"

"I’m thinkin’ it would work better if th’ car was off th’ track,"
caustically commented Murphy.  "I misdoubt if we can climb that buffer;
th’ flanges on these wheels are deep an’ strong an’ I’m shore we can’t
pull th’ rails over.  If th’ engineer will lend a hand here we mebby can
clear th’ track without unloadin’.  I’ll take th’ off side; ye byes take
th’ other, which makes it even, for it is a well-known fact that one
Irish section-boss is worth two punchers.  Are ye ready, now?"

"I’ve heard they can run faster than two cowpunchers," retorted Tex.
"For the ashes of your fathers, _lift_! Try it again--now.  Inch her
over--that’s the way. Now then, _lift_!  Once more--_lift_!  Phew!  All
right: proceed, cowboy," he grunted.

"Hold yer horses!" shouted Murphy.  "What’s th’ good av a section-boss
that can’t lay a track?" he demanded, taking up a two-by-four, Tex
following his lead. The car was lifted onto the timbers and the
procession went on again.  "Will they spread, now?" queried Murphy
doubtfully, watching them closely.  He had just decided they would not
when they did.  After numerous troubles the little house was reached,
the lumber unloaded, and the car sent back without rails.

"Goin’ to make any more hauls?" asked the horseman.

"We are not," said Tex with emphasis.  "We could ’a’ toted this stuff
over in half th’ time.  _Tempus_ fidgets, an’ I’m catchin’ it.  Yore
ideas are plumb fine till they’re put in practice."

"_My_ ideas?" queried the disfigured rider, his rising eyebrows pushing
wrinkles onto his forehead.  "Didn’t you tell me to chuck my rope over
that bobbin’ handle?"

"Do you allus have to do what yo’re told?" retorted Tex.  "Answer me
that!  Do you?"

The rider looked down at Jane, who was nearly convulsed, and sighed with
deep regret, and because her presence forbade the only appropriate
retort, he shook his head sorrowfully and turned to haul the car back to
the track.

"Hey!" called Tex.  "Sling them spools of barb wire across yore saddle.
We might as well get more of that stuff while we have yore good-natured
assistance.  Just chuck it on any place an’ bring it here."

"You just can’t chuck a spool of wire on a saddle any place," retorted
the puncher.  "Was you speakin’ about ideas?"

"An’ while yer about it," said Murphy, "ye might bring back a spade, th’
saws, three hammers, that box av nails, an’ them staples.  Th’ staples
are in a little keg--th’ one without th’ handle.  I’ve a mind to start
buildin’ today.  What do ye say, Tex?  Good for ye: yer a man after me
own heart."

Despite his aches and bruises the puncher’s feet left the stirrups and
slowly went up until he stood with his shoulder on the saddle.  He waved
his legs three times and resumed the correct posture for riding.  Words
were hopelessly inadequate.  He looked at Jane, who was shrieking and
pointing at the ground under the horse. Thomas craned his neck and
looked down.  He thereupon dismounted and picked up one Colt’s .45, one
pocket-knife, one watch which now needed expert attention, various
coins, a plug of tobacco, and three horseshoe nails.  Murphy stared at
him, spat disgustedly, and attacked the pile of lumber.

After the puncher’s return the work went on rapidly, and when the roof
of the coop was finished, the three perspiring workmen stepped back to
admire it.

"We’ve got to slat them windows," said Tex, thinking of coyotes.

"An’ we got thirteen nests to build," said Thomas Watkins.

"Th’ saints be praised!" ejaculated Murphy, staring incredulously at the
battle-scarred recruit.  "Mebby there’ll be a coincidence about twelve
layin’ all at once, but there won’t be no thirteenth on th’ job.  Mebby
yer thinkin’ th’ Sultan will nest down alongside them to set them a good
example?  Six boxes will be a-plenty, Tommy, my lad."

Tommy tilted his sombrero to scratch his head.  "Well, if you reckon
there won’t be no stampedin’, mebby six will be enough, ’though I’d hate
to think of ’em milling frantic for their turn on th’ nests.  An’ while
we’re speakin’ of calamities, I’m sayin’ good chickens will fly over th’
fence you fellers aim to build.  Six feet ain’t high enough, nohow."

"We clip their wings, Tommy," enlightened Tex.

"We clip one wing close up," corrected Murphy. "That lifts ’em on one
side an’ flops ’em around in a circle.  I can easy see you ain’t no _hen
puncher_."

"Th’ principle is sound in theory an’ proved by practice," said Tex.
"Just like when you saw off th’ laigs on one side of a steer.  That
allus keeps ’em from jumpin’ fences."

"Too cussed bad you stopped that miner," growled Watkins.  "I’d ’a’ been
a whole lot better off dead."

"We’re sorry, too," retorted Murphy.  "Now, then; we got a four-sided
fence to build, three posts to a side. That’s a dozen holes to dig."

"Tell you what," suggested Tommy, winking at Tex. "You can handle a
spade all around us, one Irish section-boss bein’ worth two punchers.
Besides we only got one spade for th’ three of us.  You dig th’ north
an’ south sides while me an’ Tex start on nests an’ put up th’ roosts.
Then we’ll dig th’ east an’ west sides while yo’re settin’ yore posts
an’ tampin’ ’em."

"An I’ll have mine set while you fellers git ready to start on yer
roosts," boasted Murphy, grabbing the spade and starting to work.  Jane
Saunders, who had come up unobserved, suddenly stuffed her handkerchief
in her mouth and fled back to the house.

There ensued great hammering and frantic dirt throwing.  Tex and his
companion were hampered by mirth and were only building the last nest
when Murphy stuck his head in the door.

"Ye wouldn’t last in no gang av mine!" he jeered. "I got me holes dug
an’ th’ posts set.  Set ’em single-handed an’ they’re true as a plumb
line."

"All right, Murphy," said Tommy without looking up. "Run along an’ do
th’ other two while we’re finishin’ up. It’s gettin’ late."

"Tryin’ to lay it onto me, eh?" demanded Murphy. "You an’ yer two post
holes!  Ye must think--" he stopped short, thought a moment, and then
slyly glanced out at the unfinished sides of the enclosure.  "Hivin save
us!" he muttered and slipped out without another word.

Tommy wiped his eyes and leaned against the wall for support.  "Four
sides," he babbled.  "Three to a side: that’s a dozen holes to dig!  He
will make smart remarks about my thirteen nests, will he?"

"Figures don’t lie, an’ logic is logic," laughed Tex. "Reckon we can’t
finish th’ fence today; but it don’t make no difference, anyhow.  Them
chickens are as safe in th’ toolshed as they’d be up here.  Did you
close th’ doors when you left?" he demanded anxiously.

"Yes; too many hungry, stray dogs around.  I’d liked to ’a’ gone to th’
finish with you boys, but I got to get back to th’ ranch.  Climb up
behind me an’ I’ll let you off at th’ hotel."

"I’ll wait for Murphy," replied Tex.  "He’ll mebby need help about
somethin’.  I’m cussed glad to know you, Watkins; an’ I’ve shore had a
circus today."

"You pulled me out of a bad hole, Tex; an’ you shore as shootin’ dug one
for yoreself.  This town’s run by th’ miners, a lot of hoof-poundin’
grubs, with pack mules for pardners.  There’s been feelin’s between us
an’ them walkin’ fools," here he voiced the riders’ contempt for men who
walked, "for a long time.  Yo’re a puncher, an’ you shore come out flat
an’ took sides today.  Tell you what--either you come out to th’ ranch
with me, or I’ll stay here in town with you.  Come along: we’ll find you
a good cayuse, an’ not rob you, neither."

"Can’t do it, Tommy," replied Tex, warming to his new acquaintance.  "I
got my eye on a roan beauty an’ I’m goin’ to own him by tomorrow.  He
won’t cost me a red cent.  So far’s danger is concerned, I ain’t in none
that my tongue or my six-gun can’t get me out of.  But I’ll ride out an’
pay yore outfit a visit after I get th’ roan."

"That’s th’ third best cayuse in this section," replied Tommy.
"Williams owns all three of ’em, too.  There ain’t nothin’ on th’ ranch
that can touch any of ’em."  He paused and looked closely at his
companion.  "You heard any war-talk ag’in’ th’ agent?"

"Only a rumblin’, far off," answered Tex.  "Th’ dust ain’t plain yet, so
I can’t tell how it’s headin’.  What do you know about it?"

"Not half as much as Murphy, I bet," replied Watkins. "You ask him.
It’s a cussed shame for a man to be hounded by a pack of dogs.  Well,
I’m off.  Remember that you got friends on th’ C Bar when you need ’em,
which you shore as shootin’ will.  We’ll come a-runnin’."  He shook
hands and went out, Tex loafing after him as far as the door.  "Tim, I
reckon you an’ Tex can manage to get along without me now, so I’ll drift
along.  I’m due at th’ ranch."

"Whose?" asked Murphy carelessly, trying a post to see if it was well
set.

"Julius Caesar Curtis: Judy, for short," answered Watkins, holding out
his hand.  "You can leave th’ other four posts for me to set when I come
in again," he grinned.

"For a bye’s-sized chew av tobaccy I’d skin ye," chuckled Tim, shaking
the hand heartily.  "Much obliged, Thomas, me son.  Come in an’ see us
when ye can.  There’s so few decent men in this part av th’ country that
ye’ll be welcome as th’ flowers av spring."

Tommy swung into the saddle, raised his hat to the woman who appeared in
the kitchen door, and whirled around to leave.

"Mr. Watkins!" called Jane, running toward the little group.  "You are
not going to leave without your supper? Your place is set and Jerry is
pouring the coffee."

Tommy Watkins flushed, swallowed his Adam’s apple, looked blankly at Tex
and Tim, stammered gibberish, and managed to convey the impression that
the salvation of the ranch and its outfit depended on his immediate
departure.  His mute appeal for moral support was coldly received by his
fellow-builders.

"I do not wish to be rude, Mr. Watkins," smiled Jane, "and I would not
wish to turn you from your duty: but I shall be a little disappointed if
you won’t allow me to show my poor appreciation of what you have done
for us.  But I will not press you: if not tonight, then some other
time?"

The savior of the C Bar flushed deeper, received scowling looks from his
late bosom companions, who knew a liar when they heard one, and he
ducked his head quickly. "Yes, ma’am," he blurted eagerly.  "I’d admire
to stay, but Curtis shore is dependin’ on me to git back.  If you’ll
excuse me, ma’am--I--so--by," and he was whirling away in a cloud of
dust, his sombrero held out at arm’s length.

Murphy looked gravely at Tex and flushed slightly. "He has an important
job, miss," he said.

Tex looked gravely at Murphy and did not flush.  "A great weight for
shoulders so young," he lied, suspecting, however, that Tommy might have
acquired, during the course of the day, a very great weight, indeed.  He
had observed his glances at Jane.

She smiled inscrutably and turned to look at the coop, clapping her
hands in delight.  "Isn’t it fine, and new, and piney!" she exclaimed,
sniffing the tangy odor.  "And it looks so strong--I must peek in for a
moment."

There was not much room to spare when they all had entered, a fact which
Tex easily explained.

"You see, Miss Saunders," he said, waving his hands, "it is to serve
only as a nesting place and a shelter from predatory animals.  During
the day your flock will roam about the enclosure outside; but at
twilight, without fail, it must be confined securely in this coop.  No
self-respecting coyote will be restrained for five minutes by the
wire--he either will force himself between the strands, or dig under;
and there are any number of those thieves around this town.  They cannot
be trapped or baffled--they will outwait or outwit any watcher.  The
only thing that will stop them is something physically impregnable.

"Tim and I intend to weave slats and laths between the lower strands of
wire, running them vertically up from the ground, in which their lower
ends will be driven.  They will offer some protection, but their chief
value will be to keep the chickens from getting outside. No coyote will
be bothered by them for very long, and in order to save yourself the
labor of filling up the tunnels they surely will dig if they can get in
in no other way, I’d advise you to leave the fence gate wide open every
night.

"We lay this floor for that reason.  No matter what they are able to do,
they can’t get into the coop.  I’ll wager that you will find tunnels
running under it before long.  Don’t fail to close this building before
nightfall, and your flock will be safe."

"Amen," said Murphy.  "They’re cunnin’ divvils, coyotes are!"

"I don’t know how to thank you," said Jane, impulsively putting her
hands on the arms of her companions. "Think what it will mean to
Jerry--a dozen fresh eggs a day!"

Murphy chuckled.  "Four a day will be doin’ good, an’ not that many for
awhile.  I’ll get ye some grit, an’ make a batch av whitewash."

"Hey!" called a voice.  "Everything’s getting cold!"

"There’s Jerry, playing domestic tyrant," laughed Jane.  "Isn’t it
remarkable what a difference it makes to the cook?  He thinks nothing of
making me wait.  Come on--you can tell me all about chicken raising
after supper."  She cast a furtive glance at Tex, and past him at the
twilight-softened range beyond, where Tommy Watkins somewhere rode to
save his ranch and outfit.



                              *CHAPTER V*

                          *A TRIMMER TRIMMED*


About ten o’clock that night Murphy and Tex neared the station and
stopped short at the former’s sudden ejaculation.

"Th’ switch is open," he said.  "Not that anythin’ serious might happen,
unless th’ engineer went blind; but either av them would have plenty to
say about it. Trust ’em for that.  An’ tomorrow is Overton’s trick
east-bound.  He’s worse than Casey.  Wait here a bit," and the
section-boss went over, threw the switch, and returned.

Soon they stopped again at the station to say good night to each other.
Murphy seemed a little constrained and worried and soon gave the reason
for it.

"Tex," he said in a low voice, "yer takin’ sides with th’ weakest party,
an’ yer takin’ ’em fast an’ open. Right now yer bein’ weighed an’
discussed, an’ to no profit to yerself.  I can see that yer a man that
will go his own way--but if th’ hotel gets unpleasant an’ tirin’, yer
more than welcome in my shanty.  ’Tis only an old box car off its
wheels, but there’s a bunk in it for ye any time ye want to use it.
Tread easy now, an’ keep yer two eyes open; an’ while I’m willin’ to
back ye up, I daren’t do it unless it’s a matter av life an’ death.  I’m
Irish, an’ so is Costigan.  There’s a strong feelin’ out here ag’in’
us--an’ when a mob starts not even wimmin an’ childer are safe.
Costigan has both, an’ there’s th’ lass, as well.  I’ve urged Mike to
send his family back along th’ line somewhere, but his wife says _no_.
She’s foolish, no doubt, but I say, God bless such wimmin."

"She’s not foolish," replied Tex with conviction. "She’s wise, riskin’
herself mebby, on a long chance. While she stays here Costigan will use
a lot of discretion--if she goes, he might air his opinions too much, or
get drunk and leave her a widow.  I’ll do what I can to stave off
trouble, even to eatin’ a little dirt; but, Tim, I’d like nothing better
than to send for a few friends an’ let things take their natural course.
Every time I look at that nephew I fair itch to strangle him.  It can’t
be possible that Miss Saunders gives him any encouragement? I’m much
obliged about yore offer.  I’d take it up right now except that it would
cause a lot of talk an’ thinkin’.  Here, you better hand me two dollars
for my day’s work--there ain’t no use lyin’ about anythin’ if th’ truth
will serve.  I’ll return it th’ next time I see you."

"Th’ lass won’t look at that scut.  He follers her around like a dog,"
Murphy growled, and then a grin came to his face as he dug into his
pocket.  "Here.  Yer overpaid, but I should ’a’ dickered with ye before
I let ye go to work."

"Thanks, boss," chuckled Tex.  "You’ll need me tomorrow, for th’ wire
stringin’?"

"Yer fired!" answered Murphy, his voice rising and changing in timbre.
"Yer a loafin’, windy, clumsy, bunglin’ no-account.  By rights that
ought to make ye mad.  Does it?"

Tex could not fail to read the answer he was expected to make, for it
lay in the section-boss’ tones; and he thought that he had seen
something move around the corner of the station.  He stepped on the toe
of one of his companion’s boots to acknowledge the warning.

"Am I?" he demanded, angrily.  "Yo’re so d--d used to bossin’ Irish
loafers that you don’t know a good man when you see one.  You don’t have
to fire me, you Mick! I’m quittin’, an’ you can go to h--l!"

Murphy’s arm stopped in mid-air as Tex’s gun leaped from its sheath.

"You checked it just in time," snapped Tex.  "Any more of that an’ I’ll
blow you wide open.  Turn around an’ hoof it to yore sty!"

Murphy, strangling a chuckle, backed warily away. "If ye was as handy
with tools as ye are with that d--d gun--" he growled.  "’Tis lucky for
ye that ye have it!"

"This is my tool," retorted Tex.  "Shut up an’ get out before you make
me use it.  Fire me, hey?  You got one ---- ---- gall!"

He stood staring after the shuffling Irishman, muttering savagely to
himself, until the section-boss had been swallowed up by the darkness.
Then he turned, slammed the gun back into its holster and stamped toward
the hotel; but he stopped in the nearest saloon to give the
eavesdropper, if there had been one, a chance to get to the hotel before
him.

The bar was deserted, but half a dozen prospectors were seated at the
tables, and they greeted his entrance with scowls.  The two cavalrymen
present glanced at him in disinterested, momentary curiosity and resumed
their maudlin conversation.  Some shavetail’s ears must have been
burning out at their post.

Tex stormed up to the bar and slammed two silver dollars on it.  "Take
this dirty money an’ give th’ boys cigars for it," he growled.  "Me, I’m
not smokin’ any of ’em.  Fire me, huh?  I’d like to see th’ section-boss
that fires me!  ’Overpaid,’ he says, an’ me workin’ like a dog!  ’I
don’t need ye tomorry,’ he says: I cussed soon told him what he needed,
but he didn’t wait for it.  Fire me?" he sneered.  "Like h--l!"

The cavalrymen grinned sympathetically and nodded their thanks for the
cigars, which they had no little difficulty in lighting.  The other men
in the room took their gifts silently, two of them abruptly pushing them
across the table, away from them.

"There’ll be others that’ll mebby git what they’re needin’," said a
rasping, unsteady voice from a corner table.  "’Specially if he sticks
his nose in where it ain’t wanted."

Tex casually turned and nodded innocently.  "My sentiments exactly," he
agreed, waiting to receive unequivocal notification that it was he for
whom the warning was meant.  A little stupidity was often a useful
thing.

"Nobody asked you for yore sentiments," retorted the prospector.
"Strangers can’t come into this town an’ carry things with a high hand.
Next time, Jake will kill you."

Tex looked surprised and then his eyes glinted.  "That bein’ a little
job he can start ’most any time," he retorted. "When a man fights
worse’n a dog he makes me mad; an’ he fought like a cur.  I’d do it
ag’in.  He got what he was needin’, that’s all."

The miner glowered at him.  "An’ he’s got friends, Jake has," he
asserted.

"Tell him that he’ll need ’em--all of ’em," sneered Tex.  "Our little
session was plumb personal, but I’ll let in his friends.  Th’ gate’s
wide open.  They don’t have to dig in under th’ fence, or sit on their
haunches outside an’ howl.  An’ let me tell you somethin’ for yore
personal benefit--I’ve swallered all I aim to swaller tonight.  I’m
peaceable an’ not lookin’ for no trouble--you hold yore yap till I get
through talkin’--but I ain’t dodgin’ none. Somehow I seem to be out of
step in this town; but I’m whistlin’ that I’m cussed particular about
who sets me right.  I ain’t got no grudges ag’in’ nobody; I’m tryin’ to
act accordin’ to my lights, but I ain’t apologizin’ to nobody for them
lights.  Anybody objectin’?"

"Fair enough," said one of the cavalrymen.  "I like his frank ways."

"That rides for me, too," endorsed his companion, aggressively.

"Shut up, you!" cried the bartender.

"For two bits--" pugnaciously began a miner, but he was cut short.

"An’ you, too!" barked the man behind the counter, a gun magically
appearing over the edge of the bar. "This has gone far enough!
Stranger, you spoke yore piece fair.  Tom," he said, looking at the
angry miner, "you got nothin’ more to say: yo’re all through.  If you
think you has, then go outside an’ shout it there.  Th’ subject is
closed.  What’ll you-all have?"

Tex tarried after the round had been drunk but he did not order one on
his own account, feeling that it would be a mistake under the
circumstances.  It might be regarded as a sign of weakness, and was
almost certain to cause trouble.  Turning his back on the sullen miner
he talked casually with the bartender and the cavalrymen, and then one
of the miners cleared his throat and spoke.

"Did you have a run-in with th’ big Irishman?" he asked.

Tex leaned carelessly against the bar, grinned and frankly recounted the
affair, and before he had finished the narrative, answering grins
appeared here and there among his audience.  The sputter of a sulphur
match caught his eye as his late adversary slowly reached for and lit
the cigar he had pushed from him a few minutes earlier, but Tex did not
immediately glance that way. When he had finished the story he looked
around the room, noticed that all were smoking and he nodded slightly in
friendly understanding.  A little later he said good night, smiled
pleasantly at the once sullen prospector, and went carelessly out into
the night.  The buzz of comment following his departure was not
unfavorable to him.

When he entered the hotel barroom all eyes turned to him, and he noticed
a grim smile on Williams’ face and that the evil countenance of the
nephew was aquiver with suspicion.  Walking over, he stepped close to
the table, watching the play, and from where he could keep tabs on Bud
Haines’ every move.  During the new deal Williams leaned back,
stretched, and glanced up.

"Had yore supper?" he carelessly asked.

Tex nodded.  "Shore: reg’lar home-cooked feed.  It went good for a
change.  I reckon I shore earned it, too."  He drew out a sack of
tobacco, filled a cigarette paper and held the sack in his teeth while
he rolled himself a smoke.  "What’s paid around here for a good,
half-day’s work?" he mumbled between his teeth.

"What kind of work?" judicially asked Williams.

Tex removed the sack, moistened the cigarette and held it unlighted
while he answered.  "Freightin’ on foot, carpenterin’, diggin’, an’
doin’ what I was told to do."

"Dollar to a dollar four bits," replied Williams. "What you doin’?
Hirin’ out?"

"I was; but I ain’t no more," replied Tex, lighting up. He exhaled a
lungful of smoke and dragged up a chair. "I asked two dollars, an’ there
was an argument.  That’s all."

The hands lay where they had been dealt, Williams having let his own
lay, and the players were idly listening until he should pick it up.

"What’s it all about?" asked Williams.  "You talk like a dish of hash."

The eager nephew squirmed closer to the table and his assumed look of
indifference was a heavy failure.

Tex laughed, leaned back, and with humorous verbal pigments painted a
rapidly changing picture to the best of his by no means poor ability.
He took them up to the digging of the post holes, and then leaned
forward. "Murphy said we’d build a four-sided fence, three posts to th’
side, makin twelve in all.  That suited us, an’ as there was only one
spade, we told him to go ahead an’ dig his holes while we worked on th’
nest boxes.  He was to do th’ north an’ th’ south sides, which he said
was fair."  The speaker paused a moment, leaning back in his chair, his
eyelids nearly closed.  Between their narrowed openings he looked
swiftly around.  The card players grinned in expectation of some joke
about to appear, Williams looked suspicious and puzzled, but the
bartender’s eyes popped open and he choked back a sudden burst of
laughter.  Tex drew in a long breath, pushed back into his chair and
glanced around at the players. "I was honest an’ fair enough to say th’
diggin’ wasn’t evenly divided, us bein’ two an’ him only one.  What do
you boys say?"

"What’s it all amount to anyhow?" snarled the nephew.  "Who cares if it
was or not?  What did you think of th’ gal?" he demanded.

Tex breathed deeply, relaxed, and gravely considered his boots.  "Well,
if I was aimin’ to start a kindergarten I might have took more notice cf
her--an’ you, too, bub.  Can’t you do yore own lookin’?" he plaintively
demanded.  "Anyhow, I was warned fair, wasn’t I? Huh!  When you get to
be my age an’ have had my experience with this fool world you won’t be
takin’ no more interest in ’em than I do.  Beggin’ yore pardon for
interruptin’ th’ previous conversation we was holdin’. I’ll perceed from
where I was."  He looked back at the card players.  "We was debatin’ th’
fairness of th’ offer to dig them holes.  What you boys say?"

The man nearest to him pursed his lips and cogitated. The subject was no
more frivolous than the majority of subjects which had furnished bones
of contention many a night.  Most barroom arguments start on even less.
"I reckon it was, him bein’ more used to diggin’."

His partner leaned forward.  "What did he say about it, at first?"

"He was shore satisfied," answered Tex as the bartender, turning his
back on the room, shook with the ague.

The last questioner bobbed his head decisively.  "Then it shore was
fair."

Williams nodded slowly, for his opinions were not lightly given.  "I’d
say it was.  What about it?"

"Oh, nothin’ much," growled Tex.  "I reckon he changed his mind later
on."  He looked over at the gambler leaning against the wall, the same
gambler he had seen on the train.  At this notice Denver Jim, sensing
possible bets, straightened up, winked, and made a sign which among his
class was a notification that he had declared himself in for half the
winnings of a game.  Tex shook his head slightly and frowned, as if
deeply puzzled over Murphy’s conduct.  The gambler repeated the sign and
moved forward.

Tex did some quick thinking.  He could not afford to be linked to a
tin-horn and he did not intend to make any money out of his joke.
Whatever he won in this town he would win at cards, and win it alone.
His second signal of refusal was backed up by his hand dropping
carelessly and resting on the butt of his gun.  The gambler scowled,
barely nodded his acquiescence and went to the bar for a drink.  Bud
Haines glanced up from the weekly paper he was reading, saw nothing to
hold his interest, and returned to his reading.

Tex went on with his story, telling about the supper and his scene with
Murphy at the station, repeating the latter word for word as nearly as
he could from the time when he had detected the approach of the
eavesdropper. From the constantly repeated looks of satisfaction on
Williams’ face he knew that the local boss had been given a detailed
account of the incident, and that he was checking it up, step by step.
Briefly sketching his trouble in the saloon, Tex threw the cigarette
butt at a distant box cuspidor and stretched.  "An’ here I am," he
finished.

Williams picked up his hand, glancing absent-mindedly at the cards.
"Yes," he grunted, "here you are."  Putting the cards back on the table
he carelessly pushed them from him, squaring the edges with zealous
care.  "You come near not bein’ here, though," he said, his level look
steady and accusing.  "Whatever made you jump on Jake that way?" he
demanded coldly.

"Shucks!  Here it comes again!" said Tex.  He looked suspicious and
defiant.  "I did it to stop a murder, an’ a lynchin’," he answered
shortly.

"Very fine!" muttered Williams.  "You was a little mite
overanxious--there wouldn’t ’a’ been no lynchin’ of Jake; but there
might ’a’ been one, just th’ same.  I had to do some real talkin’ to
stop it.  It ain’t wise for strangers to act sudden in a frontier
town--’specially in this town.  That’s somethin’ you hadn’t ought to
forget, Mr. Jones."

"If I get yore meanin’ plain, yo’re intendin’ me to think I was in
danger of bein’ lynched?"

"You shore was."

"Then yo’re admittin’ that this town of Windsor will lynch a man because
he keeps a murder from bein’ committed, by lickin’ th’ man who tried to
do it?"

"Exactly.  Jake has lots of friends."

"He’s plumb welcome to ’em, an’ I reckon, if he’s that kind of a man, he
shore needs ’em bad.  But from what I saw of Jake he ain’t that kind of
a man.  I’m a friend of his’n, too.  I’m so much a friend of Jake’s that
if he treads on my toes I’ll save him from facin’ th’ trials an’
hardships that come with old age.  His existence is precarious, anyhow.
He’s allus just one step ahead of poverty an’ grub stakes.  Life for
Jake is just one placer disappointment after another.  He allus has to
figger on a hard winter.  Then he has to dodge sickness an’ saddles,
wrestlin’ tricks, boxin’ tricks, an’ fast gunplay.  But Jake is th’ kind
of a man that does his own fightin’ for hisself. Yo’re plumb mistaken
about him."

"Mebby I am," admitted Williams.  "I didn’t know you was acquainted with
anybody around here, ’specially th’ C Bar outfit."

"I wasn’t," replied Tex.  "It ain’t my nature to be distant an’
disdainful, however."  He grinned.  "I get acquainted fast."

"You acted prompt in helpin’ that Watkins," accused Williams.

"I shore had to, or he’d ’a’ quit bein’ Watkins," retorted Tex.  "You
look here: We’ll be savin’ a lot of time if we come right down to cases.
I saw a big man tryin’ to kick th’ head off another man, a smaller one,
that was down.  I stopped him from doin’ it without hurtin’ him serious.
If it’d been th’ other way ’round I’d done th’ same thing.  As it
stands, it’s between Jake an’ me.  We’ll let it stay that way until th’
lynchin’ party starts out.  Then anybody will be plumb welcome to cut in
an’ stop it.  Excuse me for interferin’ with yore game--but th’ fault
ain’t mine.  Talkin’ is dry work--bartender, set ’em up for all hands.
Who’s winnin’?"

Williams picked up his cards again, looked at them, puckered his lips
and glanced around at his companions. He cleared his throat and looked
back at Tex.  "I reckon I was, a little.  Want to sit in?  After all,
Jake’s troubles are his own: we got enough without ’em."

Tex looked at the table and the players, shrugged his shoulders and
answered carelessly.  "Don’t feel like playin’ very much--ate too much
supper, I reckon.  Later on, when I ain’t so heavy with grub, mebby I’ll
take cards.  I’d rather play ag’in’ fewer hands, tonight, anyhow."

Williams looked up and sneered.  "Think you got a better chance, that
way?"

"I get sort of confused when there’s so many playin’," confessed Tex;
"but I shore can beat th’ man that invented th’ game, playin’ it
two-handed.  I used to play for hosses, two-hand.  Allus had luck,
somehow, playin’ for them.  Why, once I owned six cayuses at one time,
that I’d won."

"That so?  You like that gray: how much will you put up ag’in’ him?"

"I wouldn’t play for no gray hoss--they’re plumb unlucky with me.  I
ain’t superstitious, but I shore don’t like gray hosses."

"Got any thin’ ag’in’ sorrels?" Williams asked with deep sarcasm.

"Nothin’ much; but I’m shore stuck on blacks an roans.  I call them
hosses!" Tex grinned at the crowd and looked back at Williams.  "Yes,
sir; I shore do."

"How much will you put up ag’in’ a good roan, then?"

"Ain’t got much money," evaded Tex, backing away.

"Got two hundred dollars?"

"Not for no cayuse.  Besides, I don’t know th’ hoss yo’re meanin’."

"That roan you saw today," replied Williams.  "John said you liked him a
lot.  I’ll play you one hand, th’ roan, ag’in’ two hundred."

Tex glanced furtively at the front door and then at the stairway.  "Let
it go till tomorrow night," he mumbled.

"Yo’re a great talker, ain’t you?" sneered Williams. "I’ll put up th’
roan ag’in’ a hundred an’ fifty.  One hand, just me an’ you."

"Well, mebby," replied Tex.  "Better make her th’ best two out of three.
I might have bad luck th’ first hand."

Williams’ disgust was obvious and a snicker ran through the room.  "I
wouldn’t play that long for a miserable sum like that ag’in’ a stranger.
One hand, draw poker, my roan ag’in’ yore one-fifty.  Put up, or shut
up!"

"All right," reluctantly acquiesced Tex.  "We allus used to make it two
out of three up my way; but I may be lucky.  After you get through--I
ain’t in no hurry."

Williams laughed contemptuously: "You shore don’t have to say so!"  He
smiled at his grinning companions and resumed his play.

Tex dropped into the seat next to the sneering nephew, from where he
could watch the gun-fighter.  Bud’s expression duplicated that of his
boss and he paid but little attention to the wordy fool who was timid
about playing poker for a horse.

"Hot, ain’t it?" said Tex pleasantly.  "Hot, an’ close."

"Some folks find it so; reckon mebby it is," answered the nephew.  "What
did you people talk about at supper?" he asked.

"Hens," answered Tex, grinning.  "She’s got a dozen. You’d think they
was rubies, she’s that stuck up about ’em.  Kind of high-toned, ain’t
she?"

The nephew laughed sneeringly.  "She’ll lose that," he promised.  "I
don’t aim to be put off much longer."

"Mebby yo’re callin’ too steady," suggested Tex. "Sometimes that gives
’em th’ idea they own a man.  You don’t want to let ’em feel too shore
of you."

Henry Williams shifted a little.  "No," he replied; "I ain’t callin’ too
often.  In fact, I ain’t done no callin’ at all, yet.  I’ve sort of run
acrost her on th’ right-of-way, an’ watched her a little.  I get a
little bit scary, somehow--just can’t explain it.  But I aim to call at
th’ house, for I’m shore gettin’ tired of ridin’ wide."

"Ain’t they smart, though?" chuckled Tex; "holdin’ back an’ actin’
skittish.  I cured a gal of that, once; but I don’t reckon you can do
it.  It takes a lot of nerve an’ will-power.  You feel like playin’
show-downs, two-bits a game?"

"Make it a dollar, an’ I will.  How’d you cure that one of yourn?"

"Dollar’s purty steep," objected Tex.  "Make it a half."  He leaned back
and laughed reminiscently.  "I worked a system on her.  Lemme deal
first?"

"Suit yourself.  Turn ’em face up--it’ll save time. What did you do?"

"Made her think I didn’t care a snap about her.  Want to cut?  Well, I
didn’t know--some don’t want to," he explained.  "Saves time, that’s
all.  Reckon it’s yore pot on that queen.  Deal ’em up."

"How’d you do it? snub her?"

"Gosh, no!  Don’t you ever do that: it makes ’em mad. Just let ’em
alone--sort of look at ’em without seein’ ’em real well.  You dassn’t
make ’em mad!  You win ag’in.  Yo’re lucky at this game: want to quit?"

"Give you a chance to get it back," sneered the nephew.  "Think it would
work with her?"

"Don’t know: she got any other beaux?"

"I’ve seen to that.  She ain’t.  Take th’ money an’ push over yore
cards.  Do you think it will work with her?" Henry persisted.

"Gosh, sonny: don’t you ask me that!  No man knows very much about
wimmin’, an’ me less than most men. It’s a gamble.  She’s got to jump
one way or th’ other, ain’t she?  How was you figgerin’ to win?"

"Just go get her, that’s all.  She’ll tame down after awhile."

"But you allus can do that, can’t you?  Now, if it was me I’d try to get
her to come of her own accord, for things would be sweeter right at th’
very start.  But, then, I’m a gambler, allus willin’ to run a risk.  A
man’s got to foller his own nature.  I got you beat ag’in: this shore is
a nice game."

"Too weak," objected the nephew.  "Dollar a hand would suit me better.
My eights win this.  Want to boost her?"

Tex reflected covetously.  "Well, I might go high as a dollar, but not
no more."

"Dollar it is, then.  What’s yore opinion of that gal?"

"Shucks," laughed Tex.  "She’s nice enough, I reckon; but she ain’t my
style.  Yore uncle’s game is bustin’ up an’ he’s lookin’ at me.  See you
later.  You win ag’in, but I allus have bad luck doublin’ th’ stakes,
’though I ain’t what you might call superstitious.  See you later."

Tex arose and went over to the other table, raked in the cards, squared
them to feel if they had been trimmed, thought they had been, and pushed
them out for the cut, watching closely to see how the face cards had
been shaved.  Williams turned the pack, announced that high dealt,
grasped the sides of the pack and turned a queen. Tex also grasped the
sides of the pack remaining and also turned a queen.  He clumsily
dropped the deck, growled something and bunched it again, shoving it
toward his companion in such a way that Williams would have to show a
deliberate preference for the side grip.  This he did and Tex followed
his lead.  The ends of the face cards and aces had been trimmed and the
sides of the rest of the deck had been treated the same way.  Because of
this the sides of the face cards stuck out from the deck and the ends of
the spot cards projected.  Yet so carefully had it been done that it was
not noticeable.  Williams cut again, turning another queen. Tex cut a
king and picked up the pack.  As he shuffled he was careful not to show
any of his characteristic motions, for although his opponent had
forgotten his face in the score of years behind their former meeting, it
might take but very little to start his memory backtracking.

"My money ag’in’ th’ roan," said the dealer, pushing out the cards for
the cut.  "Hundred an’ fifty," he explained.

Williams cut deep and nodded.  "This one game decides it: a discard, a
draw, an’ a show-down.  Right?"

"Right," grunted Tex, swiftly dropping the cards before them.  Williams
picked up his hand, but gave no sign of his disappointment.  There was
not a face card in it.  He made his selection, discarded, and called for
three cards.  Tex had discarded two.  Williams wanted no face cards on
the draw, since he held a pair of nines. One more nine would give him a
fair hand, and another would just about win for him.  He drew a black
queen and a pair of red jacks.

"Well," he said, "ready to show?"

Tex grunted again, glanced at Bud Haines, and lay down three queens, a
nine, and a jack.  "What you got?" he anxiously asked.

"An empty box stall, I reckon," growled his adversary, spreading his
hand.  He pushed back without another word to Tex, looked at his
stableman and spoke gruffly. "John, give that roan to Mr. Jones when he
calls for it. He’s to keep it somewhere else.  I’m turnin’ in.  Good
night, all."



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                          *FRIENDLY INTEREST*


Freshly shaven, his boots well rubbed, and his clothes as free from dust
as possible, Tex sauntered down the street after breakfast the next
morning and stepped into the stable.  John Graves met him, nodded, and
led the way to the roan’s stall.

"You got a fine hoss, Mr. Jones," he said, opening the gate.

"Yes, I have; an’ you’ve taken good care of him.  His coat couldn’t be
better.  I like a man that looks after a hoss."

"I ain’t sayin’ nothin’ about nobody, but I’m glad to see him change
owners," said Graves, glancing around. "Rub yore hand on his flank.  I
got th’ coat so it hides ’em real well."

Tex stroked the white nose, rubbed the neck and shoulders, and slowly
passed his hand over the flank. The scars were easily found.  He wheeled
and looked at the stableman.  "Who in h--l did that, an’ why?" he
demanded.

"That ain’t for me to say, an’ sayin’ wouldn’t do no good; but I’m plumb
glad he’s in other hands.  Just because a hoss fights back when he’s
bein’ abused ain’t no reason to cut him to pieces.  An’ a big man can
kick hard when he’s mad."

Tex held a lump of sugar to the sensitive, velvety lips before replying.
"Yes, he can," he admitted.  "Anybody in town that’ll treat this hoss
right, an’ give him a stall?"

"Better see Jim Carney in his saloon.  He’s a good, reliable man an’
likes hosses.  He’ll take good care of Oh My."

Tex stared at him.  "Of what?"

"Oh My," replied the stableman.  "Th’ rest of th’ name is Cayenne."

"’Suffer little children!’" exclaimed Tex.  "Who named him that, an
why?"

"I reckon Williams did, because he’s peppery an’ red."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Tex.  He thought a moment.  "Huh!  Prophet!
Mecca!  Mohammed!" he muttered.  Suddenly seeing a great light, he
flipped his sombrero into the air, caught and balanced it on his nose
when it came down, sidestepped, and as it fell, punched it across the
stable.  Turning gravely he shook hands with the surprised stableman,
slapped him on the shoulder and burst out laughing.  "Where’n blazes did
he dig ’em up?  He don’t know what one of them names means; _There was
the Veil through which I might not see. Come, John: Oh, many a Cup of
this forbidden Wine must drown the memory of that insolence!  Wait till
I get my hat: Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape than sadden after
none, or bitter, Fruit._"

Carney gave them a nonchalant welcome and displayed little interest in
them until Graves told him about the horse.

"Th’ roan, eh?" exclaimed the saloonkeeper.  "I’ll shore find a place
for it, but I’m afraid it’ll miss th’ beatin’s.  There’s a closet built
across one corner of th’ stable: I’ll give you a key to it, Mr. Jones.
It’ll be handy for yore trappin’s."

After a few rounds Tex went out, mounted bareback and, leaving Graves in
front of the stable, rode to the hotel to get his saddle.  Soon
thereafter he dismounted at the station and smiled at the agent.

"’Richard is himself again,’" he chuckled, affectionately patting Omar.
"An’ I still have my kingdom."

"He looks fit for a king to ride," replied Jerry.

"He’d honor a king.  How’s th’ hen ranch comin’ along?  Got th’ fence up
yet?"

"Yes; Murphy just finished it.  That looks like Williams’ roan."

"It was.  I won it at poker.  I could feel in my fingers that I was
goin’ to be lucky.  Hello!" he exclaimed, looking at a box across the
track.  On it were painted irregular, concentric circles.  "Looks like
it might be a target."

Jerry laughed.  "It is; and so far, unhit."

Tex glanced at the other’s low-hung belt and gun. "Have you shot at it
yet?"

Jerry nodded.

"From where?"

"Right here."

"Great mavericks!" said Tex.  "Here: let’s see how fast you can get that
gun out, an’ empty it at that box. I got a reason for it."

At the succession of reports the toolshed door flew open and a huge
Irishman, rifle in hand, popped into sight. Seeing Tex he grunted and
slowly went back again.

Tex looked from the box to the marksman, shook his head, silently
unbuckled the belt from its owner’s waist, took the empty gun from the
agent’s hand, and tossed the outfit on a near-by box.

"Don’t you carry it, Jerry," he said.  "Load it up an’ leave it home.
Popular feelin’, even in this town, frowns at th’ shootin’ of an unarmed
man.  It’s somethin’ that’s hard to explain away."

"But then I’ll be defenseless!" expostulated Jerry, "It’s some
protection."

"You were defenseless before I took it from you," said Tex.

"But it is some protection," Jerry reiterated.

Tex shook his head.  "It’s a screaming invitation for a killin’, that’s
what it is.  Here: That’s you," pointing to the target.  "You got
somethin’ I want plumb bad. You try to stop me from gettin’ it, an’ I
won’t listen to you.  I force th’ hand an’ you make a move that I can
claim was hostile.  Yo’re armed, ain’t you?  I might even slap yore
face.  Then this happens."

The spurting smoke enveloped them both, the stabs of flame and the sharp
reports coming with unbelievable rapidity.  Stepping from the gray fog,
Tex pointed.  The box was split and turned part way around.  The inner
two circles showed six holes.

"I did it in self-defense.  What chance did you have?" demanded the
puncher.

"Great guns!  What shooting!" marveled Jerry, his mouth open.

"That’s good shootin’," admitted Tex.  "Better, mebby, than most men in
this town can do, quite a lot better than th’ average.  There’s plenty
of men who can’t do as good.  Th’ draw was more’n fair, too; better than
most gun-toters; but I know two men that would ’a’ killed me before I
jerked loose from th’ leather.  I wasn’t showin’ off: I was answerin’
yore remark about a gun bein’ some protection to you.  While we’re
speakin’ about guns, can Miss Saunders use one?  Bein’ a woman I hardly
thought so, unless Hennery has taught her."

"Henry!" growled Jerry.  "Why would he teach her?"

"Why a young woman like her would be right popular, out here, or
anywhere else," replied Tex.  "House full of admirers, an’ others
taggin’ along.  I reckoned Hennery might have showed her how to shoot."

"The devil had a better chance," retorted Jerry.  "If Henry ever calls
at our house she’ll scald him.  She thinks about as little of Henry as
she does of a snake."

"I’m admirin’ Miss Saunders more every day," said Tex.  "Havin’ disposed
of th’ interpolation, we’ll get at th’ main subject.  As I was sayin’,
bein’ a woman, she’s not likely to be shot at.  But I’m sorry yore Colt
is so big: she couldn’t drag a gun like that around with her. Besides,
th’ caliber needn’t be so big."

"I got a short-barreled .38 home," said Jerry. He looked a little
worried.  "What makes you talk like that?"

"Bein’ a gunman, I reckon; an’ my ornery, suspicious nature," answered
Tex.  "Bein’ a poker player for years, readin’ faces is a hobby with me.
I’ve read some in this town that I don’t like.  ’Taint nothin’ to put a
finger on, but I’m so cussed suspicious of every male biped of th’ genus
homo that I allus look for th’ worst.  Anyhow, it wouldn’t be no crime
if Miss Saunders knew how to use that snub-nosed .38, would it?  Sort of
give her a sense of security.  Then, if Murphy or our adolescent Watkins
took her out ridin’ an showed her how to get th’ most out of its limited
possibilities, it ought to relieve yore mind."

"I don’t know of anyone better qualified to get the most out of a gun
than yourself," replied Jerry.  "If it ain’t asking too much," he
hastily added.

"Havin’ a brand-new, Cayenne pepper cayuse to learn about, an’ show
off," laughed Tex, "it wouldn’t set on me like a calamity.  Shall I
bring a horse for Miss Saunders, or saddle up her own?"

"She hasn’t any; but----"

"--me no buts," interrupted Tex.  "I’ll now pay my respects to yore
sister, with yore permission, an’ invite her to ride out with me,
tomorrow, an’ view th’ lovely brown hills an’ dusty flats, where every
prospect pleases, an’ only man is vile.  Procrastination never was a sin
of mine: it’s th’ one I overlooked.  We’ll likely go far enough from
town so there won’t be no panicky fears of a hostile raid.  Does Miss
Saunders favor any particular hoss?"

"No, and she can ride, so you won’t have to get one that’s nearly dead."

Tex laughed.  "All right; but when she gets it, it won’t be as ornery as
it might be.  How is it that nobody but Murphy paid any attention to our
shootin’?"

"They’re used to it by this time."

"Well, so-long," and Tex swung into the saddle and rode off.

Jane showed her pleasure at his visit and smilingly accepted his
invitation to go riding.  They examined the coop and yard, talked of
numerous things and after awhile Tex turned to leave, but stopped and
grinned.

"Bring your six-gun, Miss Saunders, and we’ll have a match," he said.
"The great western target, the ubiquitous tin can, is sure to be
plentiful, despite the killing drought."

"My gun?" she laughed.  "I have no gun.  Do you think that I go around
with a gun?"

He tapped his forehead significantly.  "I’m so used to carrying one that
I forgot.  Shucks, that’s too bad.  Well, if we overtake any wild cans
you can use mine, although a smaller gun would be more pleasant for you.
Too bad you haven’t a short-barreled gun--a .32, for instance. Shooting
is really great sport.  Then I’m to call at two o’clock?"

"If there was some place where we could enjoy a lunch," she murmured.
"We could leave earlier and get back earlier."

"There is sure to be," assured Tex, smiling.  "Say ten o’clock, then?"

"That will be much better.  I’ll have everything ready when you come.
Is there anything in the eating line which you particularly fancy?"

Tex fanned himself with the sombrero, a happy expression on his face.
"Yes, there is," he admitted. "Mallard duck stuffed with Chesapeake
oysters.  Plenty of cold, crisp, tender celery, and any really good
brand of dry champagne.  I’ll enjoy anything you prepare, and I’ll have
a round-up appetite."

"I’ll try to give you a change from hotel food," she laughed as he swung
into the saddle.

She watched him ride away and walked slowly back to the house.  Then her
face brightened a little as she thought of the revolver in Jerry’s room.
Jerry had said it was a .38.

The station agent answered the hail and went out to the edge of the
platform.

"All fixed?" he asked.

Tex nodded.  "You get her to bring that gun.  I paved the way for it,
but you know her better than I do, and how to persuade her without
making her frightened. What’s it shoot: longs, or shorts?  That’s good;
shorts are O.K.  Is Murphy in th’ toolshed?"

"He’s married to it," smiled Jerry.

"If you see him, tell him I’m goin’ to call on him late tonight.  If his
light’s _out_ I’ll know he’s home.  Any fool would know it if it was
lit.  Well, so-long."

