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Title: North of 36
Author: Hough, Emerson
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.

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_Title:_ North of 36
_Date of first publication:_ 1923
_Author:_ Emerson Hough (1857-1923)
_Date first posted:_ May 11, 2015
_Date last updated:_ May 11, 2015
Faded Page eBook #20150537

team at http://www.pgdpcanada.net



[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._      _North of 36._
 LOIS WILSON AS TAISIE LOCKHART.]



                             NORTH  OF  36


                                   BY
                             EMERSON HOUGH


                               AUTHOR OF
                           THE COVERED WAGON,
                          54-40 OR FIGHT, ETC.


                        ILLUSTRATED WITH SCENES
                           FROM THE PHOTOPLAY
                          A PARAMOUNT PICTURE

                             [Illustration]

                    G R O S S E T   &   D U N L A P
             P U B L I S H E R S            N E W   Y O R K
                  Made in the United States of America



                          COPYRIGHT, 1923, BY
                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY


           Copyright, 1923, by The Curtis Publishing Company
                PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



                                CONTENTS


                CHAPTER                                PAGE
                     I. IN THE MORNING                    1
                    II. A NEW WORLD                      14
                   III. THE ORPHAN OF DEL SOL            27
                    IV. THE FOOT OF THE TRAIL            41
                     V. MARRIAGE, COWS AND CARPETBAGS    48
                    VI. THE LONE HERD                    58
                   VII. THE HERD CUTTERS                 65
                  VIII. THE FISHHOOK                     72
                    IX. THE TRAIL                        78
                     X. IN DAYS OF OLD                   88
                    XI. THE COURT ON THE TRAIL           94
                   XII. THE COW HUNTERS                 104
                  XIII. “BRING AN IRON!”                113
                   XIV. A STRANGE ERRAND                124
                    XV. NORTHWARD HO!                   131
                   XVI. IN THE NIGHT                    142
                  XVII. MR. DALHART DECLARES            151
                 XVIII. FLOTSAM                         159
                   XIX. THE CATTLE RIEVER               165
                    XX. TAKING TOLL                     174
                   XXI. THE RUBICON                     183
                  XXII. “TILL ABILENE”                  194
                 XXIII. UNDER WHICH FLAG?               206
                  XXIV. THE MURDER                      209
                   XXV. THE KILLER                      214
                  XXVI. THE INDIAN NATIONS              226
                 XXVII. THE GAME OF THE GODS            239
                XXVIII. A COLONEL OF CAVALRY            244
                  XXIX. A MAID’S MISTAKE                253
                   XXX. MANY TRANSACTIONS               258
                  XXXI. THE JONAH                       271
                 XXXII. LAZYING ALONG                   283
                XXXIII. THIRTY-SIX                      289
                 XXXIV. THE TRAIL MAKER                 298
                  XXXV. IN THE BEGINNING                307
                 XXXVI. ROLL ALONG, LITTLE DOGIES!      312
                XXXVII. ABILENE                         318
               XXXVIII. ALAMO ARRIVES                   334
                 XXXIX. THE WOMAN                       344
                    XL. MR. RUDABAUGH APPEARS           353
                   XLI. EASTERN CAPITAL                 359
                  XLII. TWENTY STRAIGHT ON THE PRAIRIE  365
                 XLIII. LOU GORE                        377
                  XLIV. THE LOST SCRIP                  386
                   XLV. THE MAN HUNT                    390
                  XLVI. FAIR EXCHANGE                   402
                 XLVII. THE COURT OF THE COMANCHES      406
                XLVIII. THE GREAT LODESTONE             417



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


         1. LOIS WILSON AS TAISIE LOCKHART.
         2. “JIM, WE’VE GOT TO DRIVE OUR HERDS NORTH.”
         3. TAISIE INVITES THE MYSTERIOUS McMASTERS IN.
         4. “WHAT ARE YOU—FRIEND OR FOE?” DEMANDS JIM NABOURS.
         5. PREPARING TO DRIVE THE LONGHORNS ACROSS THE RIVER.
         6. IN THE MIDST OF THE RIVER CROSSING.
         7. RUDABAUGH (NOAH BEERY) AND DAN McMASTERS (JACK HOLT).
         8. “HANDS OFF, RUDABAUGH!” ROARS BIG JIM.



                              North of 36



                               CHAPTER I
                             IN THE MORNING


“MEN——” Taisie meant to say “Good morning, men,” as usually she did
if she came to the cook house door before they had finished breakfast.
But this morning she hesitated, halted.

There had been the usual mealtime silence of the cattle hands, broken
only by rasp or chatter of steel on tin; but as the tall girl’s shadow
fell at the door of the log house Jim Nabours, foreman of Del Sol, rose
at his place. Fifteen other men pushed back their chairs nervously,
staring at the boss as though caught in some overt criminal act. In the
occupation of eating a regulation breakfast of beef and beans, cattle
hands, time out of mind, have asked no aid and invited no company.

But Taisie Lockhart was their hereditary chieftainess. Her father,
Colonel Burleson Lockhart, these two years deceased—a strong man in his
day, and a poignant—had owned the Laguna del Sol range, of unknown
acreage. Likewise, he had owned no man knew how many thousand head of
long-horned cattle, from calves to mossy horns; owned yonder branching
and rambling building of log and adobe called the big house; owned the
round pens and the live-oak groves, the mast-fed range hogs and the nuts
that fed them; owned bunk houses and cook house and corrals. Yes, and
owned faith of body and soul of every man that lived on Del Sol, from
old Salazar to the gawkiest ranch boy to put his saddle under the shed.