Jerry looked after him and shook his head, a peculiar, baffled, friendly
light in his eyes.  "I don’t know when you are most serious: when you
are serious, or when, you are joking.  Was your warning about my gun
just a general one, or did it have a special meaning?  And about Jane
learning to shoot?  What do you know, how much do you know, and why are
you bothering about us?  The Heathen Chinee was simple beside you, Tex
Jones."

He coughed and turned to enter the station, but stopped in his tracks as
a possible solution came to him. "I wonder, now," he cogitated, and fell
into the vernacular.  "She’s a fine girl, sis is; but headstrong.  Cuss
it, if it ain’t one thing it’s another.  I don’t even know his name is
Jones, or how many wives he may have.  Oh, well: I’ll have to wait and
see how it heads."

Tex rode slowly down the street, very well satisfied with himself.  He
had warned the agent, owned a fine horse that cost him nothing, and was
going riding on the morrow with a very interesting and pretty young
woman. Suddenly he took cognizance of a thought which had been trying to
get his attention for quite some time: Where was Jake and what was he
doing?

"I’m gettin’ careless," he reproved himself.  "I ain’t seen my little
playmate since I paralyzed his nerve system.  He didn’t act like a man
who would go into retirement with a thing like that tagged to him.  I
reckon he’s plannin’ a comeback: but a man like him usually acts
quicker.  All right, Jake: you take plenty of time an’ work it out well.
An’ that’s shore good advice."

There came a sudden yelping from the other side of a near-by building,
so high-pitched, continuous, and full of agony that something moved
along his spine.  He reacted to the misery in the sound without giving
it any thought, and when he turned the corner of the store and saw a
chained dog being beaten by one of the town’s ne’er-do-wells his hand of
its own volition loosened the coiled rope at the saddle and swung it
twice around his head.  The soft lariat leaped through the air like a
striking snake, and as it dropped over its victim, the roan instantly
obeyed its training.

Jerked off his feet, his arms imprisoned at his sides, the dog beater
slid, rolled, and bumped along the ground, at first too startled to
protest.  Then his voice arose in a stream of blasphemous inquiry,
finishing with a petition. Tex rode along without a backward glance,
deeply engrossed by some interesting problem and nearly had reached
Carney’s saloon before he became conscious of his surroundings.  A
miner, cursing, leaped to the roan’s head and checked her, shouting
profanely at the rider.

Tex checked the horse, looked curiously down at the protestor and then,
sensing the burden of the other’s remarks and becoming aware of the
maledictions behind him, turned languidly in the saddle and looked back
in time to see a dust-covered figure stagger to its feet and throw off
the slackened rope.

"Hey!" shouted Tex indignantly.  "What you doin’ with my rope?  Think
it’s worth th’ price of a few drinks, eh?  You drop it, _pronto_!  An’
as for you, my Christian friend," he said to the man at the roan’s head,
"if you ever grab my cayuse like that again me an’ you are shore goin’
to have an impolite little party all to ourselves.  Drop that
hackamore."

"You was killin’ that man!" yelled the miner, loosening his hold and
showing fight.

"Well, what of it?" demanded Tex.  "Any man that chains up a dog an’
then beats it like he was, ain’t got no right to live.  If I don’t kill
him, somebody else will. What you raisin’ all th’ hellabaloo about?"

"I reckon you ain’t far from wrong," said the other, by this time fully
aware of the identity of the dog beater. "I’m nat’rally for law an’
order.  Whiskey Jim ain’t no good, I’m admittin’!"

"If yo’re for law an’ order you must be lonesome associatin’ all by
yoreself in this squaw town," replied Tex, grinning, but not for one
moment losing sight of Whiskey Jim, who at that moment was stooping to
pick up a stone lying against the corner of a building.  Tex sent a shot
over his head and the incident was closed.  "What do you do for
company?"

"I ain’t hankerin’ for none," answered the miner, smiling grimly.  "I
only come in for supplies, an’ don’t stay long.  You a stranger here?"

"That’s unkind; but, seein’ as how I ain’t as much a stranger now as I
was when I come, I won’t hold it ag’in’ you.  Mebby I am gettin’ to look
like I belonged here."  He laughed.  "I don’t know very many, but
everybody knows me.  They point with pride when they see me comin’; an’
cock their guns behind their backs with their other hand.  Where you
located, friend?"

"Second fork on Buffaler Crick, th’ first crick west of town.  Quickest
way is to foller th’ track.  Be glad to see you any time.  Mine’s th’
shack above Jake’s."

"I envy you," replied Tex.  "See much of our mutual friend?"

"Only when he wants to borry somethin’," grinned the other.  "I see you
got th’ pick of Williams’ animals under yore saddle."

"I was lucky pickin’, I admits," beamed Tex.  "Nice feller, Williams."

"For them as likes him.  Well, friend, I’m mushin’ on. Name’s Blascom."

"Tex Jones is my _nom du guerre_," replied Tex.  "Th’ north is a better
country than this for minin’.  How’d you ever come to leave it?"

Blascom looked at him questioningly.  "Yes, reckon it is; but how’d you
know I come from there?"

"They don’t mush nowhere else that I know of," chuckled Tex.  He coiled
the dusty lariat, shook it, and brushed his chaps where it had touched,
waved his farewell; and went on to Carney’s, where he dismounted and
went in.

"Just met Whiskey Jim," he said across the bar.

"I congratulate you."

"Who’s he livin’ on?"

"Th’ whole town," answered Carney.  "He used to hang around here, seein’
what he could steal, but I kicked his pants around his neckband an’ he
ain’t favorin’ me no more.  Reckon he belongs to Williams."

"Then he must do somethin’ for his keep," suggested Tex.  "Our friend
Gustavus Adolphus ain’t no philanthropist, I’m bettin’."

"No; Gus is a Republican," replied Carney.  "Whiskey Jim used to ride
for him, an’ mebby Gus is scared not to look after him a little."

Tex nodded.  "Good reason; good, plain, practical, common-sense reason.
Now, Carney--I want a good hoss for a lady, an’ I’ll have a little ride
on it before I turn it over.  Want it tomorrow mornin’ at eight
o’clock."

"Miss Saunders won’t thank you much for tirin’ it out."

"You couldn’t help guessin’ right th’ first time," accused Tex.  "There
ain’t no other ladies that I’ve seen or heard about.  What th’ lady
don’t know won’t hurt her pride or spoil her appetite.  Cuss it, man; I
ain’t aimin’ to kill th’ beast!"

"I reckon you know what yo’re goin’ to do with th’ hoss," replied
Carney, thoughtfully; "but I wonder do you know what yo’re doin’, goin’
ridin’ with that little lady?"

Tex regarded him with level gaze.  "Meanin’?" he coldly demanded.

"Meanin’ that claim is staked, th’ notices posted, an’ trespassers
warned off; which is a d--d shame!"

"Hearsay ain’t no good.  I ain’t been formally notified in writin’,"
replied Tex.  "Until I am, I act natural; an’ after I am, twice as
natural, bein’ mean by nature an’ disposition.  All of which reminds me
that this is a remarkable town, an’ that there’s a re-markable man in
it."

His companion studied him for a moment.  "You should keep yore hat on
when yo’re ridin’ around in th’ sun.  Th’ only remarkable thing about
this town is that it’s still alive.  Th’ only remarkable man in it has
been buried these last twenty years, up yonder on Boot Hill."

"I’m joinin’ issue with you on that," replied Tex. "Th’ sense of loyalty
an’ affection of this town for its leadin’ citizen is a great an’
beautiful thing for these degenerate, money-mad days.  Parenthetically,
I wonder if there was ever a time when th’ days were anythin’ else?
Why, everybody is his friend!  There’s Jake, an’ th’ nephew, Whiskey
Jim, Tim Murphy, Jerry Saunders, John Graves, Blascom, you, an’ me.  I
don’t know any more at this writin’.  An’ that leadin’ citizen, a man of
culture, wealth, and discernment, is our most esteemed Mr. Gus Williams.
Hear!  Hear!"

"There’s some names you can scratch, Carney among ’em," growled the
saloonkeeper, spitting in violent disgust.  "Yore touchin’ paregoric
near makes me weep. an’ I’m hard-shelled, like a clam.  Two-thirds of
th’ people here do what he says, because he either scares or fools ’em.
Th’ rest dassn’t lynch him because they ain’t strong enough.  Wealth?
Shore.  He got most of it when th’ trail was in full swing.  His brands,
an’ he had a-plenty, were copied from some on th’ south ranges near th’
old trail.  A herd comin’ up, grazin’ wide, or passin’ through that
scrub an’ hill country would near certain pick up a few local head on
th’ way, cattle bein’ gregarious. Whiskey Jim was th’ local herd
trimmer.  He’d throw up a herd, claim any of th’ stray brands as
belongin’ around here.  He had th’ authority an’ th’ drawin’s of them
brands.  If it was a herd of Horseshoe an’ Circle Dots he claimed every
other brand with them that was found this side of th’ Cimarron.  You
know th’ rules. He got ’em.  Then there was stampedes, an’ cattle run
off at night.  One time it got so bad that there was talk of a third
Texan Expedition to clean it up.  Only this one would ’a’ been for a
different purpose than th’ other two."

"You better keep off th’ Texas Expedition," said Tex. "That was a
covered invasion for th’ freedom of th’ pore, robbed, browbeaten New
Mexicans; an’ it come to a terrible end."

"Not th’ one I’m referrin’ to," retorted Carney, his face set and
determined.  "Th’ second one--that plundered caravans on th’ old Santa
Fe.  I called this other one th’ third only because of th’ number of men
who would have been in it, an’ because it was a Texas idea. But we’ll
not quarrel.  I had a good friend in th’ second, avengin’ th’ first."

"I won’t quarrel about Texas," said Tex.  "Not bein’ a Texan, my withers
are unwrung.  What did Williams do in th’ face of that threat?"

"Drifted his herds off before snow flew, to a distant winter range an’
let th’ trail herds alone."

"That story ain’t unusual," observed Tex.  "He’s a strange man.  Picks
queer names for his hosses.  I never heard such names.  Take my roan,
now: his name is Oh My Cayenne.  That’s a devil of a name for anythin’,
let alone a hoss.  Where’d he ever git it?"

Carney laughed.  "I’m agreein’ with you, but he didn’t name th’ roan.
That hoss was named by Windy Barrett, when he was blind drunk.  Windy
was a peculiar cuss; allus spoutin’ poetry an’ such nonsense.  Read
books while he was line ridin’.  Well, he woke up one mornin’ after a
spree in Williams’ stable.  As he turned his head to see where he was,
th’ roan, then a colt, poked its nose over th’ stall an’ nuzzled him.
One of th’ boys was just goin’ in th’ stable an’ saw th’ whole thing.
Windy pushes th’ hoss away an’ says, sadlike: ’Yo’re dead wrong, Oh My
Cayenne; it don’t banish th’ sorrers with its whirlwind sword.’  Th’
boys thought it was such a good joke they let th’ name stick."

Tex looked dubious.  "Mebby they thought so, but I’m not admittin’ that
I do; an’ it’s no joke for any cayuse to have a name like that.  There
goes Bud Haines, ridin’ out of town: he ain’t earnin’ his pay.  Well,
reckon I’ll drift up an’ see Williams.  I allus like to be sociable.
So-long."



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                         *WEIGHTS AND MEASURES*


The proprietor of the general store glanced out of the window as the
roan stopped before his door, and he frankly frowned at Tex’s entry.

"Ain’t no letters come for no Joneses," he said brusquely.

"Hope springs eternal," replied Tex.  He sauntered up to the counter and
was about to turn and lean against it when his roving glance passed
along a line of wide-necked bottles.  They looked strangely familiar and
he glanced at them again.  A label caught his eye.  "Chloral Hydrate" he
read silently.  He looked at Williams and chuckled.  "I don’t claim to
be no Injun, but just th’ same I got a lot of patience when it comes to
waitin’. Looks like I’m goin’ to need it, far as that letter is
concerned."  He looked along the walls of the store.  "You shore carry a
big stock for a town like this, Mr. Williams," he complimented, his eyes
again viewing the line of bottles with a sweeping glance.  "Strychnine,"
he read to himself, nodding with understanding.  "Shore, for wolves an’
coyotes.  Quinine, Aloes, Capsicum, Laudanum--quite a collection for a
general store.  Takes me back a good many years."  Aloud he said.  "I
was admirin’ that there pipe, an’ I’ve got to have it; but that ain’t
what I’m lookin’ so hard for."  Again he searched shelves, up and down,
left and right, and shook his head.  "Don’t see ’em," he complained.
His mind flashed back to one word, and his medical training prompted
him.  "Chloral hydrate--safe in the right hands and very efficient.
Ought to be tasteless in the vile whiskey they sell out here.  You never
can tell, an’ I might need every aid."  He shook his head again, and
again spoke aloud.  "Too bad, cuss it."

"If you wasn’t so cussed secret about it I might be able to help you
find what yo’re lookin’ for," growled Williams.  "Bein’ th’ proprietor I
know a couple of things that are in this store.  Yore article might be
among ’em."

"I’m loco," admitted Tex.  "What I want is some center-fire .38 shorts.
Couple of boxes will be enough."

Williams flashed a look at the walnut handle of the heavy Colt at his
customer’s thigh.  He could see that it was no .38.  Suspicion prompted
him and he wondered if his companion was a two-gun man, with only one of
them being openly worn.  Such a combination was not a rarity.  A gun in
a shoulder holster or a derringer on an elastic up a sleeve might well
use such a cartridge.  This would be well to speak to Bud Haines about.

"You would ’a’ saved yore valuable time, an’ mine, if you’d said so when
you first come in," ironically replied Williams.  "Got plenty of .45’s,
quite some .44’s, less .41’s, and a few .38’s in th’ long cat’ridges. I
ain’t got no .38 shorts, nor .32’s, nor .22’s, nor no putty for putty
blowers.  Folks around these diggin’s as totes guns mostly wants ’em
man-size."

"I reckon so," agreed Tex pleasantly.  "Don’t blame ’em.  Failin’ in th’
other qualifications they’d naturally do th’ best they could to make up
for them they lacked.  I’m shore sorry you ain’t got ’em because my
rifle cat’ridges are runnin’ low.  That’s what comes of havin’ to buy a
gun that don’t eat regulation food.  It was th’ only one he had, an’ I
had to take it quick, bein’ pressed hard at th’ time.  Time, tide, an’
posses wait for no man.  Yo’re dead shore you ain’t got ’em, huh?"

"Well, lemme see," cogitated the proprietor, scratching his head.  "I
did have some--they sent me some shorts by mistake an’ I never took th’
time to send ’em back.  You wait till I look."

"Then you’ve got ’em now," said Tex.  "You never could sell ’em in these
diggin’s, where folks as totes guns mostly wants ’em man-size.  I’ll
wait till you see."  He idly watched the scowling proprietor as he went
behind the counter and dropped to one knee, his back to his customer.
As he started to pull boxes from against the wall Tex silently sat on
the counter as if better to watch him.

Williams was talking more to himself than to Tex, intent on trying to
remember what he had done with the shorts, and save himself a protracted
search. "Kept ’em with th’ rest of th’ cat’ridges till I got mad from
nearly allus takin’ ’em down for longs.  I think mebby I put ’em about
here."

Tex leaned swiftly backward, his hand leaping to one of the wide-mouthed
bottles on the shelf.  "They shore are a nuisance," he said in deep
sympathy.

"I allus have more or less trouble gettin’ ’em," he admitted, his hands
working silently and swiftly with the cork.  "Didn’t hardly hope to get
’em here," he confessed as he swung back and replaced the depleted
bottle.  He assumed an erect position again, one hand resting in a coat
pocket.  "Shore sorry to put you to all this trouble," he apologized;
"but if you got ’em you are lucky to git rid of ’em, in this town."

Williams turned his head, saw his customer perilously balanced on the
edge of the counter, and watching him with great interest.  "I can find
’em if they’re here, Mr. Jones," he growled.  "You might strain yore
back, leanin’ that way--yep, here they are, four boxes of ’em.  Only
want two?"

"Reckon I better take all I can git my han’s on," answered Tex.  "No
tellin’ where I can git any more, they’re that scarce."

"Yore rifle looks purty big an’ heavy for these," observed Williams,
craning his neck in vain to catch a glimpse of it.  It lay on the other
side of the horse. "Yes, it’s one of them _sängerbund_, or shootin’-fest
guns," replied Tex.  "Made for German target clubs, back in th’ East.
Got fine sights, an’ is heavy so it won’t tremble none.  Two triggers,
one settin’ th’ other for hair-trigger pullin’.  Cost me fifty-odd.
Don’t bother to tie ’em up; they carry easier if they ain’t all in one
pocket.  Don’t forget that pipe."

Williams did some laborious figuring.  "I see yo’re gettin’ acquainted
fast," he remarked, pushing the change across the counter.  "Them
Saunders are real interestin’."

"Oh, so-so," grunted Tex.  "Tenderfeet allus are. But I reckon she’ll
make yore nepphey a good wife. Seems to be real sensible, an’ she shore
can cook!"

"Hennery is a fortunate boy," replied Williams complacently, so
complacently that Tex itched to punch him.  "He’ll make her a good
husban’, bein’ nat’rally domestic an’ affectionate.  An’ he’s so sot on
it that I’m near as much interested in their courtship as they are.  I
shore would send anybody to dance in h--l as interfered with it.
Gettin’ cooler out?"

"Warmer out, an’ in," answered Tex.  "Well, they ought to be real happy,
bein’ young an’ both near th’ same age.  I’m sayin’ age is more
important than most folks admit.  Me an’ you, now, would be makin’ a
terrible mistake if _we_ married a woman as young as she is.  We got too
much sense.  An’ I’m free to admit that I’m rope shy--don’t like hobbles
of any kind, a-tall.  I’m a maverick, an’ aim to stay so. When is th’
weddin’ comin’ off?"

"Purty soon, I reckon," replied Williams, his voice pleasanter than it
had been since Tex had appeared in town.  "She’s nat’rally a little
skittish, an’ Hennery is sort of shy.  Young folks usually are.  He was
tellin’ me you gave him some good advice."

Tex laughed and shrugged his shoulders.  "Don’t know how good it is," he
replied.  "An’ it wasn’t no advice.  I just sort of mentioned to him
somethin’ I found worked real well; but what works with one woman ain’t
got no call to get stuck on itself--th’ odds ain’t in favor of its
repeatin’.  If it was me, howsomever, I’d shore try it a whirl.  It
can’t do no harm that I can see."

"He’s goin’ to back it a little," responded Williams, "till he sees how
it goes."

"A little ain’t no good, a-tall," replied Tex.  "It might not show any
results for awhile, an’ then work fast an’ sudden.  Well, see you later
mebby.  This cayuse of mine needs some exercise.  So-long."

Williams followed him to the door, hoping for a glimpse of the German
shooting-club rifle, but Tex mounted and rode away without turning that
side of the horse toward the store.

His next stop was the hotel, where he had a few sandwiches put up for
him and then he left town, heading for Buffalo Creek.  He had no
particular object in choosing that direction, the main thing being to
get out of town and to stay out of sight until after dark.  As he rode
he cogitated:

"Chloral hydrate.  Twenty to thirty grains is the dose soporific.  Yes;
that’s right.  In a hydrous crystal of this nature that would just about
fill--what?"  He rode on, oblivious to his surroundings, trying to
picture the size of a container that would hold the required weight of
crystals.  "In our rough-and-ready weights a silver half-dime was twenty
grains; a three-cent piece was forty grains, and I think my three-cent
silver piece of ’51 weighed ten grains.  But not havin’ any of ’em now,
all that does me no good.  Shucks--there’s plenty of miners’ scales in
this country.  Bet Blascom has one that’ll help me out: an’ a grain is a
grain, all th’ way through."  He hitched up his heavily loaded belt and
as his hand came into contact with the ends of the cartridges he
chuckled and slapped the horse in congratulation.

"Omar, we’re gettin’ close.  Bet a .45 shell will hold the dose.
However, not wantin’ to kill nobody, we’d better make shore.  Yo’re a
willin’ cayuse, an’ I like yore gait: suppose you let it out a little?
We got business ahead."

When he came to the dried bed of a creek he followed it at a distance
and had not gone far before he espied the first fork.  On the north side
of the gully was a miserable hut.  "That must be Jake’s: we’ll detour so
he won’t see us."  Twenty minutes later he came to the second fork and a
second hut, not much better than the first.  A familiar figure was just
emerging from it, and soon Tex rode down the steep bank and hailed.

The prospector looked up and waved, turning to face his visitor.  "Glad
to see you," he called.  "Hope Whiskey Jim ain’t run you out of town."

"He might if he kept close to me, up wind," laughed Tex.  "Busy doin’
nothin’?"

"Busy as a hibernatin’ bear.  Git off an’ come in th’ house, where th’
sun ain’t so hot.  An’ I reckon yo’re thirsty."

Tex accepted the invitation and found a box to sit on.  The interior of
the shack was not out of keeping with the exterior, and it was none too
clean. His roving glances saw and passed the gold scales, two metal cups
hanging by three threads each from a slender, double-taper bar.  Beside
it was a tin box which he guessed contained weights.

"Washin’ out lots of gold, Blascom?" asked Tex, smiling.

"Can’t even wash my face without totin’ water, or goin’ up to th’ sump.
Th’ crick’s like it is out there for as far up as I’ve been.  If it
wasn’t for a sump I’ve dug in a sandy place in its bed I’d had no water
at all."  He reached into his pocket and produced several bits of gold,
none of them much larger than a grain of wheat.  "Found these when I was
gettin’ water just now.  That sump’s goin’ to go deeper right quick,
’though I’m scared I’ll lose my water."

"What’ll they weigh?" asked Tex curiously, handing them back.

"About a pennyweight, I reckon," replied Blascom.

Tex shook his head.  "Not them.  You’ve got too trustin’ a nature.
Yo’re too hopeful: but I reckon that’s what makes miners."

Blascom arose, dropped the flecks into a scale pan and dug around in the
tin box.  There was a metallic clink and the two pans slowly sought the
same level. "Couple of grains under," he announced.  "About twenty-two,
I’d say.  That’s close figgerin’, close enough for a guess."

"Cussed good," complimented Tex as the prospector put back the weights
and dumped the gold out into his hand.  "I ain’t never dug out no hunks
of gold an’ I’m curious.  If you aim to put that sump down farther I’m
just itchin’ to give you a hand. Come on--what you say?"

"You’d be a mess, sloppin’ around with me," laughed Blascom.  He shook
his head.  "Better set down an’ watch me, lendin’ yore valuable advice;
or stay here an’ keep out of th’ sun."

"I can do that in town."

Blascom considered, looking dubiously at his guest’s clothes.  "Here,"
he said, finally.  "You can help me more by carryin’ water an’ fillin’
up everythin’ in here that’ll hold it.  After I get through wrastlin’
with a pan in that sump th’ water won’t be fit to drink before mornin’.
That suit you?"

"Good enough," declared Tex, arising and picking up the buckets.  "Come
on: reveal yore gold mine. I’m a first-class claim jumper.  You had yore
dinner yet?"

Blascom shook his head, picked up a shovel and his gold pan and led the
way.  "That can wait.  It ain’t often I have any free help forced on me
an’ I’d be a sucker to let an empty belly cut in."

"I can cook, too," said Tex.  "After I fill th’ hut with water I’ll get
you a meal that’ll make you glad yo’re livin’; but you got to come after
it to eat it; an’ when I yell, you come a-runnin’.  If you don’t I’ll
eat it myself."

The sump lay about a hundred yards up the creek bed, around a bend which
was covered with a thin growth of sickly willows and box elders.  It was
a hole about two feet square, the sandy sides held up by a cribwork of
sticks, pieces of boxes, and barrel staves.  Blascom dipped both pails
in and started back with them.

"Wait a minute," objected Tex, reaching for them. "Thought you was goin’
after nuggets while I toted th’ water?"

"I thought so, too," answered Blascom, "till I had sense enough to think
that I couldn’t go rammin’ around in there with my shovel until after
th’ water was saved.  You can carry ’em th’ next trip.  Sit down an’ do
th’ gruntin’ for me, this time.  A dozen buckets will empty her,
almost."

Tex shrugged his shoulders and obeyed, rolled a cigarette, and then
plucked a .45 from its belt loop. Wiping off the grease, he placed his
thumb against the lead and pushed, turning the cartridge slowly as he
worked.  When he heard Blascom’s heavy, careless tread nearing the bend
he slipped the loosened cartridge into his vest pocket and lazily arose.

"There ain’t nothin’ else to fill but these here buckets," said the
prospector as he appeared.  Filling them again he passed them to Tex and
reached for the shovel and the gold pan.  "There’s beans you can warm
up, an’ some bacon.  There’s also some sour-doughs.  Make a good pot of
coffee an’ yell when yo’re ready.  I’m surprised at th’ way this hole’s
fillin’ up, but I ain’t mindin’ that.  As long as I dump it close by
it’s bound to get back again."

Tex picked up the buckets and departed clumsily, his high-heeled boots
not aiding his progress.  Reaching the house he set down his load and
wheeled swiftly toward the swaying balance.  The pennyweight disk slid
into one pan as his other hand brought from his pocket a generous
quantity of the whitish, translucent crystals.  Sniffing them, he smiled
grimly and then nodded as the biting odor gripped his nostrils.  He let
them drop slowly into the other pan and when the balance was struck he
added one more crystal and put the rest back into his pocket.  Glancing
around the hut he saw a torn, discarded pamphlet in a corner and he
removed some of the inner sheets.  When he had finished weighing and
wrapping he had a dozen little packages of more than twenty-four, and
less than thirty, grains.  Wiping out the little tray he replaced the
weight, drank deeply from a bucket and then started a fire in the
home-made rock-and-clay stove.  While it caught he went out, picked up
some clean pebbles and returned to the scales, soon selecting the pebble
that weighed the same as his powders.  He might have use for it sometime
in the future.  Taking another piece of paper he emptied into it the
rest of the crystals from his pocket and, sorting out pieces of
thickened lint and bits of tobacco, wrapped the chloral up securely.
Then he got busy with the meal and when the coffee was ready he went to
the door and shouted the old bunkhouse classic: "Come an’ get it!"

Blascom soon appeared, his clothing wet and sandy, and in his hand were
several rice grains of gold with quite some dust.  "Looks fair to me,"
he said.  "I can’t hardly tell what I’m doin’, th’ sump fills up so
fast, an’ th’ sand is washed in with th’ water, fillin’ it up from th’
bottom as fast as I can dig it out an’ pan it.  I can’t understand where
all that water comes from.  I know there’s cussed little of it further
down th’ crick bed.  When she dried up I nat’rally wanted a sump nearer
th’ hut, but I couldn’t get one nearer than I have.  Must be a spring
somewhere under it."  He sniffed cheerfully.  "That coffee shore smells
good," he declared, going out to wash his hands.

The meal was eaten rapidly, without much talking, but when it was
finished Blascom packed his pipe and passed the pouch to his companion.
"New pipe?" he asked.  "Then wet yore finger an’ rub it around in th’
bowl before you light her.  You don’t want a job cookin’, do you?  I
never drunk better coffee."

The new pipe going well, Tex leaned back and smiled.  "I’ll cook th’
supper if you want.  I ain’t anxious to get back to town before dark.
An’ I’ll put on them old clothes over there an’ help you at th’ sump th’
rest of th’ day.  Let’s get goin’."

"All right; it’s a two-man job with that water comin’ in so fast,"
answered the prospector.  "We’ll not do any pannin’--just get th’ sand
out an’ dump it up on th’ bank, out of th’ way of high water.  I can pan
it any time.  You see, this dry spell is due to end ’most any time, an’
when it does it’ll be a reg’lar cloud-burst.  That’ll mean no more
placerin’ near th’ sump.  Ever see these creek beds after a cloud-burst?
They’re full from bank to bank an’ runnin’ like bullets."

Tex nodded and looked steadily out of the door, his mind going back some
years and vividly presenting an arroyo and the great, sheer wall of
water which swept down it on the day when he and his then enemy,
Hopalong Cassidy, were fighting it out in the brush.  His eyes glowed as
the details returned to him and went past in orderly array.  From that
sudden and unexpected danger, and the impulsive chivalry of the man who
had had him at the mercy of an inspired six-gun, had come his
redemption.

"Yes," he said slowly.  "I’ve seen ’em.  They’re deadly when they catch
a man unawares."  He drew a deep breath and returned to the main
subject. "Why don’t you hire somebody, Jake for instance, an’ clean up
that sump as quick as you can?"

"An’ have a knife in my back?" exclaimed Blascom, "or be killed in my
sleep?  I don’t know much about Jake, but what little I do know about
him, th’ less he, or any of th’ fellers in town know about that sump,
th’ better I’ll like it.  There ain’t one I’d trust, an’ most of ’em are
busted an’ plumb desperate.  I’ve been pannin’ a lot better than fair
day’s wages out here, but I’m doin’ without everythin’ that I can
because I dassn’t look so prosperous.  Let me show much dust in town an’
I’d be raided an’ jumped th’ same night.  They’re like a pack of
starvin’ coyotes. I don’t even keep my dust in this shack.  I cache it
outside at night."

"Suppose you was to buy things in town with coin or bills, lettin’ on
that it is yore bedrock reserve that yo’re livin’ on," suggested Tex.
"That ought to help some."

"But I ain’t got ’em," objected Blascom.  "Got nothin’ but raw gold."

Tex laughed and dug down into his pocket.  "That’s easy solved.  Here,"
he said, bringing up a handful of double eagles.  "Gold weighs as much
in one shape as it does in another--even less, bulk for bulk, without
th’ alloy.  I’ll change with you if you want."  Then he drew back his
hand and grinned quizzically.  "It’s allus well to think of th’ little
things.  It might be better if we didn’t swap.  You fellers ain’t likely
to have a currency reserve: more likely to have it just as you dug it
out.  That right?"

Blascom nodded.  "Yes; ’though I knowed a feller that allus carried big
bills in place of gold when he could get ’em, an’ when he wasn’t broke.
They weighed a lot less.  Raw gold would be better, out here."

"All right; how’d you like to drop into th’ hotel about eleven tonight
an’ win heavy from me in a two-hand game of draw?  Say as much as we can
fix up?  How much you want to change?  Couple of hundred?" He chuckled.
"We can fix it either way: raw gold or currency."

"Make it raw gold, then; better yet, mix it," said Blascom, arising, his
face wrinkled with pleasure. He nodded swiftly.  "Be back in a minute,"
and he went out.  When he returned he went into a corner where he could
not be seen by anyone passing the hut and took several sacks from his
pocket.  It did not take him long to weigh their contents and, calling
his visitor over to verify the weights and the cleanness of the gold, he
put the odd gold back into a sack and handed the other to his companion.

"Two hundred even," he said.  "Keep yore money till I take it away from
you tonight.  Much obliged to you, Jones."

"How do you know I’ll be there?" asked Tex, smiling.  "I got th’ gold
an’ a cussed good cayuse. With such a good start it’ll be easy."

Blascom chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. "Yore little game with
Whiskey Jim an’ your soiree with Jake tell me different," he answered.
"I’ve rubbed elbows with all sorts of men for forty-odd years--ever
since I was a boy of sixteen.  A man’s got to back his best judgment:
an’ I’m backin’ mine. If I wasn’t shore about you do you reckon I’d be
tellin’ you anythin’ about that sump?  Now then: what you say about
settin’ here an’ takin’ things easy for th’ rest of th’ day?  I don’t
want you to get all mucked up."

Tex arose, took the boxes of .38 shorts out of his pockets and lay them
on a shelf.  He put the heavy little sacks in their places and turned.
"It’ll do me good; an’ I might learn somethin’ useful," he said. "A man
can’t never learn too much.  Come on; we’ll tackle that sump."  As he
changed his clothes for those of his host the latter’s words of
confidence in him set him thinking.  To his mind came scenes of long
ago.  "Deacon" Rankin, "Slippery" Trendley, "Slim" Travennes, and others
of that savage, murderous, vulture class returned on his mental canvas.
Of the worst class in the great West they had stood in the first rank;
and at one time he had stood with them, shoulder to shoulder, had
deliberately chosen them for his friends and companions, and in many of
their villainies he had played his minor parts.  He stirred into renewed
activity and dressed rapidly. Changing the gold sacks into the clothes
he now wore and putting on his host’s extra pair of boots, he stepped
toward the door and then thought of Jake, who reminded him somewhat of
his former friends, lacking only their intelligence.  He turned and
swept up his gun and belt, buckling it around him as he left the shack
to help his new friend.



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                              *AFTER DARK*


Murphy’s blocked-up box car was dark and showed no signs of life, making
only a blacker spot in the night.  To any prowler who might have
investigated its externals, the raised shades and the closed door would
have left him undecided as to whether or not its tenant was within; but
the closed windows on such a night as this would have suggested that he
was not, for the baked earth radiated heat and the walls of the modest
habitation were still warm to the touch.  Inside the closed car the heat
must have been well-nigh intolerable.

The silence was natural and unbroken.  The brilliant stars seemed rather
to accentuate the darkness than to relieve it.  An occasional breath of
heated air furtively rustled the tufts of drought-killed grass, but
brought no relief to man or beast; but somewhere along the branch line a
stronger wind was blowing, if the humming of the telegraph wires meant
anything.  In the west gleamed a single glowing eye of yellow-white,
where the switch light told that the line was open.  To the right of it
blotches of more diffused and weaker radiance outlined the windows and
doors of the straggling buildings facing the right-of-way.  An
occasional burst of laughter or a snatch of riotous song came from them,
mercifully tempered and mellowed by the distance.  From the east arose
the long-drawn vocal atrocity of some mournful coyote who could not wait
for the rising of the crescent moon to give him his cue.  Infrequent
metallic complaints told of the contraction of the heat-stretched rails.

In the south appeared a swaying thickening of the darkness, an elongated
concentration of black opacity. Gradually it took on a more definite
outline as its upper parts more and more became silhouetted against a
sky of slightly different tone and intensity.  First a moving cone, then
a saucer-like rim, followed slowly by a sudden contraction and a further
widening.  Hat, head, and shoulders loomed up vaguely, followed by the
longer bulkiness of the body.

This apparition moved slowly and silently toward the rectangular blot at
the edge of the right-of-way, advancing in a manner suggesting
questionable motives, and it paused frequently to peer into the
surrounding void, and to listen.  After several of these cautious waits
it reached the old car, against whose side it stood out a little more
distinctly by contrast.  The gently rolling tattoo of finger nails on
wood could scarcely be heard a dozen feet away and ceased before
critical analysis would be able to classify it.  Half a minute passed
and it rolled out again, a little louder and more imperative.  Another
wait, and then came a flat clack as a tossed pebble bounced from the
wall at the waiter’s side.  Its effect was magical. The figure wheeled,
crouched, and a hand spasmodically leaped hip high, a soft, dull gleam
tipping it.  While one might slowly count ten its rigid posture was
maintained and then a rustling not far from the door drew its instant
attention.

"What ye want?" demanded a low, curious voice.  "If it’s Murphy, he’s
sleepin’ out, this night av h--l."

The figure at the door relaxed, grew instantly taller and thinner and a
chuckle answered the query of the section-boss.  "Don’t blame you," it
softly said, and moved quietly toward the owner of the car.

"To yer left," corrected the Irishman.  "Who’s wantin’ Murphy at this
time av night, an’ for what?"

"Yore fellow-conspirator," answered Tex, sinking down on the blanket of
his companion.  "Didn’t Jerry tell you to expect me?"

"Yes, he did; but I wasn’t shore it was you," replied Murphy.  "So I
acted natural.  Th’ house is past endurin’ with th’ winders an’ door
closed; an’ not knowin’ what ye might have to talk about I naturally
distrusted th’ walls.  This whole town has ears.  Out here in th’ open a
man will have more trouble fillin’ his ear with other people’s business.
How are ye?"

"Hot, an’ close," chuckled Tex.  "Also curious an’ lonesome."  He
crossed his legs tailor fashion, and then seemed to weigh something in
his mind, for after a moment he changed and lay on his stomach and
elbows. "I don’t stick up so plain, this way," he explained.

"I hear ye trimmed old Frowsyhead at poker," said Murphy, "an’ won a
good hoss.  Beats all how a man wants to smoke when he shouldn’t.  Have
a chew?"

"I’ll own to that vice in a limited degree and under certain
conditions," admitted Tex, taking the huge plug. "An’ I’ll confess that
to my way of thinkin’ it’s th’ only way to get th’ full flavor of th’
leaf; but I ain’t sayin’ it’s th’ neatest."

"’Tis fine trainin’ for th’ eye," replied Murphy, the twinkle in his own
hidden by the night.

"An’ develops amazin’ judgment of distance," supplemented Tex,
chuckling.  "There’s some I’d like to try it on--Hennery Williams, for
instance."

"Aye," growled Murphy in hearty accord.  "He’ll be lucky if he ain’t hit
by somethin’ solider than tobaccy juice.  I fair itch to twist his
skinny neck."

"A most praiseworthy longing," rejoined Tex, a sudden sharpness in his
voice.  "How long has he been deservin’ such a reward?"

"Since _she_ first came here," growled his companion. "That was why I
wanted Mike Costigan to get his family out av th’ way, for I’m tellin’
ye flat, Costigans or no Costigans, that little miss will be a widder on
her weddin’ day, if it gets that far.  Th’ d--d blackguard!  I’ve kept
me hand hid, for ’tis a true sayin’ that forewarned is forearmed.
They’ll have no reason to watch me close, an’ then it’ll be too late.
Call it murder if ye will, but I’ll be proud av it."

"Hardly murder," murmured Tex.  "Not even homicide, which is a
combination of Latin words meanin’ th’ killin’ of a human bein’.  To
flatter th’ noble Hennery a little, I’d go so far as to admit it might
reach th’ dignity of vermicide.  An’ no honest man should find fault
with th’ killin’ of a worm.  Th’ Costigans should be persuaded to move."

"Ye try it," grunted Murphy sententiously.  "Can ye dodge quick?"

"Nobody ever justly accused me of tryin’ to dodge a woman," said Tex.
"There must be a way to get around her determination."

"Yes?" queried Murphy, the inflection of the monosyllable leaving
nothing to be learned but the harrowing details.

"Coax her to go to Willow," persisted Tex.

"She don’t like th’ town."

"Yore inference is shore misleadin’," commented Tex. "I’d take it from
that that she does like Windsor."

"Divvil a bit; but she stays where Mike is."

"Then you’ve got to shift Mike.  There’s not enough work here for a good
man like Costigan," suggested Tex.

"Yer like a dog chasin’ his tail.  Costigan stays where th’ lass an’ her
brother are."

"Huh!  Damon an’ Pythias was only a dual combination," muttered the
puncher.  "Cussed if there ain’t somethin’ in th’ world, after all, that
justifies Nature’s labors."

"An’," went on Murphy as though he had not been interrupted, "th’ lass
sticks to her brother, an’ he stays where he’s put.  He’s not strong an’
he has a livin’ to make for two.  Ye can take yer change out av that,
Mr. Tex Jones."

Tex grunted pessimistically.  "Well, anyhow," he said, brightening a
little, "mebby Miss Saunders won’t be pestered for a little while by
Hennery--an’ then we’ll see what we see.  I’m unlucky these days: I’m
allus with th’ under dog," and he went on to tell his companion of his
suggestions to the nephew.

"’Tis proud av ye I am," responded Murphy.  "May th’ saints be praised
for th’ rest she’ll be gettin’.  We can all av us breathe deep for a
little while; an’ meanwhile I’ll be tryin’ my strength with Lefferts,
th’ boss at th’ Junction.  I’ve hated to leave town even that long, but
now I can make th’ run; ’though I know it will do no good.  Ye’ll be
stayin’ in town tomorry?"

"Why, no; I’m goin’ ridin’ with Miss Saunders," and Tex explained that,
to his companion’s admiration and delight.

"It’ll be a pleasure for her to be able to leave th’ house without bein’
tagged after by that scut," said the section-boss.  "Yer a bye with a
head.  An’ I see where ye not only get th’ suspicions av that Tommy lad,
but run afoul of that Henry an’ his precious uncle.  Haven’t ye been
warned yet?"  The gleam of hope in his eyes was hidden by the darkness.
"Ye’ll mebby have trouble with th’ last two--an’ if ye do, keep an eye
on Bud Haines. Ye’ll do well to watch him, anyhow.  Why don’t ye slip
out quiet-like, straight southwest from her house?  Less chance av bein’
seen; but a mighty slim one.  They’ve eyes all over town."

"We are shore to be seen," quietly responded Tex.  "If we sneak out it
will justify their suspicions.  I don’t want to do that.  I’m aimin’ to
ride plumb down th’ main street, through th’ middle of town, an’ pay
Tommy a little visit out at his ranch.  _There is no shuffling, there
th’ action lies in his true nature_.  Like Caesar’s wife, you know.
An’, by th’ way, Tim: we have some friends in town, an’ I’m addin’ an
ally from Buffalo Crick.  Time works for us."  He paused and then asked,
curiously: "Who is our friend Bud Haines, an’ what does he do for a
livin’?  I’ve my suspicions, but I’d rather be shore."

Murphy swore softly under his breath.  "He used to ride for Williams
till he earned a reputation as a first-class gunman; but now he follows
old Frowsyhead around like a shadder.  Cold blooded, like th’
rattlesnake he is; a natural-born killer.  They say he’s chain lightnin’
on th’ draw."

"I’ve heard that said of better men than him; some of them now dead,"
said Tex.  "Must be a pleasant sort of a chap."  He cogitated a bit.
"An’ how long has he been playin’ shadow to friend Williams?  Since I
come to town, or before?" he asked as casually as he could, but tensely
awaited the answer.

"Couple av years," answered Murphy; "an’ mebby longer."  He tried to
peer through the darkness.  "Was ye thinkin’ ye made th’ job for him?"

"Well, hardly," replied Tex.  "I’m naturally conceited, suspicious, and
allus lookin’ out for myself.  Th’ thought just happened to hit me."

Their conversation began to ramble to subjects foreign to Windsor and
its inhabitants, and after a little while Tex arose to leave.  He melted
out of sight into the night and half an hour later rode into town from
the west, along the railroad, and soon stopped before the hotel.

The customary poker game was in full swing and he nodded to the players,
received a civil greeting from Gus Williams, and after a short, polite
pause at the table, wandered over to the bar, where Blascom leaned in
black despondency.

"How’d’y," said Tex affably.  "Fine night, but hot, an’ close."

"Fine, h--l!" growled Blascom, sullenly looking up. "Not meanin’ you no
offense, stranger," he hastily added. "I’m grouchy tonight," he
explained.

"Why, what’s th’ trouble?" asked Tex after swift scrutiny of the other’s
countenance.  "Barkeep, give us two drinks, over yonder," and he led his
companion to the table.  "No luck?"

Blascom growled an oath.  "None at all.  My stake’s run out, all but
this last bag," and he slammed it viciously onto the table.  "Th’
claim’s showin’ nothin’."  He scowled at the bag and then, avarice in
his eyes and desperation in his voice, he looked up into the face
opposite him.  "This is next to no good: I’ll double it, or lose it.
What you say to a two-hand game?"

Tex looked a little suspicious.  "I don’t usually play for that much,
rightaway, ag’in’ strangers."  He looked around the room and flushed
slightly at the knowing smiles and sarcastic grins.  "Oh, I don’t care,"
he asserted, swaggering a little.  "Come on; I’ll go you. Deck of cards,
friend," he called to the dispenser of drinks, and almost at the words
they were sailing through the air toward his hands.  "You’ve got as much
chance as I have; an’ if I don’t win it, somebody else will. Draw, I
reckon?" he asked nervously.  "All right; low deals," and the game was
on.

Blascom won the first hand, Tex the second.  For the better part of an
hour it was an up-and-down affair, the ups for Tex not enough to offset
the downs.  Finally, with a big pot at stake he pressed the betting on
the theory that his opponent was bluffing.  Suddenly becoming doubtful,
he let a palpable fear master him, refused to see the raise, and slammed
his hand down on the table with a curse.  Blascom laughed,
grandiloquently spread a four-card flush under his adversary’s nose, and
raked in his winnings.

"Shuffle ’em up."  chuckled the prospector.  "Things are lookin’
better."

Glancing from the worthless hand into Blascom’s exultant face Tex kicked
the chair from in under him, arose and went to the bar where he gulped
his drink, glanced sullenly around the room, and strode angrily to the
stairs to go to his room.  Wide and mocking grins followed him until he
was hidden from sight, the expressions on the faces of Williams and his
nephew transcending the others.

The prospector gleefully pocketed the money and dust, sighed with relief
and swaggered over to the other table, one thumb hooked in an armhole of
his vest.  He stopped near Williams and beamed at the players, patting
his pocket, but saying nothing until the hand had been played and the
cards were being scooped up for a new deal.

"Williams," he said, laughing, "my supplies are cussed low, but now that
I can pay for what I want I’m comin’ in tomorrow mornin’ an’ carry off
’most all yore grub."

The storekeeper had glanced meaningly at one of the players and now he
lazily looked up, his face trying to express pleasure and
congratulation.  The man he had glanced at arose, yawned and stretched,
mumbled something about being tired and out of luck and pushed back his
chair.  As he slouched away from the table he turned the chair
invitingly and nodded to Blascom.

"Take my place; I’m goin’ to turn in soon," he said.

"Why, shore," endorsed Williams.  "Set in for a hand or two, Blascom.
It’s early yet, too early to head for yore cabin.  This game’s been
draggin’ all evenin’; mebby it’ll move faster if a new man sets in."
Waiting a moment for an answer and none being forthcoming, he leaned
back and stretched his arms.  "How you makin’ out on th’ crick--bad?"

"Couldn’t be much worse," answered the prospector, his face becoming
grave.  "I can’t do much without water, an’ th’ only water I got is a
sump for drinkin’ an’ cookin’ purposes.  You know that I ain’t th’ one
to put up no holler as long as I’m gettin’ day wages out of it; but when
I can’t make enough to pay my way, then I can’t help gettin’ a little
mite blue."

"We all have our trials," replied Williams.  He waved his hand toward
the vacant chair.  "Better set in for a little while.  You’ve had good
luck tonight: give it its head while it’s runnin’ yore way.  Besides, a
little fun an’ company will shore cheer you up.  You ain’t got no reason
to be hot-footin’ off to yore cabin so early in th’ evenin’."

The prospector smilingly shook his head.  "I ain’t needin’ no cheerin’
now," he asserted, again slapping the pocket.  "I got a little stake
that’ll let me stick it out till we get rain.  I got too much faith in
that claim to clear out an’ leave it; but now I got still more faith in
my luck.  It broke for me tonight an’ I’m bettin’ it’s th’ turnin’
point; an’ if a man ain’t willin’ to meet a turn of good luck at
sunrise, with a smile, he shore don’t deserve it.  At sunup I’ll be in
that crick bed with a shovel in my hand, ready to go to work.  I’ve been
busted before; more’n once; but I don’t seem to get used to it, at all.
Well, good luck, everybody, an’ good night," and he turned and strode
briskly toward the door and disappeared into the darkness.

Williams looked disappointed and cautiously pushed the substitute deck
farther back in its little slot under the table.  Looking around, he
beckoned to the unselfish player and motioned for him to resume his
seat.  The lamb having departed, the regular friendly game for small
stakes would now go on again.

"You fellers heard what I said about sand, th’ very first night that
Jones feller showed up," remarked Williams, chuckling.  "I’m sayin’ it
ag’in: he figgered Blascom was bluffin’, played that way until th’
stakes got high an’ then got scared out an’ quit.  Quit cold without
even feedin’ in a few more dollars to see th’ hand.  Left th’ table in a
rage just because he lost a hundred or two.  I was watchin’ him as much
as I could, an’ I could see he was gettin’ madder an’ madder, nervouser
an’ nervouser all th’ time; an’ when a man gets like that he can’t play
poker good enough to keep warm in h--l.  He ain’t no poker player; an’
as soon as I can buffalo him into a good, stiff game, I’ll show you he
ain’t!"