Heiress to all this, as her father had owned lands and herds and men, so
did Taisie Lockhart. But to her, orphaned and alone, came an added
fealty from her men that amounted almost to fanaticism. Most of them had
known and loved her from her childhood. In her young womanhood they
enshrined her.

The boss of Laguna del Sol now stood framed in the doorway, in man’s
garb of shirt and trousers—an assumption shocking in that land and day.
This costume she deliberately had assumed when she took on a man’s
duties in a business preëminently masculine. Obviously now, she was
tall, slender, supple, rounded to a full physical inheritance of womanly
charm unhardened by years of life in the saddle and under the sun. More;
she was an actual beauty. Anywhere else she would have been a sensation.
Here, she spoiled each unfinished breakfast.

Against the morning light the freckles of Anastasie Lockhart could not
be seen. No matter. Every man of these could have told you the number
and contour of them each and all. In a way, too, they could have told
you that her freckles went with her hair. The light that shone through
the mass of dark red hair—long and unconfined she wore it, clubbed
between her shoulders with a shoestring—lighted a thousand fronds into
a sort of aureole, halo, crown. Not that this, either, was needed. For
long, Taisie Lockhart, orphan owner of Laguna del Sol—just south of
Stephen Austin’s first settlement in old Texas it lay—had been
traditional saint, angel, to every creature that bore boots and spurs
within a hundred miles. Nay, more than that; across two states—old
Texas and old Louisiana—so far as interchange of information then went,
before the day of telegraph and rails, men, and even women, spoke in
hushed tones of Taisie Lockhart; the former out of awe at her beauty,
the latter out of pity for her fate.

An orphan, left alone at twenty, just as she came home from her convent
schooling at the ancient city of New Orleans, with no woman relative and
no female companions other than her servants, what could be the fate of
such a girl, seventy-five miles from the nearest town, twenty-five from
the nearest rancho, and the rumor of her beauty continually spreading
league by league? On her shoulders rested all the responsibilities of
what was or had been one of the largest and richest ranches of Central
Texas, and thereto was the responsibility for what manner of beauty sets
mad the hearts of men.

Every woman in all Texas, at least in all the Texas of Bexar, Guadalupe,
Comal, Gonzales and Caldwell counties, was sorry for Taisie Lockhart.
She was trying to hold together the property left her by the sudden
death—through murder—of her father, Burleson Lockhart, frontiersman on
the bloody borders of the Southwest since 1831. And every woman wondered
what man she would marry. Every woman also demanded that she marry soon.

An Alabama man Burleson Lockhart’s father had been; he himself was
Louisianian up to his young manhood; and since then Texan, from a time
before the Texas Republic was born. Add to Burleson Lockhart’s six feet
of fighting manhood the tender beauty of Anastasie Brousseau, gentle and
beautiful Louisiana girl, willing to leave her own plantation home among
the moss-hung bayou lands for the red borders of Comanche land—and
behold Taisie, present mistress of Del Sol, motherless since six,
educated by her father in compliance with her mother’s steady wish, and
now owner of a vast property that to-day would mean many millions.

But to-day in Texas is not the day of 1867. Yonder was a country wild,
almost lawless, unfettered, savage; moreover just then roughened and
wholly disheartened by the Civil War. In truth, taking her as she stood,
within half a foot of six feet, beautiful despite her boots and
trousers, Taisie Lockhart was no more than a dead-broke heiress to a
potential but wholly dormant wealth, or to possessions which but now had
vanished.

And that was why she now broke down in her morning salutation, even when
all her men arose and joined Jim Nabours in silent attention.

“Men——” began the tall girl once more, and once more failed.

Then Taisie Lockhart ignominiously leaned her red head on her brown hand
against the gray cook house door jamb and shed genuine feminine tears.
Which act made every man present wish that he could do violence to
something or somebody.

The boss was crying! Well, why? Had anything—had anybody——The eye of
each looked to his wall nail, where, in ranch etiquette, he had hung his
gun before taking up his knife and fork.

Jim Nabours cleared his throat. His Adam’s apple struggled convulsively,
walking up and down his brown and sinewy neck. Taisie knew he wanted to
speak.

“Men,” she began yet again, at last desperately facing them with undried
eyes, and stepping fully into the long room, “I’ve come to say good-by
to you. I’ve—we’ve—you’ve got to go!”

The men stood, shocked. What could she mean? Go? Where? What? Quit the
brand? Leave Laguna del Sol? Leave her, the boss? What did that mean?
Not even Jim Nabours could break the horrified silence, and he had been
foreman these five and twenty years.

“Boys,” said Taisie Lockhart at last, suddenly spreading out her hands,
“I’m done! I’m broke! I—I can’t pay you any more!”

And then Taisie Lockhart, owner of perhaps fifty thousand acres of land
and what had once been fifty thousand cows, broke down absolutely. She
cast herself on the board bench at one side of the clothless table, sunk
her glorious head on her flung arms and wept; wept like a child in need
of comfort. And there was none in all the world to comfort her, unless
sixteen lean and gawky cow hands could do so; which, now patently, they
could not.

“Miss Taisie, what you mean?” began Jim Nabours, after a very long time.

“Broke!” whispered Anastasie Lockhart collegiately. “Broke at last!
Boys, I’m clean busted and for fair!”

“That ain’t no ways what I mean, Miss Taisie!” went on the anguished
foreman. “Broke ain’t nothing. Yore paw was broke; everybody in all
Texas is and always has been. Pay? He didn’t; nobody does. But what
I—now, what I mean is, what do you mean when you say we got to go? What
have we done? What you got against us?”

“Nothing, Jim.”

“Why, good Lord! There ain’t a man here that wouldn’t—that
wouldn’t—indeed, ma’am, there ain’t, not one of us that wouldn’t—So
now then, you say we got to go? Why? You’d ought to tell us why,
anyways, ma’am. That’s only fair.”

The girl’s somber eyes looked full into his as she raised her head, one
clenched hand still on the table top, the quirt loop still around the
wrist. She faced business disaster with the courage many a business man
has lacked.

“That’s what makes me cry,” said she simply. “It’s because you won’t go
easy when I tell you. It’s because you’ll be wanting to keep on working
for me for nothing. I can’t stand that. If I can hire you I’ve got to
pay you. When I can’t, I’m done. Well, I can’t any more. I’d sell my
piano for this month’s pay. I’ve tried to, but I can’t.”

“What? You’d sell the Del Sol pianny? Why, Miss Taisie, what you mean? I
helped freight her up here from Galveston. That’s the onliest pianny in
Middle Texas, far’s I know. That’s branded T.L., that pianny! And you’d
sell her to pay a lot of measly cow hands wages they didn’t no ways ever
half earn? Why, ma’am!”

Again sundry evolutions of the Adam’s apple of Mr. Nabours.

“Oh, I don’t doubt you’d stay on, because you’ve all worked around here
so long. You’d all be careless about your wages; you’d do anything for
me, yes. That’s because you think I’m a girl. You think you have to. I’m
not—you don’t. I’m a business man, like any one else. If I can’t make
Del Sol pay I’ve got to give it up; that’s all.

“I’m four months behind now,” she added, “and not one of you has
whimpered. The store’s naked and you know it. Some of you even may be
out of tobacco, but you don’t complain. That’s what cuts me. You’re the
finest bunch of hands that ever crossed leather, and I can’t pay you.
All right! If I can’t, you can’t work for me.”

“But, Miss Taisie, ma’am,” struggled her foreman, “’tain’t nothing
a-tall. What’s a few pesos one way or other? We can’t buy nothing,
nohow, even if we had money, and don’t want to, noways.

“Besides, what’d become of us? Besides, what’d become of you? Have you
ever thought of that? Didn’t I promise yore paw, and yore maw, too, that
I’d look after you and yore interests long as we was both alive? Well,
then?

“I ain’t got much savvy outside of cows, ma’am,” he went on; “but cows I
do know well as the next. It’s all cows, this part of Texas, and we all
know it. There ain’t no market and never will be. We can’t sell cows at
six bits a head, or a hide, neither, and we all know that—everybody’s
got cows that ain’t worth a damn, ma’am, of course. But what I mean is,
if the T.L. can’t make a living there ain’t no ranch in Texas can. I
don’t put my hands back of no outfit in the world, ma’am. We’ve run the
T.L. on over twelve hundred head of loose stuff this winter, and I told
the boys to pick the yearlings and twos careful.”

His eyes shifted, he perspired.

“We got plenty of water and all outdoors. We didn’t lose one per cent
last summer, and winters was when we didn’t lose nothing. The increase
is a crime, ma’am. If we’d hold a rodeo in our band—which we’d ought
to—God knows how many we’d find in the T.L. I’d bet sixty-five
thousand! And the mesquite full of long ears that no man claims. If we
can’t do well no stockman in Texas can.”

His eyes avoided hers as he gave these Homerically mendacious figures.
But he went on stoutly:

“Yet you talk of quitting! Why should you? The old Laguna is the richest
range in Texas. Our grass sets ’em out a hundred and fifty a head
heavier than them damned coasters from below, ma’am.

“And if you talk of turning off us men, where’d we go? What’d we do? I
ask you that, anyways, ma’am.”

“If there was any market,” began Taisie, “it would be different. As it
is, the more we brand the poorer we get.”

“Well, all right; we ain’t any poorer than our neighbors. Market? Of
course there ain’t no market! Rockport has failed—canning cows don’t
pay. Hides is low. There’s nothing in the steamship trade, and no use
driving East since the war is over. Besides, with such good water and
range as we got on Del Sol, why, nothing ever dies; so there ain’t no
hides no more.

“As for long ears, slicks, we’re as good off as old Sam Maverick, that
wouldn’t never bother to brand nothing hardly, and so found hisself
swamped when the war was over. We got less unworked long-ear range west
of us than anybody, but nobody tries to sell hides or cows now. The New
Orleans market costs more to get a cow to than the cow comes to when
he’s there. The steamships has us choked off of everything east of us;
we can’t ship nothing and break even on it. Every one of us knows that,
of course.”

“Too many cows!” Taisie’s head shook from side to side.

“Yes! Enduring the war, cows just growed like flies in here and all over
Texas. Market? No, that’s so. But when you once get to raising cows,
ma’am, and branding cows that no one else has raised, and seeing the
herds roll up and roll up—why, it’s no use! No cattleman can do no
different. If we had a market—why, yes. We hain’t, and ain’t going to
have; but what’s the use crying over that? Shall every stockman in Texas
lay down and quit cows just because he can’t sell cows and ain’t got no
market? If he does the state might as well quit being a state. It might
as well, anyhow, since the damn Yankees taken it over to run since the
war.”

The shadow of Reconstruction was on Jim Nabours’ face. And what he said
covered the whole story of the general destitution of an unmeasured
empire tenanted by uncounted millions of Nature’s tribute to life when
left alone. This was Texas after the Civil War, impoverished amid such
bounty of wild Nature as no other part of this great republic ever has
known. The first Saxon owner of Laguna del Sol paid for some of it in
Texas land scrip that had not cost him two and a half cents an acre. His
original land grant had cost him less. Scrip went in blocks and bales,
held worthless. Men laughed at those who owned it. Land? It could never
fail. The world was wide; the sun was kind; life was an easy, indolent,
certain thing.