He paused and looked around knowingly.  "He didn’t win that roan.  I
just sorta loaned it to him.  Might have to bait him ag’in, too; but
before he leaves this town I’ll git it back, with all he’s got to-boot.
There ain’t no call for nobody to start yappin’ around about what I’m
sayin’," he warned.

"I was a-wonderin’ about him winnin’ that hoss," said the unselfish
player as he resumed his seat and drew up to the table.  A broad grin
spread itself across his face. "Prod him sharp, Gus: we’ll get him
playin’ ag’in’ th’ gang, some night, an’ win him naked."

The subject of their conversation was upstairs behind his closed door.
He had taken off his coat and vest and was seated facing the washstand,
from which he had removed the basin and pitcher.  On the bench was a
pile of 45’s, their bullets greaseless, and he was working assiduously
at the slug of another cartridge, his thumb pressing this way and that,
and from time to time he turned the shell for assaults on the other
side.  It was hard on the thumb, but no other way would do, for no other
way that he could take advantage of would leave the soft lead entirely
free from telltale marks.

Time passed, but still he labored, changing thumbs at intervals.  At
last, all the leads removed and each one standing against its own shell,
he emptied the powder from the brass containers and made a little paper
package of it.  Going to his coat and taking out the packets of chloral,
he put the powder package in their place and returned with them to the
bench.

The translucent crystals were of all sizes, some of them too large to be
economically contained by the shells, which he had cleaned of powder
marks.  These crystals were larger only in two dimensions, for in
thickness they were practically the same as the others.  Doubtful
whether the shells would hold a full dose and permit the leads to be
replaced, he felt some anxiety as he placed the chloral in the folds of
a clean kerchief and began crushing them by the steady pressure of the
butt of his Colt.  This was slower than pounding, but the latter was too
noisy a process under present conditions.  Dumping the reduced crystals
into a shell lined with paper against possible chemical action on the
brass, he gently tapped the outside of the container and watched the
granules settle until there was room for the lead.  He did not dare tamp
it for fear it would not easily empty when inverted. Pushing home the
bullet he up-ended the cartridge and tapped it again to loosen the
contents.  Shaking it close to his ear, he smiled grimly.  The dose was
loose enough to fall out readily, large enough to insure its proper
effect, and the granules of a size small enough to dissolve quickly.
When he had filled and reloaded the last shell he chuckled as he made a
slight notch on the rim of each, for they would bear close inspection by
weight, sight, and sound, and it was necessary that he mark them to keep
from fooling himself.

He put them back into the pocket of the coat and grinned.  "As I
remember the action of chloral hydrate somebody may lose consciousness
and muscular power and sensibility.  Their expanding pupils as they wake
up will expand under sore and inflamed eyelids.  They’ll sleep tight and
not be worth very much for an hour or two after they do awaken.  And
these men gulp their whiskey without waiting to taste it, and it is so
vile that they’ll never suspect an alien flavor, ’specially if it’s not
too strong.  Gentlemen, I bid you all good night: and may you sleep well
and soundly."



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                         *A PLEASANT EXCURSION*


After an early breakfast, early for him these days, Tex went down the
street toward Carney’s. As he passed Williams’ stable he heard
hammering, and paused to glance in at the door to see what his friend,
Graves, was doing.

The stableman looked up and turned halfway around at the hail.  "Hello!"
he mumbled through a mouthful of nails.  Removing them he nodded at the
door.  "Tryin’ to fasten that lock so it’ll do some good.  It must ’a’
been forced off more’n once, judgin’ by th’ split wood, which is so old
that it ain’t much good, anyhow.  Th’ nails sink into it like it was
putty."

Tex was about to suggest the sawing out of the poorest part of the plank
and the in-letting of a new piece in its place, but some subconscious
warning bade him hold his peace.

"Much ado about nothin’, Graves," he said, smiling ironically.  "Hoss
stealin’ is a bigger risk in these parts than it is a profit; an’
anyhow, th’ slightest noise will wake you up, sleepin’ like you do right
next to th’ door."  He examined the wood.  "Huh; them splits were made
when th’ wood was tough--it wouldn’t split as dead as it is now: th’
nails would just pull out.  So you see it was done years ago. Hoss
stealin’ has gone out of style since then.  All you want is a catch to
hold it shut ag’in’ th’ wind."  He winced suddenly and held a hand
gently against his jaw.  "That’s all it wants."

"Reckon yo’re right," agreed the stableman, glancing curiously at his
companion’s hand.  "What’s th’ matter?  Toothache?"

Tex growled a profane malediction and nodded. "Reckon I’ll have to go
around an’ see th’ doc, an’ get some laudanum."

"An’ pay that thief three prices!" expostulated Graves indignantly.
"Chances are he’s so drunk he’ll give you strychnine instead.  Why don’t
you go up to Williams’ store?  He’s got th’ laudanum, an’ knows how to
fix it up for toothaches an’ earaches, I reckon."

"Williams?" queried Tex in moderate surprise. "What you talkin’ about?
He ain’t runnin’ no drugstore!  What’s he doin’ with drugs an’ such
stuff?"

Graves laughed and contemplated the lock with strong disapproval.  "No,
it ain’t no drug-store," he replied.  "But th’ doc drinks so hard he
ain’t got no money left to carry a full line of drugs, so Williams
carries ’em for him, an’ sells him stuff as he needs it.  Besides, he
allus did sell strychnine to th’ ranchers, for coyotes an’
wolves--though I ain’t never heard it said that any wolves was ever
poisoned. Sometimes they do get a coyote--but not no wolves. They’ve
been hunted so hard they just about know as much as th’ hunters."  He
stepped forward and felt of the wood around the lock.  "I reckon yo’re
right," he admitted; "though while I ain’t nat’rally a sound sleeper, it
would take quite some racket to wake me up if I’d had a couple of drinks
before goin’ to bed, which I generally do have.  I’ll just let her stay
like she is."

Tex looked at the lock and at the bolt receptacle on the door jamb.  The
lock was fastened securely for most people, seeing that the pressure
from being pushed inward would not work against it very much; but the
receptacle, the keystone of the door’s defense, was nailed to even
poorer wood than the lock itself and he saw at once that any real strain
would force it loose.

"Shore; good enough," he said.  "Have an eye-opener?"

Graves accepted with alacrity and in a moment they were smiling across
Carney’s bar at the good-natured proprietor.

"That hoss ready?" asked Tex when the conversation lulled.

"In th’ stall next to th’ roan," answered Carney. "Th’ stable boys went
to Europe last night an’ won’t be back till tomorrow; but I reckon you
can saddle her yoreself."

"I’d rather do it myself," replied Tex.

"Labor of love?" queried Carney, grinning.

"Measure of precaution," retorted Tex, a slight frown on his face.

Carney nodded endorsement.  "Can’t take too much," he rejoined.  "That
goes for every kind, too. Nice gal, she is--though a little mite stuck
up.  I reckon she----"

"Nice day," interrupted Tex, looking straight into the eyes of the
proprietor; "though it’s hot, an’ close," he added slowly.

"It is that," muttered Carney.  "As I was sayin’, you’ll find both
hosses ready for saddles," he vouchsafed with slight confusion.

"Much obliged," answered Tex with a smile, turning toward the rear door.
"See you boys later," he said, going out.  In a few minutes they saw him
ride past on a nettlesome black which put down its white feet as though
spurning contact with the earth.

"Whitefoot shore glistens," observed Graves.

"She ought to," replied Carney.  He mopped off the bar and looked up.
"Beats all how them fellers ride," he observed.  "They sit a saddle like
they’d growed there.  An’," he cogitated, "beats all how touchy some of
’em are.  I can’t figger him, a-tall," whereupon ensued an exhaustive
critique of cowpunchers, their manners, and dispositions.

Meanwhile the particular cowpuncher who had started the discussion was
riding briskly northeastward along the trail which he knew led to the C
Bar, and after he had put a few miles behind him he took a package from
his pocket and sowed black powder along the edge of the trail.  After a
short while he turned and rode back again.

Jane Saunders answered the knock and smiled at the self-possessed
puncher who faced her, hat in hand. "Come in a moment," she invited,
stepping aside. "This coffee is hardly cool enough to be put into the
bottles, but it won’t be long before it is.  I am so glad you have
brought Whitefoot.  I have ridden her before."

"She’s quite a horse," he replied.  "Gaited as easy as any I ever rode."

She flashed him a suspicious glance.  "Then you’ve ridden her?  When,
and what for?"

"I thought it would do no harm to learn her disposition," he answered
carelessly.  "She hasn’t been out of the stable for two weeks.  We had a
nice five-mile ride, and she took it with plenty of spirit. She’s a good
hoss."

After awhile Jane filled two bottles with coffee and placed them with
the lunch on the table.  Tex took down a blackened tin pail from a hook
over the stove and, picking up the bottles and the lunch, went out to
his horse, followed by Jane, who had at the last moment buckled on a
cartridge belt and the .38 Colt.

Tex looked at them and cogitated.  "That’ll be quite heavy and annoying,
bobbing up and down at every step," he observed.  "Why not leave the
belt behind and let me slip the gun into my pocket?"

"But I should get accustomed to it," she protested.

"Intend to wear it steadily?"

"No; hardly that," she laughed.

"Then there’s no reason to get accustomed to it," he replied.  "Surprise
is a great factor, because what is known can be guarded against.  Will
you allow me to advise you in a matter of this kind?"

"Jerry says I couldn’t have a better adviser," she replied.  She
regarded him with level gaze.  "Of course, Mr. Jones; but I want to
carry it: you have too much without taking it.  Frankly, I’m amused by
your suggestion that I learn to use it, by Jerry’s earnestness that I do
learn, and by Tim’s fear that I will not.  Let us start out by being
frank: Why do you think it necessary that I do?"

"Necessary?" asked Tex.  "Why, I am not claiming that it is necessary;
but I do know that it is a very pleasant diversion.  Miss Saunders,
there is a great deal said and written about the chivalry of western
men.  I won’t say that most of it, or even nearly all of it is not
deserved, for I believe that it is; but I will say that there are men
who have no idea of chivalry, honesty, or even decency.  You find them
wherever men are, be it any point of the compass, or in any stratum of
society.  The West has some of them, even if less than its proportionate
share; and this town of Windsor was not overlooked in their
distribution.  I know of no particular reason why you should learn the
use of a revolver; but we are dealing with generalities.  They suffice.
With the odds a hundred to one that you never will have need to call
upon knowledge of firearms, why refuse that knowledge when it is so
easily acquired; and when the acquirement not only will be a pleasure
but will lead to further pleasures?  Shooting calls for that
coordination of nerves and muscles which make all sports sport.  And let
me say, further, that the feeling of confidence, of security, which
comes from the proper handling of a six-shooter is well worth what
little effort has been expended to learn its use.  Later I hope you will
make use of my rifle--after I reduce the powder charges a little--but
the short gun should come first.  And I would much prefer that you carry
it yourself, and make its carrying a habit rather than an exception."

"You are a very difficult man to argue against successfully, Mr. Jones,"
she said smiling.  "I believe, quite the hardest I ever have met."

She took off the belt, slipped the gun inside her waist and hung the
belt on a branch of a small tree beside her.

Tex dismounted, took the belt and carried it into the house and,
returning, lifted her into the saddle, which she wisely sat astride.
Swinging onto the roan he led the way toward town.  She was about to
speak of the direction when she decided to keep silent, and, glancing
sidewise at him, smiled to herself at his easy assurance and rather
liked his open defiance of the townspeople.  She had no illusions as to
what effect their ride together might have in certain minds, and she
allowed her feelings, if not her thoughts, to choose her words.

"What a relief it is to have a day’s freedom," she exulted, patting the
black.

Tex nodded understandingly.  "Yes," he said. "Being cooped up and hedged
around does get tiresome, I suspect.  Well," he laughed, "the fences are
all down today.  We ride where we listeth and let no man say us nay."

She looked at him smilingly.  "Do you know that you are something of an
enigma?  I’m curious to know what’s going on in your head," she daringly
declared.  "You just said the fences are all down, you know."

He laughed and glanced down the main street, into which they at that
moment turned, and a certain grimness came to his face, which she did
not miss. "Why allow yourself to be disappointed?" he asked. "Illusions
have their worth; and a mystery solved loses its interest.  As a matter
of fact, the less that is known of what goes on in my head, the better
for my reputation for wisdom and common sense.  It reminds me of the
mouse in the cave."

"Yes?"

"Yes.  It was such a big cave and such a little mouse," he explained.
"And except for the little mouse the cave was empty."

"I admire your humility; it is refreshing, especially in this country;
but I fear it is a very great illusion.  Like the other illusions to
which you just referred, has it its worth?"

"Confession is good for the soul, and always has worth."

While he spoke he saw a lounger before the hotel come to startled life
and hurry inside.  Down the street three conversing miners stopped their
words to stare open-mouthed at the two riders nonchalantly jogging their
way.  The door of the hotel became jammed and curious, surprised faces
peered from its dirty windows, among them the angry countenance of Henry
Williams.

The ordeal of proceeding naturally and carelessly down that street under
such frank scrutiny would have tried the balance of any poise, and Jane,
flushing and trying to ignore the stares, flashed a searching glance at
her companion and felt a quick admiration for him.  She could imagine
Tommy under these conditions.  For all she could detect, her companion
might have been riding across the uninhabited plains with no observing
eyes within a day’s ride of him.  Swaying rhythmically to the motion of
his horse, relaxed, unconcerned, and natural, he talked with ease and
smoothness; and unknowingly made an impression on her which time never
would efface.

"That simile of the mouse in the cave," he was saying, "naturally sets
up a train of thought--all thought being an unbroken, closely connected,
although not necessarily manifest to us, concatenation--and leads to the
ass in the lion’s skin, being helped materially by the great number of
asses in sight, despite the scarcity of even the skins of the nobler
beasts.  The dual combination does not end there, however; there are
jackals in lobos’ hides, and vultures posing as eagles.  Even the lowly
skunk has found a braver skin and bids for a reputation sweeter to bear
than the one earned by his own striking peculiarity.  For such a one
there is nothing so disconcerting as a six-gun appearing from a place
where no six-gun should be--and it loses none of its potency even if the
bore be small and the charge light.  Have you ever had the opportunity
to study animals at close range, Miss Saunders?"

His companion, bent over the saddle horn in her mirth, gasped that she
never had enjoyed such an opportunity, especially before today,
whereupon he continued.

"The ass in the lion’s skin was all right and got along famously until
he brayed," he explained; "but the skunk fools no one for one instant,
not even himself.  He can’t even fool Oh My, here," and he slapped the
glossy neck of the roan.

"Who?" demanded Jane, her face red from laughter.

"Oh My; my horse," he answered.  "He was named by one Windy Barrett,
when that person awakened from a stupor acquired by pouring libations to
Bacchus.  The rest of the name is Cayenne."

"Why, that’s an exclamation, not a name--Oh!"  Jane went off into
another fit of laughter.  "_Omar Khayyam_!  Isn’t that rich!  Whatever
did you do when you heard it?

"I led Graves to the tavern door agape," answered Tex, grinning.

By this time they had swung into the trail leading to the C Bar and the
miles rolled swiftly behind them. Suddenly Tex touched his companion’s
arm, both reining in abruptly.  Squarely in the middle of the trail was
a rattlesnake, huge for the prairie, and it coiled swiftly, the
triangular head erect and the tail whirring.

"Ugh!" exclaimed Jane, a wave of revulsion sweeping over her.  "What a
monster!  Can you shoot it from here?"

Tex nodded.  "Yes, but while I usually do, I rather dislike the job.
He’s a snake all right, man’s hereditary enemy since the world was
young, and the hatred for him comes to us naturally.  Sinister,
repellant, and all that, that chap is as square as any enemy in the
wild, and he is coolly business-like.  He hasn’t a friend outside his
own species, and even in that is to be found one of his chief enemies.
There he lies, for all to see, his gauntlet thrown, whirring his
determination to defend himself, and to depart if given a chance.  Look
at those coils, their grace and power, not an ungainly movement the
whole length of him. Look at his markings--from the freshness of his
skin and its vivid coloration I’d say he has very recently parted with
his old skin, and the parasites which infected it.  You shed your skin
in vain, Old-Timer--you’ll not enjoy it long," and his hand dropped to
the holster.  A flash and a roar, a rolling burst of smoke, and the
defiant head jerked sidewise, hanging by a few shreds of muscle to the
writhing coils.  "’Dead for a ducat, dead!’" quoted Tex, leading the way
past his victim.

A little farther on he pointed to a track along the side of the trail.

"Dog or wolf," he said.  "They’re identical except for directness.  A
dog’s track wavers, a wolf’s does not.  From the fact that it follows
the trail I’d say that was a dog; but it may puzzle us before we lose
it.  He was a big animal, though, and if a wolf he’s a lobo, the gray
buffalo wolf, cunning as Satan and brave as Hector.  And what a killer!
No carrion for him, no meat killed by anyone but himself, and usually
he’s shy about returning to that.  He creates havoc on a cattle range.
Poison he sneers at, and it takes mighty shrewd trapping to catch him.
To avoid the scent of man is his leading maxim.  Before the snow comes
he is safe--afterwards his troubles begin if a tracer crosses his
trail."

"Why I thought he was a big coyote," said Jane. "You make him out to be
quite a remarkable animal."

"And justly," responded her companion.  "Coyote? They shouldn’t be
mentioned together in the same breath.  The buffalo gray is a king--the
coyote a crawling scavenger, with wits in place of courage. The
difference in the natures is indicated graphically by the way they hold
their tails.  The coyote’s droops at a sharp angle, but the lobo’s is
held straight out. A single wolf is more expensive to ranchers now than
he once was, because he has been hunted so hard with traps and poison
that he now has learned not to eat dead animals, and in some cases even
to ignore his own kill after once he has left it.  I’ve heard of several
wolves, each of which have been blamed for the killing of sixty cows in
a year, and their score might have run quite some higher.  Have you been
watching this track?  I’d say it’s wolf--and as direct as an arrow.  And
there is the great western target--tomato, from the color of it. Suppose
you try your hand at it?"

Jane produced the pistol and listened intelligently (and how rare a gift
that is!) to all her companion had to tell her.  When the pistol was
emptied the can was still untouched.  Laughing, Tex dismounted, and drew
a long rectangle in the sand, with the can in the median line and to one
end.

"The ground laying flat instead of standing up like a man," he
explained, "I had to figure on your line of vision.  If the upper half
of a man’s body were placed on the line nearer you, his head would just
about intercept your view of the farther line.  Now your third and sixth
shots, having struck inside the four lines, would have hit a man at that
distance. I’d say you hit his stomach with the third shot, and his right
shoulder with the other.  The can is of no moment, for cans are not
dangerous; but when I show you how to reload, I want you to aim at the
can, as if it were the buckle of a belt.  You take to that Colt like a
duck takes to water--and before you get home today you’ll surprise
yourself.  Now, to eject the empties and to reload--and by the way, Miss
Saunders, if I were you, carrying that gun as you must carry it, I’d
leave one cartridge out, and let the hammer rest on the empty chamber."

The lesson went on, his pupil slowly becoming enthused and finding that
it truly was a sport.  When she had made four out of five in the
marked-off space she was greatly elated and would have continued
shooting after she was tired, but her tutor refused to let her.

"That is enough for now," he laughed.  "On our way back you may try a
few more rounds if you wish. No use to tire yourself, especially after
such a creditable showing.  In these few minutes you graduated out of
the defenseless-woman class, and may God help anybody who discounts your
defense.  You see, the main thing is not the shooting, but the freedom
from fear of weapons and knowing how to use them. There is nothing
mysterious about a Colt--it won’t blow up, or shoot behind.  Whatever
timidity you may have had about handling one has been overcome, and in a
few minutes you have learned to hold it right and to shoot it.  The bare
threat of a gun held in capable hands is in most cases enough.  Now, if
you please, I’ll try my left hand at the can.  I wear only one gun, but
it may be necessary to wear two--and while my left hand has been trained
to shoot well, this is a good opportunity to exercise it."

Filling the can with sand and dirt to weigh it against rolling, he
stepped back twenty paces, tossed his own Colt into his left hand,
dropped the butt to his hip and sent six shots at the crimson target.
Stepping from the smoke cloud he advanced and examined the can.  One
bullet had clipped its upper edge, another had grazed one side, while
the other four were grouped in the sand within a radius only; a little
larger than that of the target.

"That wouldn’t do for two of my friends," he laughed, "but it’s good
enough for me.  Not a shot would have missed the target I had in mind.
Had I shot as quickly as I could, I might have missed the target
altogether, but close enough for practical purposes.  On the other hand,
had I taken a little more time, the score would be better."

Jane’s mouth still was open in delighted surprise. "Do you mean to tell
me that anyone can do better than that, from the hip, without sighting
at all?" she demanded incredulously.

"Oh, yes," he replied, reloading the weapon. "Quite some few, notably
those two friends of whom I spoke.  You see I am satisfied in attaining
practical perfection in my left hand, knowing that my other is skilled
to a higher degree; but my friends must spend their time and cartridges
painting the lily. Either Johnny or Hopalong would feel quite chagrined
if at least five hadn’t cut into the can.  You should see them shooting
against each other, breaking matches to get the exact measurements and
arguing as if a fortune depended on it.  Why, Miss Saunders, either of
them could walk into Williams’ hotel on a busy night, give warning, and
empty two guns in less than ten seconds, every shot hitting a man.  They
have faced greater odds than that, both of them."

"You mean that one man could defeat a crowd like that?"

"Exactly; but they would not have to fire a shot," he said, smiling.
"You see, such a man would only have to throw down on the crowd to hold
them in check, if they know he will go through with his play. It isn’t
unlike an arch.  The keystone in this case is the fear of certain death
to the man who leads. The first man in the crowd to make a play would
die.  To some people martyrdom has a morbidly pleasant appeal as an
abstract proposition; but in a concrete state, where the suffering is
not vicarious, it really has few devotees.  And here is a psychological
fact: every man in the front rank of such a crowd is fully convinced
that he has been selected for the target if the rush starts.  Hopalong
and Johnny would go through with their play if their hand was forced,
and they are the kind of men whose expressions assure that they will.
It is a great comfort to have them with you if you must enter a hostile
town.  It’s a gift, like the gift of keener, swifter reflexes."

"It seems so impossible," commented Jane. "Won’t you please try your
other hand at a can? Somehow I felt that the snake was killed by
accident more than skill.  It seemed absurd, the offhand way you did
it."

"This really is no test," he responded, filling another can and stepping
back as he shifted the weapon to the right hand.  "There is not the
tenseness which a great stake causes; but, on the other hand, there is
not the high-tension signals to the muscles.  Watch closely," and the
jarring crashes sounded like a loud ripping.  One hole through the
picture of a perfect tomato, two just above it, two lower down, and the
sixth on the upper edge of the can gave mute testimony that he shot
well.

She fairly squealed with delight and clapped her hands in spontaneous
enthusiasm.  "Wonderful! Wonderful!  Oh, if I ever could shoot like
that!  I don’t believe those friends can even equal it, and I don’t care
how good they are."  Her face beamed. "But that must have taken a great
deal of practice."

"Years of it," he replied, "coupled to a natural aptitude.  While the
accuracy is good enough, that is of secondary consideration.  Had only
one bullet struck the target, or grazed it, the other five would not
have been necessary.  The speed of the draw is the great thing.  Any man
used to shooting a revolver can hit that mark once in six--but he is far
from a real gunman if he can’t beat ninety-nine men out of a hundred in
firing the first shot.  That is what counts with a gun-fighter.  His
target is almost any place between the belt and the shoulders. If he
strikes there and does not kill his man he will have time for a second
shot if it is needed.  My left hand is as deadly as my right against a
living target so far as accuracy is concerned; but pit it against my
right and it would be hopelessly lost, dead before it could get the gun
out of the holster.  And Hopalong Cassidy twice gave me lessons in the
fine art of drawing--once in an exhibition and the second time in what
would have been mortal combat if he had not allowed his heart to guide
his head.  I did not in the least merit his mercy. I had lived a wild,
careless life, Miss Saunders; but it changed from that day."

"Jerry told me why you made him give up wearing his revolver," she said,
thoughtfully.  "I did not fully appreciate his words; but the graphic
exposition lacks nothing to be convincing.  Was your interest in his
welfare another of your generalities?"

Her companion laughed.  "Jerry is a very likable chap, Miss Saunders.
Knowing that some feeling against him existed, and not knowing into what
it might develop, I only followed the promptings of caution.  He is a
gentleman and a man infinitely finer grained than the rest of the
inhabitants of Windsor.  He is honorable and he lacks insight into the
common motives which impel many men to perform acts he would not
countenance.  I have knocked about the West for twenty years, seeing it
at its best and at its worst--and you simply cannot conceive what that
worst is.  I have met many Gus Williamses and Jakes and Bud Haineses and
Henry Williamses.  They are almost a distinct variation of the human
species; they are a recognized and classified type.  I knew them all as
soon as I saw them.  Bud Haines is a natural killer. He’d kill a man at
a nod from the man who hired him. Gus Williams hires him, knowing that.
Henry, the nephew, is foul, a sneak, and a coward.  I’d rather see a
sister of mine in her grave than married to him.  But he is Gus
Williams’ nephew, the second power in town and must not be overlooked;
and he never will know how close to death he has been these last few
days.  It fairly has breathed in his face.  But we’ve had enough of
this: not far ahead is a fairly good place for our lunch, unless you
would prefer to go on to the C Bar."

"Why have you mentioned the nephew to me?" demanded Jane, her cheeks
flushed and a fear in her eyes.

"Did I single him out?" asked Tex in surprise.  "Why, I only mentioned
him, along with the others, while giving examples of a detestable type
and to explain why Jerry should not go about armed.  I hope I have not
frightened you, Miss Saunders?"

"You have not frightened me," she answered.  "I have been frightened for
a long time.  We are so helpless! Things which bother me, I dare not
speak to him about them, for he only would get into trouble and to no
avail. He cannot pick and choose; and I must stand by him, no matter
where he goes, or what he does.  Is there mercy in heaven, is there
justice in God, that we should be so circumscribed, forced by ills hard
enough in themselves to bear, into still greater ills?  Jerry’s lungs
would be tragedy enough for us to bear; but when I look around at times
and see--do you believe in God, Mr. Jones?"

"What I may or may not believe in is no aid to you, Miss Saunders,"
replied Tex, amazed at his reaction to her distress.  It was all he
could do to keep from taking her in his arms.  It was a lucky thing for
Henry Williams that he finally abandoned the idea of following them.
"If you have been taught to believe in a Divine Power, then don’t you
turn away from it.  To say there is no God is to be as dogmatic as to
say there is; for every reasoning being must admit a First Cause.  It is
only when we characterize it, and attempt to give It attributes that
differences of opinions arise.  I am not going to enter into any
discussion with you on subjects of this nature, Miss Saunders.  Nor am I
going to tell you what my convictions are.  They do not concern us.  If
you have any religious belief, cling to it: this is when it should begin
paying dividends."

"Have you read Kant?"

"Yes; and Spencer tears him apart."

"You are familiar with Spencer?"

"As I am with my own name.  To my way of thinking his is the greatest
mind humanity ever produced--but, with your permission, we will change
the subject."

"Not just yet, please," she said.  "You admire his logical reasoning?"

"I refuse to answer," he smiled.  "Here, let me give you an example of
logical reasoning, Miss Saunders. Here are two coins," he said, digging
two double eagles out of his pocket, "which, along with thousands of
others, we will say, were struck from one die.  You and I would say that
they are identical, especially after the most thorough and minute
examination failed to disclose any differences.  I hardly believe that
any man, no matter how much he may be aided by instruments of precision,
can take two freshly minted coins from the same die and find any
difference.  But what does pure logic say?"

"Certainly not that there is any difference?" she challenged in frank
surprise.

He chuckled.  "That is just what it claims, and here is the reasoning:
No one will deny that the die wears out with use, which is the same as
saying that the impressions change it.  To deny that they do is to say
that it does not wear out, which is absurd.  Therefore each impression,
being a part of the total impressions, must have done its share in the
changing.  And each impression, having changed it, must be different
from those preceding and following it.  Now, if the die changes, as we
have just proved that it does, so must the coins struck off from it, for
to say otherwise is to claim that effects are not produced by causes,
and that a changed die will not make changed coins.  Therefore, there
are no two coins absolutely alike, never have been, and never can be,
even at the moment they leave the die.  Put them into circulation and
the hypothetical differences rapidly increase, since no two of the coins
can possibly receive the same treatment in their travelings.  There you
have it, in pure logic: but does it get you any place?  On the strength
of it, would you persist in denying that these coins are dissimilar?
Are they so practically?  And it is from practical logic that we draw
the deductions by which we think and move and live.  So you take my word
that it will be better for you to cling to whatever faith you may have.
If it is not practical enough for you, I’ll look after that end for you;
and between your faith and the cunning of my gun-hand I’ll warrant that
your brother will come to no harm.  Shall we lunch at the C Bar, or in
that little clump of burned and sickly timber on the bank of that
dried-up creek?"

"I’m really too hungry to postpone the lunch," she said, smiling;
"besides I want to watch you in camp, and to listen to you.  It seems to
me that you have too keen a brain to be spending your life where it all
is wasted."

"Your compliment is disposed of by the fact that I am what I am," he
responded.  "The return compliment of not being able to be in a better
place, under present conditions, is so obvious that I’ll not spoil its
effect by saying it.  Anyhow, a fair vocabulary and a veneer of
knowledge are not the measures of wisdom, but rather a disguising coat.
To come right down to elementals, I heartily agree with you about the
lunch. I’ll be better company after the inner man has been properly
attended to, for food always leavens my cynicism.  Did I hear you ask
why I do not eat continually?"

The clump of browned trees reached, it took but little time to unpack
the lunch and start a cunningly built fire of twigs and broken branches,
over which the coffee quickly heated.  Depressing as the surroundings
were, barren and sun-baked as far as eye could see, the bed of the creek
dried and cracked and curling, this scene was destined to live long in
the memory of Tex Ewalt. The food, better cooked and far more daintily
prepared than any he could recall, tasted doubly good in the presence of
his intelligent, good-looking companion.  The subjects of their
interested discussions were wide in range and neither very long
maintained a certain restraint which had characterized their earlier
conversations.  She led him to talk of the West as it was, as he had
seen it, and as he hoped it would become; a skillful question starting
him off anew, and her intelligent comments keeping him at his best.  So
absorbed were they that even he failed to hear the step of a horse and
did not know of its presence until an eager, if timid, hail stopped him
short.

"Gosh, you people look cheerful," called Tommy Watkins, gazing at Jane
with his heart in his eyes.

"Sorry I can’t say the same about your looks," chuckled Tex, his quick
glance noting the boyishness of their visitor, his youthful freshness
and the rebellious admiration in his unblinking eyes.  Tex took himself
in hand and crushed the feeling of jealousy which tingled in him and
threatened to show itself in words, looks, and actions.  He looked
inquiringly at his companion and at her slight nod, he beckoned to the
youth.  "Come over here an’ make it three-handed, cowboy," he called.
"We’ll salvage what we can of th’ lunch an’ feed it to you.  Did you
find the ranch there, when you got home th’ other night?"

Tommy rode up and gravely dismounted.  "Yes, it was there.  They said
you hadn’t been around so far as they knew, so I had my hasty ride for
nothin’.  How’d’y do, ma’am?" he asked, his hat going under his arm.

"Very well, indeed," replied Jane, smiling and fixing a place for him at
her other side.  "I’m sorry you did not come while there was more to
eat, although I’ll confess that I am not apologizing for my share of the
havoc. It has been a long time since I have enjoyed a meal as I have
this lunch.  Sit here, Mr. Watkins--I am glad that there is some coffee
left."

"That’s what I get for being thrifty and thinking of the future,"
laughed Tex.  "It’s like the men who work hard and save all their lives,
so that someone else can spend for them.  Here you go, Thomas: look
out--it’s still hot."

"Thank you, ma’am," said Tommy, flushing and embarrassed, as he dropped
onto the spot indicated.  "I ain’t a bit hungry, though."

"You will be after the first bite," assured Tex.  "The cups have been
used, and there’s no water for washing them.  That’s excuse enough for
any man to drink out of the pail, and I envy you there, Tommy Watkins.
Cattle gettin’ along all right in spite of the drought? Expect to have a
big gain this round-up?  They ought to bring top-notch prices if they’re
in good shape."

Steered easily into familiar channels of conversation, Tommy got on
well, so well that his embarrassment gradually disappeared and he was
nearly his natural self; but he did envy his friend’s ability to think
coherently and to talk with fluent ease on any subject mentioned. Jane
Saunders learned more about cows, cattle, steers, calves, cows, cattle,
riding, roping, round-ups, branding, cows, calves, horses, cattle, and
other ranch subjects than she thought existed to be learned.  And she
shot a glance of grateful appreciation at Tex Jones for the way in which
he put their guest on his feet and kept him there through several vocal
flounderings.  It was so tactfully done that Tommy did not realize it.

Gradually Tex worked out of the conversation and studied his companions.
He saw clean youth entertaining clean youth; a bubbling mirth free from
suspicion or irony; an absence of cynicism, and an unbounding faith in
the future.  He hid his smile at how Tommy was led to talk of himself
and of his ambitions.  They looked to be about the same age, Tommy
perhaps a few years her senior; and when she looked at Tommy there was
friendliness in her eyes; and when Tommy looked at her there was a great
deal more in his.

The keen, but apparently careless, observer silently and fairly reviewed
the years that had passed since he had been at Tommy’s age; the lack of
illusions, the cold, cynical practicality of his thoughts and actions;
the laws, both civil and moral, which he contemptuously had shattered.
He could not remember the time when he had had Tommy’s faith in men, nor
his enthusiasm. Tommy was looking forward to a life of clean, hard work,
and actually with a fierce eagerness.  Never had such a thing been an
impelling motive in the life of Tex Ewalt.  Instead he had planned
shrewdly and consistently how to avoid working for a living, and when it
was solved, then how to live higher and higher with the least additional
effort.  And he now admitted that if he had the chance to live that
period over again, under the same circumstances, he would repeat his
course in the major things.  He felt neither regret nor remorse at the
contrast--he had lived as it pleased him, and the Tex Ewalt of today had
no censure for the Tex Ewalt of yesterday. But he was fair, at all
events; and to draw true deductions from accepted facts was an art not
to be perverted because expediency might beckon.  After all, he did not
try to fool himself; and he was no hypocritical whiner. Being fair, he
calmly realized that he was the unfitting unit of this triangle, that he
did not belong there.  But there would be time enough for such
cogitation later on.

"Shore," Tommy was dogmatically asserting.  "Th’ rattler gets all
cramped up an’ tired, an’ there is an instant when he can’t turn fast
enough to keep his nasty little eyes on th’ other, that’s racin’ around
him like a flash.  That’s th’ end of th’ rattler.  Th’ kingsnake darts
in, grabs th’ rattler behind th’ head, an’ after a great thrashin’
around, kills him dead.  _Ain’t_ that so, Mr. Jones?"

Tex lazily turned his head and looked at the doubting auditor and then
at the anxious Tommy.  He gravely nodded.  "Yes that’s th’ end.  That’s
the enemy within the snake’s own species which I mentioned back on the
trail, Miss Saunders."

The look of doubt faded from her face and a nebulous smile transformed
it.  She was certain of it now.

Tex flamed at what that change told him, tingling to his finger tips
with a surging elation.  He felt that he had but to speak three words to
put her vague feelings into a coherent wonder of wonders; but to
crystallize them into an everlasting passion by the alchemy of his
avowal, or the touch of his lips.  The lulled storm within him broke out
anew and blazed fiercely.  He arose, kicked an inoffensive tin can over
the bed of the creek and spun it in mid-air by a vicious, eye-baffling
shot from his Colt.  Realizing how he had forgotten himself, and his
resolutions, he, the cool, imperturbable Tex Ewalt, he recovered his
poise and bowed, smilingly, to the surprised pair.

"That’s shootin’, Tex!" cried Tommy.

"It’s more than that," smiled Tex.  "It’s notice that it’s time to try
that .38, Miss Saunders," he announced. "She is learning to use a gun,
Tommy--I’ve been telling her how much fun it is.  I’ll call th’ shots
while you stand by her to answer questions.  Suppose we have a more
suitable target, this time.  What can we use?"

Tommy grinned expansively.  "Who’s goin’ to do th’ shootin’?" he
demanded.

"Miss Saunders," answered Tex.  "Why?"

"Oh; all right then--here, prop up my hat," offered Tommy; "But not too
all-fired close!" he warned.

"There’s chivalry for you, Mr. Jones!" triumphantly exclaimed Jane, her
eyes dancing.

"Think so?" queried Tex, grinning.  "Huh!"  He shook his head.  "I’d say
he is not paying you any compliment.  Just for that I hope you shoot it
to pieces."

He took the sombrero from Tommy’s extended hand, went down and crossed
the creek bed, and placed the hat against the opposite bank.  Stepping
off twenty paces he drew a line on the earth with the side of his boot
sole and beckoned to the flushed markswoman.

"That hat is a pressing danger," he warned.  "You’ve got to get it, or
it’ll get you.  Don’t be careless, and don’t waste any sympathy on the
grinning wretch who owns it."

"But I don’t want to ruin it," she protested.  "Surely something else
will answer?"

"You go ahead an’ ruin it, if you can," chuckled Tommy.  "Don’t _you_
worry none--_I_ ain’t!"

"I do believe it wasn’t a compliment, or chivalry, at all," she laughed.
"All right, Mr. Watkins: here goes for a new hat!"  Slowly,
deliberately, holding her arm as she had been instructed, she aimed and
fired until the weapon was empty.  The hat had a hole near one edge of
the crown and another near the edge of the brim.

"Glory be!" exclaimed Tommy.  "I’m votin’ for a new target!  Why that’s
plumb fine, Miss Saunders--if it ain’t an accident!"

"Let’s see if it was," suggested Tex, handing her another round of
cartridges.  "Here!" he exclaimed, glancing at Tommy.  "Where you goin’
so fast?"

"To collect th’ ruins," retorted the puncher over his shoulder.  "_You_
got a hat, ain’t you?"

"I have, and I’m keeping it right where it belongs," rejoined Tex.  "I
didn’t suggest that it was any accident, did I?"



                              *CHAPTER X*

                           *SPEED AND GUILE*


Tex and Tommy said their adieus, watched Jane enter the house, and then
rode slowly toward the station where, after a few words with Jerry
Saunders, Tommy went on alone, leaving Tex talking with the agent.

The C Bar puncher rode down the main street full of more kinds of
emotion than he ever had known before, and among them was a strong
feeling of his inability to gain Jane’s attention while Tex Jones was
around.  Jealousy was working in the yeasty turbulence of his heart and
mind.  Taking off his perforated sombrero he gazed at it as though it
were something sacred.  There they were, two of them, made by her
blessed bullets!  Reverently pushing the ragged felt of their rims back
into place, he patted the nearly closed holes and put the sombrero on
his head again.  There would be no new hat for Tommy Watkins, as she had
laughingly said.  No, sir!  No, sir-e-e!

Opposite the hotel he became aware of his surroundings and suddenly
decided that he needed a drink to steady himself, to shock himself into
a more natural condition of mind.  As he made the decision, he idly
observed Bud Haines emerge from the door of the general store and start
toward him on the peculiar, bow-legged, choppy stride he so much
affected.  And as Tommy swung off the horse and carelessly tossed the
reins across the tie-rail he caught sight of Tex Jones waving to the
agent and slowly wheeling the roan.

Tommy made his way through the card-table end of the room, noticing
without giving any particular weight to the fact, that he was the
cynosure of all eyes.  Still strange to himself and very much occupied
by his thoughts, he did not note whether there were six or two dozen men
in the room; nor that their eager and low-voiced conversation abruptly
ceased upon his entry, and that there was an air of expectancy which
seemed to fill the room. He passed Henry Williams, who was seated at a
small table, with a nod and rested his elbows on the bar.  Silently a
bottle and glass were placed before him, silently he poured out a drink
and downed it mechanically.  Then Henry spoke, his ratlike eyes for a
moment not shifting.

"That’s a fenced range," he said in a low, tense voice.  "You keep off
it!"

Tommy, not realizing that the words were intended for him, still rested
his elbows on the bar, his back to the speaker and the rest of the room,
buried in his abstractions.  He neither saw nor heard the quiet, quick
entry of Bud Haines through the front door, nor knew that the gunman
stopped suddenly and leaned against the jamb.  Neither he, nor anyone
else, caught the quiet step nearing that same door from the street.

Henry Williams, finding his warning totally ignored, let his anger leap
to rage.

"You!" he snarled.  "I’m talking to you, Watkins!"

Tommy started and swung around, momentarily out of touch with his
surroundings.  The meanness in the voice, the deadly timbre of it,
warned him subconsciously rather than acutely, and he stared at the
speaker.

"What you say, Williams?" he asked, rapidly sensing the hostility in the
air.  "I was thinkin’ of somethin’," he explained.

"I’m givin’ you somethin’ to think about!" retorted Henry, slowly
arising and slowly leaning forward on the table.  "You don’t want to
stop thinkin’ about it, neither--unless you want to join th’ dead uns on
Boot Hill.  I said that range is fenced--_you keep off_!"

Tommy, alert as a coiled snake now, watched the angry man while he
considered.  A fenced range.  He was to keep off.  "I ain’t gettin’ th’
drift of that," he said, slowly.  "Any reason why you shouldn’t talk so
I’ll know what yo’re meanin’?"

"Yo’re dumb as h--l, ain’t you?" sneered Henry, his voice rising shrilly
and the little, close-set eyes beginning to flame.  "I wouldn’t have
nobody say you wasn’t warned plain.  I’m tellin’ you for th’ last time,
to do yore courtin’ somewhere else!  I’m claimin’ that Saunder gal.
Keep away, that’s all!"

Tommy went a little white around his stiffening lips.  When his words
came they sounded the spirit of the C Bar, but where they came from he
did not know; perhaps he had heard them or read them somewhere.
Certainly they did not by right belong to his direct method of conveying
thought.  He knew Henry Williams, his baseness, his petty villainies,
his bestial nature.  The picture of Jane, innocent and sweet, came to
him and made a contrast which sickened him.  Looking straight into
Henry’s eyes his voice rasped its insulting, deadly reply.

"It’s bad enough for a coyote like me to admire a rose; but I’m d--d if
any polecat’s goin’ to pluck it!"

Before the words were all spoken and before either of the disputants
could move they heard the startling crash of a gun and instinctively
glanced toward the sound.  They saw Bud Haines, his smoking revolver
forced slowly up behind his back, higher and higher, the gun wrist
gripped in the sinewy fingers of Tex Jones, whose right hand held his
own Colt at his hip, the deadly muzzle covering the two in front of the
bar, without a tremble of its steely barrel.  His gripping fingers kept
on twisting, while one knee held the killer from writhing sidewise to
escape the grip of the punishing bending of the imprisoned arm.  Slowly
the tortured muscles grew numb, slowly beads of perspiration stood out
on the killer’s forehead, and as his throbbing elbow neared the snapping
point, he gasped, released his hold on the Colt and then went spinning
across the room from the power of his captor’s whirling shove.  When he
stopped he froze in his tracks, for Tex carelessly held two guns now,
the captured weapon covering its owner.

"Phew!" sighed Tex, a grin slowly spreading across his red face.  "That
was close, that was! Reckon I done saved quite a mess in here."  He
glared at Tommy.  "You get th’ h--l out of here an’ don’t come back till
you know how to act!  Runnin’ around like a mad dog, tryin’ to kill men
that never done you no harm!  G’wan, or I’ll let Hennery loose at you! I
heard what you said, an’ I wouldn’t blame him if he blowed you wide
open!  G’wan!  Shove that gun back where it belongs, an’ git: _Pronto_!
You’ve gone an’ got Bud an’ me bad friends, I reckon, an’ I can’t hardly
blame him, neither."

Henry’s eyes were riveted on the menacing Colt, his hand frozen where it
had stopped, a few inches above the butt of his own.  Bud Haines leaned
forward, balanced on the balls of his feet, but not daring to leap.  The
spectators were staring, open-mouthed, quite content to let things take
their course without any impetus from them.

Tommy sullenly slid the gun back into its holster and walked toward the
door, too angry to speak. Glaring at Tex he went out, mounted and rode
toward the ranch; and it was half an hour later before he came to the
realization that his life had been saved from a shot from the side, and
by the time he had reached the ranchhouse he was grinning.

Tex flipped the captured gun into the air, caught it by the barrel, and
tossed it, butt first, to the killer.  "I shore am apologizin’ to you,
Bud," he said, "for cuttin’ in that way--but I had to act sudden, an’
rough."

As the weapon settled into its owner’s hand it roared and leaped, the
bullet cutting Tex’s vest under the armpit.  Before a second shot could
follow from it Bud twisted sidewise and plunged face down on the floor.

Tensed like a panther about to spring, Tex peered through the thinning
cloud of smoke rising from his hip, his attention on the others in the
room.  "Sorry," he said.  "You saw it all.  I gave him his gun, butt
first, an’ he shot at me with it.  Clipped my vest under my left
shoulder.  I couldn’t do nothin’ else. I’m sayin’ that doin’ favors for
strangers is risky business--but is anybody findin’ any fault with this
shootin’?"  He glanced quickly from face to face and then nodded
slightly.  "It was plain self-defense.  If I’d ’a’ thought he was
a-goin’ to shoot I shore wouldn’t ’a’ chucked him his loaded gun.
Reckon I’m a plain d--d fool!"

There were no replies to him.  The tense faces stared at the man who had
killed Bud Haines in a fight after the killer had shot first.  While
there were no accusations in their expressions, neither was there any
friendliness.  The killing had been justified.  This seemed to be the
collective opinion, for in no way could the facts be changed.  Bud had
been man-handled in a manner which to him had been an unbearable insult,
the fight could be considered as of his adversary’s starting, but the
actual shooting was as the victor claimed; and it was the shooting which
they were to judge.

Tex, feeling ruefully of the bullet-torn vest, shoved his gun into its
sheath and went over to Henry’s table.  The nephew hardly had moved
since the first shot.

"I got somethin’ to talk to you about, Henry," said Tex in a low,
confidential voice.  "’Tain’t for everybody’s ears, neither; so sit down
a minute.  That fool Watkins came cuttin’ in as we was ridin’ back, or I
might have more news."

Henry slowly followed his companion’s movements and straddled his chair.
He motioned to the bartender for drinks and then let his suspicious eyes
wander over his companion’s face.  He had a vast respect for Tex Jones.

"I reckon he’s been cured of cuttin’ in," he growled, a momentary gleam
showing.  "That’s a habit of yourn, too," he said.  "An’ it’s a cussed
bad one, here in Windsor."

Tex spread his hands in helpless resignation.  "I know it.  Ever since
I’ve been in this town I been puttin’ my worst foot forward.  I’m allus
bunglin’ things; an’ just when I was beginnin’ to make a few friends,
Bud had to go an’ git blind mad an’ spoil everythin’.  I didn’t have
nothin’ ag’in’ Bud; but I reckon mebby I was a little mite rough."

"Oh, Bud be d--d!" coldly retorted Henry.  "He had th’ edge, an’ lost.
That’s between him an’ you. What I’m objectin’ to, Jones, is th’ way you
spoiled my plans.  Don’t you never cut into my affairs like you did just
now.  I’m tellin’ you fair.  I’m admittin’ yo’re a prize-winnin’
gun-thrower; but there’s other ways in this town.  Savvy?"

Tex shook his head apologetically and nodded. "You an’ me ain’t goin’ to
have no trouble, Hennery," he declared earnestly.  "If you want that C
Bar fool, go git him.  It ain’t none of my business. But I’m worryin’
about what yore uncle’s goin’ to say about me shootin’ Bud," he
confessed with plain anxiety.  "He’s a big man, Williams is; an’ me,
shucks: I ain’t nothin’ a-tall."

"He’ll take my say-so," assured Henry, "after he cools down.  Now what
you got to tell me?"

"It’s about that Saunders gal," answered Tex.  He hitched his chair a
little nearer to the table.  "You remember what I told you, couple of
nights ago? Well, I got to thinkin’ about it when I was near th’ station
yesterday, so I went in an’ got friendly with her brother."  He rubbed
his chin and grinned reminiscently.  "There was a box across th’ track
that he had been using for a target.  I asked him what it was an’ he
told me, an’ he said he couldn’t hit it.  I sort of egged him on, not
believin’ him; an’ shore enough he couldn’t--an’, Hennery, it was near
as big as a house!  I cut loose an’ made a sieve of it--you must ’a’
heard th’ shootin’?  His eyes plumb stuck out, an’ we got to talkin’
shootin’.  Finally he ups an’ asks me can I show his sister how to throw
a gun an’, seein’ my chance to learn somethin’ about her, I said I shore
could show anybody that wasn’t scared to death of one, an’ that had any
sense.  ’How much will you charge for th’ lessons?’ says he.  I had a
good chance to pick up some easy money, but that wasn’t what I was
playin’ for.  I just wanted to get sort of friendly with her, an’ him,
too.  I says, ’Nothin’.’  Well, we fixed it up, an’ today we goes off
practicin’--you should ’a’ seen that lunch, Hennery! I’m cussed near
envyin’ you!"  He laughed contentedly, leaned back, and rubbed his
stomach.

"Well?" demanded Henry, grinning ruefully.

"Well," echoed Tex.  "You know that sewin’ an’ crochetin’ is a whole lot
different from shootin’ a .45; an’ so does she, now.  I reckon a .22
would ’most scare her to death.  Did you ever shoot with yore eyes shut?
You don’t have to try: it can’t be done, an’ hit nothin’.  Six-guns an’
wimmin wasn’t never made to mix; an’ they shore don’t.  We ate up th’
lunch an’ started back ag’in, an’ I was just gettin’ set to swing th’
conversation in yore direction, carelesslike, but real careful, an’ see
what I could find out for you, when cussed if that C Bar coyote didn’t
come dustin’ up, an’ I don’t know any more than I did before.  But I’m
riskin’ one thing, Hennery: I’m near shore she ain’t got nothin’ ag’in’
you; an’ on th’ way out, when I refers to you she speaks up quicklike,
with her nose turned up a little, an’ says: ’Henry Williams?  Why, he’ll
be a rich man some day, when his uncle dies.  Ain’t some folks born
lucky, Mr. Jones?’ Hennery, there ain’t none of ’em that are overlookin’
th’ good old pesos, U.S.  You keep right on like you are; an’ save me a
front seat at th’ weddin’."

Henry sat back, buried in thought.  He glanced at the huddled figure
near the door and then looked quickly into his companion’s bland eyes.
"Her brother’s dead set ag’in’ it.  He knows he done me a dirty trick,
stealin’ my job, an’ like lots of folks, instead of hatin’ hisself, he
hates me.  Human nature’s funny that way.  So he can’t hit a box, hey?"

Tex chuckled and nodded.  "He up an’ says he’s so plumb disgusted with
hisself that he ain’t never goin’ to tote a gun again, not never.  Seems
to me yo’re doin’ a lot of foolish worryin’ about losin’ that job.  That
ain’t no job to worry about.  If I was Gus Williams’ only relation, you
wouldn’t see me lookin’ for no jobs!  You shore got th’ wrong idea,
Hennery.  What do you want to work for, anyhow?"

"Well," considered the nephew of the uncle who some day would die, "that
is one way of lookin’ at it; but, Tex, he did me out of it.  That’s
what’s rilin’ me!"

Tex leaned back and laughed heartily.  "Hennery, you make me laugh!  If
I got mad an’ riled at every dog that barked at me I’d be plumb soured
for life by this time.  A man like you should be above holdin’ grudges
ag’in’ fellers like Saunders.  It ain’t worth th’ risk of spoilin’ yore
disposition.  Let him have his dried-out bone: you would ’a’ dropped it
quick enough, anyhow.  An’ if it wasn’t for him gettin’ that
two-by-nothin’ old job you wouldn’t never ’a’ seen his sister, would
you?  Ever think about it like that?  Well, what you think?  Had I
better try to go ridin’ with her ag’in an’ git her to talkin’?  Or shall
I set back an’ only keep my eyes an’ ears open?"

"What’s interestin’ you so much in this here affair?" questioned Henry,
his glance resting for a moment on the face of his companion.

"Well, I ain’t got that letter," confessed Tex, slyly; "an’ what’s more,
I’m afraid I ain’t goin’ to get it, neither, th’ coyote.  He lets me
come out here, near th’ end of th’ track, an’ then lets me hold th’
sack.  Time’s comin’ when I’ll be needin’ a job; an’ yo’re aces-up with
yore uncle."  He grinned engagingly.  "My cards is face up.  I got to
look out for myself."

Henry laughed softly.  "You shore had me puzzled," he replied.  "Well,
we’ll see what we see. I don’t hardly know, yet, what kind of a job you
ought to have.  There’s good jobs, an’ poor jobs. An’ while I think of
it, Tex, you’d mebby better go ridin’ with her ag’in.  But don’t you
forget what I was sayin’ about there bein’ other ways than gun-throwin’
in Windsor.  I----"

The low hum of conversation about them ceased as abruptly as did Henry’s
words.  He was looking at the door, and sensing danger, Tex pushed back
quietly and followed his companion’s gaze.  Jake, under the influence of
liquor, stood in the doorway, a gun in his upraised hand, staring with
unbelieving eyes at the body of Bud Haines.

"Stop that fool!" whispered Tex.  "I’ve done too much killin’ today: an’
he’s drunk!"

Henry arose and walked quietly, swiftly toward the vengeful miner, who
now turned and looked about the room.  A spasm of rage shot through him
and his hand chopped down, but Henry knocked it aside and the heavy
bullet scored the wall.  Two men near the door leaped forward at the
nephew’s call and after a short struggle, Jake was disarmed, pacified,
and sent on his way again.

Tex dropped his gun back into the holster and went up to the nephew.
"Much obliged, Hennery," he said.  "I’ve been expectin’ him most every
minute an’ I’m glad you handled it so good.  Where’s he been keepin’
hisself, anyhow?"

"Out in his cabin, nursin’ his grudge," answered Henry.  "He’s one of
them kind.  He’s got it chalked up ag’in’ you, Tex, an’ it’ll smolder
an’ smolder, no tellin’ how long.  Then it’ll bust out ag’in, like it
did just now.  Keep out of his way--he’s a good man, Jake is.  He’s a
friend of mine."

"That’s good enough for me," Tex assured him. "I ain’t got no grudge
ag’in’ Jake.  It’s th’ other way ’round.  Reckon I’ll put up my cayuse.
See you later."



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                             *EMPTY HONORS*


The dramatic death of Bud Haines created a ripple of excitement in
Windsor which ran a notch higher than any killing of recent years.  The
late gunman posed as a gunman, swaggeringly, exultantly.  Himself a
contributor of victims to Boot Hill, his going there aroused a great
deal more satisfaction than resentment.  He was unmourned, but not
unsung, and the question raised by his passing concerned the living more
than the dead.  How would his conqueror behave?

Bud was an out-and-out killer, cold, dispassionate, calculating; one
whose gun was for hire and salary. He had no sympathy, no softer side to
his nature, if his fellow-townsmen knew him right.  The crooked mouth,
grown into a lop-sided sneer, had been a danger signal to everyone who
saw him, and through his up-to-then invincible gun Williams had passed
his days in confidence, his nights in sleep.  He had been taciturn,
unsmiling, grim, and the few words he occasionally uttered were never
cryptic.  On the other hand Tex Jones was voluble, talked loosely and
foolishly and had shown signs at poker that his courage was not what it
should be to wrap the mantle of the fallen man about him and play his
part; but had it been truly shown?  Was his poker playing a true index
to his whole nature?  There was his brief, high-speed, complete mastery
over Jake, himself a man bad enough to merit wholesome respect; there
was the cool killing of Bud, and the nonchalant actions of the victor
after the tragedy.  He scarcely had given his victim a second look.

This question, as all questions do, provided argument.  Gus Williams,
sullen and morose at losing a valuable man in whose fidelity he could
place full trust, and on whose prowess his own power largely rested,
maintained that Tex Jones had pulled the trigger mechanically, and that
it had been for him a lucky accident.  His nephew took issue with him
and paid his new companion full credit.  The miners were about evenly
divided, while Carney openly exulted and made the victory his principal
topic of conversation. It helped him in another way, for there are some
who blindly follow a champion, and the Windsor champion kept his horse
and spent many of his spare hours at Carney’s.  John Graves sighed with
relief at Bud’s passing, due to an old score he had feared would be
reopened, and he urged the appointment of Tex Jones for city marshal, a
position hitherto unfilled in Windsor.  Carney was for this heart and
soul, and offered a marshal’s office rent free.  It was a lean-to
adjoining his saloon.

The railroad element breathed easier now.  Tim Murphy wanted to bet on
the new man against anyone, at any style, and he glowed with pride as he
realized that he, perhaps, was nearer to Tex Jones than any man in town.
He had no trouble in persuading Costigan to look with warm favor on the
successor to Bud Haines.  Jerry Saunders, remembering a bit of gun
practice, said he was not surprised and he exulted secretly.  Tex Jones
had been the first man outside of the railroad circle to give him a kind
word and to show friendship; but he had little to say about it after the
door of his home closed upon him.

Jerry’s sister puzzled him.  He saw traces of tears, strange moods came
over her which swept her from gaiety to black despondency in the course
of an hour or two, and no matter how he figured, he could not understand
her.  The story of how the affair had started and of Tommy Watkins’ part
in it made her moods more complex and unfathomable.  Jane, he decided,
was not only peculiar, but downright foolish. Bud Haines, being but a
free member of Williams’ own body, executing his wishes and the wishes
of the detestable nephew, had been an evil whose potentiality could only
be conjectured.  He had been swept off the board and his conqueror was
at heart very friendly to the Saunders family.  They no longer were the
most helpless people in town.

When Jerry had gone home on the day of the tragedy he had been full of
the exploit, for Murphy and he had discussed it from every angle, and he
had absorbed a great deal of the big Irishman’s open delight.

Stunned at first, Jane flatly refused to talk about it, and had fled
from the supper table to her room. Later on when he had cautiously
broached the subject again, quoting the enthusiastic Murphy almost
entirely, to show that his own opinions were well founded, she had
listened to all he had to say, but had remained dumb.  The evening was
anything but pleasant and he had gone to bed in an unconcealed huff.
She gave credit to Watkins but withheld it from Jones, who had earned it
all.  "D--n women, anyhow," had been his summing up.

The following morning he ate a silent breakfast and hurried to the
station as he would flee to an oasis from the open desert.  He found Tim
waiting for him, eager to talk it all over again.

Hardly had the station been opened when Tex rode up, leaped from the
magnificent roan, and sauntered to the door.  His face was grave, his
manner dignified and calm.  "How’d’y, boys," he said in greeting.

"Proud I am this mornin’," beamed Murphy, his thick, huge hand closing
over the lean, sinewy one of the gunman.  "’Twas a fine job ye done,
Tex, my boy; an’ a fine way ye did it!  Gave th’ beast th’ first shot!
There’s not another man could do it."

"There’s plenty could," answered Tex.  "I can name two, an’ there’s many
more.  I’m no gunman, understand: I’m just plain Tex Jones.  But I
didn’t come here to hold any pow-pow--I’m wonderin’ if you’d let me look
in th’ toolhouse--I might ’a’ left it there when we loaded th’ hand
car."

"An’ what’s ’it’?" asked Murphy.

"My knife."

"Come along then," said the section-boss, swinging his keys and leading
the way.  They found no knife, but Murphy was given some information
which he considered worth while.  As they reached the station door again
Tex burst out laughing.

"I know where it is!  Cuss me for a fool, I left it in Carney’s stable,
stickin’ in th’ side of th’ harness closet.  Oh, well; there’s no harm
done."  He turned to Jerry.  "I wonder if Miss Saunders would like
another bit of practice today?"

Jerry’s face clouded.  No matter how much he might admire Bud Haines’
master in the late Bud’s profession of gun-throwing, and no matter how
much he might admire him for sundry other matters, nevertheless none of
them qualified the new-found friend as an aspirant for his sister’s
hand.  He did not wish to offend Tex, and certainly he did not want his
enmity. To him came Jane’s inexplicable behavior and in coming it
brought an inspiration.  Jane, he thought, could handle this matter far
better than he could.

"She didn’t seem to be feeling well this morning," he answered.  "Still,
I never guess right about her. If you feel like riding again, go up and
ask her."

"I hear there’s some talk about them makin’ you marshal of this town,"
said Tim.  "Don’t you shelve it.  This town needs a fair man in that
job.  It’s been quiet of late, but ye can’t allus tell.  Wait till th’
rains come an’ start th’ placerin’ a-goin’.  They’ll have money to
spend, then, an’ trouble is shore to follow that.  You take that job,
Tex."

Jerry nodded eagerly, pointed to some bullet holes in the frame of one
of the windows of the office and, grasping Tex by the arm, led him
closer to the window.  "See that bullet hole in there, just over the
table an’ below the calendar?  The first shot startled me and made me
drop my pen--I stooped to pick it up.  When I sat up again there was a
hole in the glass and under the calendar.  When I stooped I saved my
life.  Just a drunken joke, a miner feeling his oats.  One dead man a
week was under the average.  This town, under normal conditions, is a
little bit out of h--l.  Take that job, Jones: the town needs you."

Tex laughed.  "You better wait till it’s offered to me, Jerry.  There’s
quite some people in this town that don’t want any marshal.  Gus
Williams is the man to start it."

"He will," declared Tim.  "Bud was his bodyguard, but he was more.
Williams has a lot of property to be protected, an’ now Bud is gone, th’
saints be praised.  He’ll start it."

While they spoke, a miner was seen striding toward the station and soon
joined them.  "How’d’y," he said, carelessly, glancing coldly at Tim and
Jerry. His eyes rested on Tex and glowed a little.  "Th’ boss wants to
talk with you, Jones.  Come a-runnin’."

"Come a-runnin’," rang in Tex’s ears and it did not please him.  If he
was going to be the city marshal it would be well to start off right.

"Th’ boss?" he asked nonplused.

"Shore; Gus--Gus Williams," rejoined the messenger crisply and with a
little irritation.  "You know who I mean.  Git a move on."

"Mr. Jones’ compliments to Mr. Williams," replied Tex with exaggerated
formality, "an’ say that Mr. Jones will call on him at Mr. Jones’
convenience. Just at present I’m very busy--good day to you, sir."

The miner stood stock-still while he reviewed the surprising words.

Tex ignored him.  "No," he said, "I ain’t lookin’ for no change in th’
weather till th’ moon changes," he explained to the two railroad men.
"But, of course, you know th’ old sayin’: ’In times of drought all signs
fail.’  An’ there never was a truer one.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it
rained any day; an’ when it comes it’s goin’ to rain hard.  Still, I
ain’t exactly lookin’ for it, barrin’ the sayin’, till th’ moon changes.
That’s my prophecy, gents; you wait an’ see if I ain’t right.  Well, I
reckon I’ll be amblin’.  Good day."

They watched him walk to the roan, throw the reins over an arm, and lead
it slowly down the street, followed by the conjecturing messenger.  Tex
Jones evidently was in no hurry, for he stopped in two places before
entering the hotel, and in there he remained for a quarter of an hour.
When premature congratulations were offered him he accepted them with
becoming modesty and explained that he was not yet appointed.

Gus Williams looked up with some irritation when the door opened and
admitted Tex into the store. The newcomer leaned against the counter,
nodded to Gus and grinned at Henry.  "Hear you want to see me about
somethin’," he said, flickering dust from his boots with a softly
snapping handkerchief.

"What made you shoot Bud Haines?" growled the proprietor, turning on the
stepladder against the shelves.

Tex shook his head in befitting sorrow.  "I shore didn’t want to shoot
Bud," he answered slowly.  "Bud hadn’t never done nothin’ to me; but,"
he explained, wearily, "he just made me do it.  I dassn’t let him shoot
twice, dast I?"

Williams growled something and replaced several articles of merchandise.

"Hennery says you had to do it," he grudgingly admitted.  "I reckon
mebby you did--_but_, I don’t see why you went at Bud like that, in th’
first place."

"I aimed to stop a killin’," muttered Tex, contritely; "an’, instead of
doin’ it, I went an’ made one. I ain’t none surprised," he said, sighing
resignedly, "for I generally play in bad luck.  Ever since I shot that
black cat, up at Laramie, I’ve had bad luck--not that I’m what you might
call superstitious," he quickly and defiantly explained.

"Well, a man can’t allus help things like that," admitted Williams.  "I
had streaks of luck that looked like they never would peter out."  He
shifted several articles, leaned back to study their arrangement, and
slowly continued.  "You see, Bud had a job that ain’t very common; an’
men like Bud ain’t very common, neither.  He allus was plumb grateful
because I saved his life once in a--stampede," he naively finished.  "I
got a lot of valuable property in this here town, and Windsor gets quite
lively when th’ placerin’ is going good.  I shore feel sort of lost
without Bud."  He wiped his dusty hands on his trousers and slowly
climbed down.  "Now, I remembered that Scrub Oak an’ Willow both has
peace officers, an’ Windsor shore ain’t taking a back seat from towns
like them.  Hennery was sayin’ that folks here sort of been talkin’
about a city marshal, an’ mentionin’ you for th’ office.  We ought to
have our valuable property pertected, an’ me, bein’ the owner of most of
th’ valuable property here an’ hereabouts, nat’rally leans to that idea;
but, bein’ th’ biggest owner of valuable property, I sort of got to look
the man over purty well before I appoint him. I got to have a good man,
a man that’ll pertect th’ most property first.  What you think about
it?"

Tex removed his sombrero, turned it over slowly in his hands and stared
at its dents.  Punching them out and pushing in new ones, he gravely
considered them.  "Well," he drawled, "you see, if that letter comes--I
don’t know how long I’m goin’ to stay in town; but if I did stay, I’d
shore do my damndest to pertect property, an’ you havin’ the most of it,
you’d nat’rally be pertected more’n others that had less."

Williams glanced swiftly at his nephew.  "You still expectin’ that
letter, Jones?" he slyly demanded.

Tex hesitated and turned the hat over again. "Can’t hardly say I am," he
admitted, frowning at Henry.  "But there’s a sayin’ that hope springs
infernal--an’ I reckon that’s th’ h--l of it; a man never knows when to
quit waitin’ for it to spring. Meanwhile I got to eat--an’ I like a game
of poker once in awhile.  Here, tell you what--I’ll take the job as long
as I can hold it, if the pay is right.  What you reckon the job’s worth,
in a lawless, desperate town like this, where no man’s life or property
is worth very much?"

Williams scowled.  "This here town ain’t lawless an’ desperate," he
denied.  "There ain’t a more peaceable town in Kansas!"

"Which same ain’t payin’ no compliments to Kansas towns, once the rains
come," chuckled Tex. "I’m admirin’ your humor, Mr. Williams--I ain’t
never heard dryer," he beamed in frank admiration. "But, wet or dry,
there’s allus them mean low-down cow-wrastlers comin’ to town to likker
up--an’ them an’ miners are as friendly as a badger and a dog. Let’s
name over them as would want the pertection of a marshal, an’ then
figger how much they’d sweeten the pot.  Take Carney, now--he ought to
be willin’ to ante up han’some, his business bein’ so healthy."

"Carney," sneered Williams in open contempt. "Huh!  Here, gimme that
pencil an’ that old envelope!"  He worked laboriously, revised the
figures several times and then looked up.  "I reckon two hundred a month
ought to be enough.  Scrub Oak pays that--Willow does likewise.  You got
your outfit.  We furnish th’ office, ammernition, an’ pay extra
expenses.  That’s th’ best Windsor can do. Yore office will be next door
to this store."

Tex looked questioningly at Henry, who nodded decisively, and carefully
put the hat back on his head.  "All right," he said.  "When do I start
in?"

"Right now," answered Williams, fumbling under the counter.  "We ain’t
got no marshal’s badge, but I got a sheriff’s star somewhere around.  He
was killed up on Buffaler Crick last spring.  Yep--here it is: this’ll
do for awhile.  Lean over here, Marshal," he chuckled.  "There: It ain’t
every marshal that’s a sheriff, too."  Smiling at Henry he said,
jokingly, "Now let her rain!"

Tex nodded.  "Let it come," he said.  "Everybody that deserves it will
have a slicker ag’in’ th’ rain.  As marshal I’m playin’ no
favorites--there’s no strings to a city marshal.  My job’s to keep th’
peace of Windsor, an’ let th’ devil whistle."  He smiled enigmatically,
hitched up his belt, and then looked at Henry.  "You know where Bud’s
belt an’ gun are?"

Henry nodded.  "Baldy’s got ’em, behind th’ bar. Want ’em?"

"Yes," answered Tex, slowly turning.  "When it starts rainin’, two guns
will keep me on an even keel. My left hand feels empty-like.  Reckon
I’ll go git Bud’s outfit an’ have th’ harness-maker turn th’ holster so
it’ll set right for th’ left side; or mebby he’s got a cavalry sheath,
which won’t need so much changin’."

"But you ought to have a rifle heavier than a .38 short," suggested Gus
Williams.  "That ain’t no gun for this country."

Tex smiled.  "For town use that’s plenty heavy enough.  But we won’t
argue about that because I ain’t got it no more.  I swapped with that
section-boss, paying him fifteen dollars to-boot.  To a thick Mick like
him there ain’t much difference between a .38 short and a .45-90.  He
can’t use either one worth a cuss, anyhow.  I’d say I was lucky
stumblin’ on him."  He turned and walked toward the door, glanced up at
the cloudless sky, and chuckled.  "No signs of rain, yet.  Oh, well;
it’ll come when it gets here.  _Adios_," and the slow steps of the
walking roan grew softer down the street.

The harness-maker looked from the belt and holster to an up-ended box
and waved at the latter.  "Set down, Mr. Jones.  ’Twon’t take a minute,
but you might as well set.  Many a one I’ve turned.  A new cut here, a
new strap, an’ a scallop out of th’ top on th’ other side so yore
fingers’ll close on th’ butt first thing.  Let’s see th’ other.  Yep;
deep cut down to th’ guard.  Now, if I put it back on th’ belt at th’
same place, it’ll throw th’ buckle around back--all right, then.  They
won’t match each other, but that don’t make no difference, I reckon.
Ain’t there been some talk of appointin’ you city marshal?"

Tex nodded.  "This star was th’ only one they had," he explained.

"Well, you may be workin’ both jobs afore long if Gus Williams has th’
say-so," commented the harness-maker.  "Funny, but I never work on a gun
sheath but I think of th’ one I made to order for Jack Slade after he
got around ag’in from Old Jules’ shotgun. Jack blamed it on his holster,
an’ it shore made him particular.  That was back in Old Julesburg when I
was a harness-apprentice there.  Soon after that he was sent up to take
charge of th’ Rocky Ridge division of th’ stage line, which was th’
worst division of th’ whole line.  Holdups was a reg’lar thing.  They
soon stopped after he took charge.  He was th’ best man with a short gun
I ever saw.  I heard that he wore that holster to th’ day th’ vigilantes
got him, up in Virginia City, Montanny.  Now, Mr. Marshal, strap this on
you an’ see if th’ gun comes out right. Sometimes they got to be shaped
a little mite--ah, that looks all right.  Reckon it’ll do?"

With the newly acquired belt hanging over the old one, sloping loosely
from the right hip across his body to a point below the left, the
marshal went out, mounted the roan, and rode carelessly down to the
toolshed, where he told Murphy of his appointment and of the fictitious
swapping of rifles, and then went up to the station.  As he neared it
Jerry came out of the door, caught the flash of the sun on the
nickel-plated star and turned, grinning, to await the coming of the new
marshal.

"That looks mighty good to the station agent," Jerry laughed.  "An’ so
you’re wearin two guns instead of one?  Gosh, that looks business-like!"

Tex reined in and grinned down at him.  "Any time you feel urged to
shoot up th’ town, Mr. Agent, you’ll find out that it is business-like.
Better start by gettin’ th’ marshal first: it’ll be a lot safer, that
way."

"That’s good advice, and I won’t forget it," replied Jerry.  "I’ll
notify the company of your appointment.  That ought to make it feel
good, and it might want to pay its share of your salary.  I’m certainly
wishing you luck."

"I may be needin’ it," responded the marshal. "Reckon I’ll go on to th’
house an’ show off my new bright an’ shinin’ star."  He glanced down at
the badge and grinned.  "Seein’ how you reads ’Sheriff’ instead of
’Marshal’ she’ll mebby wonder what you are.  So-long, Jerry!"

Reaching the little house, Tex swung gravely off Omar and proceeded to
the door in mock dignity. Knocking heavily, he assumed a stern demeanor
and waited.  When the door opened he removed his sombrero, bowed, and
grinned.  "Behold the Law, Miss Saunders, in the person of the marshal
of Windsor."

"I congratulate you, Marshal," she coldly replied. "Doubtless you may
now take life with legal authority. It is too bad it comes a little
late."

"I did not need legal authority, Miss Saunders, if I rightly interpret
your remark," he rejoined.  "The authority of Nature ever precedes and
transcends it. Self-preservation is the first law.  He fired, and I did
not dare let him fire again."

"You provoked his attack!" she flashed.  "He could do nothing else."

"That was because I preferred to risk his life than the certainty of him
taking that of Tommy Watkins, who was being deliberately baited.  Bud
lost his rights when he drew his gun against an unsuspecting man. I am
sorry if you look upon the unfortunate incident in any other light; but
I am so sure of my position that I would repeat it today under the same
conditions. Besides I am naturally prejudiced against assassins."

"Why did you give him his gun before he had time to master his anger?"
she demanded, her eyes flashing.

"Because I wanted to show him how impersonal my interference was, and to
help smooth over a tense situation.  It was one of those high-tension
moments when a false move might easily precipitate a shambles.  There
were a dozen armed men in the room, a ratio of ten to two.  I followed
my best judgment. I am not apologizing, Miss Saunders, even to you; I am
merely explaining the situation as it existed. When Bud Haines drew his
gun from the side to shoot a man who did not know of his danger, he
broke our rules.  I would have been justified in shooting him down at
the move.  Instead I tried to stop his shot and give him a way out of
it."  While he spoke his right hand had risen to his belt and now hung
there by a crooked thumb, a position he was in the habit of assuming
when he spoke earnestly.

She glanced down at it involuntarily, shuddered, and slowly closed the
door.

"I am very sorry, Mr. Jones, but--" the closing of the door ended the
conversation for both.

He studied the warped, weather-beaten panel and the white, china knob
for a full minute, and then slowly replaced his hat and slowly walked
back to his horse.  Patting the silky neck he shook his head. "Omar,
it’s been comin’ to me for twenty years--but it might have waited till I
really deserved it.  Come on--we’ll go back to th’ herd, where we
belong."

Thoughtfully he rode away, his face older and sterner, its lines
seemingly a little deeper.



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                          *CLOSER FRIENDSHIPS*


In the selection of the marshal’s office Williams was overruled and
rather than make a contest of it, since he could not deny the economy in
using a building already erected, and knowing that his store was nearly
as well protected, he gave his slow assent to Carney’s offer; and soon
the lean-to was cleared out, a table, some chairs, and a rough bunk put
in it, the latter at the marshal’s insistence.  Over the door were two
words, newly painted: CITY MARSHAL.  The question of a jail came next,
and was quickly solved by the addition to the lean-to of a room
constructed of two-inch planks, walls, floor, and roof.  Two pairs of
new, shining handcuffs and a new badge, appropriately labeled, completed
the civic improvements in the way of law and order.  All prisoners
guilty of major offenses were to be taken down to Willow and there
tried; while minor offenders could sit in the jail until a suitable time
had elapsed.

From his chair in the door of his office, Tex could keep watch of nearly
all of the main street, and the trail leading in from the C Bar for half
a mile.  The end of his first week as peace officer found him in his
favorite place, contentedly puffing on his pipe, despite the heat of the
day.  A few miners straggled past, grinning and exchanging shafts of
heavy wit with the smiling officer. Blascom drifted into town a little
later, learned of the appointment, and hurried down from the hotel to
congratulate his new friend.

Tex reached behind him and pulled a chair outside the door.  "Sit down,
Blascom," he invited.  "How’s th’ sump comin’ along?"

Blascom glanced around before replying.  "I’m sorry you ain’t sheriff,
as well," he replied.  "I reckon I’m out of bounds, out there on
Buffalo, an’ I’m shore to be rushed if I’m figgerin’ right on that
crick.  Anybody in th’ new jail?"

"Not yet," smiled Tex.  "Talk low an’ nobody’ll hear you.  Strike
somethin’?"

"I’ll gamble on it.  I’m so shore of it, I’m filin’ a new claim: th’ old
one didn’t quite cover it.  You know where th’ sump’s located, of
course; an’ you remember how rapid it filled up with water every time I
tried to bail it out?"

Tex nodded and waved carelessly at the C Bar trail as though discussing
something far from placering.  "Send th’ location papers off through
Jerry Saunders--tell him they’re from me.  Ever follow a trail herd day
after day?" he asked.

"No; why?"

"Ever do anythin’, out here, except minin’?"

"Shore; why?"

"What was it?"

"Freightin’ from Atchison to Denver an’ back: why?"

"Then yo’re tellin’ me about it now," prompted Tex, handing him a
cleaning rod.  "Trace th’ old trail in th’ sand an’ keep referrin’ to it
while you talk.  You don’t know me good enough to talk long an’ steady
an’ earnest. Here, gimme that rod--" and the marshal took it and drew a
line.  "This end is Atchison--from there you went up th’ Little Blue,
like this.  Then, crossin’ that divide south of th’ Platte, you rolled
down to that river near Hook’s Station, an’ follered it past Ft.
Kearney, Plumb Crick, an’ O’Fallon’s Bluffs, an’ so on.  Here’s Hook’s
Station, th’ Fort, Plumb Crick, an’ O’Fallon’s--now you go on with it."

Blascom took the rod and finished the great curve.  "As I was sayin’,
th’ water in that sump kept me guessin’.  I couldn’t figger where it all
come from.  I had tried for sumps nearer to th’ shack, of course, but
got nothin’. Then I found water a-plenty when I dug _this_ one."  He
jabbed at Ft. Kearney and waved his other arm.  "I kept gettin’
curiouser all th’ time, an’ yesterday, when th’ idea hit me all of a
sudden, I went back down th’ crick bed twenty paces an’ started diggin’.
No water; an’ yet, sixty feet up stream was more’n I could handle.  I
just sat down an’ wrastled it out."

Tex leaned over and drew another line, one starting on the great curve.
"Th’ Salt Lake branch run up here, didn’t it, Blascom?  Th’ ones th’
troops used, near Old Julesburg, goin’ out to lick th’ Mormons?"

"How’d you come to know so much about that old trail?" demanded the
miner.  "It shore did--an’ it was a bad section for stages.  Well, I cut
me a pinted stick an’ after it got dark I went out an’ jabbed it inter
th’ crick bed between th’ wet sump an’ th’ last one I put down.  About
five feet below th’ wet one I hit rock, not more’n six inches under th’
sand, an’ it sloped sharp, both ways, I’m tellin’ you.  Sort of a sharp
hog-back, it is.  Humans are blasted fools, Marshal: we can set right on
top of a thing that’s fair yellin’ to be seen, an’ not know it’s there
till somethin’ knocks it inter our fool heads.  Do you know what I got
up there at that sump?"

Tex shook his head and grabbed the stick, a trace of vexation on his
face.  "You got it all wrong, Blascom," he declared loudly, drawing
another line.  "Th’ old, original Oregon Trail never went up th’ Rocky
Ridge a-tall.  It followed th’ North Fork of th’ Platte, all th’ way to
Ft. Laramie.  It crossed th’ river at Forty Islands, about twelve miles
south of th’ Fort.  I crossed it there with a herd, myself.  If you
don’t believe me, ask Hawkins--he was apprenticed to th’ harness-maker
at Old Julesburg, on th’ South Fork."

"I got you there," laughed Blascom.  "Th’ Oregon Trail didn’t cross at
Forty Islands; but a lot of trail herds did.  There was a waggin ferry
at th’ Fort that th’ chuck waggins often used."

"It crossed either at Forty Islands or between ’em an’ th’ Fort,"
asserted Tex.

"Well, mebby yo’re right, Marshal," admitted Blascom. He took the rod
again.  "That sump of mine is located in a rocky basin that’s full of
sand.  Th’ downstream side is that hog-back.  That means that there’s a
thunderin’ big, natural riffle in th’ bed of th’ crick, an’ it’s stopped
and held th’ sand till th’ basin was full. Every freshet that comes
along riles that sand up, lots of it bein’ washed over th’ riffle, an’
carried along.  More cand settles there as th’ water quits rushin’; but
here’s th’ pint."  He jabbed at Denver and drew a line into the Gilpin
County country, stopping at Central City.  "Gold is heavy, an’ it don’t
wash over riffles if it can settle down in front of ’em.  While th’ sand
is soft from bein’ disturbed by a strong current, it can settle.  Ever
since that crick has been a crick, gold has been settlin’ in front of
that riffle, droppin’ down through th’ sand till it hit th’ rock bottom.
Great Jehovah, Marshal--can you figger what I got?"

Tex roughly took the cleaning rod, traced a line in sudden vexation,
slammed the rod on the floor behind him, and fanned his face with his
hat.

"An’ how long you been settin’ on that?" he asked in weary hopelessness.

Blascom waved his arms and slumped back against the chair.  "Three
years," he confessed, and went off into a profane description of his
intelligence that left nothing to imagination.

Tex laughed heartily.  "If you was as bad as you just said I’d shore
have to take you in.  Cheer up, man: it’s there, ain’t it?  You only
have to git it out."

Blascom looked at him reproachfully.  "Shore: that’s all," he retorted
with sarcasm.  "Git it out before th’ rain starts again, an’ do it
without Jake catchin’ me at it! If he learns what I got, I’m in for no
sweet dreams; an’ if this starvin’ bunch of gold hunters learn about it,
I’ll be swamped in th’ rush!  Good Lord, man!  It’ll take me a week to
git th’ water out, an’ then there’s th’ sand!"

Tex stretched, caught sight of a rider bobbing along the C Bar trail and
looked reflectively at Williams’ Mecca.  "You got to get some dynamite
or blastin’ powder.  Dynamite’s better.  Put some sticks on th’
downstream side of that rock riffle an’ wait till Jake comes into town.
You crack that riffle open an’ th’ water will move out for you.  Then
you can dig down th’ other face of it an’ get to th’ pocket a lot
quicker."  He laughed suddenly.  "Do that blastin’.  Then when Jake gets
back to his shack, saunter over with a jug of whiskey an’ forget to take
it home with you.  That’ll give you a solid week for yore diggin’
without him botherin’ you."

"Good idea," said Blascom, arising.  "I’ll go over an’ see if Williams
has got any sticks.  That’s th’ way to handle it, Marshal.  You ever do
any prospectin’?"

Tex pushed him back again.  "No, I ain’t; but I’ve been doin’ a lot of
thinkin’ these days.  Sit still.  What does a miner want explosives for?
To get gold, of course. Bein’ a placer worker don’t make no difference:
th’ connection is there, just th’ same.  It’ll only make ’em that much
more curious.  You go buyin’ any dynamite an’ th’ parade will start for
yore place before night.  I’d get it for you, only me not havin’ no
reason to buy th’ stuff, it would be near as big a mistake as you buyin’
it.  _I_ ain’t got no call to want any dynamite.  Sit still: you ain’t
in no hurry!" He leaned over and put his finger on the map in the sand.
"They hit Ft. Hall about here," he explained.  "We got to get somebody
that ain’t connected with you, gold diggin’, or Buffalo Crick, that
won’t make no troublesome connections.  They usually left their waggins
at Ft. Hall an’ went up this way.  If this feller comin’ down th’ trail
is young Watkins, an’ I’m sayin’ he is, we got th’ way.  I reckon he can
buy dynamite for th’ ranch.  That’ll be all right, but suppose somebody
else from that outfit comes ridin’ in an’ gets pumped dry?  Lean back,
stick yore feet on th’ Overland, an’ don’t look so cussed tense.  Here:
I got it!  Th’ railroad uses dynamite!  I shore got it, Blascom.  Tim
Murphy can buy it as innocent as you can buy chewin’ tobacco!"

"But I don’t know him well enough!" expostulated Blascom.  "Anyhow, what
excuse can I give him?"

"None at all," said Tex.  "Wait till yore feet are in th’ stirrups
before you spur a hoss!  You don’t have to know him.  _I_ know him, an’
that’s a-plenty.  Here, you listen close to every word I say, an’ act
careless-like while yo’re doin’ it."  The explicit directions were rich
in details, but Blascom soaked them into his memory like water in a
sponge.  "Th’ whole thing is gettin’ to him nat’ral, an’ then gettin’
th’ stuff from him afterward," Tex wound up.  Thoughtful for a moment,
he nodded in sudden decision.  "Got it ag’in!  It’s near train time.
You, bein’ restless an’ lonesome, hanker to watch it come in.  Th’ Lord
knows nobody in towns like this ever needs any excuse to see a train
come in.  That’s one of th’ idle man’s inalienable rights--an’ it seldom
weakens.  An’ now I know how yo’re goin’ to git it from him afterwards:
you listen ag’in," and further directions came in rapid-fire order.

The rider was near enough now to dispel all doubts as to his identity.
Blascom arose, gripped the marshal’s hand and faced the Mecca.

"I’m goin’ over to git a jug: much obliged, Marshal."  He crossed the
street diagonally and disappeared in the store.

The rider came nearer and nearer, a great dust cloud rolling behind him
not much unlike the smoke of a moving locomotive.  When even with
Carney’s he drew rein suddenly and in another moment had dismounted in
front of the lazy Tex.

"I’ll be cussed!" he exclaimed, staring from Tex to the sign over the
door and then back at the new peace officer, cocking his head as he read
the badge.

"Good for you!" he cried.  "It’s about time this dog’s town had a white
man to run it; an’ they couldn’t ’a’ picked a better, neither!"  His
enthusiasm ebbed a little and he looked curiously and thoughtfully into
the marshal’s eyes.  "How’d you come to get th’ job?" he demanded.

Tex stuck his thumbs in the armholes of his vest and grinned.  He knew
the thought that had sobered his companion’s face.  "Pop’lar clamor,
Thomas; ’an’ all that sort of a thing,’ as Whitby used to say.  My great
popularity an’ my pleasin’ nature an’ disposition, not to mention my
good looks an’ winnin’ ways, seem to have turned th’ balance in my
favor.  But, outside of that I don’t know why I got it.  Carney thought
I’d mebby bring him more trade; Williams mourned th’ lack of anybody to
give him adequate police protection, an’ th’ harness-maker mentions Jack
Slade.  He admires Jack Slade, an’ says I remind him of that person by
th’ way I let him fix up my left-hand holster.  That suits me because
Slade was lynched."

"Then Williams really made th’ play stick?" Tommy asked with poorly
concealed suspicion.

"Williams pinned on my nickel-plated authority," said Tex.  "Nobody else
had one.  He reckons I’m wearin’ his colors; but, my Christian friend,
th’ only colors th’ new marshal wears are his own.  I’m to keep order in
’this dog’s town,’ as you put it, an’ I’m goin’ to do it. Miners,
railroaders, storekeepers, cattlemen, an’ ornery punchers please listen
an’ be enlightened.  Th’ badge is only a nickel-plate affair; but there
ain’t no nickel, nor rust, neither, on my Cyclopean twins.  They’re my
real authority.  Now, then, don’t walk all over Blascom’s Overland
Trail, but set down in th’ chair he just vacated. Tell me all about
yoreself."

"Marshal," began Tommy in some embarrassment, "I didn’t get th’ hang of
that little mix-up in th’ hotel till I got quite some distance out of
town.  My head was whirlin’ a little, an’ I’m nat’rally stupid, anyhow.
I just want to say that yo’re wrong about them Colts bein’ some kind of
twins.  Mebby they are durin’ these peaceful days; but if things get
crowded they’ll turn into triplets, th’ missin’ brother bein’ right here
on my laig. Besides that, you got a craggy lot of deputies out on th’ C
Bar any time you need ’em.  Don’t stop me while I’m runnin’ free!  I’m
sayin’ I never saw a squarer, cleaner piece of shootin’ than you showed
us all in th’ hotel th’ other day.  An’--you keep off th’ trail while
I’m comin’ strong!--an’ I’ve been somethin’ of a fool about us an’ that
little lady.  From now on I’m afoot where she’s concerned, an’ you know
what us punchers amount to, afoot."

"I’m glad you said you was stupid," replied Tex.  "It saves me from
sayin’ it, an’ comin’ from me it might sound sorta official."  He
glanced up the street and back to his companion.  "Yo’re not afoot,
cowboy; yo’re ridin’ strong.  I’m th’ one that’s afoot, an’ I’ll agree
with you about a cowpunch amountin’ to nothin’ off his cayuse.  Did you
ever have a door slammed plumb in yore face, Tommy?"

Tommy wiped out Denver, Central City, Old Julesburg, and Ft. Kearney
with one swing of his foot.  "You--I--you _mean_ that?"

The marshal nodded.  "Every word of it.  Outlawed steers should keep to
th’ draws an’ brakes, Tommy. Besides, I’m over forty-five years old, an’
I never was any parson.  Keep right on ridin’, Adolescence; an’ I’m
hopin’ it’s a plain, fair trail.  Tommy, did you ever shoot a man?"

"Not yet I ain’t; but I’ve come cussed near it.  Seein’ what’s goin’ on
in this town, I has hopes."

"Don’t yield to no temptations, Tommy; an’ let yore hopes die," warned
the marshal.  "If there’s any of that to be done, I’ll do it.  I reckon
you’ll shore have a easy trail."

"I--will--be--tee-totally--d--d!" said Tommy. He shook his head and
leaned back against the front of the office.  "Does she know all about
it?"

"Everythin’; I owed myself that much," answered Tex, and then he helped
to maintain a reflective, introspective, and emotional silence.

Blascom emerged from the Mecca with a two-gallon jug, empty from the way
it jerked and swung.  He looked at the silent pair leaning against the
marshal’s office, abruptly made up his mind, and strode over to them.

"You shore look sorrerful," he said.

"We’ve just been to a funeral," said Tex.  "Th’ corpse looked nat’ral,
too."

"Sufferin’ wildcats!" ejaculated Tommy in pretended dismay, his chair
dropping to all fours.  "Whiskey by th’ jug!  I’m plain shocked, but
mighty glad to see you, Mr. Blascom."  He turned to the marshal.  "Here,
Officer! Shake han’s with Mr. Blascom, of Buffaler Crick. Give th’
gentleman a cordial welcome."

Tex regarded the newcomer and his jug with languid interest.  "Huh!  I
reckoned th’ drought would shore end some day, but I figgered on rain.
However, facts are facts.  Pleased to meet you, sir!"  He waved at
Tommy.  "Pass it to our friend first.  It’s dry work, settin’ here,
listenin’ to me."

"It’s like workin’ in pay-dirt," retorted Blascom.  He tapped the jug
and it rang out hollowly.  "I ain’t give Baldy a chance at it, yet.
Anyhow, a man’s got to have some protection ag’in’ snakes," he defended.

"A protection ag’in’ snakes!" repeated Tex, thoughtfully. "Yes; he has."

"I’ll pertect you ag’in’ ’em as far as th’ hotel," offered Tommy,
arising and whistling to his horse, "seein’ as yo’re temporary
defenseless.  Come on, Blascom.  See you later, Marshal," and he grabbed
at the jug, missed it, and led the way, Tex smiling after the grinning
pair.

Tommy’s stride was swift and long for a puncher, due to his agitated
frame of mind, and he suddenly slowed it to make an observation to his
companion.

"Blascom, th’ new marshal is shore quick on th’ gun--this town ought to
be right proud of him.  I’m admittin’ that he’s a reg’lar he-man."

"He’s a cussed sight quicker with his head," replied the miner, "an’
that’s shore sayin’ a large an’ bounteous plenty.  If he don’t play no
favorites he’s shore as h--l goin’ to need friends, one of these days.
I’m admittin’ myself to that cat-e-gory: but it’ll be my hard luck to be
out on th’ Buffaler when it starts."

Tommy nodded and spat emphatically.  "I’ll be a cat, an’ gory, too," he
affirmed.  "Wild as a wildcat, an’ gory as all h--l.  That’s me!"  He
glanced up quickly. "Talkin’ ceases, for here we are."  He tossed the
reins over his pony’s head and followed his companion into the hotel,
where half a dozen men lounged dispiritedly.

Baldy grinned and lost no time in filling the jug, his efforts creating
pleasant, anticipatory smackings among the dry onlookers, who from their
previous unobserving weariness suddenly snapped into Argus-eyed
interest. The alluring gurgle of the wicker-covered demijohn, the
_slap-slap, plop-plop_ of the leaping, amber stream, ebbing and flooding
spasmodically up and down and around the greenish copper funnel, truly
was liquid music to their ears, and the powerful odor of the rye
diffused itself throughout the room, penetrated the stale tobacco smoke,
and wrought positive reactions upon the olfactory nerves of the staring
audience.  It was scarce enough by the glass, these days, yet here was a
reckless Croesus who was buying it by the gallon!

Blascom, smiling with quiet reserve, leaned against the bar to the right
of the jug; Tommy, grave and forbidding, leaned against the bar to the
left of the jug, both making short and humorous replies to the
gift-compelling remarks of the erect crowd.  The jug at last filled,
Blascom pushed the cork in and slammed it home with a quick,
disconcertingly forbidding gesture, which was as cruel as it was final.
He paid for the liquor with one of the bills he had won from Tex, nodded
briskly, and went out, Tommy bringing up the rear.

Reproachful, accusing eyes followed their exit, hoping against hope.  A
lounger nearest the bar, thirsty as Tantalus, shook his head in
sorrowful condemnation.

"A man can be mean an’ pe-nurious up to a certain, limit," he observed;
"but past that it’s plumb shameful."

An old man, his greasy, gray beard streaked with tobacco stains, nodded
emphatically.  "There _is_ limits; an’ I say that stoppin’ before ye
begin is shore beyond ’em!"

"Yo’re dead right," spoke up a one-eyed tramp who honored himself with
the title of prospector.  "As for me, I never _did_ think much of any
man as guzzles it secret.  Show me th’ man that swizzles in public, an
_I’ll_ show you a man as can be trusted.  Two whole gallons of it!  A
whole, bloomin’ jugful, at onct!  Where’d he git all that money?  I’m
askin’ you, _where’d_ he git it? On Buffaler Crick?"  His voice rose and
cracked with avarice and suspicion.

"Naw!" growled the man in the far corner, slumping back against his
chair.  "He won it from that Tex Jones feller--th’ new marshal--two
hundred or more-- playin’ poker.  Th’ same Tex Jones as shot Bud Haines.
There ain’t more’n day wages on Buffaler Crick.  I know, ’cause I been
lookin’ around out there, quiet-like."  He stiffened suddenly and sat
up, excitement transforming him.  "Boys, this here marshal has got
money--I saw his wad when he an’ Blascom was a-playin’."