Nothing less than a section of land was covered by scrip. It was nothing
to own a thousand sections, if one liked to fad it. And, since a hundred
thousand cattle might roam there unmolested and uncounted, it literally
was true that every man in Texas was land poor and cow poor—if he was
so ignorant and foolish as to buy land scrip at two to five cents an
acre when he might have all the range he liked for nothing at all, and
all the cows he cared for without the bother of counting them.

It was genesis. It was still in the beginning, in the Texas of 1867,
where the Americans had just begun to extend the thin antennæ of the
Saxon civilization. Here was a life for a bold man, rude, careless,
free, independent of law and government. A world unbounded, inestimable,
lay in the making.

But any who could have read fully this little drama at the cook house
would have known that world to be tenanted by folk embittered by the war
and ready to say that their world now was made and done. Of these,
Taisie Lockhart, orphan loaded with riches that could not be rendered
portable or divisible, made one more unhappy unit. She was, naturally,
far the more unhappy because through her education she had found a wider
outlook on life and the world than had these others. Somewhere, too, in
her stern ancestry had been a sense of personal honor which left her
still more sensitive.

But the immortal gods take pity on the sorrows of youth and beauty, it
may chance. They have their own ways, employ agents of their own
selecting. This orphan heiress, keen to pay her debts, became one of the
first factors in one of the most Homeric epochs in the history of all
the world. Not so long after this woebegone meeting of bankrupt cattle
folk at the Del Sol cook house there was to appear a phenomenon that set
at naught all customs, that asked no precedent, that defied even the
ancient laws of section and of latitude. All of which did not just now
develop.

“Set down, Miss Taisie,” said the gray old foreman, awkwardly, gently,
flushing at asking the owner of Del Sol to be seated in her own cook
house. She had arisen, and, hands at her eyes, was about to leave the
place. Now she dropped back and looked at him dumbly, suddenly no more
than a weak girl at her wits’ end.

“Now listen to me, Miss Taisie,” began old Jim Nabours with sudden
firmness. “You know I’ve worked for yore folks all my life, ever since I
come down from the Brazos forty years ago. I come back here when the war
stopped—Kirby Smith’s men on the Lower Red was the last to surrender.
This is my place, that’s all.

“Now, I got a right to talk plain to you. I’m a-going to. When you say
you’re going to turn off a bunch of the best cow hands in Texas, just
because you can’t pay their wages no more, why, then you ain’t showing
reason ner judgment I’m foreman for the T.L. brand. What I say goes.
When you say we’re turned loose you’re talking foolish. We ain’t! What’s
wages to us? I’d like for you to tell me. Did we get any in the Army?
Does anybody pay wages now, in all Texas? How can they?

“Miss Taisie, I went with yore paw to Austin, when he was a member, and
in the big Assembly Room was a man at a desk with a hammer, and says he,
ever oncet in a while, ‘Motion done overruled!’ Then he soaks the table
with the hammer. And now, ma’am, yore motion about firing sixteen good
cow hands is done overruled!”

Jim Nabours’ great fist fell with the force of a gavel on the breakfast
table, till the tin plates rattled under their two-tined forks and the
nicked cups brought added antiphony. Frowning, he looked savagely at the
young woman. He was no better than her peon for life, for her father had
given her to his care. She was the very apple of his eye.

“But what are we going to do, Jim?” Taisie’s tears now were less open
and unashamed.

“What makes you ask that of me, ma’am? I ain’t got that fur along yet. I
don’t know what we’re going to do. But I do know, for first, we ain’t
going to quit. Fire us? Why, good God!”

The grizzled beard of Jim Nabours to some extent concealed the Adam’s
apple, now again on its travels. There was not a man in the embarrassed
group who did not wish himself in the chaparral precisely then, but
every man of them nodded in assent. Of them all only old Sanchez, thin,
brown and wrinkled, spoke at first—an old, old Mexican, born on Del Sol
under its second transfer from the crown of Spain.

“_Si, señorita_,” said he. “_Es verdad!_”

“Shore it’s the truth!” broke out a freckled youth of seventeen, the
soft beard just showing on his cheeks. But then, as he later confessed,
he plumb bogged down. And the youngest of them all—Cinquo Centavas,
they called him, since he had but five copper pennies when he rode in,
twelve years of age; he was now fourteen—stood with his blue eyes wet
with tears, unashamed in his rags.

“Give me time to think, men!” said Anastasie Lockhart, immeasurably
touched by all this. “Let me see. Wait—I don’t know!”

She rose and went to the door, framed once more gloriously against the
sun; and sixteen pairs of eyes of silent men went with her.

A sudden baying of the ranch pack of foxhounds arose. It was not
directed toward her. The dogs were streaming toward the pole gate of the
yard fence. A rider was coming in.



                               CHAPTER II
                              A NEW WORLD


IT WAS not the custom of the young mistress of Del Sol to ride out to
meet strangers at her gate. She received callers in her own rude office
or her almost ruder parlor. To meet any caller on this morning was
distasteful to her every thought. She gave the incomer only a glance as
she walked to her horse, which stood, head drooping, anchored by the
long bridle reins thrown down.

A peculiar animal, Taisie’s favorite mount, so marked as to be
distinguished anywhere. No doubt descended from Blanco, the great white
wild horse whose menada ran on the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos,
Blancocito’s dam must have been a buckskin, for he himself was a dark
claybank, with the coveted black stripe along his back. But Blanco—said
by some range men to be not many removes from Arabian, though of unknown
origin—had given his son a white face, four white stockings and a
singular harnesslike stripe of clean white, four inches wide, across
both hips, running down almost to the white stockings of the hind legs.
He could be told a mile away. It would have been of no use to steal him,
and his shoulder brand was but perfunctory. Jim Nabours and most of the
hands scoffed at any pinto, and selected solid colors—any color so only
it was not black; but Blancocito put all their horsely wisdom to shame.
He never tired and never quit. No trail was too long for him. Gentled
when a three, he never wholly had surrendered even to Taisie or the best
of Taisie’s top riders his inalienable Texas right to life, liberty and
the pursuit of pitching, though these tendencies he usually held in
abeyance in the case of his mistress. When he liked, he could be “mean
to set,” according to some others.

Just now Blancocito bit at the arm of his rider as she flung the reins
over his neck and facing back, got foot in the stirrup and right hand on
the horn of the cow saddle, true vaquero fashion. As she swung up to the
seat his forefeet left the ground.

“Quit it!” said Taisie to him, and slapped his neck.

Then Blancocito bit at the tapaderos—gently, for he meant no harm;
pitched just a little, with no malice in his heart; and so settled down
to the springiest jog trot of any and all the horses in the T.L. brand;
a gait which he could keep all day, and did keep now for two or three
hundred yards, till his rider swung out of saddle at her own door and
threw down the reins again.

Distrait as she was, Taisie Lockhart had not failed to note from the
corner of an eye the young man who had entered the gate. He had
hesitated an instant before choosing the cook house as his objective.
She let him take the cook house, though with a swift doubt that he would
stay there.

A tall man he was, perhaps twenty-five, perhaps thirty; slender, brown,
with dark hair a trifle long, as so many men of that land then wore
their hair. His face, contrary to the custom of the country, was smooth
shaven, save for a narrow dark mustache. His eyes, could Taisie have
seen them, were blue-gray, singularly keen and straight, his mouth keen
and straight, unsmiling. He left the impression of a nature hard, cold;
or at least much self-contained.

These last details the mistress of Del Sol could not at the time note,
but she was schooled to catch the brand of his horse, the fashion of his
equipment. His saddle was deeply embossed, not lacking silver, and the
light and thin ear bridle, above the heavy hand-wrought bit, was
decorated along the cheek straps with tapering rows of silver conchas
polished to mirror brightness. The long reins he held high and light,
and rode as though he did not know that he was riding, his close-booted
feet light in the tapaderos. His horse, a silver-tail sorrel, was a
trifle jaded. If so, at early morning, the coat rolled at the cantle
most likely must have been his blanket the night preceding; for it was
far from Laguna del Sol to the next open door of the range.

None of these matters escaped Taisie Lockhart, used to reading and
remembering men, cows and horses at a glance. Her range education had
taught her much, but it was rather instinct told her that this man was
neither fop nor plain cow hand. He had an air about him, a way with him,
an eye in his head thereto; for Taisie knew that, even as she had made
inventory of him, he had done as much or more with her, though he did
not salute as he jogged off to the door near which the ranch hands now
were standing. In sooth, Taisie had forgotten for the time that, garbed
as she was, she looked like some long-limbed foppish boy who wore his
hair long down his shoulders.

“Light, stranger!” Nabours gave the arrival the usual greeting of the
land. A dozen pairs of eyes gave him appraisal of the range. But the
etiquette of the range was custom with this visitor. Though he was
forced to wheel his horse quite about to do so, he dismounted on the
same side of his horse as that which his hosts held, and not upon the
opposite, or hostile, side. Moreover, he unbuckled his revolver belt and
hung it over the horn of his saddle before entering the door. So! He had
good manners. He was welcome.

“How, friends?” he said briefly, in return to the greeting. “McMasters
is my name. I’m from Gonzales.”

Nabours nodded.

“I know you,” said he. “You’re the new sher’f down there.”

He was asked no questions. Some of the men already were saddling. The
young horse wrangler was shaking up the remuda in the round pen, men
were roping their mounts. Jim Nabours, foreman, and responsible for
hospitality, no more than moved a hand of invitation. The newcomer
seated himself at the long table, just abandoned. The negro cook
appeared, bearing renewals. The guest ate in silence. Had Taisie seen
him she would have noted some indefinable difference in his table
manners from those of the cattle hands who but now had left this same
rude board; but he ate with no shrug of criticism.

Nabours awaited his pleasure. Silence was the custom. There were some
silent moments before the stranger pushed back and turned.

“I had to lie out last night at the river,” said he. “Fresh javelina
isn’t bad if you like it. I rather prefer your bacon here.”

Nabours grinned.

“You’d orto have rid on in.”

“The trail has changed since I was here. Of course, I used to know Del
Sol. My father, Calvin McMasters—you’ve heard of him?—was a friend of
Colonel Burleson Lockhart forty years back. They died together, and in
the same way—you know how. But I was away three years with my regiment,
and lately I’ve never got around to ride up the hundred miles from the
south.”

“You’re riding back from north now?”

“Yes.”

“Far?”

“From Arkansas.”

“So?”

“Yes. I came down the Washita and crossed the Red at the Station, in
from the Nations.”

“How’s that country up in there for cows?” asked Jim Nabours, with the
cowman’s invariable interest in new lands. “I never been acrost the Red.
Palo Pinto’s about the limit I make for hunting our cows on the north.”

“Good range all the way through the Nations; good all the way from here
across the Red and clean up to what they call the Kansas line—that’s
above the Cherokee Outlet. I was in east, along the Arkansas line.”