"Yo’re shore welcome to it," pessimistically rejoined the man nearest
the bar, his vivid imagination picturing the amazing death of Bud
Haines.  "Yes, sir; yo’re welcome to _all_ of it.  I don’t want none,
a-tall!"

The discoverer of the marshal’s roll regarded the objector with deep
scorn.

"That’s you!" he retorted.  "Allus goin’ off half-cocked, an’ yowlin’
calamity!  This here marshal likes poker, don’t he?  An’ he can’t play
it, can he?  Didn’t Blascom clean him?  He’s scared to bluff, or call
one, no matter how brave he is with a gun.  Who’s got any dust? Dig down
deep, an’ we’ll pool it, lettin’ Hank an’ Sinful do th’ playin’ for us.
Where’s Hennery?" he demanded of the bartender.

Baldy mopped the bar and glanced at the ceiling.  "Upstairs, sleepin’
off a stem-winder.  He got drinkin’ to th’ mem’ry of th’ dead deceased
last night--an’ his mem’ry is long an’ steady.  He’s too senti-mental,
Hennery is, for a man as can’t handle his likker good.  If you fellers
are goin’ after th’ marshal’s pile, I’m recommendin’ stud-hoss.  He’s
nat’rally scared of poker, an’ stud’s so fast he won’t have no time to
start worryin’.  Draw will give him too much time to think.  Better try
stud-hoss," he reiterated, unwittingly naming the form of poker at which
the marshal excelled.

"Stud-hoss she is, then," agreed Sinful, licking his lips.  "I like
stud-hoss.  We’ll bait him tonight; an’ we’ll all have jugs of our own
by mornin’, since Buffaler Crick’s settin’ th’ style."

The meeting forthwith went into executive session, depleted gold sacks
slowly appearing.

Outside, Blascom offered the jug to his companion, who pushed it away,
and shook his head in sudden panic.

"Don’t want to smell like no saloon where I’m goin’," he hastily
explained.  "Now that yo’re safe from snakes I’ll be driftin’ to my
cayuse."

"All right, Watkins; I’ll treat next time," and the miner, jug in hand,
strode toward the station as Tommy mounted and wheeled to ride in the
direction of the Saunders’ home.

Blascom had timed his arrival to a nicety, for Murphy was on his way
from the toolshed to the station to await the coming of the train, the
smoke from which could be seen on the eastern horizon.

Blascom held up the jug invitingly and grinned. The section-boss came to
an abrupt stop, saluted, and stepped on again with the bearing of a
well-trained English soldier.  "Hah!" he called.  "’Tis better from a
jug; an’ ’twould be better yet if it had a little breath av th’ peat
fire in it; but ’tis well to be content with what we have.  Thank ye:
I’ll drink yer health!"  Handing the jug back to its owner Murphy wiped
his lips with the back of his hand and seated himself on the bench at
the prospector’s side.  "Have ye seen th’ new marshal?" he asked,
glancing from the distant smudge of smoke to his watch.  "I hear he’s
fixed up in style."

"Yes; an’ he gave me a message for you, if you’ll lean over a little
closer," replied Blascom, and, as Murphy obeyed his suggestion, he said
what he had come for.

"It sounds like Tex," grunted Murphy.  "All thought out careful.  Have
ye ever used stick explosive?  It’s treacherous stuff at any time above
freezin’, an’ more so after this spell av hot weather.  Ye have?  Then
there’s no use av me tellin’ ye to handle it gintly.  If I was knowin’
th’ job ye have, I might help ye in th’ number av sticks.  But if yo’re
used to it, ye’ll know.  I’ll get it after Number Three pulls out; an’
after dark tonight ye’ll find it where he said--but deal gintly with it,
Mr. Blascom.  I’ve seen it exploded by impact--it was a rifle ball fired
into it--this kind av weather.  Ye might even do better to load th’
shots, this kind av weather, after th’ sun goes down.  Carry it as ye
find it, without unpackin’ th’ box."

Blascom nodded.  "If I leave th’ jug for you to put away when you go
down for th’ box, would you mind puttin’ it out tonight with th’
dynamite?  No use of me makin’ two trips to my cabin, an’ I don’t want
to tote it around till dark."

"I will that, an’ be glad to.  There she comes now, leavin’ Whiterock
Cut.  Casey’s late ag’in; but that’s regular, an’ not his fault, as I’ve
told them time an’ time ag’in.  Th’ grades are ag’in’ him comin’ west,
an’ with his leaky packin’s an’ worn cylinders it’s a wonder he does as
well as he has.  ’Economy,’ says th’ super.  ’No money for repairs that
are not needed on this jerk-water line.’  I wonder does he ever figger
th’ fuel wasted through them steam leaks?  An’ poor Casey gets th’
blame--though divvil a bit he cares."

Number Three wheezed in, panted a moment, and coughed on again.  Murphy
took a package consigned to him, picked up the jug and went down the
track toward the toolshed, Blascom wandering idly over to the Railroad
Saloon to pass some of the time he had on his hands. In a little while
the big Irishman, a small wooden box under his arm, sauntered carelessly
down the street, nodded politely from a distance to the sleepy marshal
and went into the Mecca.

"Good day, Mr. Williams," he said with stiff formality. "I’ll be havin’
six dynamite sticks if ye have them, with th’ same number av
three-minute fuses. Handle it gintly, if ye don’t mind.  Th’ weather is
aggravatin’ to th’ stuff, an’ it’s timpermental enough at best."

Williams glowered at him.  "Don’t you worry about me handlin’ it gentle,
because I ain’t goin’ to handle it at all.  If you want any I’ll give
you th’ key to th’ powder-house an’ wish you good luck.  Th’ sun beatin’
down on that house, day after day, has got me plumb nervous. I wish
you’d come for it all!"  He shook his head.  "I wouldn’t let you even
open th’ door if it wasn’t for gettin’ that much more of it out of th’
way."

"Is it ventilated well?" demanded Murphy, smiling a little.

"As well as it can be," sighed Williams.  "You’ll never catch me
carryin’ anythin’ but powder over th’ summer any more.  I’m afraid a
thunderclap will set it off every storm.  What you got in that to pack
it in?"

"Sawdust.  While yo’re cuttin’ th’ fuses I’ll be gettin’ th’ stuff."

"You’ll not come back for any fuses!  Wait an’ take em’ with you!  An’
when you are through with th’ powder-house, throw th’ key close to th’
back door: I don’t want no man with six sticks of dynamite hangin’
around this store today.  Want a bill?"

Murphy nodded.  "Two av them is th’ rule av th’ company.  You can mark
’em paid an’ take it out av this."

The receipted bills in his pocket, he threw the fuses over his shoulder,
their wickedly shining copper caps carefully wrapped in a handkerchief,
took up the bunch of keys and the box, and grinned.  "If ye hear an
explosion out back, ye needn’t come out to gimme any help. I’m cleanin’
up some bad cracked rocks hangin’ from a cut west av town, over near
Buffalo Crick.  I’m tellin’ ye th’ last so ye won’t think it’s
thunderclaps on their disturbin’ way to town.  But ye’ll sleep through
it, no doubt, an’ never hear th’ shot."

"Blastin’ at night?" exclaimed Williams in incredulous surprise.

"I don’t like th’ sun shinin’ on th’ darlin’s while I’m pokin’ ’em in
th’ hot rocks, so I may load her an’ shoot her after dark," replied
Murphy.  "I’ve a lot av respect for th’ stuff, much as I’ve handled it.
Good day, sir," and he left behind him a man who was nervous and jumpy
until after the keys had tinkled on the ground near the rear door;
indeed, such an impression had been made on him that he mentioned it,
with profane criticisms and observations, at the table that night in the
hotel.

The marshal moved his chair farther around in the shade and on his
tanned face there crept a warm, rare smile.  "’Lo, I will stand at thy
right hand, and keep the bridge with thee!’  Well said, Herminius!
Yonder you go in spirit: Tim Murphy, you’d make complete any ’dauntless
three’!"

The shadows were growing long when Tommy came into sight again, buried
in thought as he rode slowly down the street.  He stopped and swung to
the ground in front of the lazy marshal.

"They shore do beat th’ devil," he growled, throwing himself into the
vacant chair and lapsing into silence.

Tex nodded understandingly.  "They do," he indolently agreed, a smile
flickering across his face.  "Black is white an’ red is green--they’re
the worst I’ve ever seen," he extemporized.  "They’re intuitive
critters, son; an’ don’t you let anybody tell you that intuition hasn’t
any warrant for existing.  It has.  It’s got more warrant than reason.
It was flowering long before reason poked its first shoot out of the
ground.  Reason only runs back a few thousand generations, but intuition
goes back to the first cell of nervous tissue--I might qualify that a
bit and say before nervous tissue was structurally apart from the rest.
Reason starts anew in every life, usually upon a little better
foundation--often a poorer one.  It is nursed and trained and cultivated
an’ when its possessor dies, it dies with him.  Not so our venerable
friend, intuition.  He, or rather she, is cumulative.  She is th’ sum of
all previous individuals in the life chain of th’ last.  She picks up
an’ stores away, growing a little each time--an’ while she is vague, an’
can be classified as a ’because,’ or ’I don’t know why,’ she operates
steady. Don’t ask me what I know about it, for it has been a long time
since I gave any study to things like this.  I might guess an’ say that
it’s th’ physical changes in th’ thought channels due to experience, or
in th’ structure of th’ brain cells or th’ quality of their tissues.
Anyway, so far as practicability is concerned, you’ve summed up th’
whole thing: ’They shore do beat th’ devil’."

Tommy was looking at him, puzzled and intent; but puzzled intelligently.
There is a difference.

"With me an’ you, two opposites in thought result in th’ cancellation of
one of them.  We don’t say of th’ same object: ’This is white, this is
black,’ at th’ same time an’ believe ’em both.  Th’ words themselves are
intelligible; but th’ conception ain’t.  We can’t do it.  One is chosen
an’ th’ other dies.  But I won’t bet you that a woman cancels.  She may
not get a dirty white or a slate gray, but she gets a combination, all
right.  That’s where intuition’s family tree comes in.  No matter how
absurd its contentions may be they have force because of th’ impetus
coming from age.  What did she get out th’ colors for you?"

"Yo’re th’ easiest man to talk to that I ever met," said Tommy,
wonderingly.  "I don’t know how you do it.  Why, she got a bright red
with a dull green cast--said you was justified, ’but a life’s a life’:
an’ then she cried!"

Over Tex’s face came a light which only can be compared to the rising
sun seen from some lofty peak, for in the radiance there were shadows.



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                         *OUTCHEATING CHEATERS*


Gus Williams left the supper table, where he had held forth volubly upon
the subject of dynamite, in his almost lecture to the other diners, some
of whom knew more about it than he did, and walked ponderously toward
the poker table for his usual evening’s game.  Seating himself at the
place which by tacit consent had become his own, he idly shuffled and
reshuffled the cards and finally began a slow and laborious game of
solitaire to while away the time until his cronies should join him.
This game had become a fixture of the establishment, played for low
stakes but with great seriousness, and often ran into the morning hours.

The rest of the diners tarried inexplicably at the plate-littered table,
engaged in a discussion of stud poker and of their respective abilities
in playing it, and of winnings they had made and seen made.  It slowly
but surely grew acrimonious, as any such discussion is prone to among
idle men who are very much in each other’s company.

The new marshal sat a little apart from the eager disputants, taking no
share in the wrangling.  Finally Sinful, scorning a shouted ruling on a
hypothetical question concerning the law of averages, turned suddenly
and appealed to the marshal, whose smiling reply was not a confirmation
of the appellant’s claim.

Sinful glared at his disappointing umpire.  "A lot you know about stud!"
he retorted.  "Bet you can’t even play mumbly-peg!"

"That takes a certain amount of skill," rejoined Tex without heat.  "In
stud it’s how th’ cards fall."

Hank laughed sarcastically.  "Averages don’t count? We’ll just start a
little game an’ I’ll show you how easy stud-hoss is.  Come on, boys:
we’ll give th’ marshal a lesson.  Clear away them dishes."

All but Sinful held back, saying that they had no money for gambling,
but they were remarkably eager to watch the game.

Sinful snorted.  "Huh!  Two-hand is no good.  I’m honin’ for a little
stud-hoss for a change.  It’s been nothin’ but draw in this town.
Reckon stud’s too lively to suit most folks: takes nerve to ride a fast
game.  A man can have a-plenty of nerve one way, an’ none a-tall another
way.  Fine bunch of paupers!"

Hank’s disgust was as great.  "Fine bunch of paupers," he repeated.
"An’ them as ain’t busted is scared. You called th’ turn, Sinful: it
shore does take nerve--more’n mumbly-peg, anyhow.  A three-hand game
would move fast--_too_ fast for these coyotes."

"Don’t you let th’ old mosshead git off with that, Marshal!" cried a
miner, "Wish _I_ had some dust: I’d cussed soon show ’em!"

Tex was amused by the baiting.  Hardly an eye had left him while the
whole discussion was going on, even the two principals looking at him
when they spoke to each other.  He looked from one old reprobate to the
other, and let his smile become a laugh as he moved up to the table, a
motion which was received by the entire group with sighs of relief and
satisfaction.

"I reckon it’s my luck ag’in’ yore skill," he said; "but I can’t set
back an’ be insulted this way.  I’m a public character, now, an’ has got
to uphold th’ dignity of th’ law.  Get a-goin’, you fellers."

Sinful and Hank, simultaneously slamming their gold bags on the table,
reached for the cards at the same time and a new wrangle threatened.

"Cut for it," drawled Tex, smiling at the expectant, hopeful faces
around the table.  Williams’ irritable, protesting cough was unheeded
and, Hank dealing, the game got under way.  Tex honorably could have
shot both of his opponents in the first five minutes of play, but simply
cheated in turn and held his own.  At the end of an hour’s excitement he
was neither winner nor loser, and he shoved back from the table in
simulated disgust.  He scorned to take money so tragically needed, and
he had determined to lose none of his own.

"This game’s so plumb fast," he ironically observed, "that I ain’t won
or lost a dollar.  You got my sportin’ blood up, an’ I ain’t goin’ to
insult it by playin’ all night for nothin’.  I told you stud was only
luck: That skill you was talkin’ about ain’t showed a-tall.  If there’s
anybody here as wants a _real_ game I’m honin’ to hear his voice."

"Can you hear mine?" called Williams, glaring at the disappointed stud
players and their friends.  "There’s a real game right here," he
declared, pounding the table, "with real money an’ real nerve!  Besides,
I got a hoss to win back, an’ I want my revenge."

Tex turned to the group and laughed, playfully poking Sinful in the
ribs.  "Hear th’ cry of th’ lobo?  He’s lookin’ for meat.  Our friend
Williams has been savin’ his money for Tex Jones, an’ I ain’t got th’
heart to refuse it.  Bring yore community wealth an’ set in, you an’
Hank.  Though if you can’t play draw no better’n you play stud you ought
to go home."

"I cut my teeth on draw," boasted Sinful.  He turned and slapped his
partner on the shoulder.  "Come on, Hank!" he cried.  "Th’ lone wolf is
howlin’ from th’ timber line an’ his pelt’s worth money.  Let’s go git
it!"

They swept down on the impatient Williams, their silent partners
bringing up the rear, and clamored for action.  Tex lighting a freshly
rolled cigarette, faced the local boss, Hank on his right and Sinful on
his left, the eager onlookers settling behind their champions.  The
thin, worried faces of the miners appealed to the marshal, their obvious
need arousing a feeling of pity in him; and then began a game which was
as much a credit to Tex as any he ever had played.  He rubbed the
saliva-soaked end of his cigarette between finger and thumb and gave all
his attention to the game.

Williams won on his own deal, cutting down the gold of the two miners.
On Hank’s deal he won again and the faces of the old prospectors began
to tense.  Tex dealt in turn and after a few rounds of betting Williams
dropped out and the game resolved itself into a simulated fiercely
fought duel between the miners, who really cared but little which of
them won.  Hank finally raked in the stakes.  Sinful shuffled and Tex
cut.  Williams forced the betting but had to drop out, followed by Tex,
and the dealer gleefully hauled in his winnings.  Again Williams
shuffled, his expression vaguely denoting worry.  He made a sharp remark
about one of the onlookers behind Tex and all eyes turned instinctively.
The miner retorted with spirit and Williams suddenly smiled
apologetically.

"My mistake, Goldpan," he admitted.  "Let’s forget it, an’ let th’ game
proceed."

Tex deliberately had allowed his attention to be called from the game
and when he picked up his cards he was mildly suspicious, for Williams’
remark had been entirely uncalled for.  He looked quickly for the nine
of clubs or the six of hearts, finding that he had neither.  He passed
and sat back, smiling at the facial contortions of Hank and the blank
immobility of Sinful’s leathery countenance.  Hank dropped out on the
next round and after a little cautious betting Sinful called and threw
down his hand.  Williams spread his own and smiled. That smile was to
cost him heavily, for in his club flush lay the nine spot, guiltless of
the tobacco smudge which Tex had rubbed on its face in the first hand he
had been dealt.

Tex wiped the tips of his sensitive fingers on his trousers and became
voluble and humorous.  As he picked up his cards, one by one as they
dropped from Hank’s swiftly moving hand, he first let his gaze linger a
little on their backs, and his fingers slipped across the corners of
each.  Williams had cheated before with a trimmed deck and now the
marshal grimly determined to teach him a lesson, and at the same time
not arouse the suspicions of the boss against the new marshal.  With the
switching of the decks Williams had set a pace which would grow too fast
for him.  Marked cards suited Tex, especially if they had been marked by
an opponent, who would have all the more confidence in them.  After a
few deals if he wouldn’t know each card as well as a man like Williams,
whose marking could not be much out of the ordinary, and certainly not
very original, then he felt that he deserved to get the worst of the
play.  He once had played against a deck which had been marked by the
engraver who designed the backs, and he had learned it in less than an
hour.  So now he prepared to enjoy himself and thereafter bet lightly
when Williams dealt, but on each set of hands dealt by himself one of
the prospectors always won, and with worthy cards. Worthy as were their
hands they were only a shade better than those held by the proprietor of
the hotel and the general store.  One hand alone cost Williams over
eighty dollars, three others were above the seventy-dollar mark and he
was losing his temper, not only because of his losses, but also because
he did not dare to cheat too much on his own deal.  Tex’s eyes twinkled
at him and Tex’s rambling words hid any ulterior motive in the keen
scrutiny.  Finally, driven by desperation, Williams threw caution to the
winds and risked detection.  He was clever enough to avoid grounds for
open accusation, but both of the miners suddenly looked thoughtful and a
moment later they exchanged significant glances. Thereafter no one bet
heavily when Williams dealt.

The finish came when Tex had dealt and picked up his hand.  Sinful
stolidly regarded the cheery faces of three kings--spades, clubs, and
hearts.  Williams liked the looks of his two pairs, jacks up.  Hank
rolled his huge cud into the other cheek and tried to appear mournful at
the sight of the queen, ten, eight, and five of hearts. Tex laid down
his four-card spade straight and picked up the pack.

"Call ’em, boys," he said.

Sinful’s two cards, gingerly lifted one at a time from the table,
pleased him very much, although from all outward signs they might have
been anything in the card line.  They were the aces of diamonds and
clubs.  He sighed, squared the hand, and placed it face down on the
table before him.  Williams gulped when he added a third jack to his two
pairs, and Hank nearly swallowed his tobacco at sight of the prayed-for,
but unexpected, appearance of another heart.  All eyes were on the
dealer.  He put down the deck and picked up his hand for another look at
it.  After a moment he put it down again, sadly shaking his head.

"Good enough as it is," he murmured.  "I ain’t havin’ much luck, one way
or th’ other; an’ I’m gettin’ tired! of th’ cussed game."

"Dealer pat?" sharply inquired Williams, suspicion glinting in his eyes.

"Pat, an’ cussed near flat," grunted Tex.  "Go on with her.  I’ll trail
along with what I got, an’ quit after this hand."

Notwithstanding the dealer’s pat hand and his expression of resignation,
the betting was sharp and swift.  On the first round, being forty-odd
dollars ahead, Tex saw the accumulated raises and had enough left out of
his winnings to raise five dollars.  He tossed it in and leaned back,
watching each face in turn.  Sinful was not to be bluffed by any pat
hand at this stage of the play, no matter how craftily it was bet.  He
reflected that straights, flushes, and full houses could be held pat, as
well as threes or two pairs, all of which he had beat.  A straight flush
or fours were the only hands he could lose to, and Williams had not
dealt the cards.  Pat hands were sometimes pat bluffs, more terrifying
to novices than to old players. He saw the raise and shoved out another,
growling: "Takes about twenty more to see this circus."

Williams hesitated, looking at the dealer’s neat little stack of cards.
He was convinced from the way Tex had acted that the pat hand was a
bluff, for its owner had not been caught blurring since the game
started, which indicated that he had labored to establish the reputation
of playing only intrinsic hands, which would give a later bluff a strong
and false value.  He saw and raised a dollar, hoping that someone would
drop out. Hank disappointed him by staying in and boosting another
dollar.  They both were feeling their way along. Hank also believed the
pat hand to be worthless; and worthless it was, for Tex tossed it from
him, face down, and rammed his hands into his pockets.

Sinful heaved a sigh of relief, which was echoed by the others, squinted
from his hand to the faces of the two remaining players, and grinned
sardonically.  "Bluffs are like crows; they live together in flocks.  I
never quit when she’s comin’ my way.  Grab a good holt for another
raise!  She’s ten higher, now."

With the disturbing pat hand out of it, which was all the more
disturbing because it had belonged to the dealer, Williams gave more
thought to the players on his left and right.  He decided that Hank was
the real danger and that Sinful’s words were a despairing effort to win
by the default of the others.  He saw the raise and let it go as it was.
Hank rolled the cud nervously and with a sudden, muttered curse, threw
down his hand.  A flush had no business showing pride and fight in this
game, he decided.  Sinful grinned at him across the table.

"Terbaccer makin’ you sick, Hank?" he jeered.  "I’m raisin’ ten more,
jest to keep th’ corpse alive.  He-he-he!"

There was now too much in the pot to give it up for ten dollars and
Williams met the raise, swore, and called, "What you got, you devil from
h--l?"

"I got quite a fambly," chuckled Sinful, laying down a pair of aces.
"There’s twin brothers," he said, looking up.

Williams snorted at the old man’s pleasure in not showing his whole hand
at once, and he tossed three jacks on the table.  "Triplets in mine," he
replied.

Sinful raised his eyebrows and regarded them accusingly.  "Three jacks
can tote quite some load if it’s packed right," he said.  "Th’ rest of
my fambly is three more brothers, an’ they bust th’ mules’ backs.  Ain’t
got th’ extry jack, have you?"

Slamming the rest of the cards on the table Williams arose and without a
word walked to the bar.  Sinful’s. cackles of joy were added to by his
friends and they surrounded the table to help in the division of the
spoils, in plain sight of all.

"Win or lose, Marshal?" demanded Sinful shrilly above the hubbub of
voices.

"Lost a couple of dollars," bellowed Tex.

"Much obliged for ’em," rejoined Sinful.  He looked at Hank, winked and
said: "Marshal’s been real kind to us, Hank," and Tex never was quite
certain of the old man’s meaning.

Williams looked around as Tex leaned against the bar. "How’d you come
out?" he asked, his face showing his anger.

"I lost," answered Tex carelessly.  "Not anythin’ to speak of: a few
dollars, I reckon.  I told ’em two dollars, for they’re swelled up with
pride as things are.  They must ’a’ got into you real heavy."

Williams sneered.  "Heavy for them, I reckon.  I ain’t limpin’.  They
got too cus-sed much luck."

"Luck?" muttered the marshal, gazing inquiringly at the glass of whiskey
he had raised from the bar, as though it might tell him what he wanted
to know.  "I ain’t so shore of that, Williams," he slowly said.  "Them
old sour-doughs get snowed in near every winter, up in th’ hills; an’
then they ain’t got nothin’ to do but eat, sleep, swap lies, an’ play
cards.  Somethin’ tells me there wasn’t a whole lot of luck in it.  I
know I had all I could do to stay in th’ saddle without pullin’
leather--an’ I ain’t exactly cuttin’ my teeth where poker is concerned.
Listen to ’em, will you?  Squabblin’ like a lot of kids. I reckon they
had this cooked up in grand style.  They’re all sharin’ in th’ winnin’s,
you’ll notice."  He paused in surprise as a dull roar faintly shook the
room.  "What’s that?" he demanded sharply.  "It can’t be thunder!"

His companion shook his head.  "No, it ain’t; it’s that Murphy blowin’
up rock, like I was sayin’ at supper. Hope he went up with it!"  He
laughed at a man who was just coming in, and who stopped dead in the
door and listened to the rumble.  "Yore shack’s safe, Jake," he called.
"Th’ Mick’s blastin’ over past yore way.  You remember what I’ve told
you!" he warned.

Jake looked from the speaker to the careless, but inwardly alert, city
marshal, scowled, shuffled over to a table, and called for a drink,
thereafter entirely ignoring the peace officer.

Henry came in soon after and joined the two at the bar.  "Yes, I’ll have
th’ same.  You two goin’ ridin’ ag’in, Marshal?" he asked.

Tex shrugged his shoulders.  "It shore don’t look like it.  She mebby
figgered me out.  Anyhow, she slammed th’ door plumb in my face."  He
frowned.  "Somehow I don’t get used to things like that.  She could ’a’
treated me like I wasn’t no tramp, anyhow, couldn’t she?"

Henry smiled maliciously, and felt relieved.  "They’re shore puzzlin’.
I hear that coyote Watkins was out there this afternoon.  There wasn’t
no door slammed in _his_ face."  His little eyes glinted.  "I see where
he’s goin’ to learn a lesson, an’ learn it for keeps!"

"Oh, he got throwed, too," chuckled Tex, as if finding some balm in
another’s woe.  "He stopped off on his way home an’ told me about it.
Got a busted heart, an’ belly-achin’ like a sick calf.  That’s what he
is; an’ it’s calf love, as well.  Shucks!  When I was his age I fell in
love with a different gal about every moon.  Besides, he ain’t got
money, nor prospects: an’ she knows it."

Henry took him by the arm and led him to a table in a far corner.  "I
been thinkin’ I mebby ought to send her a present, or somethin’," he
said, watching his companion’s face.  "You, havin’ more experience with
’em, I figgered mebby you would help me out.  _I_ don’t know what to get
her."

"Weakenin’ already," muttered the marshal, trying to hide a knowing,
irritating smile.  "Pullin’ leather, an’ ain’t hardly begun to ride
yet!"

"I ain’t pullin’ no leather!" retorted Henry, coloring. "I reckon a
man’s got a right to give a present to his gal!"

"Shore!" endorsed Tex heartily.  "There ain’t no question about it--when
she comes right out an’ admits that she is his gal.  This Saunders woman
ain’t admittin’ it, yet; an’ if she figgers that yo’re weakenin’ on yore
play of ignorin’ her, then she’ll just set back an’ hold you off so th’
presents won’t stop comin’.  This is a woman’s game, an’ she can beat a
man, hands down an’ blindfolded: an’ they know it.  I tell you, Hennery,
a wild cayuse that throws its first rider ain’t no deader set on stayin’
wild than a woman is set on makin’ a man go through his tricks for her
if she finds he’s performin’ for her private amusement, an’ payin’ for
th’ privilege, besides.  It ain’t no laughin’ matter for you, Hennery;
but I can’t hardly keep _from_ laughin’ when I think of you stayin’ away
to get her anxious, an’ then sendin’ her presents!  It’s yore own
private affair, an’ yo’re runnin’ it yore own way--but them’s _my_
ideas."

Henry stared into space, gravely puffing on a cold cigarette.  His low,
furrowed brow denoted intense mental concentration, and the scowl which
grew deeper did not suggest that his conclusions were pleasant.  The
simile regarding the wild horse sounded like good logic to him, for he
prided himself that he knew horses. Finally he looked anxiously at his
deeply thinking companion.

"It sounds right, Marshal," he grudgingly admitted; "but it shore is
hard advice to foller.  I’m plumb anxious to buy her somethin’ nice,
somethin’ she can’t get in this part of th’ country, an’ somethin’ she
can wear an’ know come from me."  He paused in some embarrassment and
tried to speak carelessly.  "If you was goin’ to get a woman like her
some present--mind, I’m sayin’ _if_--what would you get?"

Tex reflected gravely.  "Candy don’t mean nothin’," he cogitated, in a
low, far-away voice.  "Anybody she knew at all could give her candy.  It
don’t mean nothin’ special, a-tall."  He did not appear to notice how
his companion’s face fell at the words.  "Books are like candy--just
common presents.  A stranger almost could give ’em.  Ridin’ gloves is a
little nearer--but Tommy, or me, could give them to her.  Stockin’s?
Hum: I don’t know.  They’re sort of informal, at that.  ’Tain’t
everybody, however, could give ’em.  Only just one man: get my idea?"

"I shore do, Marshal," beamed Henry.  "You see, livin’ out here all my
life an’ not ’sociatin’ with wimmin--like her, anyhow--I didn’t know
hardly what would be th’ correct thing.  Wonder what color?"

Tex was somewhat aghast at his joke being taken so seriously.  "Now, you
look here, Hennery!" he said in a warning voice.  "You promise me not to
send her no stockin’s till I says th’ word."  He had wanted to give Jane
more reason to dislike the nephew, but hardly cared to have it go that
far.  "Stayin’ away, are you?  You make me plumb sick, you do!  Stayin’
away, h--l!"

A roar of laughter came from the celebrating miners and all eyes turned
their way.  Sinful and Hank were dancing to the music of a jew’s-harp
and the time set by stamping, hob-nailed boots.  They parted, bowed,
joined again, parted, courtesied and went on, hand in hand, turning and
ducking, backing and filing, the dust flying and the perspiration
streaming down.  It seemed impossible that in these men lurked a bitter
race hatred, or that hearts as warm and happy could be incubating the
germs of cowardly murder.  Not one of them, alone, would be guilty of
such a thing; but the spirit of a mob is a remarkable and terrible
thing, tearing aside civilization’s training and veneer, and in a moment
hurling men back thousands of years, back to the days when killing often
was its own reward.



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                           *TACT AND COURAGE*


Things were going along smoothly for the new marshal until two of the C
Bar punchers, accompanied by two men from a ranch farther from town,
rode in to make a night of it.  It chanced that the C Bar men had been
with a herd some forty miles north of the ranch, where water and grass
conditions were much better, and they had become friendly with the
outfit of another herd which grazed on the western fringe of the same
range.  A month of this, days spent in the saddle on the same rounds,
and nights spent at the chuck wagon with nothing to vary the monotony of
the cycle, had given the men an edge to be bunted at the first
opportunity; and their ideas of working off high-pressure energies did
not take into consideration any such things as safety valves.  Action
they craved, action they had ridden in for, and action they would have.
The swifter it started, the faster it moved, the better it would suit
them.  So, with an accumulation of energy, thirst, and money they tore
into Windsor one noon at a dead run, whooping like savages, and
proclaiming their freedom from restraint and their pride of class by a
heavenward bombardment which frightened no one and did no harm.

It so chanced that when they passed the new marshal’s office they were
going so fast, and were so fully occupied in waking up the town, that
the lettering over the door of the lean-to escaped their attention. And
they were past, bunched in a compact group, and nearly hidden in dust
before the mildly curious officer could get to the door.  He watched
them whirl up to the hotel, the stronghold and stamping ground of
Williams and the miners and, dismounting with shrill yells, pause a
moment to reload their empty guns, and then surge toward the door.

Tex rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he considered them.  Carney’s was
the cowman’s favorite drinking place, yet these four cheerful riders had
not given it a second glance, judging from the way they had gone past
it.  This was no matter for congratulation, but bespoke, rather, a
determination to show off where their efforts would create more
interest.  Who they were, or what they came in for, he neither knew nor
cared.  They were celebrating punchers from somewhere out on the range
and they were going to hold their jamboree in the miners’ chosen place
of entertainment.  A less experienced marshal, filled with zeal and
conceit, might forthwith have buckled on his guns, and started for the
scene of the festivities, to be on hand as a preventive, rather than a
corrective, or punitive, force; and very probably would have hastened
the very thing he sought to avoid.  Tex hoped to take the edge from the
class feeling, and determined to be openly linked with neither one side
nor the other.  His place was to be that of a neutral buffer and his
justice must be impartial and above criticism.  So, after turning back
to buckle on the left-hand gun, he did not sally forth to blaze the
glory of the law and precipitate a riot; he sat down patiently to await
the course of events.

Williams poked his head out of the door of his store and looked
anxiously down the street at the dismounting four.  As they went into
the hotel he hurried across to the marshal’s office and stopped,
panting, in the doorway.

"See ’em?" he asked excitedly.  "Hear ’em?"

"What or who?" asked Tex, throwing one leg over the other.

"Them rowdy punchers!" exclaimed the storekeeper. "Nobody’s safe!  Go up
an’ take ’em in, quick!"

"What they do?" interestedly asked the marshal.

"Didn’t you _see_ an’ _hear_?" demanded Williams incredulously.

"I saw ’em ride past, an’ I heard ’em shootin’ in th’ air; but what did
they do so I can arrest ’em?"

"Ain’t that enough?  That, an’ th’ yellin’, an’ everythin’?"

"Sinful and his friends made more noise th’ other night when they left
town," replied the marshal.  "I didn’t arrest them.  Hank was of a mind
to see if it was true that a bullet only punches a little, thin-edged
hole in a pane of glass an’ don’t smash it all to pieces.  Bein’ wobbly,
he picked out yore winder, seein’ they was th’ biggest in town; but
Sinful held him back, an’ they had a scufflin’ match an’ made more noise
than sixteen mournful coyotes.  There bein’ no pane smashed I didn’t cut
in.  A man is only a growed-up boy, anyhow."

Williams looked at him in frank amazement.  "But these here fellers are
punchers!" he exploded.

"I shore could see that, even with th’ dust," confessed the marshal.
"That ain’t no crime as I knows of."

"It ain’t th’ four to one that’s holdin’ you back, is it?" demanded
Williams insinuatingly.  "They’re punchers, too: bad as h--l."

Tex languidly arose and removed the pair of guns and the belts, laying
them gently on the floor.  He pitched his sombrero on the bunk and faced
his caller.

"Mebby I didn’t understand you," he coldly suggested. "What was it you
said?"

Williams raised both hands in quick protest, one foot fishing
desperately behind him for the ground below the sill.  "Nothin’ to make
you go on th’ prod," he hastily explained.

"Listen to me, Williams," said the cool peace officer, his voice level
and unemotional.  "Anybody callin’ me a coward wants to go into action
fast, an’ keep on goin’ fast.  That includes everybody from King Solomon
right down to date.  I’m responsible for th’ peace in this town, an’
when _anybody_ starts smashin’ it I’ll go ’em a whirl.  Yellin’, ridin’
fast, an’ shootin’ in th’ air, ’specially by sober men, ain’t smashin’
nothin’ in a town like this.  I don’t aim to run no nursery, nor even a
kindergarden.  I ain’t makin’ a fool out of myself an’ turnin’ th’ law
into a joke.  Once let ridicule start an’ h--l’s pleasant by contrast.
They ain’t shootin’ now.  Th’ first shot fired inside any buildin’, or
dangerously low, an’ I inject myself an’ my two guns.  I can’t make no
arrests on a blind guess, mine nor yourn.  You better go back to th’
store an’ keep th’ vinegar from sourin’ on its mother."

Williams’ jaw dropped.  This was not Tex Jones at all, at least it
didn’t sound like him.  "As th’ owner of th’ most valuable property in
town I want them coyotes stopped from ruinin’ it.  I----"

"When they show any signs of ruinin’ _any_ property I’ll step in an’
stop ’em," the marshal assured him. "I got my ears open, an’ had my
authority buckled on--which I’ll now resume wearin’."  He picked up a
heavy belt and slung it around him, deftly catching the free end as it
slapped against him.  "We’ll have law an’ order, Williams--even if I
have to fill some fool as full of holes as a prairie-dog town; but I
ain’t goin’ out an’ trample on a man’s pride an’ make him get killed
defendin’ it, unless I got good reason to. This is a long speech, but
I’m goin’ to make it longer so I can impress somethin’ on yore mind.
Bein’ a busy merchant you’ve mebby never had time to think about it
much; but me, bein’ a marshal, I _got_ to think of everythin’ like that.
This is one of ’em: When bad feelin’s exist between two classes, helpin’
one ag’in’ th’ other, without honest reasons, is only goin to make more
bitterness.  It can be held down only by impersonal justice.  That’s me.
I don’t give a d--n what a man is as long as he behaves hisself."
Picking up the second belt he slung it around him the other way and
buckled it behind him.  As he shook them both to a more comfortable fit
a yell rang out up near the hotel, followed by a shot.  Grabbing his hat
from the bunk he pushed Williams out of his way and dashed through the
door, flinging over his shoulder: "I’m injectin’ myself _now_!  You
better go look to th’ vinegar!"

He saw Whiskey Jim, the man whom he had caught beating the dog, in his
blind terror run against the side of the harness-shop, recover from the
impact and, stupefied by fear, frantically claw at the bleached boards.
A spurt of dust almost under one of his feet made him claw more
frantically.  The hilarious puncher walked slowly toward him, raising
the Colt for another shot.  Behind him, laughing uproariously, stood his
three friends, solidly blocking the hotel door.

"Hold that gun where it is!" shouted the marshal, dropping into a
catlike stride.  He was coming down the middle of the street, not more
than forty paces, now, from the performing puncher.

The gun arm stiffened in air as the whiplike, authoritative phrase
reached its possessor and, grinning exultantly, the puncher wheeled to
get a good look at his next victim.  He saw a grave-faced man of
forty-odd years walking toward him, a bright star pinned to the open
vest, two guns hanging low down on the swaying hips, the swinging hands
brushing the walnut grips at every lithe, steady step.

"See what we got to play with!" exulted the surprised puncher, calling
to his friends.  "I want his badge: you can have th’ rest!"  His hand
chopped down and a spurt of dust leaped from the ground at the marshal’s
side.

Disregarding it, the peace officer maintained his steady, swinging
stride, his eyes fixed on those of the other, intently watching for a
change in their playful expression.  Another shot and the dust spurted
close to his left foot.  The hilarious laughter of the three in the
doorway died out, and their friend in the street stood stock still,
trying to figure out what he had better do next.  The deliberate marshal
was now only five paces away and at the puncher’s indecision, plain to
be seen in the eyes, he leaped forward, wrested the gun from the feebly
resisting fingers, whirled the nonplussed man around and then kicked him
his own length on the ground.

Ignoring the three men in the doorway, thereby tacitly admitting their
squareness, the marshal calmly ejected the cartridges from the captured
weapon and, as the angry and astonished puncher arose, handed it to him.

"It’s empty," he said in a matter-of-fact voice. "Keep it that way till
you leave town; an’ when you come in again, intendin’ to likker up an’
raise h--l, either unload it or leave it with me, unless you promise to
behave yoreself."  He turned to Whiskey Jim, who appeared to be frozen
into a statue.  "Come over here, Jim," he commanded, and again turned to
the puncher, who did not know whether to laugh or to curse.  "I reckon
Jim’s th’ only injured party. His feelin’s has been trampled on to th’
tune of about five dollars.  Pay him before he takes it out of yore
hide.  He’s a desperate bad man, Jim is!"

The three men in the door, who were nowhere near drunk yet, knew
sparkling courage when they saw it, and they shouted with laughter at
their crestfallen friend, who grudgingly was counting the fine into the
eager hand of the aggrieved citizen.

"Hey, Walt!" burbled one of them, a beardless youth on one end of the
line.  "Still want to play with that badge?"

"If you do," jeered the man in the middle, laughing again, "better
rustle, _pronto_, ’cause I’m buyin’ its boss a drink."

Walt grinned expansively, shoved the money into Whiskey Jim’s clutching
fingers, took hold of the quiet marshal, and turned toward the hotel.
"You come along with me, officer," he said.  "I’ll pertect you.  That
fool says he’s buyin’ you a drink--mebby he is, but I’m payin’ for th’
first one.  Yo’re about th’ best he-man I’ve seen since I looked into a
lookin’-glass. I’m obliged to you for not losin’ yore valuable temper."
He waved a hand at the unbelieving Jim, who doubted his reeling senses.
Five whole dollars, all at once!  Gosh, but the new marshal was a
hummer.  "Now don’t you lay for me, Jim," laughed the puncher.  "We’re
square, all ’round, ain’t we?"

The cheerful three in the door grabbed the marshal of Windsor and hauled
him in to the bar, where he pushed free and surveyed them.

"Four cheerful imbeciles," he murmured sadly. "Don’t you reckon you
better quit drinkin’, or else empty them guns?"

"Now don’t you be too hard on us, Marshal," chuckled the eldest.  "We’re
so dry we rattles, an’ th’ dust, risin’ out of our throats gets plumb
into our eyes.  Here," he said, dragging out his gun and gravely
emptying it, "these are shore heavy.  I’ll carry ’em in my pocket for a
change," and he made good his words.  The others laughingly followed
his. example, Tex’s smile growing broader all the time.

"This ain’t nothin’ personal, boys," he said.  "It’s only that th’ law
has come to town.  Knowin’ you’ll leave ’em empty till after you get
out, I’ll have one drink an’ go about my business."  He made no threats
and his voice was friendly and pleasant; and it did not have to be
otherwise.  He had made four friends, and they knew that he would go
through with any play he started.  "Know Tommy Watkins?" he asked as he
put down his glass.

"Shore!" answered Walt.  "He’s workin’ with my outfit--C Bar.  Ain’t
seen him for a month, him bein’ off somewhere when we rode in for our
pay.  Marshal, shake hands with another C Bar rider--Wyatt Holmes.
These two tramps is Double S punchers--Lefty Rowe, an’ Luke Perkins.  My
name’s Butler--Walt Butler.  What’s Tommy up an’ done?" he finished
somewhat anxiously.

"Glad to see you, boys," said Tex, heartily shaking hands all around.
"My name’s Tex Jones.  Come in ag’in," he invited.  "Oh," he said in
answer to Walt’s question, "Tommy ain’t done nothin’, yet.  I was just
wonderin’.  Good boy, Tommy is.  Sort of wild, I reckon, bein’ young.
Busy after th’ gals.  Most young fellers are hellers anyhow, or think
they are. But he’s a likable pup."

Walt laughed and the others grinned broadly. "You’ve shore figgered him
wrong, Marshal.  He’s scairt of th’ gals--won’t have nothin’ to do with
’em; an’ I ain’t never seen him nowhere near drunk; but" he hastily
defended in loyalty to his absent friend, "he’s all right, other ways.
Yes, sir--barrin’ them things, Tommy Watkins is a good man, an’ I can
lick any feller that says he ain’t."

"Which won’t be me," replied Tex, smiling.  "I like him, first-rate.  We
been gettin’ acquainted fast.  Well, boys," he said, turning toward the
door, "have a good time an’ come in often.  I like a little company from
th’ outside.  It relieves th’ monotony. So-long."

"You shore had th’ monotony busted wide open today," chuckled Walt.
"But Tommy’s a good boy--whatever th’ h--l he’s been doin’ since I saw
him last."  Watching the marshal until out of sight past the door he
turned and regarded his companions. "I’m tellin’ you calves there’s a
man who’d spit in th’ devil’s eye," he said.  "We was playin’ with giant
powder like four fools.  Here’s to Tex Jones, Marshal of Windsor!"

Lefty, tenderly putting the glass on the bar, looked thoughtfully around
the room and then at the partially stunned barkeep.  "How’s friend Bud
takin’ th’ new marshal?  Bud an’ him shore will have an’ interestin’
Colt fandango some of these fine days."

Baldy sighed, wiped off the bar, and looked sorrowfully at the group.
"Bud’s planted on Boot Hill. They done had th’ fandango, an’ he did th’
dancin’. My G--d, I can see it yet!  It was like this--" and he left the
bar, walked to the door, and painstakingly enacted the fight.  When it
was finished, he mopped his head and slowly returned to his accustomed
place.

Wyatt Holmes reached out and gravely shook hands with his friends and
finished by shaking his own.  "You allus was a fool for luck, Walt," he
said thoughtfully.  "Giant powder?" he muttered piously. "Giant h--l!
It was dynamite with th’ fuse lit. Here," he demanded, wheeling on the
startled Baldy. "I _need_ this drink!  Set ’em up!"

Walt shook his head.  "Now, what th’ devil has Tommy done?" he growled.

Baldy, remembering Tommy’s share in the altercation, maintained a
discreet silence.



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                           *A GOOD SAMARITAN*


Out on Buffalo Creek, Blascom, haggard, drawn, gaunt, and throbbing with
an excitement which was slowly mastering him, scorning time to properly
prepare and eat his food, drove himself like a madman. The creek bed at
the old sump showed a huge, sloping-sided ditch from bank to bank, the
upper side treacherous dry sand, the lower side a great, slanting ridge
of rock, riven through in one place by the force of the dynamite, which
had blown a great crater on the down-stream side of the natural riffle.
In the bottom of the ditch a few inches of water lay, all that had saved
him from fleeing from the claim because of thirst.

For year after weary year the miner had labored over the gold-bearing
regions of the West, South, and North, beginning each period full of
that abiding faith which clings so tenaciously to the gold-hunter and
refuses to accept facts in any but an optimistic manner.  A small stake
here, day wages there, grubstakes, and hiring out, he had persistently,
stubbornly pursued the will-o’-the-wisp and tracked down many a rainbow
of hope, only to find the old disappointment.  From laughing,
hope-filled youth he had run the gauntlet of the years, through the
sobered but still hopeful middle age, scorning thought of the twilight
of life when he should be broken in strength and bitter in mind.
Teeming, mushroom mining camps, frantic gold rushes, the majestic calm
of cool canyons, and the punishing silences of almost unbearable desert
wastes had found him an unquestioning worshiper, a trusting devotee of
his goddess of gold.  It was in his blood, it was woven into every fiber
of his body, and he could no more cease his pursuit than he could stop
the beating of his heart, or at least he could not cease while the goal
remained unattained.  Now, after all these years, he had won.  He had
proved that his quest had not been in vain.

Before the sun came up, even before dawn streaked the eastern sky, his
meager, ill-cooked breakfast was bolted, and his morning scouting begun.
First of all he slipped with coyote cunning down to the lower fork to
see if Jake still kept his drunken stupor.  The cold chimney of the
miserable hut was the first eagerly sought-for sign, and every furtive
visit awakened dread that a ribbon of smoke would meet his eye.  A
nearer approach made with the wariness of some hunted creature of the
wild, let him sense the unnatural quiet of the little shack.  A stealthy
glance through a glassless opening, called a window, after the light
made it possible, showed him morning after morning that his jug had not
failed him. The unshaven, matted, unclean face of the stupefied man lay
sometimes in a bunk, sometimes on the floor, and once the huge bulk was
sprawled out inertly across the rough table amid a disarray of cracked,
broken, and unwashed dishes.  On the fifth morning the anxious prowler,
fearing the lowered contents of the jug, had left a full bottle against
the door of the hut and, slinking into the scanty cover, had run like a
hunted thing back to the riven riffle and its unsightly ditch and
crater.

Feverishly he worked, scorning food, unconscious of the glare of a
molten sun rising to the zenith of its scorching heat.  Shovel and
bucket, trips without end from the ditch to a place above the steep bank
where the carried sand grew rapidly higher and higher; panting,
straining, frantic, worked Blascom.  Foot by foot the ditch widened,
foot by foot it lengthened, inch by inch it deepened, slide after sandy
slide slipping to its bottom to be furiously, madly cursed by the
prospector.