“Water?”

“Plenty.”

Nabours remained silent for a time.

“Tell me, friend,” said he at length. “How about Colonel Lockhart’s old
notion? He worked some cows north, like, on the Jess Chisholm Trail, up
along the Washita, north of the Red somewheres. Arkansaw was where he
went, and the last time he went he didn’t never come back.”

The faces of both men were grave. The murder of Burleson Lockhart and
Calvin McMasters by the ruffians of the Arkansas border was an open
wound for all Central Texas.

“The Chisholm Trail isn’t any trail,” said the stranger. “I came down
that way myself, west of Wichita, but Jesse never did herd anything much
over it. He did drive two-three little bunches from the Red River to
Little Rock, Arkansas, not over a thousand head in all; but like as not
he got the idea from my father and Colonel Lockhart. They both always
said that Texas would have to find a market north.

“You see, they all had the good old Texas idea about starting a beef
cannery to market our surplus cows. Some folks called Fowlers started to
pack at Little Rock. Their meat all spoiled and it broke the whole
outfit. Jess Chisholm didn’t drive to Little Rock again. And you know my
father and Burleson Lockhart paid their lives for their experiment. They
wanted to do something for Texas.”

“Several men has tried driving cows into Arkansaw, even Illinois, even
Missoury and Ioway,” commented the foreman of Del Sol. “Bad stories
comes down—herds stole by bushwhackers and desperadoes, drovers robbed,
stripped, tied up and whipped, drove out of the country, sent home broke
or else left dead like them two good men. It’s bad along the Arkansaw
and Missoury border. Plenty others has been killed up there. Bad
business. Us Texans ought to even up a lot of things.”

“Yes!” A sudden strange flash came into the gray eye of the young
stranger. “I ought to know!”

Nabours’ own keen eye narrowed.

“It’s not safe to drive that way? Don’t you think that’s all
foolishness?”

“It has been, so far.”

“But then, men has done told me that Chisholm had a right good road,
grass and water, clean north.”

“No, he didn’t do much. He only had an idea that’s old in Texas—a beef
market.”

“If Texas had a market for her beef! Eh? We’d all be rich.”

Nabours tried to remain calm. The thought was by no means new to him or
to many other Texans, broad-minded and farseeing men like those two
early martyrs of the trail.

“Well, Jesse only followed the road that crossed the Canadian at
Roberts’ Ferry—the old Whisky Trail. He headed west instead of north,
after a while. He went up the Brazos and west across to the Concho with
a bunch of cows. He knew there was a military market at Fort Sumner, on
the Pecos, over in New Mexico. So he made the big two-day dry drive west
of the Concho. He hit the Pecos at the Horsehead Crossing and worked up
to Sumner. Loving and Goodnight had a trail north of Sumner—clean up
into Colorado. Army posts and reservations all have got to have beef,
and a lot of it. Yes, that’s going to make a market some day. If we herd
the Indians they’ve all got to eat.”

“_Seguro!_ Shore they have! They feed the damned Comanches, and the
Comanches shoot up and murder every outfit that tracks west to the
Pecos—every drive out there means a half dozen Indian fights. No money
in that.

“No, nor no money in anything that has anything to do with cows,”
Nabours continued. “Look at the record. Rockport, Indianola, Galveston,
Mobile, New Orleans, Little Rock, Illinois, Ioway—all them foreign
countries, full of damn Yankees and thieves. What ghostly chance has a
Texas stockman got? I’d as soon eat javelin’ as beef—it ain’t so
common, and it costs more. There’s cows thicker’n lizards all the way
from Matagorda to Doan’s Store on the Red, and west far’s the Staked
Plains. We’re busted, friend. The South is licked. We’ve got a carpetbag
government and no hope of any change. If all Texas was worth one
solitary whoop in hell do you reckon you could buy a mile square of
vine-mesquite grass land for fourteen dollars? Not that I would, or
could—I haven’t got the fourteen dollars. No, nor it don’t look like
any stockman in this whole state ever will have fourteen dollars, the
whole caboodle, from Santone to the Sabine. This is the poorest place in
the whole damned world, Texas is, and I’m here for to prove it.”

Jim Nabours’ long-pent dissatisfaction had led him into the longest
speech of his entire life. He knew he had an understanding hearer in
this grave young man from Gonzales, who nodded, noncommittal as
heretofore. Nabours went on.

“And yet,” said he vehemently, “why, now, Miss Taisie, that owns this
ranch brand, now, she wants to try it again, north! Would you believe
that? Wasn’t her father murdered by them damned people that beat up pore
Jimmy Dougherty on the Missoury border two years ago? Huh! He was crazy
to drive north. What did it bring him? His death, and the ruin of Del
Sol!

“That girl’s been wanting, all this month, to make up a herd and drive
north! Can you figure that out? Her a child, you might say, wanting to
do what her father couldn’t do, and take chances that cost him his life!
Crazy, that’s all. But who ever changed a Lockhart?

“And now, right here, this very morning”—Nabours beat on the table with
his fist—“she comes in and declares herself. Says she’s broke and can’t
pay her hands. Turns us all loose—every man! Her a girl only
twenty-two, a orphant at that, and not a soul to take care of her! Great
God! Well, that’s what cows comes to in Texas.”

The young man nodded, still silent, his face grave.

“Of course,” resumed Nabours, “we wouldn’t go. Shore, we ain’t had no
wages for a spell; but who has? And what has wages got to do with it, us
working for a orphant, and that particular orphant being the Del Sol
boss? Quit? Why I’ve worked on the brand forty years, man and boy! I
couldn’t quit nohow, if I tried. She ought to know that. Makes me mad.”