Then at last came the instant when the treasure was momentarily
uncovered.  Dropping the blunted, ragged-edged shovel, he plunged to all
fours and thrust eager, avaricious fingers, bent like the talons of some
bird of prey, into the storehouse of gold.  Noiselessly responding to
the jar and the impact of the groveling body, the great bank of sand had
collapsed and slid down upon him, burying him without warning.  The mass
split and heaved, and the imprisoned miner, wild-eyed, sobbing for
breath after his spasmodic exertions, burst through it and, raising
quivering fists, cursed it and creation.

Hope had driven him remorselessly, but now that he had seen and felt the
treasure, his efforts became those of a madman.  More buckets of sand,
jealous of each spilled handful, more punishing trips at a dogtrot, more
frantic digging, and again he stared wildly at the pocket under his
knees.  Suddenly leaping erect, he cast anxious glances around him and a
panicky fear gripped him and turned him into a wild beast.  Yanking his
coat from the rock riffle he spread it over the treasure and then,
running low and swiftly, gun in hand, he scouted through the brush on
both sides of the creek, and then bounded toward the lower fork.
Approaching the hut on hands and knees, cruelly cut by rock and thorn,
he studied the door and the open window.  The bottle was where he had
left it, the snores arose regularly, and once more he was reassured.
Had there been signs of active life he would have murdered with the
exultant zeal of a religious fanatic.

The day waned and passed.  Night drew its curtains closer and closer,
and yet Blascom labored, the treacherous sand turning him into a raving,
frenzied fury. Higher and higher grew the sand pile on the bank, a
monument to his mad avarice.  With gold in lumps massed at the foot of
that rock ridge, yet he must save the sand for its paltry yield in dust,
pouring out his waning strength in a labor which, to save pence, might
cost him pounds.  At last he stumbled more and more, staggering this way
and that, his tortured body all but asleep, forced on and on by his
fevered mind, flogged by a stubborn will.  Then came a heavier stumble,
following a more unbalanced stagger and his numbed and vague protests
did not suffice to get him back on his feet.  When he awakened, the
glaring sun shocked him by its nearness to the meridian, and the shock
brought a momentary sanity; if he scorned the warning he would be
lost--and another shadowy prompting of his subconscious mind was at last
allowed to direct him.  Calmly, but shakily, he weakly crawled and
staggered toward his shack, from which came a thin streamer of smoke,
climbing arrow-like into the quiet, heated air.

He stopped and stared at it in amazement, doubting his senses.  Had he
seen it the day before it would have enraged him to a blind, killing
madness; but now, suspicious as he was, and deadly determined to protect
his secret, the reaction of the high tension of the last six days made
him momentarily apathetic.  The abused body, the starved tissues and
dulled nerves, now took possession of him and forced him, even though it
was with gun in his hand, to approach the door of his squalid,
disordered habitation erect and without hesitation.  At the sound of his
slowly dragging steps a well-known, friendly voice called out and a
well-known, friendly face appeared at a window.

The marshal was nearly stunned by what he saw and then, surging into
action, leaped through the door and caught his staggering friend.

The well-cooked, wholesome breakfast out of the way, a breakfast made
possible only by the marshal’s forethought in bringing supplies with him
from town, he refused Blascom’s request for a third cup of coffee and
smilingly offered a glass of whiskey, over which he had made a few
mysterious passes.

"Don’t want none," objected the weary miner.

"But yo’re goin’ to overcome yore sudden temperance scruples an’ drink
it, for me," persuaded Tex.  "A good shock will do you a lot of
good--an’ put new life into you.  As you are you ain’t worth a cuss."

The prospector held out his hand, smilingly obedient, and downed the
fiery draught at a gulp.  "Tastes funny," he observed, and then laughed.
"Wonder I can taste it at all, after th’ nightmare I’ve had since th’
smoke of that blast rolled away.  Where’d you think I was when you
came?"

Tex chuckled and stretched.  "I didn’t know, but from th’ glimpse I got
of th’ crick bed I was shore I wasn’t goin’ huntin’ you, an’ mebby get
shot accidental.  Did you find it, Blascom?"

"My G--d, yes!" came the explosive answer. "There’s piles of it, all
shapes an’ sizes, layin’ on a smooth rock floor.  When that sand stops
slidin’ I can scoop it up with a shovel, like coal out of a bin.  Half
of it belongs to you, Jones: go look at it!"

"I don’t want any of it," replied Tex with quiet, but unshakable,
determination.  "If you divide it, no matter how much there is, by th’
number of years you’ve sweat an’ slaved and starved, it won’t be too
much to pay you. You set here a little while an’ I’ll go on a scout in
th’ brush an’ watch it till you come out.  Better lay down a few
minutes, say half an hour, an’ give that grub a chance to put some life
into you.  I’ll shake you if you fall asleep."

"Feel sleepy now," confessed the prospector, yawning and moving
sluggishly toward his bunk.  "Seein’ as how yo’re here, I’ll just take a
few winks--don’t know when I’ll get another chance.  That sand shore is
gallin’ an’ ornery as th’ devil.  Go up an’ take a look at it--I’ll
foller in a little while."

Tex, closing the door behind him, slipped into the brush, where he made
more than a usual amount of noise for Blascom’s benefit, and as he
worked up toward the ditch he chuckled to himself.  There had been no
need for a full dose, he reflected, and he was glad that he had not
given one.  Blascom’s drink of whiskey had just enough chloral in it to
deaden him and give his worn-out body the chance it sought; besides, he
was not too certain of the effect of a full dose on a constitution as
undermined as that of his friend.

The ditch, again slowly filling with sand, showed him nothing, and he
stood debating whether he should disturb it for a look at the treasure,
when he suddenly thought of Jake and the whiskey jug.  He remembered
that Jake had been almost senselessly drunk when he had left the hotel
on the night of the blast and that he had not been seen by anyone since.
It would do no harm to go down to the lower fork and see what there was
to be seen.  The thought became action, and he was on his way, down the
middle of the creek bed, where the footing was a little more to his
liking.

The hut appeared to be deserted and the bottle of whiskey outside the
door brought a frown to his face, which deepened as a nearer approach
showed him that the door was fastened shut by rope and wire on the
outside, and that the snoring inmate virtually was a prisoner.  There
was a note in the snores that disturbed him and aroused his vague,
half-forgotten professional knowledge.  Hastening forward he pushed the
bottle aside with an impatient foot and worked rapidly with the
fastenings on the door.  At last it opened, and gun in hand against any
possible contingency, he entered the hovel and looked at its tenant,
sprawled face down near the jumbled bunk.  A touch of the drunken man’s
cheek, a tense counting of his pulse, sent Tex to his feet as though a
shot had nicked him.  Running back to Blascom’s hut, where he had left
his horse, he leaped into the saddle and sent Omar at top speed toward
town.

His thundering knock on the doctor’s door brought no response and, not
daring to pause on the dictates of custom, he threw his shoulder against
the flimsy barrier and went in on top of it.  Scrambling to his feet, he
dashed into the rear one of the two rooms and swore in sudden rage and
disgust.

Doctor Horn lay on his back on a miserable cot and his appearance
brought a vivid recollection to his tumultuous caller.  Tex turned up a
sleeve and nodded grimly at the tiny puncture marks and, with an oath,
faced around and swept the room with a searching glance.  It stopped and
rested on a heavy volume on a shelf and in a moment he was hastily
turning the pages.  Finding what he sought he read avidly, closed the
book, and hunted among the bottles in a shallow closet.  Taking what he
needed, he ran out, leaped into the saddle and loped south to mislead
any curious observer, only turning west when hidden from sight of the
town.

When night fell it found a weak and raving patient in the little hovel
on the lower fork, roped in his bunk, and watched anxiously by the
two-gun man at his side.  The long dark hours dragged, but dawn found a
battle won. Noon came and passed and then Tex, looking critically at his
patient, felt he could safely leave him for a few minutes.  Glimpsing
the filled bottle of liquor at the door of the hut he grabbed it and
hurled it against a rock.

Blascom was up and around when Tex reached the upper fork, dragging
heavy feet by strangely dulled legs.

"Just in time to feed," he drawled.  "Didn’t sleep as long as I
thought," he said dully, glancing at the sun patch on the floor.  "Must
be near two o’clock--an’ I felt like I could sleep th’ sun around."

Tex would not correct the mistake and nodded.  "You must ’a’ slept some
last night," he suggested.  "Looked like you had when I saw you from th’
window this mornin’."

Blascom nodded heavily.  "Near sixteen hours.  I feel dead all over."

"A long sleep like that often makes a man feel that way," responded Tex.
"Th’ muscles are stubborn an’ th’ eyes get a little touchy, too," he
added.

They ate the poorly cooked dinner and leaned back for a smoke, Blascom
allowing himself to lose the time because he felt so inert.

"Have any visits from friend Jake?" carelessly asked the marshal.

Blascom laughed.  "Not one.  You see, Jake come home that night about as
drunk as a man can get an’ walk at all.  I planted th’ jug, a full
bottle of gin, an’ near half a quart of brandy in his cabin where he’d
shore see it.  He’s been petrified for a week steady.  To make shore I
put another bottle of whiskey ag’in’ his door."

Tex nodded.  "I busted that, just now.  You come near killin’ him.  I
just about got him through.  Don’t give him no more.  I sat up all last
night with him, draggin’ him back from th’ Divide, an’ only left him a
little while ago.  Get yore gold out quick an’ you don’t have no call to
want him drunk.  Cache it, an’ then spend a week takin’ things easy.
You wasn’t far behind Jake when I saw you."

Blascom was staring at him in vast surprise.  "I never thought good
likker would hurt an animal like him!"

"I didn’t say it was good likker," rejoined Tex. "Even good likker will
do it when drunk by th’ barrel; an’ there’s no good likker in Windsor,
if I’m any judge. Well," he said, arising and taking up his hat, "I’ll
drift along for another look at Jake an’ then head for town. Seein’ as
how you got him that way, through my suggestion, I’ll admit, you better
look in at him once in awhile an’ see he has what he needs.  Take some
of yore water with you: his stinks."



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                    *BUFFALO CREEK IN THE SPOTLIGHT*


What instinct it is and how it operates, that leads vultures from over
the horizon to a dying animal, has never been satisfactorily explained
to a lot of people; no more than the instinct which led Sinful and Hank
to go prowling around Buffalo Creek when by all rights they should have
been hanging around their own camp or loafing in the hotel; but prowl
they did, their cunning old eyes missing nothing, certainly nothing so
new and shining and high as the sand heap above the creek bank.

Sinful saw it first and he nudged his companion, whose cud nearly choked
him before he could cough it back where it belonged.

"Glory!" he choked.  "Jest look at it!  Come on, Sinful: we got to
inwestigate.  Nobody’s diggin’ all that out an’ totin’ it up there for
th’ fun of it.  But why’s he luggin’ it so far?"

Sinful snorted scornfully.  "Too busy totin’ to pan it," he snapped.
"Rain’s due ’most any time an’ he’s workin’ to beat it.  I don’t have to
inwestigate it--anybody that’s workin’ like that knows what he’s doin’;
an’ I ain’t never heard it said that Blascom’s any fool.  If he didn’t
know it was rich, he wouldn’t be workin’ so hard in th’ sun."

"Well, mebby," doubted Hank, always a cold blanket in regard to his
companion’s contentions.  "Looks like he ain’t got no water for pannin’,
like everybody else. He ain’t lazy like you, an’ instead of wastin’ his
time around th’ hotel like us he’s totin’ sand so he can work while th’
crick’s floodin’.  When th’ floodin’ comes everybody else’ll have to set
down an’ watch it till it gets low enough.  Me an’ you would be doin’
somethin’ if we follered his example.  Where you goin’?" he demanded as
his sneering companion walked away.

Sinful flashed a pitying glance over his shoulder.  "To git a handful of
that sand an’ prove you ain’t got no sense, that’s where.  You keep yore
eye open for Blascom while I raid his sand pile.  Here’s a can," he
said, stooping to pick it up.  "It’ll mebby tell us somethin’ when we
gits it to some water.  If you see him a-comin’ out, throw a pebble at
me.  ’Twon’t take me long, once I git my boots off."

Hank obeyed and scouted toward the hut, finally stopping when he could
see its door.  Watching it a few minutes he saw Blascom pass the
opening, and after another few minutes, the watcher slipped away,
hastening toward the sand pile.  Reaching it, he saw no signs of his
partner and backed into the brush to await developments.  He no sooner
had stopped behind a patch of scrub oak than he caught sight of Sinful
carefully picking his way across the stony ground in his socks, one hand
carrying the can, the other a pair of boots.  On his leathery face was
an expression of vast surprise and pious awe.  He seemed almost stunned,
but he was not so lost to his surroundings that he ignored a bounding,
clicking pebble which passed across his path.  Clutching can and boots
in a firmer grip, he sprinted with praiseworthy speed and agility toward
the somewhat distant railroad track.  In his wake sped Hank, an unholy
grin wreathing his face at the goatlike progress of his old friend over
the rocky ground.  To Sinful’s ears the sound of those clattering boots
spelled a determined pursuit and urged him to better efforts.  At last,
winded, a cramp in his side and his feet so tender and bruised that he
preferred to fight rather than go any farther in his socks, he dropped
the boots, drew his gun, and wheeled. At sight of Hank’s well-known and
inelegant figure a look of relief flashed over his face, swiftly
followed by a frown of deep and palpitant suspicion.

"What you mean, chasin’ me like that?" he shouted.

"Gosh!" panted Hank as he drew near.  "That was shore close!  An’ for an
old man yo’re a runnin’ fool. Jack rabbits an’ coyotes can cover ground,
but they can’t stack up ag’in’ you.  Did you see him?"

Sinful, one boot on and the other balanced in his hand, looked up.  "No,
I didn’t; did you?" he demanded, suspicion burning in his old eyes.

"Shore," answered Hank, lying with a facile ease due to much practice.
"He suddenly busted out of th’ door with a rifle in his hands an’ headed
for his sand pile.  I dusted lively, heaved th’ pebble; an’ here we
are."  He cast an apprehensive glance behind him and then sharply
admonished his friend.  "Hustle, you!  Yo’re settin’ there like there
ain’t no mad miner projectin’ around in th’ brush with a Winchester!
Think I want to git shot?"

"I reckon mebby you ought to," retorted Sinful, struggling erect and
trying each tender foot in turn.  "Stone bruises, cuts, an’ stickers,
an’ all because you git in a panic!" he growled.  "Come on, you old
fool: there’s a pool of water in th’ crick, t’other side of th’ railroad
bridge.  Yo’re too smart, you are.  Mebby yore eyes’ll pop out when you
see what’s in this here can.  Great guns, what a sight I’ve seen!"

Panning gold in a tomato can might be difficult for a novice, but
Sinful’s cunning old hands did the work speedily and well.  After
repeated refillings and mystic gyrations he carefully poured out the
last of the water and peered eagerly into the can, bumping his head
solidly against his companion’s, for Hank was as eagerly curious.

Sinful placed it reverently on the creek bank and looked at his staring
friend.

"An’ only a canful," he muttered in awe.

"Glory!" breathed Hank, and looked again to make sure.  "Nothin’ but
dust--but Good Lord!"  He packed a vile pipe with viler tobacco, lit it,
and arose.  "No wonder he grabbed his gun an’ dusted for his sand pile!
Come on, Sinful: we got a long walk ahead of us, some quick packin’ to
do, an’ a long walk back ag’in.  If we only could get a couple of mules,
we’d load ’em with three-hundred pounds apiece an’ go down th’ crick a
day’s journey.  It’d be worth it."

Sinful looked scornfully at his worrying companion and slowly arose.
"No day’s journey for me, mules or no mules," he declared, spitting
emphatically.  "I ain’t shore it would be worth it, considerin’ th’ time
an’ th’ trouble; but it’s worth pannin’ right where it is.  I’ve jumped
claims before in my life an’ I ain’t too old to jump another.  When I
looked over that bank an’ saw that wallopin’ big rock a-stickin’ up in
th’ crick bed, from bank to bank; an’ th’ ditch he’s put down on th’
upstream side, I purty near knew what th’ sand pile would show.  I’m
bettin’ he’s got _bushels_ of gold at th’ foot of that riffle.  If his
location don’t run up that far, an’ mebby it don’t, we got somethin’ to
keep us busy.  An’ if it does, we’ve mebby got more to keep us busy.
Come on, you wall-eyed ijut: we got to be gittin’ back to camp. Great
Jerus’lam!"

The marshal of Windsor, riding slowly toward town south of the railroad
track after a long detour to mask his trail, saw two scarecrows bumping
along the ties, bobbing up and down jerkily as they tried to stretch
their stride to cover two ties and repeatedly fell back to one. They
were well to the northeast of him and to his left, but he thought they
looked familiar and he pushed more to the south to remain hidden from
them while he rode ahead.  When he finally had reached a point south of
the station he turned and rode toward it, timing his arrival to coincide
with theirs.

Sinful grinned up at the smiling rider, his missing teeth only making
more prominent the few brown fangs he had left.  Two dribbles of tobacco
juice had dried at each corner of his mouth and reached downward across
his chin, giving him an appearance somewhat striking.  He mopped the
perspiration from his face by a vigorous wipe of his soiled shirt sleeve
and lifted each palpitating foot in turn.

"Been ridin’ far?" he asked in idle curiosity and in great good humor,
considering the aches in his body and the soreness of his feet.

"Oh, just around exercisin’ Oh My," answered Tex. "I thought you two was
located out on Antelope, west of town?"

"We are," replied Hank, ignoring his partner’s furtive elbow.  "Been
gettin’ sorta tired of it, though, not havin’ nothin’ to do but set
around an’ look at th’ same things. Thought we’d take a look at th’
Buffaler, south of th’ track; but it ain’t much better, though there is
some water in th’ pools.  Anyhow, Antelope’s kinda crowded. We may shift
our camp.  Jake’s out on Buffaler som’er’s, ain’t he?"

Tex nodded and glanced at the can.  "Been fishin’?"

"If we had enough bait to fill that can we’d ’a’ ate it ourselves,"
chuckled Hank.

"Naw, there ain’t no fish left now," said Sinful. "Hard-luck coffeepot,
that’s all it is.  Good as anythin’ else, an’ shore plentiful.  Punch a
hole in each side of it an’ shove in a piece of wire, an’ she’ll cook
anythin’ small.  Ain’t it hot?"

"Hot, an’ close," replied the marshal.  "Well, I reckon I’ll be gettin’
along.  Feels like rain is due ’most any time, though I don’t reckon
we’ll get any before th’ moon changes.  Still, you can’t allus tell."

"Can’t tell nothin’ about it at all, this kind of weather," observed
Hank, the can now against the other side of his body.  "But one thing’s
shore--it’s gettin’ closer every day.  So-long," and the grotesque
couple went bobbing down the track toward their own camp.

Tex looked after them, humorously shaking his head. "’It’s gettin’
closer every day,’" he mimicked.  "Shore it is.  Pair of cunning old
coyotes, an’ entirely too frank about Buffalo Creek."  Just then Sinful
leaped into the air, cracked his sore heels together and struck his
companion across the shoulders.  This display of exuberance awakened a
strong suspicion in the marshal.  "I’ll keep my eye on you two old
codgers," he soliloquized, thoughtfully feeling of the handcuffs in his
pocket. Wheeling abruptly he rode up to the station, where Jerry
grinningly awaited him.  "Let me know when those mossbacks go west,
Jerry, if you see them," he requested. "They’re too cussed innocent an’
happy to suit me.  How are things?"

Jerry shook his head.  "I’ll be cussed if I know.  But I know one thing,
and that is that I’m apologizing to you for the way Jane shut the door
in your face.  I don’t know what’s the matter with her lately."

"There’s never any tellin’ about wimmin," said Tex, smiling.  "An’ don’t
you ever apologize to anybody for anythin’ she does.  Wimmin see things
from a different angle, an’ they ain’t got a man’s defenses.  A
difference in structure is likely to be accompanied by differences in
nature, in this case notably in the more delicate balance of th’ nervous
system.  Their reactions are both more subtle an’ more extreme.  I
wasn’t insulted, but just folded my tents like th’ Arabs, an’ as
silently stole away. Which I’m now goin’ to repeat.  See you later,
mebby."

Jerry watched his visitor ride off and a puzzled frown crept over his
face.

"Wish I knew more about you, Mr. Tex Jones," he muttered.  "You’re
either as fine a human as I have seen, or the smoothest rascal: and I’m
d--d if I can tell which."

The marshal rode to his office and sought the chair outside the door,
his thoughts running back over recent events.  Blascom’s find and the
physical condition of the man naturally brought to mind Jake’s narrow
escape. The latter bothered him, notwithstanding the certainty that
Blascom would keep a good watch over the sick man. While he anxiously
ran over his scant knowledge of Jake’s illness and the remedies he had
employed, he glanced up to see Doctor Horn nervously hurrying toward
him.  The doctor, in view of what he now knew of him, became a very
interesting study for the marshal.

"Marshal!" cried the physician while yet a score of paces away,
"somebody burst down my door during my absence and took some drugs which
by their nature are not common out here and, consequently, hard to
obtain. I am formally reporting it, sir."

"Doctor," replied Tex, "when a patient comes to you for help you
naturally expect him to be frank and truthful. It is the same with a
peace officer, who endeavors to cure not the ills of a single unit of
society, but the ills of society as a whole.  Here, as in your own
field, a refractory or diseased unit may, and generally does, affect the
body of which he is a part.  So, as a social physician, I must ask of
you that frankness so valuable to a medico.  First, what drugs did you
miss?"

"Your analogy, while clever, is sophistical and is entirely
unwarranted," retorted the physician, taken somewhat aback by the words
and attitude of a "cowhand," as he contemptuously characterized
punchers.  "Leaving it out of the argument, except to say, in passing,
that your ’social physician’ does not exercise a corrective influence,
but rather a punitive one, I hardly see how the naming of the missing
drugs will give any enlightenment to a layman.  There still exists the
forcible breaking into, and the unlawful entry of, my residence."

"For purposes of identification it might be well to know the drugs that
were stolen; but I’ll waive that. What time would you say this
occurred?" asked Tex with professional interest.

"Some time yesterday," answered the physician.

"You certainly are not very specific, Doctor," commented Tex.  "I’m
afraid we must come closer to it than that.  You say you were away at
the time?"

"Yes: I did not return until quite late."

"In body or in spirit, Doctor Horn?"

"Sir, I do not understand you!" retorted the complainant, flushing
slightly and gazing with great intensity into the marshal’s eyes.

"There have been many others who did not understand me," replied Tex,
calmly rolling and lighting a cigarette.  "I’m mentioning that so you
won’t think you are an exotic variation of our large and interesting
species.  The study of man is the greatest of all, Doctor. The words
were more of a joke than anything else. Have you ever suffered from
hallucinations, Doctor? I’ve heard it said that too close confinement,
too close an application to study, and too intimate relations with
chemicals, volatile and otherwise, operate that way in these altitudes.
Hothouse gardeners, for instance, notably those engaged in raising
poppies, have slight touches of mental aberration.  You are certain that
your house was entered while you were away?"

The doctor, arms akimbo, was staring at this calm mind-reader as though
in a trance, too stunned to be insulted.

Tex continued: "The value of the missing drugs and the damage to the
door undoubtedly will be paid to you, Doctor, in a few days.  In fact, I
am so confident of that that I will pay you just damages now, taking
your receipt in return.  Do you agree with a great many people that a
physician to the body has much the same high obligations as those
belonging to a minister or a priest, who are physicians to the soul?
That his work is of a humanitarian nature before it is a matter of
remuneration; that he should hold himself fit and ready to answer calls
of distress without regard to his own bodily comfort?"

Doctor Horn still stared at him, rallying his thoughts. He nodded assent
as he groped.

"There are professional secrets, Doctor, which need not be divulged,"
continued Tex.  "I understand that you have a horse?"

The physician nodded again.

"Then use it.  I have reason to believe that a man named Jake, a miner,
who is located on the first fork of Buffalo Creek, west of town,
urgently needs your professional services.  I understand that he has
been brought back from death from alcoholic poisoning, but will be much
safer if you look at him.  Did you say you are going now?  And by the
way, before you start, let me say that the old idea of peace officers
being corrective forces, in a punitive sense only, is rapidly becoming
obsolete among the more intelligent and broader-minded men of that
class.  While punishment is undoubtedly needed as a warning to others,
the cure’s the thing, to paraphrase an old friend of mine.  Is there any
connection between the natures of the missing drugs and alcoholic
poisoning, Doctor?  But we are wasting time. This little problem can
wait.  Just now speed’s the thing. Drop around again soon, Doctor: I
always enjoy the companionship of an educated man," and the marshal,
slowly arising, bowed and entered his little office, the door softly
closing behind him.



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

                               *THE RUSH*


The marshal was leaving the hotel after breakfast the following morning
when he saw Jerry walking briskly toward him from the station and he
waited for the agent to come up.

"Those two old prospectors just passed the station, going west along the
track," Jerry informed him.  "From the way they were loaded down it
looked as though they are moving their camp.  And how men as old as they
are can carry such packs is beyond my understanding."

"Thanks, Jerry," said the marshal.  "Go back to th’ station.  I’ve got
to take a ride.  Trouble’s brewin’, I reckon."

Passing the hotel on his way to Carney’s stable, Tex saw a running miner
hurrying into it and in a moment an excited half-score of armed
prospectors poured into the street, shouting and gesticulating.  The
little crowd picked up additions as it passed along the street and
headed westward to strike the railroad at an angle.  Some of them had
partners with them and, when the tracks had been reached, quite a number
turned and ran eastward toward their camps to pack up belongings and
supplies.

"Mental telepathy?" murmured Tex, watching them in some surprise.  "Hank
and Sinful are too clever rascals to tell anybody anything of value that
they might know.  Huh!  That’s only a name, I guess, for subconscious
weighing of facts subconsciously received: instinctive deductions from
observations too vague to be definitely recognized.  Instinct, I’m
afraid you have more names than most people recognize.  But it does beat
the devil, at that!  An animal does seemingly wonderful and impossible
things because of the keenness of its scent, which passes our
understanding; birds of prey have eyes nearly telescopic in power--but
how the knowledge of this gold strike has spread about so quickly when
everyone concerned in it naturally would be secretive, is too much for
me.  One thing is certain, however: it is known, and I have work to do,
and quickly!"

Omar welcomed him and soon was stringing the miles out behind him as
smoothly almost as running water. There was no need to urge the animal
at its best speed, for it was doing two miles to the miners’ one and
easily would beat them to the scene of action.

When he reached the second fork, Blascom was not at the hut and, leading
the roan into a brush-filled hollow, the marshal took his rifle from its
scabbard and went up to the scene of the miner’s operations.  His hail
was followed by a startled crouching on the prospector’s part and a
rifle barrel leaped up to the top of the ditch.

"Don’t shoot: It’s Jones," called the marshal, slowly emerging from his
cover.  "I come up to warn you that th’ rush has started.  Hank an’
Sinful ought to get here in about half an hour, th’ others a little
behind them.  I’m aimin’ to be referee: th’ kind of a referee I once saw
at a turf prize fight: he had to jump in an’ thrash both of th’
principals--an’ he did it, too.  Get that bonanza cleaned out and cached
yet?"

Blascom swore as he stood up again.  "Yes: but nobody’s goin’ to git
_this_ without a fight!  How th’ devil did they find out I’d struck it
rich?"

"Shore this claim is staked an’ located?" demanded Tex.

"Yes; an’ there’s work enough done on it to make it stick.  But how did
they find out I’d struck it?"

"Don’t know," answered the marshal.  "You better climb out an’ go off
an’ hide somewhere in th’ brush from where yore rifle will cover th’
cache.  They’re keen as hounds an’ there’s no use takin’ chances of
losin’ th’ greater to save th’ less.  I’ll handle this end of it.  If
you hear a shot you better slip back an’ look things over. Get a rustle
on you--time’s flyin’."

In a few minutes the creek bed and the little hut appeared to be
deserted.  Blascom lay on his stomach at a point from which he could see
his cache and the ditch as well.  After a short silence there came the
sound of a snapping twig and a few minutes later Sinful’s greedy eyes
peered over the creek bank down at the big ditch. He slid a rifle over
the edge and looked around eagerly. To his side crept Hank, who added
his scrutiny to that of his partner.  Sinful spoke out of one corner of
his mouth as he gazed intently down the creek bed, where one corner of
Blascom’s hut could be seen through the scrawny timber on the little
point.  Hank nodded, crawled to the edge of the bank and was about to
slip over it when a low warning from the brush at their side froze them
both.

"Stay where you are," said a well-known voice, cold and unfriendly.
"That claim’s got one owner now, an’ he ain’t lookin’ for no partners,
a-tall.  Better shove up yore hands an’ face th’ crick.  You know
me--an’ so far you ain’t seen me miss, yet."

Tex emerged from his cover, a Colt in one hand, a pair of shining
handcuffs clinking from their short chains as they swung from the other.
Snapping one over Sinful’s wrist he curtly ordered Hank to his partner’s
side and linked the two together.  Disarming them he unloaded the
weapons, appropriated the cartridges, and searched them both to make
certain they could do him no injury.

"Sit down," he said, "an’ keep quiet.  Th’ real show is about to start.
Who all did you chumps tell about this strike?"

Hank glared at Sinful, Sinful glared at Hank, and then both glared at
their captor.  "Nobody, so strike me blind!" snapped Sinful.  "Hank
ain’t been out of my sight since we left here yesterday.  Think we’re
fools?"

"Anything but that," grimly rejoined Tex.  "Shut up, now: I want to
listen.  Any play you make that don’t suit me will call for a gun butt
bein’ bent over yore heads. If I need you, I’ll call: an’ you come
a-runnin’.  Hear me?"

"We could come faster if we was loose from each other," whispered Sinful
in bland innocence.  "Couldn’t we, Hank?"

"Can’t come fast, a-tall, hooked up this way," said Hank earnestly.

"Shut up!" snapped the marshal in a low voice.

A winged grasshopper rasped up over the bank and rasped back again
instantly.  A few birds chirped and sang across the creek bed and
chickadees flashed and darted in an endless search for food.  Several
birds shot suddenly into the air from the fringe of timber and brush on
the farther bank halfway between the ditch and the cabin, quickly
followed by vague movements along the ground.  Then more than a
half-score of men popped into sight and, leaping from the steep bank,
landed in the bed of the creek and scurried to different points, fooled
by the numerous sumps which Blascom had dug in his quest for water.
None of them had the knowledge possessed by Hank and Sinful, and the
weather conditions had been such that the ages of the various sumps
could not be quickly determined.  Each man, eager to grab a hole while
there was one left to grab, and to become established, chose a mark and
appropriated it without loss of time.  No sooner had the scurrying crowd
selected their grounds than the marshal, who had crept along the top of
the high bank, jumped over it and held two guns on them, guns which they
had good reason to respect.

"Han’s up!" he roared.  "_Pronto_ an’ high!  You-all know me--don’t
gamble!  I drop th’ first man that makes a gunplay.  _Hank!  Sinful!_"
he shouted.  "Come a-runnin’!"  Crouched, he faced the scowling crowd,
his steady hands before his hips, his steady guns ready to prove his
mastery.  The handcuffed pair, squabbling as they came, shuffled up to
him.

"You yank me any more an’ I’ll bust yore fool head!" growled Sinful to
his bosom friend.  "Just because yore laigs is longer is no reason for
playin’ kite with me! Knock-kneed old fool!  Here we are, Marshal: what
you want?"

"Hold yore han’s close," ordered Tex, his left gun slipping into its
sheath, his right becoming even more menacing.  With the free hand he
fished out the key, handed it to Hank and waited until he had made use
of it.  It went swiftly back into the pocket and the left hand again
held a gun.  "Slip around an’ take their weapons!" he snapped.  "Don’t
get between them an’ me.  Lively!"

"We ain’t goin’ to spoil yore aim, Marshal," Hank assured him with great
fervor.  "Come on, you bald-headed old buzzard--git them guns for th’
marshal!"  He gave his companion a shove forward.  "He done us a good
turn--an’ one good turn deserves another.  Come on!"

"Who you shovin’?" blazed Sinful, starting away.

"You ain’t got no right, cuttin’ in here!" shouted a red-faced, angry
miner, his companions growling and cursing their hearty endorsements.
"Yo’re a town marshal, not a county sheriff!  Turn them guns off us!"

"I got a wider range than marshal," rejoined Tex grimly and not for an
instant relaxing his alertness. "Gus Williams said so when he ’pinted
me; an’, besides, I got th’ very same authority out here as I have in
town: twelve sections of th’ Colt statutes as made an’ pervided. Blascom
has legally established his claim, drove his stakes, and done his work
on it.  When he comes he’ll p’int out his boundaries.  Hold still, you
two!  Git ’em all, Sinful; don’t overlook nothin’, Hank!  No use turnin’
this crick into a slaughter-pen."

"I ain’t likely to overlook nothin’," replied Sinful, moving more
rapidly, "though I’m shore bothered by these here cussed contraptions on
my wrist.  You’ll notice Hank unlocked _his_ end of ’em!  D--d claim
jumpers!  A man’s rights ain’t safe no more these days. Hank an’ me
shore would ’a’ planted some of this passel if they’d bothered us.  How
th’ devil did they find out about it, _I_ want to know?"

"What you reckon yo’re goin’ to do with us all?" sneered a wrathy
prospector, his hands slowly coming down toward a harmless belt.

"I’ll tell you that after I see Blascom," answered the marshal, firing a
shot into the ground.  He ordered Sinful and Hank to pile the weapons at
his feet, locked them together again and ordered them to get closer to
the rest of the miners.  The shot brought Blascom as rapidly as he could
get there with a due regard to caution.  Obeying Tex’s terse command he
slid down the bank and went to him.

"Shore yore claim takes in th’ ditch an’ th’ riffle?" asked Tex in a
whisper.

"Th’ new one does," answered Blascom.  "I sent off th’ papers with
Jerry, like you said, th’ day I got th’ dynamite."

"Th’ old one any good?"

"Not much; not much better’n day wages.  ’Tain’t no good without water;
but neither is th’ other, now."

"This crowd is fooled by yore old sumps," explained Tex hurriedly.  "If
we drive ’em off they’ll be back ag’in, an’ mebby add yore murder to th’
rest of their crimes.  I can’t stay here day an’ night; an’ if I could,
they’d get us both after dark, or at long range in daylight.  You got to
let ’em stay.  By tomorrow there’ll be twice as many.  I’m scared
some’ll come slippin’ up any minute an’ turn th’ tables on us.  You let
Sinful an’ Hank divide a quarter of th’ sand pannin’ between
’em--they’ll commit murder for half that, an’ you’ve got to have
partners in case of a rush.  Besides, rain’s due any day now, an’ you
need ’em to beat it."

"I hate like--" began Blascom stubbornly.

"We all has to do things we hate!" cut in his companion. "You can’t do
anythin’ else.  If you can, tell me quick!"

Blascom shook his head.  He could do nothing else. He turned and faced
the crowd, telling it to go ahead and stake out claims where each man
had started to, on condition that there was to be no more jumping and
that they join him in putting up a solid front against any newcomers
other than partners.  The scowls died out, heads nodded, and the hustle
and bustle began again from where it had left off.

Tex called the Siamesed pair to him and they listened, with their eyes
glowing, to Blascom’s offer of limited partnership, Hank nearly
swallowing his cud when asked if he was satisfied with the terms.
Sinful smelled a rat and looked properly suspicious, his keen old mind
racing along on the theory that no one ever gave away anything valuable.
Suddenly he grinned so expansively that a generous stream of tobacco
juice rolled down his sharp chin.

"Us three ag’in’ that gang," he mused.  "Huh!  Fair enough, _I_ says.
Hank an’ me can lick ’em by ourselves. Can’t we, Hank?"

"Shore!" promptly answered the other weather-beaten old rascal.  "We
shore kin, Sinful!"

Tex smiled at the cheerful old reprobates, bound closer together now
than ever they had been before.  "I ought to dump th’ pair of you in th’
new jail," he said, "though it shore wouldn’t get no benefit from it.
Yo’re a pair of land pirates an’ you both ought to be hung from th’
yardarm of some cottonwood tree.  Hold out yore hands till I turn you
loose.  You two youngsters want to keep th’ bargain, or I _will_ hang
you!"

"Glad to git shet of them cuffs," growled Sinful. "Hank takes sich long
steps an’ walks sideways, th’ old fool.  We’ll play square, won’t we,
Hank?  There; he said so, too.  We allus has felt kind of friendly to
Blascom, ain’t we, Hank?  Shore we has.  An’ he needs us to keep our
eyes on them blasted claim jumpers.  ’Sides, he’s a friend of yourn,
Marshal: an’ we ain’t forgettin’ them few dollars we won from you
t’other night--_are_ we, Hank?"  His shrewd old eyes baffled Tex’s
attempt to read just what he thought about the poker game.

"We ain’t!" emphatically replied Hank, spitting copiously and
vehemently.  "We’ll make these claim jumpers herd close to home; yes,
sir, by glory!"  He paused a moment and leaned nearer to his companion’s
ear. "_Won’t_ we, Sinful?" he suddenly shouted.

"Who you yowlin’ at that way?" blazed Sinful, and then his eyes popped
wide open in frank surprise. "Cussed if th’ doc ain’t got th’ fever,
too!" he ejaculated.  "Here he comes up th’ crick!  Beats all how news
does spread!  An’, great Jerus’lam: if he ain’t as sober as a watched
Puritan!"

Nodding right and left Doctor Horn rode slowly among the busy claim
jumpers and drew rein in front of Tex and his companions.

"How do you do, gentlemen?" he said, smiling.  "I see you’re quite busy,
Marshal, which seems to be a habit of yours.  I happened to have a
patient out this way, down on the lower fork, and while I was in his
vicinity I thought I would drop in and compliment Blascom for his care
of Jake.  While the efficient treatment he first received undoubtedly
saved his life, Blascom’s nursing comes in for well-earned praise.  He
is still a sick man, although out of danger.  I hope you will disregard
our former conversation, so far as my part of it is concerned, Marshal.
Good day to you all," and wheeling, he rode up a break in the creek bank
and slowly became lost to sight among the bowlders and timber.

Sinful had watched both men carefully while the doctor spoke, and now he
covertly glanced at the marshal, who was gazing after the departing
physician.  Then he looked at Blascom, and from him to his own,
disreputable partner.

"Come on, Hank," he said.  "If any of these gold thieves start swappin’
claims, we’ll play ’em a smart tune for ’em to dance to.  There’s shore
been a-plenty of lives saved on this crick plumb recent--our own, mebby,
among ’em.  An’ who do you reckon yo’re a-starin’ at?"

"You, you pore ol’ fool!" retorted Hank.  He blew out a bleached cud,
rammed in a fresh one, nodded at Blascom and the contemplative marshal,
and followed his impatient partner toward their packs and guns.

Tex slowly turned and looked after them.  "Hey, Sinful!" he called.
"You still makin’ coffee in old tin cans?  If you are, you want to watch
’em close on account of sand gettin’ in ’em!"

Sinful nudged his companion, stopped, scratched his head, and then
grinned.

"Don’t have to use ’em _now_.  We got all our traps along, an’ th’ old
coffeepot is with ’em, kivver an’ all. Anyways, _we_ don’t mind a little
sand once in awhile--_do_ we, Hank?"

"No, sir, by glory!" cried Hank.  "Not no more, we don’t, a-tall!"



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                    *"HERE LIES THE ROAD TO ROME!"*


A few nights later Tex awakened to feel his little lean-to shaking until
he feared it would collapse.  A deafening roar on the roof made an
inferno of noise, the great hailstones crashing and rolling.  Flash
after flash of vivid lightning seemed wrapped in the volleying crashes
of the thunder. A sudden shift in the hurricane-like wind drove a white
broadside against his front windows, both panes of glass seeming
spontaneously to disintegrate. Another gust overturned a freight wagon
in the road before the office and tore its tarpaulin cover from it as
though it were tied on with strings, whisking it out of sight through
the incessant lightning flashes like the instant passing of some huge
ghost.  The teamster, who saw no reason to pay for hotel beds while he
had the wagon to sleep in, went rolling up the slatted framework and
down again, bounced to his knees, and crawled frantically free, beaten
by the streaking hail and buffeted by the shrieking wind.  He was blown
solidly against the lean-to, almost constantly in the marshal’s sight
because of the continuous illumination.  Groping along the wall, he
reached the shattered window and, desperate for shelter, promptly dived
through it and rolled across the room.

Tex laughed, the sound of it lost to his own ears. "Yo’re welcome,
stranger!" he yelled.  "But I’m sayin’ yo’re some precipitate!  Better
gimme a hand to stop up that window, or she’ll blow out th’ walls and
lift off th’ roof.  Grab this table an’ we’ll up-end it ag’in th’
openin’.  I’ll prop it with th’ benches from th’ jail.  That’s right.
Ready?  Up she goes."

After no mean struggle the window was closed enough to give protection
against the raging wind, the two benches holding it securely.  Then Tex
struck a match and lit both of his lamps.

"We don’t hardly need any light, but this is a lot steadier," he
shouted, turning to look at his guest. His eyes opened wide and he
stared unbelievingly. "Good Lord, man!  You look like a slaughter-house!
Here, lemme look you over!"

The teamster, cut, bruised, and streaked with blood, held up his hand in
quick protest, shouting his reply.  "’Taint nothin’ but th’ wallerin’ I
did when th’ wagon turned over, an’ th’ beatin’ from th’ hail. I’ve seen
it worse than this, friend.  These stones are only big as hens’ aigs,
but I’ve seen ’em large as goose aigs, an’ lost three yoke of oxen from
’em. I was freightin’ in a load of supplies for a surveyin’ party, down
on th’ old Dry Route, southwest of th’ Caches.  One ox was killed, his
yokemate pounded’ senseless, an’ th’ others couldn’t stand th’ strain
an’ lit out.  I never saw ’em again.  I was under th’ wagon when they
left, which didn’t turn over till th’ hail changed into rain, an’ I
wouldn’t ’a’ poked out my head for all th’ oxen in th’ country.  This
here’s a little better than a fair prairie hail storm.  Gosh," he said,
grinning, as he glanced at the badge on his companion’s vest.  "I got
plenty of nerve, all right, bustin’ into th’ marshal’s office!  Ain’t
got any likker, have you?"

Tex handed him a full bottle and packed his pipe. The deafening crashing
of the hailstones grew less and less, a softer roar taking its place as
the rain poured down in seemingly solid sheets.  The great violence of
the wind was gone and the lightning flashed farther and farther away.

"Feel better now," said the teamster, passing the bottle to his host and
taking out his pipe.  He accepted the marshal’s sack of tobacco and
leaned back, puffing contentedly.  "Sounds a lot better, now. I’d ruther
drowned than be beat to death, any time. There won’t be a trail left
tomorrow an’ not a crick, ravine, or ditch fordable.  Some of ’em with
sand bottoms will be dangerous for three or four days. I once saw th’
Pawnee rise so quick that it was fetlock deep when I started in, an’
wagon-box deep before I could get across--an’ a hull lot wider, too, I’m
tellin’ you.  An’ yet some fools still camp in dried crick beds!"

"That’s just what I been thinkin’ about," said the marshal, a look of
worry on his face.  "Out on Buffalo Crick there’s near two dozen miners
with claims staked out on th’ dried bed.  It shore would be terrible if
this caught ’em asleep!"

"Don’t you worry, Marshal," reassured his guest, laughingly.  "Them
fellers may have claims in a crick bed, but they don’t sleep on ’em.
They know too much!"

Tex related what a hail storm had done to a trail herd one night years
before, and so they talked, reminiscence following reminiscence, until
dawn broke, dull and watery, and they started for the hotel, to rout out
the cook for hot coffee and an early breakfast.

All day it rained, but with none of the fury of the darker hours, and
for the next ten days it continued intermittently.  There was no special
news from Buffalo Creek except that it had changed its bed in several
places, and that two miners had been forced to swim for their lives.  It
was noteworthy, however, that the prospectors of the country roundabout
began to spend dust with reckless carelessness.  The hotel was well
patronized during the day, and the nights were times of great hilarity.
Drink flowed like water and old quarrels, fed by fresh fuel, added their
share of turbulence to the new ones.

Sleeping late in the mornings, the marshal was on his feet until nearly
every dawn, stopping brawls, deciding dangerous contentions, and once or
twice resorting to stern measures.  The little jail at one time was too
full for further prisoners and had forced him to resort to fines, which
brought his impartiality and honesty into question.  He had been forced
to wound two men and had been shot at from cover, all on one night.  He
grew more taciturn, grimmer, colder, wishing to avoid a killing, but
fearing that it must come or the town would turn into a drunken riot.
Then came the climax to the constantly growing lawlessness.

Busy in repairing washouts along the railroad and strengthening the
three little bridges across the creeks of his section of track, Murphy
and Costigan, reinforced by half a dozen other section-hands from points
east, who had rolled into town on their own hand car, had scarcely seen
the town for more than a week when they came in, late one Saturday
afternoon.  The extra hands were bedded at the toolshed and at Murphy’s
box car, and took their meals at Costigan’s, whose thrifty wife was glad
of the extra work for the little money it would bring her.  Well knowing
the feeling of the Middle West of that time against his race, the
section-boss cautioned his crew to avoid the town as much as they could;
but rough men are rough men, and wild blades are wild. Knowing the
wisdom in the warning did not make it sit any easier on them, added to
which was the chafing under the restraint and the galling sense of
injustice.

Sunday morning found them quiet; but Sunday noon found them restless and
resentful.  The lively noise of the town called invitingly across the
right-of-way and one of them, despite orders, departed to get a bottle
of liquor.  He drew hostile glances as he made his way to the bar in the
saloon facing the station, but bought what he wanted and went out with
it entirely unmolested.  The news he brought back was pleasing and
reassuring and discounted the weight of the section-boss’ admonitions,
and later, when the bottle had been tipped in vain and thirsts had only
been encouraged by the sops given them, some wilder soul among the crowd
arose and announced that he was going to paint the town.  There was no
argument, no holding back, and the half-dozen, laughing and singing,
sallied forth to frolic or fight as Fate decreed.

The first saloon they entered served them and let them depart unharmed
and without insult, raising their spirits and edging their determination
to enjoy what pleasures the town might have for them.  They were as good
as any men in town, and they knew it, which was right and proper; but
soon it did not satisfy them to know it: they must tell everyone they
met.  This, also, was right and proper, although hardly wise; but in the
telling there swiftly crept a fighting tone, a fighting mood, a fighting
look, and fighting words; yet they were behaving not one whit different
from the way gangs of miners had behaved since the town was built.  The
difference was sharp and sufficient: The miners had been in the town of
their friends; the section-gang was in the town of its enemies.

The half-dozen entered the hotel barroom, jostled and elbowed, jostling
and elbowing in return, their tempers smoldering and ready to burst into
flames. Calling for whiskey at the bar they drank it avidly and turned
to look over the room, where all sorts and conditions of rough men and
ready fighters were frowningly watching them.  The frowns grew deeper,
and here and there a gibe or veiled insult arose above the general
noise.  The gibes became more bitter, the insults less veiled, and
finally a huge miner, belted and armed, stood up and shouted for
silence.  Sensing trouble the crowd obeyed him, waiting with savage
eagerness to hear what he would say, to see what he would do.

"I’m goin’ to tell you a story," he cried, and forthwith made good his
promise.  It was not a parlor story by any stretch of imagination, and
it ended with St. Peter slamming shut the gates of heaven as he repeated
one of the then popular slogans of the country along the roadbeds, "No
Irish need apply."  It was not couched in language that St. Peter would
use, and suitable epithets of the teller’s own gave added weight to the
insult of the tale.  Still swearing the miner sat down, an ugly leer on
his face, while shouts, laughter, catcalls, and curses answered from
every part of the room.

"Run ’em out of town!" came a shout, which swiftly became a universal
demand.

The track-layer nearest the door, a burly, red-haired, red-faced
fighting man, leaped swiftly to the miner’s table, kicked the half-drawn
gun from his hand, and went to the floor with him.  "St. Peter will open
no doors to th’ like av ye!" he shouted. "I’m sendin’ ye to h--l,
instead!"

The bartender, fearing pistol work, whipped his own over the counter and
yelled his warning and his demand for fair play.  "I’ll drop th’ man
that draws! Let ’em have it out, man to man!"

This suited the crowd as an appetizer for what was to follow, and chairs
and tables crashed as it surged forward to better see the fight, the
five section-hands, their broad backs against the bar, forming one side
of the pushing, heaving ring, their faces set, their huge fists
clenched, in spirit taking and giving the flailing blows of the rolling
combatants, so intent, so lost in the struggle that consciousness of
their own danger gradually faded from their minds.  They had faith in
their champion and were with him, heart and soul.

The miner could fight like the graduate he was of the merciless,
ultra-brutal rough-and-tumble of the long frontier, biting, kneeing,
gouging, throttling as opportunity offered, and he was rapidly gaining
the advantage over his cleaner-fighting opponent until, breaking a
throat hold, barely escaping the fingers thrust at his eyes and a
wolflike snap of murderous jaws, the Irishman broke free, and staggered
to his feet to make a fight which best suited him.  Great gasps of
relief broke from his tense friends, their low words of advice and
encouragement coming from between set teeth.

"Steady, Mac, an’ time ’em!" whispered his nearest friend.  "He fights
like a beast--lick him like th’ man ye are.  He’s as open as a book!"

Panting, his breath whistling through his teeth, the miner scrambled to
his feet, needlessly fearing a kick as he arose, and rushed, his great
arms flaying before him as he tore in.  Met by a straight left that
caught him on the jaw a little wide of the point aimed at, he rocked
back on his heels, his knees buckling, and his arms wildly waving to
keep his balance. Before he could recover and set himself, a right
flashed in against his chest and drove him back against the ring of men
behind him.  Gasping, he bent over and threw himself at his enemy’s
thighs, missing the hold by a hair.  The Irishman retreated two swift
steps and waited until his opponent had leaped up and then, feinting
with his left at the swelling jaw, he swung his right shoulder behind a
stiffening right arm and landed clean and squarely above the brass
buckle of the cartridge belt.  The crash shook the building, for the
miner’s feet came up as he was hurled backward and he struck the floor
in a bunched heap.

The bruised and bleeding victor, filling his lungs with great gulps of
foul air, started backing toward the bar to regain his breath among his
friends, but he staggered sidewise on his course, coming too close to
the first line of the aroused crowd and one of them leaped on him, the
impact toppling him over, just as the five friends charged.  Chaos
reigned.  Shouts, curses, the stamping of feet, bellows of rage and pain
filled the dusty air with clamor as the crowd surged backward and
forward, the storm center ever nearing the door.  The valiant
half-dozen, profiting by experience, resisted all efforts to separate
them, keeping in a compact group, shoulder to shoulder, with their
rapidly recovering champion in their middle.  They had passed the end of
the bar, which had been a sturdy bulwark against their complete
encircling, and the crowd was pouring in to attack from that
once-protected side when a hatless figure leaped through the deserted
rear door, bounded onto the long bar without changing his stride, dashed
along it and jumped, feet first straight at the heads bobbing nearest to
the stout-hearted six.  It was Costigan who, not finding Murphy, was
acting on his own initiative and according to his lights.  In his hand
was a broken mattock handle and under its raining blows an opening
rapidly grew in the crowd.  Had he been given arm room, where his full
strength could have been used, Boot Hill would have reaped a harvest.
Audacity, that Audacity which is the fairest child of Courage, the total
unexpectedness of his hurtling, spectacular attack won more for him and
his friends than the deadly effectiveness of the hickory handle.  The
astonished crowd drew back in momentary confusion and Costigan, cursing
at the top of his panting lungs, shoved the nearly exhausted handful
through the door and into the street.  As the last man staggered through
and pitched to the ground, the club wielder leaped to the door, barring
it with his body.  He was about to tell the crowd what he thought of it
when the situation changed again.

A hand clutched his shirt collar and yanked him back and he went
striking with the club as he sprawled beside a battered friend.  The
change had been so sudden and the crowd just recovering from its
surprise at Costigan’s flaying attack that it looked like magic. One
instant a red-shirted Irishman, his clothing torn into shreds, lovingly
balancing his favorite weapon; the next, a calm, cold-faced,
blue-shirted, leather-chapped gunman, bending eagerly forward behind the
pair of out-thrust Colts, his thumbs holding back swift death in each
hand.

"The devil!" growled a miner.

"Aye!" snapped Tex.  "An’ I’ll find work for idle hands to do!  _Why do
you stop and turn away?  Here lies th’ road to Rome!_" he laughed,
exultantly, sneeringly, insultingly; and never had they heard a laugh so
deadly.  It chilled where words might have inflamed.  There was not a
man who did not shrink instinctively, for before him stood a killer if
ever he had seen one.

"I only got twelve handy--which dozen of you want to open th’ way for
th’ rest?" asked the marshal. His quick eye caught a furtive movement in
the crowd and the roar of his flaming Colt jarred the room.  The
offender-pitched forward before the paralyzed front line, rocking to and
fro in his pain.  "Th’ next man dies!" snapped the marshal, his deadly
intent fully revealed by his face.

The crowd gazed at impersonal Death, balanced in the two firm hands.
They saw no hesitancy reflected between the narrowed lids of those
calculating eyes, no qualifying expression on that granite face; and
they were standing where Bud Haines had stood, facing the man he had
faced.  A restless surge set the mass milling, those behind pushing
those in front, those in front frantically pushing back those behind.
Tense and dangerous as the situation was, a verse of an immortal
fighting poem leaped to the marshal’s mind and a sneering smile flashed
over his face.  _Was none who would be foremost to lead such dire
attack; but those behind cried "Forward!"  And those before cried
"Back!_"  He seemed to tense even more, like some huge, deadly spider
about to spring, and his clearly enunciated warning, low as it was
spoken, reached the ears of every man in the room.  "Go back to yore
tables, like you was before."

The surge grew and spread, split following split, until the dragging
rearguard sullenly followed its companions.  The dynamic figure in the
door slowly forsook its crouch, arising to full height.  The left-hand
gun grudgingly slid into its sheath, reluctantly followed by its more
deadly mate.  Casting a final, contemptuous look at the embarrassed
crowd, each unit of it singled out in turn and silently challenged, the
marshal shoved his hands into his pockets, turned his back on them with
insolent deliberation and stepped to the street, where a bloody,
battered group of seven had waited to back him up if it should be
needed.

"Yer a man after me own--" began Costigan thickly between swollen lips,
but he was cut short.

"That’ll keep.  Take these fellers back where they belong, an’ _keep_
’em there," snapped Tex, the fighting fire still blazing in his soul.
He watched them depart, proud of every one of them; and when they had
reached the station he wheeled and went back into the hotel, had a
slowly sipped drink, nodded to his acquaintances as though nothing out
of the ordinary had occurred, and then sauntered out again without a
backward glance, turning to go to the station.

When he reached the building he stopped and looked toward the toolshed
where Murphy, just back from a run of inspection up the line, and
Costigan, had turned the corner of the shed and stopped to renew their
argument, which must have been warm and personal, judging from their
motions.  Finally Costigan, looking for all the world like a scarecrow,
hitched up what remained of his trousers, squared his shoulders, and
limped determinedly toward his little cottage, glancing neither to the
right nor to the left. Murphy, hands on hips, gazed after him, nodded
his head sharply, and was about to enter the shed when he caught sight
of the motionless two-gun man.  Snapping his fingers in sudden decision,
he started toward his capable friend, his frame of mind plainly shown by
the way his stride easily took two ties at once.

"God loves th’ Irish, or ’twould be diggin’ graves we’d now be doin’,"
he said.  "An’ me away!  But they’ll be mindin’ their P’s an’ Q’s after
this.  I was goin’ to skin Costigan, but how could I after I learned
what he did?  It ain’t th’ first time he’s tied my hands by th’ quality
av his fightin’.  But ’twas well ye took cards, an’ ’twas well ye played
’em, Tex."

"I have due respect for Costigan, but if he leaves th’ railroad property
he’ll lose it quick," replied the marshal.  "I turned that mob into a
mop, but there’s no tellin’ what might happen one of these nights.  Tim,
I wish his family was out of town.  It’s no place for wimmin an’
children these days, not with ten marshals. I can’t be everywhere at
once, an’ I’m watchin’ one house now more than I ought to."

"They’re leavin’ on tomorry’s train east," said Murphy, breathing a sigh
of relief.  "I’ve Mike’s word for it, an’ if he can’t get ’em to go
without him, then he’s goin’ with ’em, superintendent or no
superintendent! I’m sorry that it’s my fault that ye had th’ trouble,
Tex; I should ’a’ stayed close to them d--d fools."

"There’s no harm done, Tim, as it turned out.  It was comin’ to a
show-down, gettin’ nearer an’ nearer every day.  Now that it’s over th’
town will be quiet for a day or two.  I know of marshals who were paid
from eight hundred to a thousand dollars a month--I’m admittin’ that
I’ve earned my hundred in just about five minutes today.  For about
fifteen seconds th’ job was worth a hundred dollars a second--it was a
close call."

"But look at th’ honor av it," chuckled Murphy. "It’s marshal av Windsor
ye are, Tex--an’ ye have yer Tower, as well!"

Tex laughed, glanced over the straggling town from Costigan’s cottage to
another at the other end of the street.  "I’m not complainin’.  I’m only
contrastin’ and showin’ that Williams didn’t pull any wool over my eyes
when he offered me my princely salary.  I agreed to it, and I’m paid
enough, under th’ circumstances."

"Aye," said Murphy, following his friend’s glance, a sudden smile
banishing his anxious frown.  "Money ain’t everythin’.  Perhaps yo’re
not paid much now, Tex--but later, who can tell?"



                             *CHAPTER XIX*

                           *A LECTURE WASTED*


That evening Tex had a caller in the person of Henry Williams, who
seemed to be carrying quite a load of suspicion and responsibility.  He
nodded sourly, and nonchalantly seated himself on a chair at the other
side of the door.  His troubled mind was not hidden from the marshal,
who could read surface indications of a psychological nature as well as
any man in the West.  No small part of his poker skill was built upon
that ability.  Should he lead his visitor by easy and natural stages to
unburden himself; make a hearty, blunt opening, or make him blurt out
his thoughts and go on the defensive at once?  Having anything but
respect and liking for the vicious nephew, he determined to make him as
uncomfortable as possible.  So he paid him the courtesy of a glance and
resumed his apparently deep cogitations.

Henry waited for a few minutes, studying the ground and the front of his
uncle’s store and then coughed impatiently.

’"Tis that," responded Tex abstractedly; "but hot, an’ close.  I was
thinkin’," he said, definitely.

Henry looked up inquiringly: "Yes?"

"Yes," said the marshal gravely.  "I was."  His tone repulsed any
comment and he kept on thinking from where he had left off.

Henry shifted on the chair and recrossed his legs, one foot starting to
swing gently to and fro.  To put himself _en rapport_ with his
forbidding companion, he too, began thinking; or at least he simulated a
thinker. The swinging foot stopped, jiggled up and down a few times, and
began swinging more energetically.  Soon he began drumming on the chair
with the fingers of one hand.  Presently he shifted his position again,
recrossed his legs, grunted, and drummed alternately with the fingers of
both hands.  Then they drummed in unison, the nails of one set clicking
with the rolling of the pads of the fingers of the other hand.  Then he
puckered his lips and began to whistle.

"Don’t do that!" snapped Tex, and returned to his cogitations.

"What?  Which?" asked Henry, starting.

"That!" exploded the marshal savagely and lapsed into intense
concentration.

Henry’s lips straightened and he looked down at the drumming fingers,
and stopped them.  Squirming on the chair, he uncrossed his legs and
pushed them out before him, intently regarding the two rounded groves in
the dust made by his high heels.  Then he glanced covertly at his
frowning companion, cleared his throat tentatively, and became quiet as
the frown changed into a scowl.

The marshal thought that his visitor must have something important on
his mind, something needing tact and velvety handling.  Otherwise he
would have become discouraged by this time and left.  Was it about Jane?
That would be the natural supposition, but he slowly abandoned it.
Henry never had shown any timidity when speaking about her.  It must be
something concerning the riot in the hotel.

"I say it can’t be nothin’ else!" fiercely muttered the marshal, his
chair dropping solidly to all fours as he rammed a fist into an open
palm.  "No, sir!  It _can’t!_" He glared at his companion.  "What did
you say?"

"Huh?" demanded Henry, his chair also dropping to all fours because of
the impetus it had received from his sudden start.  "What for?" he asked
inanely.

"What for what?" growled Tex accusingly.  "Who said: ’What for’?"

"I did: I just wanted to know," hastily explained Henry in frank amity.

"That’s what you said!" retorted Tex, leaning tensely toward him; "but
what did you mean?" he demanded.

"What you talkin’ about?" queried Henry, truly and sincerely wondering.

"Don’t you try to fool me!" warned Tex.  "Don’t pretend you don’t know!
An’ let me tell you this. You are wrong, like th’ ministers an’ all th’
rest of th’ theologians.  That’s th’ truest hypothesis man ever
postulated.  It proves itself, I tell you!  From th’ diffused,
homogeneous, gaseous state, whirlin’ because of molecular attraction,
into a constantly more compact, matter state, constantly becomin’ more
heterogeneous as pressure varies an’ causes a variable temperature of
th’ mass.  Integration an’ heterogeneity! From th’ cold of th’ diffused
gases to th’ terrific heat generated by their pressure toward th’ common
center of attraction.  Can’t you see it, man?"

Henry’s mouth remained open and inarticulate.

"You won’t answer, like all th’ rest!" accused Tex. "An’ what heat!  One
huge molten ball, changing th’ force of th’ planets nearest, shifting
th’ universal balance to new adjustments.  ’Equilibrium!’ demands
Nature.  An’ so th’ struggle goes on, ever tryin’ to gain it, an’ allus
makin’ new equilibriums necessary, like a dog chasin’ a flea on th’ end
of his spine.  Six days an’ a breathin’ space!" he jeered.  "Six
trillion years, more likely, an’ no time for breathin’ spaces! What you
got to say to that, hey?  Answer me this: What form of force does th’
integration postulate? Centrifugal?  Hah!" he cried.  "You thought you
had me there, didn’t you?  No, sir; not centrifugal--centripetal!
Integration--centripetal!  Gravity proves it.  Centrifugal is th’
destroyer, th’ maker of satellites--not th’ builder!  Bah!" he grunted.
"You can’t disprove a word of it!  Try it--just try it!"

Henry shook his head slowly, drew a deep breath and sought a more
comfortable position.  "These here chairs are hard, ain’t they?" he
remarked, feeling that he had to say something.  Surely it was safe to
say that.

Tex leaped to his feet and scowled down at him. "Evadin’, are you?" he
demanded.  Then his voice changed and he placed a kindly hand on his
companion’s shoulder.  "There ain’t no use tryin’ to refute it,
Hennery," he said.  "It can’t be done--no, sir--it can’t be done.  Don’t
you ever argue with me again about this, Hennery--it only leads us
nowhere.  Was it Archimedes who said he could move th’ earth if he only
had some place to stand?  He wasn’t goin’ to try to lift himself by his
boot straps, was he, th’ old fox? That’s th’ trouble, Hennery: after all
is said we still got to find some place to stand."  He glanced over
Henry’s head to see Doctor Horn smiling at him and he wondered how much
of his heavy lecture the physician had heard.  Had he expected an
educated man to be an auditor he would have been more careful. "That was
th’ greatest hypothesis of all--the hypothesis of Laplace--it answered
th’ supposedly unanswerable.  Science was no longer on th’ defensive,
Hennery," he summed up for the newcomer’s benefit.

"Truly said!" beamed the doctor, getting a little excited.  "In proof of
its mechanical possibility Doctor Plateau demonstrated, with whirling
water, that it was not a possibility, but a fact.  The nebular
hypothesis is more and more accepted as time goes on, by all thinking
men who have no personal reasons strong enough to make them oppose it."
He clapped the stunned Henry on the back.  "Trot out your refutations
and the marshal and I will knock them off their pins!  Bring on your
theologians, your special-creation adherents, and we’ll pulverize them
under the pestle of cold reason in the mortar of truth!  But I never
thought you were interested in such beautiful abstractions, Henry; I
never dreamed that inductive and deductive reasoning, confined to purely
scientific questions appealed to you.  What needless loneliness I have
suffered; what opportunities I have missed; what a dearth of
intellectual exercise, and all because I took for granted that no one in
this town was competent to discuss either side of such subjects.  But
he’s got you with Laplace, Henry; got you hard and fast, if you hold to
the tenets of special creation.  Now that there are two of us against
you, I’ll warrant you a rough passage, my friend.  ’Come, let’s e’en at
it!’  We’ll give you the floor, Henry--and here’s where I really enjoy
myself for the first time in three weary, dreary years.  We’ll rout your
generalities with specific facts; we’ll refute your ambiguities with
precisions; we’ll destroy your mythological conceptions with rational
conceptions; your symbolical conceptions with actual conceptions; your
foundation of faith by showing the genesis of that faith--couch your
lance, but look to yourself, for you see before your ill-sorted array a
Roman legion--short swords and a flexible line.  Its centurions are
geology, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and mathematics.
Nothing taken for granted there!  No pious hopes, but solid facts,
proved and re-proved.  Come on, Henry--proceed to your Waterloo!
Special creation indeed!  Comparative anatomy, single-handed, will prove
it false!"

"My G--d!" muttered Henry, forgetting his mission entirely.  His head
whirled, his feet were slipping so rapidly that he did not know where he
was going. He stared, open-mouthed at Doctor Horn, dumbly at the
marshal, got up, sat down, and then slumped back against his chair,
helpless, hopeless, fearing the worst. Over his head hurled words he
thought to be foreign, as his companions, having annihilated him, were
performing evolutions and exercises of their verbal arms for the sheer
joy of it.  Finally, despairing of the lecture ever ending, he arose to
escape, but was pushed back again by the excited, exultant doctor.
Daylight faded, twilight passed, and it was not until darkness descended
that the doctor, finding no opposition, but hearty accord instead, tired
of the sound of his own voice and that of the marshal, and after profuse
expressions of friendship and pleasure, departed, his head high, his
shoulders squared, and his tread firm and militant.

Henry’s sigh of relief sounded like the exhaust of an engine and he
shifted again on the chair and tried to collect his scattered senses.
Before he could get started the marshal sent him off on a new track, and
his unspoken queries remained unspoken for another period.

"Seen Miss Saunders yet?" asked Tex, struggling hard to conceal his
laughter.

Henry shook his head.  "No; but I ain’t goin’ to wait much longer.  I
don’t see no signs of her weakenin’, an’ that C Bar puncher is gittin’
too cussed common around her house.  For a peso I’d toss him in th’
discard.  I reckon yore way ain’t no good with her, Marshal.  I got to
do somethin’--got to get some action."

"I know about how you feel," sympathized Tex. "I know how hard it is to
set quiet an’ wait in a thing like this, Hennery, even if action does
lose th’ game. Who was it you aimed to have perform th’ ceremony?"

"Oh, there’s a pilot down to Willow--one of them roamin’ preachers that
reckons he’s found a place where he can stick.  He’ll come up here if
th’ pay’s big enough, an’ if I want any preacher.  He’ll only have to
stay over one night to git a train back ag’in. Anyhow, if we has to wait
a day or two it won’t make much difference, as long as we’re goin’ to
git hitched afterward."

Tex closed his eyes and waited to get a good hold on himself before
replying.  "He’ll come for Gus, all right," he said.  "Think you can
hold out a few days more--just to see if my way will work?  It’ll be
better, all around, if you do.  Where was you aimin’ to buy them
presents for her?"

"Kansas City or St. Louie--reckon St. Louie will be better.  Gus gets
most of his supplies from there. You still thinkin’ stockin’s is th’
proper idea?"

Tex cogitated a moment.  "No; they’re a little embarrassin’: better try
gloves.  I’ll find out th’ size from her brother.  Nice, long white
gloves for th’ weddin’--an’ mebby a nice shawl to go with ’em--Cashmere,
with a long fringe.  They’re better than stockin’s.  You send for ’em
an’ wait till they come before you go around.  You shouldn’t go
empty-handed on a visit like that.  An’ you want th’ minister with you
when you go after her--you can leave him outside till he’s needed.
Folks’ll talk, an’ make trouble for you later.  There’s tight rules for
weddin’s; very tight rules.  You don’t want nobody pokin’ their fingers
at yore wife, Hennery.  It’ll shore mean a killin’, some day."

"I ain’t so cussed anxious to git married," growled Henry.  "It’s hard
to git loose ag’in--but I reckon mebby I better go through with it."

"I--reckon--you--had," whispered Tex, his vision clouding for a moment.
He grew strangely quiet, as though he had been mesmerized.

"A man can allus light out if he gits tired of it," reflected Henry
complacently.

The marshal arose and paced up and down, thankful for the darkness,
which hid the look of murder graven on his face.  "Yes," he acquiesced;
"a man--allus--can--do--that."  This conversation was torturing him.
Anything would be a relief, and he threw away the results of all his
former talking.  "What was on yore mind when you come down to see me
today?"

"Oh!" exclaimed his companion a little nervously. "I plumb forgot all
about it.  You see," he hesitated, shifting again on the chair, "well,
it’s like this.  Us boys admires th’ way you handled things in th’ hotel
this afternoon, but somebody might ’a’ been killed. ’Tain’t fair to let
a passel of Irish run this town--an’ they started th’ fight, anyhow.
Th’ big Mick kicked Jordan’s gun out of his hand an’ jumped on him. Then
th’ others piled in, an’ th’ show begun.  We sort of been thinkin’ that
th’ marshal ought to back up his town ag’in’ them foreigners.  Gus is
mad about it--an’ he’s bad when he gits his back up.  He thinks we ought
to go down to th’ railroad an’ run them Micks out of town on some sharp
rails, beatin’ ’em up first so they won’t come back.  Th’ boys kinda
cotton to that idea.  They’re gettin’ restless an’ hard to hold. I
thought I’d find out what side yo’re on."

Tex stopped his pacing, alert as a panther.  "I ain’t on no side but law
an’ order," he slowly replied. "I told that section-gang to stay on th’
right-of-way. They’re leavin’ town early tomorrow mornin’, an’ may not
come back.  A mob’s a bad thing, Hennery: there’s no tellin’ where it’ll
stop.  Most of ’em will be full of likker, an’ a drunken mob likes
bright fires. Let ’em fire one shack an’ th’ whole town will go: hotel,
Mecca, an’ all.  It’s yore best play to hold ’em down, or you an’ yore
uncle will shore lose a lot of money.  Th’ right-of-way is th’ dead
line: I’ll hold it ag’in’ either side as long as I can pull a trigger.
You hold ’em back, Hennery; an’ if you can’t, don’t you get out in th’
front line--stay well behind!"

"Mob’s do get excited," conceded Henry, thoughtfully. "Reckon I’ll go
see what Gus thinks about it. See you later."

Tex watched him walk away, silhouetted against the faintly illuminated
store windows, and as the door slammed behind him the marshal shifted
his heavy belts and went slowly up the street and into the hotel, where
he received a cold welcome.  Seeing that the room was fairly well
crowded, accounting for most of the men in town and all of the afternoon
crowd, he sat in a corner from where he could see both doors and
everything going on.

In a few minutes Gus Williams and Henry entered and began mixing with
the crowd, which steadily grew more quiet, but more sullen, like some
wild beast held back from its prey.  Henry sat at one table, surrounded
by his closest friends, while his uncle held court at another.  The
nephew was drinking steadily and his glances at the quiet marshal became
more and more suspicious.  Around midnight, the temper of the crowd
suiting him, Tex arose and went down the street toward his office,
passed around it and circled back over the uneven plain, silently
reaching the railroad near the box car.

Murphy quietly crept out of his bunk, gun in hand, and slipped to the
door, pressing his ear against it. Again the drumming of the fingers
sounded, but after what had occurred earlier in the day he wanted more
than a tapping before he opened the door or betrayed his presence in the
car.  Soon he heard his name softly called and recognized the voice.  As
quietly as he could, he slid back the door and peered into the caller’s
face from behind a leveled gun.

"Don’t let that go off," chuckled Tex, stepping inside.  "Close th’
door, Tim."

Murphy obeyed and felt his way to his visitor and they held a
conversation which lasted for an hour. Tex’s plans of action in certain
contingencies were more than acceptable to the section-boss and he went
over them until he was letter-perfect.  To every question he gave an
answer pleasing to the marshal and when the latter left to go up and
guard the toolshed and its inmates he felt more genuine relief than he
had known since he had become actively engaged in the town’s activities.
Things were rapidly approaching a crisis and the knowledge had filled
him with dread; now let it come--he was ready to meet it.

Silently he chose a position against the railroad embankment close to
the toolshed and here he remained until dawn.  Murphy and Costigan
passed him in the darkness on a nearly silent hand car, going west, but
did not see him; and he did not know that they had returned until the
sky paled.  For some time he had heard a bustling in the building, and
just as he was ready to leave he saw the section-gang roll out their own
hand car and go rumbling up the line toward Scrub Oak.



                              *CHAPTER XX*

                              *PLANS AWRY*


For the next few days a tense equilibrium was maintained in the town,
the marshal, grim, alert, and practically ostracized by nine-tenths of
the population.  He could feel the veiled hostility whenever he went up
and down the street, and silence fell abruptly on groups of men
conversing here and there whenever he was seen approaching.  Hostile
glances, sullen faces, shrugging shoulders greeted him on every side,
and he felt more relieved than ever when he reviewed his arrangements
with the section-boss.

Henry Williams was growing openly suspicious of him, impatiently
awaiting the arrival of the presents from St. Louis, which he had
ordered through Jerry’s telegraph key, and he was drinking more and more
and keeping more and more to himself, his only company being two men
whom Tex had been watching since the death of Bud Haines.  The marshal
felt that with the coming of the presents trouble would begin, and he
had asked Jerry to keep a watch for them, and let him know the moment
they arrived.  Fate tricked him here, for when they did come they were
packed in a large consignment of goods for Gus Williams, and since he
regularly was receiving shipments there was nothing to indicate to the
station agent that Henry’s gifts had passed through his hands.

Henry’s suspicions of the marshal were cumulative rather than sudden.
Never very confident about what Tex really thought and what he might do,
certain vague memories of looks and of ambiguous words and actions
recurred to the nephew.  He was beginning to believe that the marshal
would shoot him down like a dog if he pressed the issue as he intended
to press it in regard to Jane Saunders, and he was determined that Tex
should have no opportunity to go to her defense.  Several methods of
eliminating the disturbing marshal presented themselves to the
coyote-cunning mind of the would-be lover.  He could be shot from cover
as he moved about in his flimsy office, or as he slept.  He could walk
into a rifle bullet as he opened his door some morning, or he could be
decoyed up to Blascom’s while Henry’s plans went through. This last
would taste sweeter in the public mouth than a coldly planned murder,
but on the other hand the return of the marshal might end in cyclonic
action. There was no doubt about Tex’s feelings in regard to killing
when he felt it to be necessary or justified.  He would kill with no
more compunction than a wolf would show.  Then from the mutterings of
rebellion and the sullen looks of discontent among the hotel habitues a
plan leaped into the nephew’s mind.  It solved every objectionable
feature of the other schemes; and Henry forthwith went to work.

The nephew was no occult mystery to a man like the marshal, who almost
could see the mental wheels turning in any man like him.  Tex was
preparing for eventualities and part of the preparation was the buying
of a pint flask of whiskey from Carney--a bottle locally regarded as
pocket-size.  When night fell he emptied into the liquor a carefully
computed amount of chloral hydrate, recorked it, shook it well, and
placed it among sundry odds and ends in a corner of the office, where it
would be overlooked by any thirsty caller, whose glance was certain to
notice the bottle of whiskey in plain sight on a shelf.  Against the
consciousness of sixteen men that innocent-looking flask would tip the
scales to its own side with an emphasis; and the marshal not only knew
the proper dose for horses but also how to shove it down their throats
with practiced ease and swiftness.  Buck Peters had paid him no mean
compliment when he had said that Tex could dose a horse more expertly
than any man he ever had known.  Having put all of his weapons in order
he marked time, awaiting the pleasure of the enemy.

He did not have long to wait.  To be specific he waited two days more,
which interval brought time around to the last day on the calendar for
that month, the day which railroad regulations proclaimed to be the
occasion for making out sundry and numerous reports, a job that kept
many a station agent writing and figuring most of the night.  Having
sense and imagination, the agent at Windsor did what he could of this
work from day to day and as a consequence saved himself from a long,
high-tension job at the last minute; but he did not have imagination
enough to know that a packing-case of formidable dimensions which he had
received that noon from the west-bound train and later saw hauled to the
Mecca, held the watched-for gifts that Henry Williams would eagerly
present to Jane.

Contemptuous of any interference that Jerry might make in a physical
sense, Henry nevertheless preferred to have him absent when he made his
determined attempt.  The brother doubtless would have great influence on
Jane by his protests, and that would necessitate drastic measures which
only would make the matter worse.  If Jerry were detained by force,
injured, or killed to keep him from the house it would cause a great
deal of unpleasantness, from a domestic standpoint, to run through the
years to come.  There was only one night a month when the agent remained
away from his house for any length of time, and this must be the night
for the action to be carried through.

The mob was being slowly, but surely, inflamed by the nephew and his two
friends, its anger directed against Murphy and Costigan since the
section-gang had not returned to town.  The section-boss and his friend
came in every night while they worked along Buffalo Creek, and were
careful not to give any excuse for a hostile demonstration against them.
They were even less conspicuous because they walked in instead of
rolling home on the hand car.  But on this last night of the month the
whole crew, rebelliously disobeying orders, came in on their crowded
hand car, much to Henry’s poorly concealed delight, and to Tex’s rage.
Murphy had promised otherwise.

Here was oil for the flames Henry had set burning! Here was success with
a capital letter!  The mob now would surely attack, divert Jerry’s
attention, and perhaps rid the town of its official nuisance.  He would
act on the marshal’s kindly warning, for he would not be in the front
rank of the mob; in fact, he would not be with the mob at all.  He had
other work to do.

The sudden look of joyous expectation, so poorly disguised, on Henry’s
face acted on Tex like the warning whirr of an angry rattlesnake and he
quietly cleaned and oiled his guns, broke out a fresh box of cartridges,
and dumped them into his right-hand pocket.  The remaining
chloral-filled shells he slipped in the pocket of his chaps.  Shaking up
the flask of whiskey to make certain of the crystals being dissolved and
the drug evenly distributed throughout the fluid, he hid it again and,
seating himself in his favorite place, awaited the opening number.

Darkness had just closed down when Tommy loped in from the ranch and
stopped to say a few careless, friendly words, but he never uttered
them, for the marshal’s instructions were snapping forth before the C
Bar rider could open his mouth.

"This is no time for pleasantries!" said Tex in a voice low and tense.
"Turn around, ride back a way, circle around th’ town an’ leave yore
cayuse a couple of hundred yards from Murphy’s box car.  Tell him
trouble’s brewin’ an’ to look sharp.  Then you head for her house,
actin’ as cautious, an’ go up to it on foot, an’ as secretly as you know
how.  Lay low, outside.  Don’t show yourself at all--a man in th’ dark
will be worth five in th’ light tonight.  Stay there no matter what you
hear in town.  If she should see you, on yore life don’t let her think
there’s any danger--on yore life, Tommy!  Mebby there ain’t, but there’s
no tellin’ what drunken beast will remember that there’s a woman close
at hand.  You stay there till daylight, or till I relieve you.
Get-a-goin’--an’ good luck!"

Tommy carried out his orders, gave Murphy the warning, and was gone
again before the big Irishman, seething with rage at his crew’s
disobedience, could say more than a few words.  Murphy had been forced
to construct a plan of his own, and he wished to get word of it to the
marshal’s ears.  Tommy having left so quickly, he could not send it.
Convincing himself that it was not really necessary for the marshal to
be told of it, and savagely pleased by the surprise in store for him and
every man in town, the section-boss went ahead on his own initiative.
Going to the toolshed he went in, frowning at the thoroughly cowed and
humbled crew, blew out the lamps and with hearty curses ordered the gang
to put their car on the rails and to start east for the next town.

"Roll her softly, by hand, till ye get out av th’ hearin’ av this
hell-town, an’ then board her, an’ put yore weight on th’ handles," he
commanded.  "An’ don’t ye come back till I send for ye.  Costigan an’ me
are plannin’ work for ourselves an’ will not go with ye.  Lively,
now--an’ no back talk.  A lot depends on yer doin’ as yer told.  One
more order disobeyed an’ I’ll brain th’ pack av ye with a crowbar.
Ye’ve raised h--l enough this night.  Now git out av here, an’ mind what
I’ve told ye!"

The orders quickly obeyed and the car quietly placed on the rails, the
gang went into the night as silently as bootless feet would take them,
pushing the well-greased car ahead of them, and as gently as though it
were loaded with nitro-glycerin.  When far enough away not to be heard
by anyone in town, they put on their boots, climbed aboard, and sent
their conveyance along at an ordinary rate of speed. They hated to
desert their two countrymen, and began to talk about it.  Finally they
made up their minds that Murphy’s orders, in view of their recent
disobedience, were to be followed, and with hearty accord they sent the
car rolling on again, the greater part of the grades in their favor,
toward the next town. The distance was nothing to become excited about
with six husky men at the handles to pump off the miles.

Up at the station a single light burned in the little office where Jerry
worked at his reports.  Outside the building in the darkness Murphy lay
on his stomach in a tuft of weeds, a rifle in his hand, and a Colt
beside him on the ground.  Within easy reach of his right hand lay a
coatful of rocks culled from the road-bed, no mean weapons against
figures silhouetted by the lamp-lighted windows of the buildings facing
the right-of-way; and close to them were half a dozen dynamite
cartridges, their wicked black fuses capped and inserted.  Tim Murphy,
like Napoleon, put his trust in heavy artillery.

Costigan was nowhere to be seen.  Down the track lights shone under the
cracks of the doors of the tool-shed and the box-car habitation of the
section-boss, and one curtained window of Costigan’s rented cottage
glowed dully against the night.  Crickets shrilled and locusts fiddled,
and there were no signs of impending danger.

In the hotel the tables were filled with lowly conversing miners in
groups, each man leaning far forward, elbows on the table, his shoulders
nearly touching those on either side.  Gus Williams and his closest
friends had pulled two tables together and made a group larger than the
others.  Henry and his two now inseparable companions were at a table
near the back door, talking earnestly with Jake, who by this time had
recovered from his recent sickness.  The Buffalo Creek miner was quieter
and more thoughtful than he had been before Blascom had nearly killed
him, and his mind for several days had been the battle ground of a
fiercely fought struggle between contending emotions, which still raged,
but in a lesser intensity.  He listened without comment to what was
being said to him, swayed first one way and then another. His last glass
of liquor was untasted, which was something of no moment to Henry’s
whiskey-dulled mind. Finally Jake nodded, tossed off the drink with a
gesture of quick determination, hitched up his cartridge belt and,
forgetting his sombrero on the floor, arose and slipped quietly out of
the door.  As he left, another man, peremptorily waved into the vacated
chair, also listened to instructions and also slipped out through the
rear door.  He set his course toward the right-of-way, whereas Jake had
gone in the other direction, toward Carney’s saloon and the marshal’s
office.

The last man stopped when even with the line of shacks facing the
railroad, noted the dully glowing shade in Costigan’s house, the yellow
strips of light around the rough board shutters of the box car, and the
broader yellow band under the toolshed door. Satisfied by his inspection
he slipped back the way he had come and made his report to Henry.

Jake crept with infinite caution toward the marshal’s office, but when
nearly to it he paused as the battle in his mind raged with a sudden
burst of fury. The marshal had humbled him in sight of his friends and
acquaintances and had boasted of worse to follow if his victim forced
the issue; the marshal had saved his life in the little hut on the lower
fork, laboring all night with him.  Doctor Horn had said so, and
Blascom, playing nurse at the marshal’s request, had endorsed the
doctor.

Ahead of him, plain to his sight, was the marshal’s side window, its
flimsy curtain tightly drawn; and silhouetted against it were the hatted
head and the shoulders of the man he had been sent to kill.  Again he
crept forward, the Colt gripped tightly in his right hand.  Foot by foot
he advanced, but stopping more frequently to argue with himself.  A few
yards more and the mark could not be missed.  He, himself, was safe from
any answering fire.  A heavy curse rumbled in his throat and he stopped
again.  He fought fair, as far as he knew the meaning of the term in its
generally accepted definition among men of his kind.  He never had
knifed or shot a man from behind, and he was not going to do it now,
especially a man who had no reason to save his sotted life, but who had
done so without pausing.  Jake arose, jammed the gun back into its
holster and walked briskly to the door of the flimsy little office,
which he found locked against him. He knocked and listened, but heard
nothing.  Again he knocked and listened and still there was no answer.

"Marshal!" he called in a rasping, loud whisper. "Marshal!  Git away
from that d--d window: th’ next man won’t be one that owes you for his
life. I’m goin’ back to Buffaler Crick.  Look out for yoreself!" and he
made good his words, striding off into the dark.

Back of the hotel, lying prone behind a pile of bleached and warped
lumber, the marshal watched the rear door.  He saw Jake leave,
recognizing the man in the light of the opening door by certain
peculiarities of carriage and manner.  He smiled grimly when the man
turned toward the north, and he waited for the sound of the shot which
would drill the window, the shade, and the old shirt hanging on the back
of a chair.  He wondered if the rolled-up blanket, fastened to the
broken broom handle, which made the head and held Carney’s old sombrero,
would fall with the impact.  Then the door opened again and the second
man hurried out, turning to the south.  He came back shortly, left the
door open behind him and with his return Henry’s voice rang out in an
impassioned harangue.  The hotel was coming to life.  The stamp of heavy
boots grew more continuous; loud voices became louder and more numerous,
and shouts arose above the babel.  The protesting voice of Gus Williams
was heard less and less, finally drowned completely in the vengeful
roar.  Sudden noises in the street told of angry men pouring out of the
front door, simultaneously with the exodus through the rear door. Oaths,
curses, threats, and explosive bursts of laughter arose.  One
leathern-lunged miner was drunkenly singing at the top of his voice, to
the air of _John Brown’s Body_, a paraphrase worded to suit the present
situation.

The marshal leaped to his feet, secure against discovery in the
darkness, and sprinted on a parallel course for an opening between the
row of buildings facing the right-of-way.  His sober-minded directness
and his lightness of foot let him easily outstrip the more aimless,
leisurely progress of the maudlin gang, which preferred to hold to a
common front instead of stringing out.  Drunk as they were, they were
sober enough to realize, if only vaguely, that a two-gun sharpshooter by
all odds would be waiting for the advance guard.  In fact, their
enthusiasm was largely imitation.  Henry’s mind had not been keen enough
to take into consideration such a thing as anticlimax; he had not
realized that the psychological moment had passed and that in the
interval of the several days, while the once white-hot iron of vengeful
purpose still was hot, it had cooled to a point where its heat was
hardly more than superficial.  The once deadly purpose of the mob was
gone, thanks to Gus Williams’ efforts, the ensuing arguments, and the
wholesome respect for the marshal’s courage and the speed and accuracy
of his two guns.  Instead of a destroying flood, contemptuous of all
else but the destruction of its victims, the mob had degenerated into a
body of devilish mischief-makers, terrible if aroused by the taste of
blood, but harmless and hesitant if the taste were denied it.

Tex, sensing something of this feeling, darted through the alleyway
between the two buildings he had in mind, dashed across the open space
paralleling the right-of-way, crossed the tracks, and slipped behind the
toolshed to be better hidden from sight.  Its silence surprised him, but
one glance through a knot hole showed the lighted interior to be
innocent of inmates.  He forthwith sprinted to the box car and a warped
crack in one of the barn-door shutters told him the same tale.  A sudden
grin came to his face: Murphy had done what he could to offset the
return of his section-gang.  He glanced at Costigan’s house and its one
lighted curtain, and at that instant he remembered that he had not
noticed the gang’s hand car in the toolshed.  He brought the picture of
its interior to his mind again and grunted with satisfaction. Its
disappearance accounted for the disappearance of the gang.

The mob would now become a burlesque, having nothing upon which to act.
Chuckling over the fiasco, he trotted toward the station to see that
Jerry got away before the crowd discovered its impotence to commit
murder as planned, and to stay on the west side of the main street in
case the baffled units of the mob should head for Jerry’s house.  There
was no longer any shouting or noise.  He knew that it meant that the
advance guard of rioters was cautiously scouting and approaching the
lighted buildings with due regard to its own safety; and he reached the
station platform before he saw the sudden flare of light on the ground
before the toolshed which told of its doors being yanked open.  Figures
tumbled into the lighted patch and then milled for a moment before
hurrying off to join their fellows on the way to attack the other two
buildings.

"That you, Tex?" said a low voice close to him. "This is Murphy."

"Good!" exclaimed the marshal.  "You’ve beat ’em, Tim.  They’re like
dogs chasin’ their tails; an’ from th’ beginnin’ they didn’t sound very
business-like. But there’s no tellin’ what some of them may do, so you
go up an’ join Costigan while I take a look around Jerry’s house.  Where
is he?  His light’s out."

"He went home when he heard th’ yellin’," answered Murphy, "to git th’
lass out av th’ house an’ to Costigan in case th’ mob started that way.
’Tis lucky for them they didn’t, an’ pass within throwin’ distance av
me!  ’Tis dynamite I’d ’a’ fed ’em, with proper short fuses.  Look out
ye don’t push that lighted cigar too close to th’ darlin’s!"

Tex stepped back as though he had been stung. "I’m half sorry they
didn’t give you a chance to use th’ stuff," he growled.  "Well, I reckon
mobs will be out of style in Windsor by mornin’.  This ain’t no
wolf-pack, runnin’ bare-fanged to a kill, but a bunch of coyotes usin’
coyote caution.  We’ll let Costigan stay where he is, just th’ same.
You better join him as soon as these fools go back to get drunker.  Th’
woman in this makes us play dead safe.  I’ll head up that way an’ look
things over.  If I hear a blast I’ll get back fast enough.  Don’t forget
to throw ’em quick after you touch ’em to that cigar!"

"I’ll count five an’ let ’em go," chuckled Murphy. "I got ’em figgered
close."

"Too close for me!" rejoined the marshal, moving off toward the
Saunders’ home.

"I’d like to stick one in Henry’s pocket," said the Irishman, growling.

"D--n me for a fool!" snapped Tex, leaping into the darkness.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*

                            *AN EQUAL GUILT*


Tommy Watkins, after delivering his message to Tim Murphy, hastened to
the Saunders’ home, where he carried out his orders, with but one
exception; but the exception nullified all his efforts for a stealthy
approach and a secret watch.  The best cover he could find around the
house was a little building near the back door in which firewood,
kerosene, and odds and ends were kept.  Despite the kindling and the
darkness his entrance had been noiseless and he was paying himself
hearty compliments upon the exploit when his head collided with a basket
of clothespins which hung from a peg in the wall, and sent the basket
and its contents clattering down on the kerosene can and a tin pan.  He
started back involuntarily and his spurred heels struck the side of a
washtub which was nearly full of water, kept so against drying out and
falling apart.  Into this he sat with a promptness and abandon which
would have filled the heart of any healthy small boy with ecstasies.
Bounding out of the tub, he fell over the pile of kindling and from this
instant his rage spared nothing in his way.  Had he deliberately started
out with the firm intention of arousing that part of Kansas he scarcely
could have made a better job of it.  While he cursed like a drunken
sailor, and burned with rage and shame, the door was suddenly flung open
and Jane, lamp in hand, stared at him in fright and determination, over
the trembling muzzle of a short-barreled .38.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, the hand holding the gun now pressing against her
breast.  "Oh!" she repeated, and the lamp wobbled so that she
tremblingly blew it out.  For some moments she struggled to get back to
normal, Tommy thankful that the lamp no longer revealed him in his
present water-soaked condition.  He felt that his flaming face would
give light enough without any further aid.

He sidled out of the door, tongue-tied, crestfallen, miserable, and
placed his back against the shed, intending to slip along it, and dash
around the corner into the kindly oblivion of the black night.

"Wait!" she begged, sensing his intention.  "Oh, my; how you frightened
me!  Whatever made you get into this shed, anyway?  What were you trying
to do?"

Here it was, right in his teeth.  Tex fairly had hammered into him the
warning not to frighten her--on his life he was to keep from her any
thought of danger if she should see him.  She had seen him, all right.
She had seen entirely too much of him--and he was not to frighten her!
Holy Moses!  He was not to frighten her!  He resolved that plenty of
time should elapse before he allowed Tex Jones to see him. Not to
frighten her--it was a wonder she had not died of fright.

"What on earth ever made you go in there?" she demanded, a little
acerbity in her voice.

"Why, ma’am, I was hidin’ from you," said the culprit.  "Let me light
th’ lamp, ma’am, an’ straighten things out in there.  Everythin’ slid
that wasn’t nailed fast.  That tub, now: was you savin’ th’ water for
anythin’, ma’am?  If you was I plumb spoiled it."

"No; it was only to keep the staves swelled tight--for heaven’s sake, do
you mean that you fell in it?"  She reached out and grasped his coat,
and suddenly collapsed against the building, shrieking with laughter.
When she could speak she ordered him to feel for and pick up the lamp,
and to lead the way into the house.  "Go right into Jerry’s room and
change your clothes--I hope you can get his things on.  But whatever
made you go in there, anyway?  What was it?"

"Like I done said, ma’am," he reiterated, flushing in the dark.  "I was
goin’ to play a joke on Jerry when he came home--but I didn’t aim to do
no damage, ma’am, or scare you!" he earnestly assured her.

"Oh, but you were willing to scare Jerry!" she retorted.

"I don’t reckon he’d ’a’ been scared," he mumbled. "Here’s th’ lamp,
ma’am, on th’ step; I’ll see Jerry at th’ station.  I’m fadin’, now,"
and before she could utter a protest he had put down the lamp and
disappeared around the house.  But he did not go far.  Wet clothes meant
nothing to him, nothing at all in his present state of mind, and he
intended to stay, and to keep his watch faithfully.  And it was to his
present flurried state of mind that he owed his more serious
misadventure of the night, for he blundered around the second corner
squarely into two figures hugging the wall and a descending gun butt
filled his mental firmament with stars.  He sagged to the ground without
even a sigh and was quickly disarmed and bound.  A soiled handkerchief
was forced into his mouth and he was rolled against the wall, where he
would be out of the way.

One of the two hirelings nudged the other as they stood up, putting his
mouth close to his companions ear.  "Hey, Ike!" he whispered.  "This
fool is wet as a drownded pup--wears a gun an’ cowpunch clothes. He
ain’t the agent!"

"H--l, no!" responded Ike; "but he meant us no good, bein’ here.  We’ll
git th’ agent, too.  He’ll be comin’ soon, an’ fast.  Git over by th’
path he uses."