“Perhaps she thought of how her father always paid. She has his sense of
honor.”

“Well, we didn’t go. I just told the boys to go on out and brand long
ears, like we been doing since the war. There ain’t no money in it. I
did hope we’d have a hard winter, to kill off some of the range stock.
What do we get? Two soft winters when the flies didn’t die! Not a half
of one per cent loss, and the whole ungodly world getting so damned full
of calves that a man couldn’t make a living skinning dead stock on the
water fronts, not if he had twelve pairs of hands! Dead? There ain’t no
dead—they’re all alive! What’s worse, they keep getting aliver. This
whole state, come couple more mild winters, ’ll turn into tails and
horns. And if I needed a new saddle or a pair of boots I’d have to steal
them. Yet that girl, she’s made life miserable for me to drive three
thousand head north and get some money to pay us hands. You and me know
that’s foolish.”

“Is it, though?”

Nabours looked at him suddenly.

“How else?”

“Well, I’ve just come down from that country. To-day there’s something
new up north.”

“New?”

“Yes, plumb new. I don’t mean Baxter Springs or Little Rock.”

“You don’t mean a real market north!”

“That is what I do mean! There’ll be money in driving north after this
spring.”

Nabours looked at him for a time in silence.

“You’ll have to show me how, Mr. McMasters. I ain’t never been north of
the Red, nor west of the Concho, though south of the Rio Grande, plenty.
What I’ve learned is, a cow ain’t worth a damn, and any cow man’s a
idjit, and he can’t help keeping on being one.”

“Very well, listen! The Kansas Pacific Railroad is building west across
Kansas this spring as fast as they can lay rails. At the last
town—that’s Abilene—some men pat their heads together on precisely
this question that’s got us all guessing. A cow is worth four
dollars—three—nothing down here. At the railroad he’s worth ten, maybe
more. East, he’s worth twenty, maybe more. They need beef, and we’ve got
beef, or the making of it. It needs no watchmaking to figure that this
deadlock has got to break.

“Now, they’ve taken a chance at Abilene; they’ve put up shipping
pens—so they told me at Wichita. They said you could follow up the
Washita and cross the Canadian and go north; then hit in west of Wichita
and swing north across the Arkansas to Abilene. And there’s the market,
man!

“That’s the biggest news that ever came to Texas. It’s bigger than San
Jacinto. You know what that means, if you could get a herd through?
Well, I’d say your boss had a good head on her shoulders.”

Nabours sat silent, stupefied.

“I came in here through Caldwell,” the visitor went on now, explanatory.
“I’ve ridden over a perfectly practical trail for nearly a thousand
miles so far as grass and water are concerned. I thought I’d bring this
news in to Del Sol. I’ve known the Burleson Lockhart family all my life,
of course, and of the hard place Colonel Lockhart’s daughter has been
forced into by his death. I wanted to ride in and see her, the first
time since we were children.”

The young man colored just a trace as he went on. “I wanted to bring
her, as owner of a Texas brand, the news of the new market,” said he.
“Is she at home?”

“Didn’t you see her when you came in?”

McMasters hesitated.

“I saw a young man. I didn’t just know——”

The foreman smiled.

“I couldn’t blame you. Well, I’m the only mother that girl has got left.
I’m one hell of a mother! But still, I don’t see why you didn’t ride on
up to the front door.”

The young man’s face flushed rather hotly, but he was guilty of no
nervousness, did not even smile.

“No man could come on better business,” said he. “It was not her fault.
She did not know me, nor I her.”

“You must go on up to the house,” said Nabours. “First tell me, what
took you north?”

McMasters looked at him in his cold way.

“Well,” said he finally, “I’m a peace officer. I’ve been sheriff of
Gonzales for six months. Perhaps you haven’t heard the latest news about
the Rangers. In spite of our carpetbagging friends, they’re organized
again, stronger than before the war, and with more to do. They gave me
the honor of electing me a captain. I’ve been up north on a certain
business.”

Nabours nodded now silently.

“There’s not a man here or in Central Texas that ain’t sworn to kill the
murderer of them two men, if ever he is found. You know that, Mr.
McMasters.”

“Yes! Nor is your oath more strong than mine.”

McMasters turned to the silent negro, who had brought in a pan of water
and a towel. As he turned up his sleeves, the cuffs of his linen
shirt—as the rolled soft collar also might before then have
disclosed—showed a dull red, not white. He laughed.

“A superstition,” said he, nodding. “Sort of oath of the family. In the
war my mother had to dye her own clothing with pokeberry. She dyed a few
of my father’s shirts that way by mistake once. My father was so proud
of our sacrifices to the cause—though he didn’t think Texas should have
seceded—that he swore he’d never have collars or cuffs any other color.
Well, a new sheriff in Gonzales hasn’t so many shirts. This one was once
my father’s. Yes, we’re poor—poor, we Texans.

“Turn my horse in the round pen, please, sir,” he concluded, when he had
made himself neat as possible. “Would you please ask Miss Lockhart if
she will see Mr. Dan McMasters, the son of her father’s friend?”



                              CHAPTER III
                         THE ORPHAN OF DEL SOL


BLANCOCITO had dozed in the sun for a considerable interval. Hearing a
sound at the front door, he turned an idle eye, and sprang back with a
snort at sight of the unusual apparition which now descended the gallery
steps—Anastasie Lockhart, no longer in male apparel, and by the merest
accident coming out of the house as the two men would now have entered.

Jim Nabours was not accustomed to social formulas.