Jane, somewhat vexed, had picked up the lamp and entered the house.  The
constantly repeated "ma’am" and the stammering explanations, which she
put but little stock in, made her suddenly contrast this big, overgrown
boy with a man she knew, and to Tommy’s vast discredit.  She had hit it:
one was no more than an overgrown boy, coarse, unlearned, clumsy,
embarrassed; the other, a grown man, cool, educated, masterful,
unabashed.  One was in his own way; the other, unobtrusive in manner but
persistently haunting in his personality.  She might not be able for
good reasons to see Tex Jones in a room filled with people, but she
could not fail to sense his presence.  But the marshal was no longer to
be thought of; he had taken a human life and was forever beyond the pale
of her interest and affections.  He had blood on his hands.

Suddenly she started and cast an apprehensive glance toward the window
which faced the town.  A low, chaotic roaring, indistinct in its blurred
entirety, but fear impelling because of its timbre, came from the main
street.  A shot or two sounded flatly and the roaring rose and fell in
queer, spasmodic bursts. Before she could move, a knock sounded on the
door and, fearing bad news about her brother, she took a tight grip on
herself and walked swiftly toward the summons, flinging the door wide
open.

Henry Williams, a smirk on his face, bowed and entered, not waiting for
an invitation.  He forgot to remove his hat in his eagerness to place
his packages on the table where she plainly could see them. Selecting
the easiest chair, he seated himself on the edge of it, and tossed his
sombrero against the wall.

"Nice evenin’, ma’am," he said, flushing a little. "I was hopin’ for
more rain but don’t reckon we’ll git none for a spell.  What we had has
helped wonderful.  You an’ Jerry feelin’ well?"

"It doesn’t feel like rain, Mr. Williams," she replied, torn between
fear and mirth at the presence of this unwelcome visitor.  "Both my
brother and myself are as well as we can expect to be.  If you’ll go to
the station you’ll find him there--this is report night and he may not
be home until quite late."

"I ain’t waitin’ for Jerry," explained Henry, leering. "It’s just as
well if he is a little late.  My call is shore personal, ma’am; personal
between me an’ you."

She was staring at him through eyes which were beginning to sparkle with
vexation.  She was now beginning to accept her first, intuitive warning.

"I am not aware that there is anything of a personal nature which
concerns us both," she rejoined. "I believe you must be mistaken, Mr.
Williams.  If you will close the door behind you on your way out I will
be duly grateful.  Jerry is at the station."  She stepped back to let
him pass, but he ignored the hints.

There came an increase in the roaring from the direction of town and she
started, casting an inquiring and appealing glance at her visitor.

"Th’ boys are a little wild tonight," he said, smiling evilly.  "They’ve
got so much dust that they’re bustin’ loose to paint th’ old town
proper.  There ain’t nothin’ to be scared about."

"But Jerry: my brother!" she exclaimed fearfully. "He’s alone in the
office!"

"No, he ain’t ma’am," replied Henry with an air meant to reassure her.
"I got four good boys, deputized by th’ marshal, watchin’ th’ station in
case some fool gets notions.  Jones, hisself, is settin’ on a bench
outside, an’ you know what _that_ means.  I allus look after my friends,
ma’am."  He smiled again. "’Specially them that are goin’ to be real
close to me. That’s why I’m here--to look after you now--now, an’ all
th’ time, now an’ forever.  Just see what I brought you--sent all th’
way to St. Louie for ’em, an’ shore got th’ very best there was.  Why,"
he chuckled, going to the table, and so engrossed in his packages that
he did not see the look of revulsion on her face, a look rapidly turning
to a burning shame and anger.

"These here gloves, now--they cost me six dollars. An’ lookit this
Cashmere shawl--you’d think I was lyin’ if I told you what that cost.  I
told th’ boys you’d show ’em off handsome an’ proper.  Put ’em on and
let’s see how they look on you."  He held the gifts out, looking up at
her, surprised by her silence, her lack of pleased exclamations, and
paused, dumbfounded at her expression.

Mortification yielded place to shame and fear; shame and fear to anger
with only a trace of fear, and then rage swept all else before it.  The
colors playing in her cheeks fled and left them white, her lips were
thin as knife blades and her eyes blazed like crucibles of molten metal.
She struck wildly at the presents, sending them across the room and
raised her hand to strike him.  Never in all her life had she been so
furious.

"Why--what’s th’ matter?" he asked, not believing his senses.  He put
out a hand to pacify her.  It touched her arm and turned her into a
fury, her nails scoring it deeply as she struck it away.

"What’s th’ matter with you?" he demanded angrily, looking up from his
bleeding hand.  "Oh!" he sneered, his face working with anger.  "That’s
it, huh?  All right, d--n you!  I’ll cussed soon show you who’s boss!"
he gritted, moving slowly forward.  "If you won’t come willin’ly, you’ll
come unwillin’ly! Puttin’ on airs like you was too good for me, huh?
I’ll bust yore spirit like you was a hoss!"

She flung a quivering arm toward the door, but he pressed forward and
backed her into a corner, from where she struck at him again and again,
and then felt his arms about her as he wrestled with her.  Her strength
amazed him and he broke loose to get a more punishing hold.  "Ike!" he
shouted.  "George! Hurry up: she’s worse’n a wildcat!"

Ike’s head popped in through a window, George dashing through the door,
and with them at his side Henry leaped for her.  She clutched at her
breast and crouched, as savage and desperate as any animal of the wild.
He shouted something as he closed with her and then there came a muffled
roar, a flash, and a cloud of smoke spurted from between them.  Henry,
his glazing eyes fixing their look of fear, amazement, and chagrin, spun
around against his companions, his clutching hands dragging down their
arms, and slid between them.  For him the mob had been incited in vain.

His two friends, stupefied for an instant, gazed unbelievingly from Jane
to Henry and back again, vaguely noticing that her horror and revulsion
were unnerving her and that the short-barreled Colt in her hand was
wobbling in ever-widening circles.  Ike recovered his self-possession
first and, reaching out swiftly, knocked the wavering weapon from her
hand.  Shouting savagely he leaped for her as a streak of flame stabbed
in through the window he had entered by, the deafening roar filling the
room.  He stiffened convulsively, whirled halfway around and pitched
headlong under the table, dead before he touched the floor.  His
companion’s arms jerked upward with spasmodic speed.

"Keep ’em there!  Sit down, Miss Saunders," came an even, unflurried
voice from the window as the marshal, hatless and coatless, hoping that
George would draw, crawled into the house behind a steady gun.  "Good
Lord!" he muttered, glancing over the room, his eyes passing the fallen
.38 without betraying any recognition. "Steady!" he cried as Jane’s
knees buckled and she slid down the wall.  "Keep ’em up!" he snarled at
George as he swiftly disarmed him.  "Face th’ door!"  As the frightened
man obeyed, the marshal stepped quickly to a shelf on which stood a
bottle of brandy and some glasses. He changed the gun to his left hand,
snatched a cartridge from his chaps’ pocket and, yanking out the lead
with his teeth, emptied the shell into a glass.  Quickly filling this
and another he wheeled and thrust one out at the rigid prisoner.  "Drink
this," he ordered.  "You shore need it; an’ if you don’t I’ll blow you
apart."  George’s stare of amazed incredulity changed to one of hope and
relief and he downed the drink at a gulp.  Tex slipped a pair of
handcuffs over his wrists and ordered him to sit down.  "Sit down in
that big chair, an’ close yore eyes. I got somethin’ for you to
do--relax!"

As he bent over Jane she stirred, opened her eyes, glanced at him, and
then fixed them on the men on the floor, shuddering and shrinking from
the sight; but she could not look away.  "I killed him!  I killed him!"
she sobbed hysterically, over and over again.

"Drink this," ordered the marshal, forcing the glass between her lips.
He nodded with quiet satisfaction. "Shore," he replied in an assumed
matter-of-fact voice, as though it were an everyday occurrence.  "Good
job, too.  I should have done it, myself, days ago."  He held up the
glass again.  "Can you drink a little more of this, Miss Saunders?
There are times when a little brandy is very useful."  His low, even,
unemotional tones were almost caressing, and she thankfully put herself
in his capable hands.  Slowly growing calmer she began to see things
with a less blurred vision and the slow slumping of the sleepy man in
the chair took her wondering attention.

"Why, is he--killed--too?" she asked shuddering.

"Oh, no; he’s only half asleep," replied Tex, smiling. "Three more
minutes an’ he’ll be sound asleep, for a dozen hours or more.  Brandy
has an hypnotic effect on some people, Miss Saunders, while it
stimulates others. Will you please collect a small valise of your most
valuable and indispensable possessions, all the money in the house, a
good wrap of some kind, and allow me to escort you to Murphy and
Costigan?  You are leaving town, you know, never to return."

"But I’ve killed a man, and you are an officer of the law!  Do you
mean--" she paused unbelievingly.

"You shot a mad skunk in plain self-defense," he replied.  "He has
powerful friends and influence to avenge him.  The jury would be packed
and justice scorned.  I’m marshal no longer, Miss Saunders.  I accepted
the appointment on the definite understanding that I would be marshal
only as long as I could.  The term has automatically come to an end.  So
far as this town is concerned I’m a rabid outlaw."  He tore the badge
from his vest and threw it on the table.  "Ah!  George is sleeping more
soundly than he ever slept before.  There’s no need of gagging him, for
he’ll give no alarm.  Please fill that satchel, Miss Saunders--time
presses."

"You are a good friend, Mr. Jones; and I have wronged you," she said,
her words barely audible.  "My hands are as bloody as yours--and I
scorned you for taking life!  Take me away from here--please--please!"

"As fast as I can," replied Tex, soothingly.  "You help me by filling a
satchel and getting your wrap.  Put your mind on your possessions,
please; think what you wish to take with you, and then get them.  Money?
Jewels?  Miscellaneous valuables, intrinsic or sentimental? Documents?
Apparel?  Please--you must aid me all you can if I’m to aid you.  We
have no time to lose!"

"But my brother--he is safe?"

"Waiting outside, tied, and gagged.  I couldn’t stop to free him," Tex
answered.  "Watkins, likewise.  They laid their plans well, but the mob
was a misfire and didn’t keep me as busy as they counted on.  Will you
obey me, Miss Saunders, or must we leave bare-handed?  I’ll give you
just three minutes by that clock--then we go."

A pious, shocked exclamation came from the window where Murphy stared
suddenly into a magic gun before he was recognized.  "Holy Mother!" he
whispered, and then: "I found Tommy--where is Jerry?"

"Don’t you ever do that again!" snapped Tex, a little white showing in
his face.  "I don’t know how I kept th’ hammer up!  You look around by
that clump of scrub oak, where the path goes around the big bowlder.  I
nearly fell over him.  Take them both with you--we’ll follow close.  Any
signs of anyone coming from town?"

"Not yet--but ye needn’t stay here all night!  Hurry, miss, or there’ll
be a slaughter that’ll shake this country!"

As Jane obeyed, Tex walked over, drew up one of George’s eyelids and
smiled grimly.  Then he placed a hand on each of the figures on the
floor and nodded, a sneer flickering over his face.  In a moment Jane,
still a little unsteady, returned and found the ex-marshal pinning the
nickeled badge on the lapel of Henry’s coat, and while it meant nothing
to her then in her agitated state of mind its significance came to her
later.  When that badge was found she would be freed of blame for
Henry’s death.  Opening the door Tex blew out the light and led the way.
They hurried over the uneven, hard ground and soon reached the railroad,
where a hand car, with Murphy, Costigan, and Tommy at the handles,
waited to run them over a trail where no tracks would tell any tales.

"Head for Scrub Oak, an’ stop outside th’ town till Jerry’s party gets
away," ordered Tex.  "Th’ grades are mostly against you an’ all of you
came from th’ east, where Mike’s family went.  They’ll figger you went
th’ same way, if they think of th’ hand car at all.  It ain’t likely
they will, because I’m aimin’ to give them something plain to read, when
they’re _able_ to read it.  Got money?  Got enough to buy three good
cayuses with saddles, grub, an’ everythin’ you need?  Good!  Tommy, when
you get to town, go in alone, get three outfits, an’ take Miss Saunders
an’ Jerry to Gunsight as fast as they can travel.  When you get there,
ask for Nelson, an’ tell him Tex Ewalt says to hold off h--l an’ high
water before givin’ up these two.  I’ll join you there as soon as I can.
Here, listen close," and he gave a description of Gunsight’s location
sufficient for a rider of the plains. "Off with you, now--let her roll
gently near Buffalo Crick--she’ll rumble deep crossin’ that bridge an’
Jake may be at home.  So-long--get a-goin’!"

"But you?" cried Jane.  "Where are you going? Surely not back into that
town!"  The distress and anxiety brought a smile to the ex-marshal’s
lips.  "You must come with us!  You must!  You must!" she insisted
almost hysterically.  "You can’t fight the whole town!"

"I’m bettin’ he can," growled Murphy.  "Here, Tex! Better take a couple
av these little firecrackers!  Count five an’ let ’em go; but _you_
better count sorta fast."

"No, thanks, Tim," laughed Tex.  "I can’t go with you, Miss Saunders.
I’ve got a pack of coyotes to make fools of--see you at th’ SV in four
or five days.  Don’t you worry--it was clean self-defense.  He brought
it on himself.  All right, Tim: get a-goin’!"

He listened to the sounds of the cautiously propelled car, the clicks of
the rail joints growing softer and softer. When they had died out, he
walked swiftly back to the house, where he got his hat and coat and then
went on to town.  Going to where the roan patiently waited for him he
led it to John Graves’ stable and reconnoitered the building.  John was
not at home on this night of excitement.

Tex forced the door, and quietly saddled the sorrel and the gray, threw
a sack of corn across the latter and, leading them forth, led the three
animals back of a deserted building and then went toward the hotel.



                             *CHAPTER XXII*

                     *THE FALSE TRAIL AND THE TRUE*


The maudlin crowd was ugly and did not accept the marshal’s appearance
with any enthusiasm. While he had not opposed them he had warned and
sent away their hoped-for victims.  Frank scowls met him wherever he
looked.  He stopped at the table where Gus Williams and a dozen cronies,
the bolder men of the town, were drinking and arguing.

"Blascom’s cussed sick," he announced.  "Sick as a dog.  I rode out to
spend th’ night with him, knowin’ that when that coyote section-boss
sent his pack out of town there wouldn’t be no reason for me to stay
here an’ make myself unpopular.  I got a good job in this town, an’ I’ve
got a right to have friends here.  Anyhow, I told Murphy that if his men
came back they’d have to do their own fightin’.  Reckon that’s why he
sent ’em along.  Him an’ Costigan follered ’em on th’ other hand car."
He glanced over the room.  "Where’s Hennery?" he asked.  "I heard he
wanted to see me."

Williams roused himself and looked up through bloodshot eyes.  "Th’
fool’s gone courtin’, I reckon; an’ on a night like this, when I needed
him.  Don’t know when he’ll git back.  He mus’ be enjoyin’ hisself,
anyhow."

John Graves chuckled and endorsed the sentiment.

Tex nodded.  "I reckon mebby he is, his star bein’ bright tonight.  Much
excitement in town after I left? Station agent make any trouble?"

"A lot of chances he’d ’a’ had to make any of us any trouble," sneered a
miner.  "I reckon he cut an’ run right quick.  We’ve been figgerin’ he’s
better off in some other town.  Been thinkin’ of chasin’ him out.  Any
objections from th’ marshal of Windsor?"

"Not a cussed one," answered Tex.  "He’s a trouble-maker, stayin’ here.
Chuck him on th’ train tomorrow an’ send him back East, where he come
from.  An’ his sister, too, if you want."

Williams shook his head.  "Not her," he said.  "Henry’ll never let her
git away from him.  He’s aimin’ to take care of her; an’ he shore can
handle her, _he_ can."

"I reckon he can," agreed Tex.  "I just come in to get th’ doc to go out
an’ look at Blascom.  Since he’s struck it rich he’s been feedin’ like a
fool.  Them as live by canned grub, dies by canned grub, says I; an’
he’s close to doin’ it.  I got a bottle of whiskey for him, but I reckon
gin will be better for his stummick.  Yes, a lot better.  Hey, Baldy!"
he shouted.  "Put me out a bottle of gin an’ set up th’ drinks for all
hands.  We’ll drink to a better understandin’ an’ to Hennery an’ his
bride."  He pulled the pint flask from his pocket and winked at his
companions.  "I got a little somethin’ extra, here. Th’ smoke of Scotch
fires is in it.  Might as well use it up," and he quickly filled the
glasses on the table, discovering when too late that he had none left
for himself. "Oh, well; whiskey is whiskey, to me.  I’ll take some of
Baldy’s with th’ boys," and he swaggered over to the bar, tossing a gold
piece on the counter.

"Where’s yore badge, Marshal?" asked Baldy, curiously.

Tex quickly felt of his coat lapel and then of his vest. "Cuss it!" he
growled.  "I knowed I’d lose that star--th’ pin was a little short to go
far enough in th’ socket. Oh, well," he laughed, holding up his glass,
"everyone knows me now; an’ they’ll know me better as time goes on.
Here’s to Hennery!" he shouted.  "Drink her standin’!"

The toast drunk to roaring jests, he took the gin and went back to
Williams.  "Goin’ after th’ doc," he remarked.  "Lost my badge, too; but
lemme say that anybody found wearin’ it shore will have bad luck.  See
you all tomorrow.  He’s sick as a pup, Blascom is.  Good night, an’
sleep tight, as th’ sayin’ is!" he shouted laughingly and nodding at the
crowd he wheeled and went out. Once secure from observation of any
curious inhabitants of the town, he ran to the horses, mounted, and rode
up to the Saunders’ house, a home no longer.  Entering it he quickly
collected a bag of provisions and then, milling the horses before the
door to start a plain trail, he cantered toward the station, where he
crossed the tracks and struck south for the old cattle trail.

All night he rode hard, sitting the sorrel to keep his own horse fresh,
and at dawn, giving them a ration of corn each, he ate a cold and
hurried breakfast and soon was on his way again.  During the forenoon he
let the sorrel go, riding the gray with the depleted corn sack tied to
the pommel.  Several hours later he threw the still further depleted
sack on the roan, changed horses again and turned the gray loose.  After
nightfall he came within sight of the lights of a small town and,
waiting until the hour was quite late, rode through it casually to lose
the tracks of his horse among the countless prints on its streets.  He
left it along a well-traveled trail leading westward, one which would
take him, eventually, to Rawlins.


In the town of Gunsight, Dave Green was polishing glasses behind his bar
when a dusty, but smiling, stranger rode up to the door and called out.
Grumbling, Dave waddled forth to answer the summons.

"Which way to th’ SV?" asked the stranger.  "I’m lookin’ for my friend
Nelson."

"What is it--a house-raisin’ or a christenin’?" asked Dave, grinning
broadly.  "Th’ SV’s gettin right pop’lar these days--as it ought to be."
Dave cogitated a moment.  This man said Nelson was a friend of his; but
if not, there would be no harm done to anyone on the SV. Dave was quite
certain of that, with Hopalong, Red, and the outfit at Johnny’s back.
Still, his curiosity was aroused.  "Yore name Jones, or Ewalt?" he
asked.

"Ewalt," replied Tex, grinning.

Dave left the door and gravely held out his hand. "Heard tell about you,
long ago," he said.  "We’re good friends till you horn into a poker game
that I’m settin’ in.  Heard about you this mornin’, too.  A tenderfoot,
a cowpunch, an’ a reg’lar picture in skirts stopped an’ asked me what
you did.  Also wanted to know if I had seen Jones or Ewalt.  You just
foller that Juniper trail," and he gave a description tiresome, and
needlessly detailed, to a man to whom compass points would have
sufficed.  "Jones comin’, too?  Don’t know I ever heard of him."

"Jones is dead," said Tex with touching sorrow.  "Th’ pore ol’ soul,
we’ll never see him more.  He had buttons runnin’ up his back, an’
buttons down before."

"Too bad," replied Dave, but he was suspicious of the other’s grief.  He
shook his head.  "Life shore is uncertain.  You tell Johnny if he’s
havin’ a party that I ain’t too fat to ride that far, not if I’m
invited.  I ain’t much on dancin’, but I’ll do my best."

Tex nodded, thanked him for his information and went on, gradually
becoming lost in introspective musings.

"Omar," he muttered, shaking his head sadly, "I ain’t got no right.  I’m
hard-boiled, an’ I’ve reached purty low levels th’ last twenty years.
There ain’t no human meanness, no human weaknesses, hardly, that I ain’t
seen.  My view of life is so cynical that it near scares me, now.  I
lost my illusions years ago, an’ I’m allus lookin’ for th’ basest
motives for a man’s actions.  Besides, I’m forty-odd years old--an’
that’s _too_ old.

"Now you take Tommy Watkins.  He’s fresh, young, chock-a-block with
illusions; trustin’, ambitious, steady. He’s clean, body an’ mind.  When
he grows up, ten years from now, he’ll be a purty fair sort of a young
man.  It shore does beat all, Omar."

A little farther along he drew a deep breath and patted the roan.
"Omar, I’ve made up my mind: Youth should be for youth; illusions, for
illusions; freshness, for freshness; innocence, for innocence.  Her
purity deserves better than my mildewed soul--if a man’s got one."
After a moment’s silence he patted the horse again.  "Omar, yore name
brings somethin’ back to me:

    _Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire_
    _To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,_
      _Would not we shatter it to bits--and then_
    _Remould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!_


Raising his head he saw a rattlesnake sunning itself on a rocky patch of
ground near the trail and his gun leaped into crashing life.  The snake
writhed, trying in vain to coil.  A second shot stretched it lifeless.

"There, d--n you!" shouted Tex, shaking his fist at the quivering body,
"that’s how I feel!" and, the burst of passion gone as quickly as it had
come, he shook his head and rode on again, calm and determined.  At last
he came to the top of the last hill hiding the ranchhouse and drew rein
as he looked down into the north branch of the SV valley.  A boy was
riding along the bottom of the slope and Tex hailed him.

"Hey, sonny!" shouted the ex-marshal.  "I’m lookin’ for Hopalong
Cassidy.  Know where he is?"

"He’s at th’ house!" replied the boy.  "Yo’re Tex Ewalt!  Foller me, an’
I’ll beat you to him!"

"Bet yo’re Charley!" responded Tex.  "Yo’re shore goin’ to ride some,
cowboy, if you aim to beat me!" and a race was on.

There came a flurry of movement at the ranchhouse door and three men ran
to their saddled horses.  A sudden cloud of dust rolled up and the
three, bunched leg to leg, raced toward the galloping newcomer.
Heedless of Charley’s vexatious appeal they shot past him and kept on
while he swung his pony around and saw them sweep up to the slowing roan
and surround him and his rider. More soberly, after a hilarious welcome,
the four, with Charley endeavoring to wedge into shifting openings not
half large enough for his pony, they rode up to the ranch-house, where
Jerry had run out to meet them, Margaret Nelson at his heels.  As soon
as he could Tex asked for Jane and learned that she was resting.

"She has been under a very heavy strain, Mr. Ewalt," Margaret told him.
"She asked that you see her as soon as you came; but she is sleeping,
now, and it will be better for her if you wait.  Her remorse is as great
as her horror and fatigue."

"I suppose so," replied Tex.  "That’s the woman of it.  She shot a beast
in plain self-defense and now she’s remorseful.  Shucks--it’s all my
fault.  I should have done it, myself, days before."

"I didn’t say just what I think is causing her remorse," replied
Margaret, smiling enigmatically; "but that is something a man should
find out for himself," and, turning quickly, she entered the house.

Tex stared after her and then around the circle of happy, grinning
faces.  An answering smile crept to his own, a smile wistful, but shaded
with pain.

The next few days were busy ones from a conversational standpoint, for
there was a great deal to talk about.  Tex learned the history of the
SV’s rejuvenation, and his friends eagerly listened to the news he
brought from Montana, and to the messages he brought from their friends;
while Jane, much better because of the rest she had had, sat by the
cheerful group, smiling at the perfect accord between its units and
rapidly changing her ideas of western men.  Here she saw friendships
which seemed to be founded on the eternal rock, unshakable,
unquestioning.  She found it almost impossible to believe that these
thin-lipped, yet kindly and smiling men, whose trick of looking out
through narrowed lids at first made her wonder, each had killed again
and again, as Margaret had told her.  To her they were gravely kind,
courteous, and deferential, accepting her without question, their manner
a soothing assurance as to her safety.  Jerry and Tommy were
unquestionably accepted and made part of the happy circle--they were
friends of Tex Ewalt, whom she now knew by his right name.  Johnny’s
boyish enthusiasm and mischievous smile made it hard for her to believe
that he, single-handed, had overcome the odds against him and cleared
this range of its undesirable inhabitants.  Margaret’s proud account of
his deeds rang true, and Jane knew that they were true.

There they all sat on the front porch, telling anecdotes on each other
which amazed Jane, speaking of remarkable exploits in matter-of-fact
voices.  She learned of Tex’s part in the saving of Buck Peter’s ranch,
and gradually pieced together the story of his activities in Windsor.
Prodded by Tex, at last Johnny and Hopalong gave a grudging exhibition
of revolver shooting which made her catch her breath.  Tex Ewalt had
been right: these two cheerful men could ride into Windsor and wipe it
from the map; and she no longer feared the appearance of any of
Williams’ friends.  If they could find and follow the trail, let them!

Tex was the quietest man in the party, and she was pleased because he
spoke only in the vernacular.  She had not heard him deviate from it for
one instant.  He had no wish to "show off" at the expense of his roughly
speaking friends.  Tommy’s garrulity, considering how little he really
had to say, sounded like the prattle of a child among grown-ups; but he
was a good, well-meaning boy.  Daily he spoke of getting work on the
Double X, where Lin Sherwood could use another rider; but he had made no
attempt to go, preferring to stay where she was and to follow her about
at every opportunity.

Then came the afternoon when Johnny volunteered to show his guests about
the ranch and they had set out, Tex remaining behind.  Jane had felt a
restraint at the thought of how close she and the ex-marshal would be
thrown together on this ranch, but soon found it to be groundless.
Deferential, reserved, friendly, he had not obtruded, and apparently had
not noticed Tommy’s attentions.  They rode off, Jerry with their host,
Tommy at the side of Jane.  When down in the main valley Johnny had
turned off to look at the fenced-in quicksands, Jerry going with him to
see the now harmless death trap, and Tommy remained behind with her; and
when they returned they found a flushed Jane and a despondent Tommy.
The following morning when she sat down to a late breakfast with Mr.
Arnold, Johnny’s father-in-law, she learned quite casually that Tommy
had gone to the Double X and that the rest of the men, her brother
included, had ridden up to the north wire to make some repairs.  Arnold
explained about the difficulty of keeping the posts up along the bottom
of the ravine where he had suffered his broken leg, and he told her of
the fondness of the cattle for the wilderness of brush and of the
difficult task of running a round-up on that part of the ranch.

"Let me throw a saddle on yore horse, Miss Saunders," he suggested.  "It
will make a pleasant ride for you; an’ you can take ’em up some lunch if
you like. They’ve got a bigger task than they think, for th’ ravine
floor is solid rock.  I’ll send Charley with you--he’s on th’ rampage
because he overslept and I wouldn’t let him go up and bother them.  But
he might as well go."

She thought for a moment, and then turned a grave and pitiful face to
him.

"I feel that I can ask you anything, Mr. Arnold; and I’m so upset."

"You certainly can, Miss Saunders," he replied, abandoning the
vernacular in response to her way of speaking.

She hurriedly told him of the killing of Henry Williams, of the blood on
her hands, but avoided the real appeal, the question she must find her
own answer to. He heard her through, and, arising, placed a fatherly
hand on her shoulder.

"Jane," he said, slowly shaking his head.  "Environment, circumstances,
change all things.  There’s not a man on this ranch that doesn’t feel
proud of what he knows about you.  A woman has as much right, and often
a greater need, to defend herself, as a man has. Don’t you worry about
that beast; and don’t you worry about anyone coming down here after you.
We can muster forty fighting men, if we need them, purely on Johnny’s
say-so.  We’re all proud of you.  Now I’ll saddle your horse while Peggy
puts up the lunch.  You and Charley can easily carry it between you.
There’s no place down here where you can’t safely go; but please keep in
the saddle while you’re on the range.  These cattle are dangerous to
anyone afoot."

While the simple preparations were being made she heard Charley’s
exultant whoops and soon she rode with him toward the upper end of the
small valley, listening to his worshiping chatter about his heroes.  Now
he had a new one, the man who could pull poker hands out of a fellow’s
nose, eyes, and ears.

"He’d ’a’ got that Hennery feller, too," he averred, "only you beat him
out.  Gee, Miss Saunders!  Wish I’d ’a’ been there!  I ain’t never shot
nobody yet--but you just wait, that’s all!  I heard Tex say he’d ’a’
shot up th’ whole d--d town if they’d tried to bother you--an’ Hoppy
said he could ’a’ done it, _easy_!  Hoppy knows, too.  Why don’t you
like Tex, Miss Saunders?  I think he’s aces-up!"

"Why, I do, Charley.  Whatever made you ask me that?"

"Well, if you do, Tex don’t think so," he grumbled. "You know that pile
of rock, up on th’ hill where th’ Gunsight trail winds like a letter S?"

She nodded.  She could see it plainly from her window.

"Well, I was layin’ up there, keepin’ watch for that Williams’ gang, an’
he never even reckoned anybody was near him!" he boasted.  "Takes a good
man to find me when I don’t want him to, I tell you.  Injuns can’t, an’
they’re cussed cute, Hoppy says."

"Who was it who didn’t see you?"

"Tex," chuckled the boy.  "He come walkin’ along like there wasn’t
nobody around, an’ he sorta slammed hisself down on th’ rock next to th’
top one.  You an’ Tommy an’ Jerry was ridin’ back from th’ main valley.
We could just see you, me an’ him, only he didn’t know _I_ was there.
After awhile we could see plain.  Jerry rode off to look at somethin’,
an kinda fell back, leavin’ you an’ Tommy goin’ on without him.  I was
watchin’ Tex, because he had a funny look on his face.  He just looked
steady, an’ when he saw you two ridin’ along together, he threw out his
arms an’ said somethin’ about bein’ like Jerry.  Somethin’ about falling
back an’ seein’ you an’ Tommy ridin’ through life together--as if
anybody would ride as long as that!  Tell you what: These grown-ups say
some cussed foolish things.  There was tears in his eyes--him, a
grown-up, gun-fightin’ son-of-a-gun!  Huh!  An’ they used to tease me
when _I_ cried! What you think about that?"  He looked eagerly at her
for the answer and then snorted in frank disgust.  "Cuss it--an’ yo’re
snifflin’, too!  I’ll be a son-of-a-gun!"

"You mustn’t tell anyone about it, Charley!" she pleaded.  "They won’t
understand!"

"I won’t," he promised.  "Don’t blame you for bein’ ashamed.  Tex would
’a’ been, too, if he knowed I saw him.  Then mebby he wouldn’t go up
there every night an’ watch yore window till the light goes out, an’ I
wouldn’t have nobody to trail.  Reckon he’s scared that Williams gang
will trail you down here?  Huh!  With him settin’ up there, me roamin’
loose, an’ with Johnny, Hoppy, an’ Red in th’ house, I shore wish they
would come a-pokin’ their noses around here!  I tell you, things’d shore
pop.  If Tex could clean out their whole town all alone, they’d shore
have a pleasant time down here ag’in’ him an’ his friends!  Gee!"

After supper the nightly gathering on the porch passed a pleasant hour
or two and then dwindled as its members retired, the two women and
Charley going first.  Jerry followed soon afterward and not much later
Red and Hopalong left to go to the bunkhouse, where they now were
berthed.  Arnold soon went into the house, to the room which Tex
stubbornly had refused to occupy, the latter preferring the bunkhouse
with his old friends. After a cigarette or two Johnny said good night
and left his companion alone.  Tex arose, paced restlessly to and fro
across the yard and, wheeling abruptly, went toward the corral.  He had
not been gone very long when Charley, noiselessly crawling out of the
window of the room he shared with his father, froze in his tracks as he
heard a noise beyond the summer kitchen.  He had Red’s Winchester, which
he had taken from the gun rack in the dining-room, and he scouted
cautiously toward the suspicious sounds.  The moonlight let him see
plainly, and he drew back behind the corner of the building as Jane rode
away, leaving the light burning brightly in her room.

Charley frankly was puzzled.  "Somethin’s goin’ on," he cogitated.  "I
was goin’ to stalk Tex--now I dunno. Shucks!  He can look out for
hisself, but she might get lost.  Reckon I’ll foller her."  He suited
action to the words and soon was riding after her, keeping out of her
sight with a woodcraft worthy of his elders.

She led him along the Gunsight trail, closer and closer to the S it made
up the rocky hill, and because of the view commanded by the rocky pile
on the summit, he had to dismount, picket his horse, and proceed on
foot, working from cover to cover, often on hands and knees.

Tex had taken his time, buried in thought, oblivious to everything
outside of himself.  He followed the well-marked trail instinctively and
soon reached the top of the hill, where he sat quietly in the saddle for
a few minutes. Finally, shaking his head, he dismounted and listlessly
walked to the place of his nightly vigil.  Seating himself on the
top-most bowlder he gazed steadily at the yellow light of the distant
window and, like many men of his class, given to solitude, he argued his
problem aloud.  It seemed that often he could think more clearly that
way.

This could not go on.  Tomorrow he would start back to Montana, and he
soon arose to return to the SV, to spend his last night there.  As he
went back to his horse another verse came to his mind, a verse of
finality, and one fitting the present situation.  He laughed bitterly
and flung out his arms:

    _And when like her, O Sáki, you shall pass_
    _Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,_
      _And in your blissful errand reach the spot_
    _Where I made One--turn down an empty Glass!_


Suddenly he stiffened, his hands leaping instinctively to his guns.
Then he let them fall to his sides and stared unbelievingly: "Miss
Saunders!" he exclaimed in amazement.  "Why--what are you--?" and
ceased, tongue-tied.

"You are--going away?" she asked, her voice breaking, speaking so low he
barely could hear her words.

"Tomorrow."

She hung her head for a moment and then turned a wistful, anxious face
up to him.  "I--I heard what you have been saying.  O Tex--I--I am going
with you!"



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



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_Ask your dealer for a list of the titles in Burt’s Popular Priced
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Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  A. Conan Doyle.
Affair at Flower Acres, The.  Carolyn Wells.
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After House, The.  Mary Roberts Rinehart.
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Alcatraz.  Max Brand.
Alias Richard Power.  William Allison.
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Amateur Gentleman, The.  Jeffery Farnol.
Amateur Inn, The.  Albert Payson Terhune.
Anna the Adventuress.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Anne’s House of Dreams.  L. M. Montgomery.
Anybody But Anne.  Carolyn Wells.
Are All Men Alike, and The Lost Titian.  Arthur Stringer.
Around Old Chester.  Margaret Deland.
Arrant Rover, The.  Berta Ruck.
Athalie.  Robert W. Chambers.
At the Mercy of Tiberius.  Augusta Evans Wilson.
At Sight of Gold.  Cynthia Lombardi.
Auction Block, The.  Rex Beach.
Aunt Jane of Kentucky.  Eliza C. Hall.
Awakening of Helena Ritchie.  Margaret Deland.

Bab: a Sub-Deb.  Mary Roberts Rinehart
Bar 20.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Bar 20 Days.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Bar 20 Three.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Barrier, The.  Rex Beach.
Bars of Iron, The.  Ethel M. Dell.
Bat Wing.  Sax Rohmer.
Beasts of Tarzan, The.  Edgar Rice BurrougHs.
Beautiful and Damned, The.  F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Beauty.  Rupert Hughes.
Behind Locked Doors.  Ernest M. Poate.
Bella Donna.  Robert Hichens.  (Photoplay Ed.).
Beloved Traitor, The.  Frank L. Packard.
Beloved Vagabond, The.  Wm. J. Locke.
Beloved Woman, The.  Kathleen Norris.
Beltane the Smith.  Jeffery Farnol.
Betrayal, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
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Big Timber.  Bertrand W. Sinclair.
Black Bartlemy’s Treasure.  Jeffery Farnol.
Black Buttes.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Black Caesar’s Clan.  Albert Payson Terhune,
Black Gold.  Albert Payson Terhune.
Black Is White.  George Barr McCutcheon.
Black Oxen.  Gertrude Atherton.  (Photoplay Ed.).
Blue Circle, The.  Elizabeth Jordan.
Bob, Son of Battle.  Alfred Olivant.
Box With Broken Seals, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim
Brandon of the Engineers.  Harold Bindloss.
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Bridge of Kisses.  Berta Ruck.
Bring Me His Ears.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Broad Highway, The.  Jeffery Farnol.
Broken Barriers.  Meredith Nicholson.
Brown Study, The.  Grace S. Richmond.
Buck Peters, Ranchman.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Bush-Rancher, The.  Harold Bindloss.

Cabbages and Kings.  O. Henry.
Cabin Fever.  B. M. Bower.
Calling of Dan Matthews, The.  Harold Bell Wright.
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Cap’n Dan’s Daughter.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Cap’n Eri.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Cap’n Warren’s Wards.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Carnac’s Folly.  Gilbert Parker.
Cat’s Paw, The.  Natalie Sumner Lincoln.
Cattle.  Winnifred Eaton.
Certain People of Importance.  Kathleen Norris.
Chief Legatee, The.  Anna Katharine Green.
Cinema Murder, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
City of Lilies, The.  Anthony Pryde and R. K. Weehes.
City of Peril, The.  Arthur Stringer.
Clipped Wings.  Rupert Hughes.
Clue of the New Pin, The.  Edgar Wallace.
Colorado Jim.  George Goodchild.
Coming of Cassidy, The.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Coming of the Law, The.  Chas. A. Seltzer.
Communicating Door, The.  Wadsworth Camp.
Comrades of Peril.  Randall Parrish.
Conquest of Canaan, The.  Booth Tarkington.
Contraband.  Clarence Budington Kelland.
Court of Inquiry, A.  Grace S. Richmond.
Crimson Blotter, The.  Isabel Ostrander.
Crimson Gardenia, The, and Other Tales of Adventure.  Rex Beach.
Crimson Tide, The.  Robert W. Chambers.
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Cross Pull, The.  Hal G. Evarts.
Cry in the Wilderness, A.  Mary E. Waller.
Cry of Youth, A.  Cynthia Lombardi.
Cup of Fury, The.  Rupert Hughes.
Curious Quest, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Curved Blades, The.  Carolyn Wells.
Cytherea.  Joseph Hergesheimer.

Damsel in Distress, A.  Pelham G. Wodehouse.
Dancing Star, The.  Berta Ruck.
Danger and Other Stories.  A. Conan Doyle.
Dark Hollow.  Anna Katharine Green.
Daughter Pays, The.  Mrs. Baillie Reynolds.
Depot Master, The.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Desert Healer, The.  E. M. Hull.
Destroying Angel, The.  Louis Joseph Vance.  (Photoplay Ed.).
Devil’s Paw, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Diamond Thieves, The.  Arthur Stringer.
Disturbing Charm, The.  Berta Ruck.
Donnegan.  George Owen Baxter.
Door of Dread, The.  Arthur Stringer.
Doors of the Night.  Frank L. Packard.
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Empty Pockets.  Rupert Hughes.
Empty Sack, The.  Basil King.
Enchanted Canyon.  Honoré Willsie.
Enemies of Women.  V. B. Ibanez.  (Photoplay Ed.).
Eris.  Robert W. Chambers.
Erskine Dale, Pioneer.  John Fox, Jr.
Evil Shepherd, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
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Eye of Zeitoon, The.  Talbot Mundy.
Eyes of the Blind.  Arthur Somers Roche.
Eyes of the World.  Harold Bell Wright.

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Family.  Wayland Wells Williams.
Fathoms Deep.  Elizabeth Stancy Payne.
Feast of the Lanterns.  Louise Gordon Miln.
Fighting Chance, The.  Robert W. Chambers.
Fighting Shepherdess, The.  Caroline Lockhart.
Financier, The.  Theodore Dreiser.
Fire Tongue.  Sax Rohmer.
Flaming Jewel, The.  Robert W. Chambers.
Flowing Gold.  Rex Beach.
Forbidden Trail, The.  Honoré Willsie.
Forfeit, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Four Million, The.  O. Henry.
Foursquare.  Grace S. Richmond.
Four Stragglers, The.  Frank L. Packard.
Free Range Lanning.  George Owen Baxter.
From Now On.  Frank L. Packard.
Fur Bringers, The.  Hulbert Footner.
Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale.  Frank L. Packard.

Galusha the Magnificent.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Gaspards of Pine Croft, The.  Ralph Connor.
Gay Year, The.  Dorothy Speare.
Gift of the Desert.  Randall Parrish.
Girl in the Mirror, The.  Elizabeth Jordan.
Girl from Kellers, The.  Harold Bindloss.
Girl Philippa, The.  Robert W. Chambers.
Girls at His Billet, The.  Berta Ruck.
Glory Rides the Range.  Ethel and James Borrance.
God’s Country and the Woman.  James Oliver Curwood.
God’s Good Man.  Marie Correlli.
Going Some.  Rex Beach.
Gold Girl, The.  James B. Hendryx.
Gold-Killer.  John Prosper.
Golden Scorpion, The.  Sax Rohmer.
Golden Slipper, The.  Anna Katherine Green.
Golden Woman, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Gray Phantom, The.  Herman Landon.
Gray Phantom’s Return, The.  Herman Landon.
Great Impersonation, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Great Prince Shan, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Greater Love Hath No Man.  Frank L. Packard.
Green Eyes of Bast, The.  Sax Rohmer.
Green Goddess, The.  Louise Jordan Miln.  (Photoplay Ed.).
Greyfriars Bobby.  Eleanor Atkinson.
Gun Brand, The.  James B. Hendryx.
Gun Runner, The.  Arthur Stringer.
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Hand of Fu-Manchu, The.  Sax Rohmer.
Hand of Peril, The.  Arthur Stringer.
Harbor Road, The.  Sara Ware Bassett.
Harriet and the Piper.  Kathleen Norris.
Havoc.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Head of the House of Coombe, The.  Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Heart of the Desert, The.  Honoré Willsie.
Heart of the Hills, The.  John Fox, Jr.
Heart of the Range, The.  William Patterson White.
Heart of the Sunset.  Rex Beach.
Heart of Unaga, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Helen of the Old House.  Harold Bell Wright.
Hidden Places, The.  Bertrand W. Sinclair.
Hidden Trails.  William Patterson White.
Hillman, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Hira Singh.  Talbot Mundy.
His Last Bow.  A. Conan Doyle.
His Official Fiancee.  Berta Ruck.
Homeland.  Margaret Hill McCarter.
Homestead Ranch.  Elizabeth G. Young.
Honor of the Big Snows.  James Oliver Curwood.
Hopalong Cassidy.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Hound from the North, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
House of the Whispering Pines, The.  Anna Katharine Green.
Humoresque.  Fannie Hurst.

Illustrious Prince, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
In Another Girl’s Shoes.  Berta Ruck.
Indifference of Juliet, The.  Grace S. Richmond.
Infelice.  Augusta Evans Wilson.
Initials Only.  Anna Katharine Green.
Innocent.  Marie Corelli.
Innocent Adventuress, The.  Mary Hastings Bradley.
Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, The.  Sax Rohmer.
In the Brooding Wild.  Ridgwell Cullum.
In the Onyx Lobby.  Carolyn Wells.
Iron Trail, The.  Rex Beach.
Iron Woman, The.  Margaret Deland.
Ishmael.  (Ill.) Mrs. Southworth.
Isle of Retribution.  Edison Marshall.
I’ve Married Marjorie.  Margaret Widdemer.
Ivory Trail, The.  Talbot Mundy.

Jacob’s Ladder.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Jean of the Lazy A.  B. M. Bower.
Jeanne of the Marshes.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Jeeves.  P. G. Wodehouse.
Jimmie Dale and the Phantom Clew.  Frank L. Packard.
Johnny Nelson.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Joseph Greer and His Daughter.  Henry Kitchell Webster.
Judith of the Godless Valley.  Honoré Willsie.

Keeper of the Door, The.  Ethel M. Dell.
Keith of the Border.  Randall Parrish.
Kent Knowles: Quahaug.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Kilmeny of the Orchard.  L. M. Montgomery.
Kingdom of the Blind, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
King of Kearsarge.  Arthur O. Friel.
King of the Khyber Rifles.  Talbot Mundy.
King Spruce.  Holman Day.
Knave of Diamonds, The.  Ethel M. Dell.

Land-Girl’s Love Story.  A. Berta Ruck.
Land of Strong Men, The.  A. M. Chisholm.
Laramie Holds the Range.  Frank H. Spearman.
Last Trail, The.  Zane Grey.
Laughing Bill Hyde.  Rex Beach.
Laughing Girl, The.  Robert W. Chambers.
Law Breakers, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Law of the Gun, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Leavenworth Case, The.  Anna Katherine Green.  (Photoplay Edition).
Light That Failed, The.  Rudyard Kipling.  (Photoplay Ed.).
Lighted Way, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Lin McLean.  Owen Wister.
Lister’s Great Adventure.  Harold Bindloss.
Little Moment of Happiness, The.  Clarence Budington Kelland.
Little Red Foot, The.  Robert W. Chambers.
Little Warrior, The.  Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.
Lonely Warrior, The.  Claude C. Washburn.
Lonesome Land.  B. M. Bower.
Lone Wolf, The.  Louis Joseph Vance.
Long Live the King.  Mary Roberts Rinehart.  (Photoplay Edition).
Lost Ambassador.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Lost Discovery, The.  Baillie Reynolds.
Lost Prince, The.  Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Lost World, The.  A. Conan Doyle.
Luck of the Kid, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Lucretia Lombard, Kathleen Norris,
Luminous Face, The.  Carolyn Wells.
Lydia of the Pines.  Honoré Willsie.
Lynch Lawyers, William Patterson White.

McCarty Incog.  Isabel Ostrander.
Major, The.  Ralph Connor.
Maker of History, A.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Malefactor, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Man and Maid.  Elinor Glyn.
Man from Bar 20, The.  Clarence E. Mulford.
Man from the Bitter Roots, The.  Caroline Lockhart.
Man in the Moonlight, The.  Rupert S. Holland.
Man in the Twilight, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Man Killers, The.  Dane Coolidge.
Man Who Couldn’t Sleep, The.  Arthur Stringer.
Man’s Country.  Peter Clark Macfarlane.
Marqueray’s Duel.  Anthony Pryde.
Martin Conisby’s Vengeance.  Jeffery Farnol.
Mary-Gusta.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Mary Wollaston.  Henry Kitchell Webster.
Mason of Bar X Ranch.  H. Bennett.
Master of Man.  Hall Caine.
Master Mummer, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.  A.  Conan Doyle.
Men Who Wrought, The.  Ridgwell Cullum.
Meredith Mystery, The.  Natalie Sumner Lincoln.
Midnight of the Ranges.  George Gilbert.
Mine with the Iron Door, The.  Harold Bell Wright.
Mischief Maker, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Missioner, The.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Miss Million’s Maid.  Berta Ruck.
Money, Love and Kate.  Eleanor H. Porter.
Money Master, The.  Gilbert Parker.
Money Moon, The.  Jeffery Farnol.
Moonlit Way, The.  Robert W. Chambers.
More Limehouse Nights.  Thomas Burke.
More Tish.  Mary Roberts Rinehart.
Moreton Mystery, The.  Elizabeth Dejeans.
Mr. and Mrs. Sen.  Louise Jordan Miln.
Mr. Grex of Monte Carlo.  E. Phillips Oppenheim.
Mr. Pratt.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Mr. Pratt’s Patients.  Joseph C. Lincoln.
Mrs. Red Pepper.  Grace S. Richmond.
Mr. Wu.  Louise Jordan Miln.
My Lady of the North.  Randall Parrish.
My Lady of the South.  Randall Parish.
Mystery Girl, The.  Carolyn Wells.





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