“Miss Taisie, this here is Mr. McMasters, of Gonzales, below. He’s
sher’f down there. I reckon you know who he is.”

“I saw you when you came in, sir,” said the mistress of Del Sol
demurely, extending her hand. “Why did you not come up to breakfast?”

While McMasters, his eyes fixed on hers, was explaining his travel-worn
condition, Jim Nabours was wondering how and why in the name of all the
saints of the Southwest Taisie had managed in so short a time to change
from her daily ranch costume to this feminine marvel of fresh lawn, with
ruffled flounces and great belled skirt. She even had white
mitts—yellow-white with age. But Taisie saw no reason to explain that
much of her apparel once had been her mother’s, and was now fresh
resurrected. Jim did not know the mysteries of a certain rawhide chest
so well as old black Milly, who had served in the Burleson Lockhart
family before they moved into the border country. Had he known he might
also have had a guess at the miracle of Taisie’s heavy hair, no longer
banded like an Indian woman’s but done up in some sort of high twisted
mass that left visible the milk-white nape of a neck not always
otherwise protected against the sun.

In good truth Anastasie—such was her mother’s Louisiana name in
baptism, and her own—was not unmindful of the ways of woman in older
lands, in spite of the surroundings into which fate had cast her. And
truly she was beautiful—rarely, astonishingly, confusingly beautiful.
The man did not live who could have seen her now and not have felt his
heart leap to joy in the universe and its ways.

She led them back into the house. Her very presence filled the
low-ceiled room, one of the two at the right of the four corners made by
the right-angled double halls. The adobe ranch house of Del Sol was
built like others of the Saxon Southwest, so that each breath of air
might be caught from any direction of the wind; an arrangement cooler
than a patio for a house surrounded on two sides by a grove of giant
live oaks draped heavily in Spanish moss.

The interior gave a rude setting for a picture such as this young woman
made. The ease and luxury of lower Louisiana, for a wealthy generation
of sugar-cane planters the repository of Europe’s best art and last
luxuries, were not reflected in the first Saxon generation of the Texas
border. True, the furniture in part was traceable to earlier days. Two
paintings, three framed samplers, told of a mother’s hands. There was a
heavy claw-foot table. A few mismated chairs of the Empire stood in a
row. But a rawhide settee and four splat-bottom chairs frankly admitted
the limit of such supplies; the prevailing flavor of the borderland
could not be denied. Not so much of a marvel, for at that time there was
not a hundred miles of railroad within the boundaries of Texas, and
everything from the East must survive the toil and danger of wagon
freighting.

In one corner of the room was a conical upright Mexican fireplace.
Opposed to this and covered with soft tanned baby-calfskins of varied
colors, stood the one thing which had saved the soul of Anastasie
Lockhart the first, as of Anastasie the second—the piano, regarded with
awe by all the cattle hands. On the piano stood, now, a vase of flowers.
They were very fresh flowers. Jim Nabours knew they had not been there
an hour earlier, for he had called before breakfast and they were not
there then; though he knew Taisie’s garden had some blossoms.

What shall escape the eye of a maiden? Tapered conchas on a bridle
strap, neat boots, a well-shaped hat, a way of sitting in a saddle, the
air of a family that had once come down from Tennessee on the Natchez
Trace and the Old River Road, to Louisiana, to Texas? Nay, not so easily
are a maid’s eyes baffled, though she shall have had but a single look
at a newcome young man opening her gate a hundred yards away. Hence
these flowers, hence this frock, the reason for which Jim Nabours could
not analyze.

Mr. Dan McMasters, new sheriff of Gonzales, mighty young for that job,
was a proper man. A vague sense of uneasiness came to the soul of
Foreman Jim as he saw his comeliness and ease of manner. He felt he had
been betrayed—did not feel familiar with these new little ways.

“You see, Miss Lockhart,” went on McMasters when he had taken his own
seat on the cowhide settee, “I’ve been north, up the Indian roads. As I
was only fifty miles away, I thought I would ride in.”

“You are very welcome, sir. Our families always have been friends.”

The voice of Anastasie Lockhart was the color of her hair. Almost, you
could call her hair vibrant.

“Yes, my family always has known your family. I wanted to see you once
more. That must have been my main reason. You—you have grown, Miss
Lockhart. I’d not have known you. But just now I was talking with your
segundo. He thought you might like to hear some word I am bringing down
to Texas from the North.”

“He means they’ve started a cattle market up North on the railroad, Miss
Taisie,” broke in Jim Nabours.

“Market? There’s going to be a shipping point—do you mean that, sir?”
The girl turned swiftly.

“I think so, yes,” replied Dan McMasters. “It’s at Abilene, in Kansas,
right north of Wichita. You see, Wichita’s not far across the Kansas
line, above the Nations.”

“Abilene?”

“No one ever heard of it. It’s head of the rails on the Kansas Pacific,
the new road that’s building west. They want cattle. They are promising
a market.”

The girl’s eyes kindled.

“That’s news!”

He nodded.

“Yes. The railroads are planning to run up the Arkansas the same as up
the Platte—and that’s done, now. That whole country north of here, from
all I can hear about it, is a thousand by two thousand miles of natural
cow land. Grass? They tell me that farther on west there’s millions of
acres of what they call buffalo grass—short, like our grama. Maybe it
won’t carry cows, but some say it will. It certainly fattens the
buffalo. And there isn’t a cow in it all; it’s empty and waiting for
range stock—to say nothing of the Eastern demand.”

Nabours broke in.

“We know we could herd as far as Wichita. Shore we could get from there
to Aberlene.”

“Yes,” said this prophet of a new day; “and we would find Eastern
buyers—farmers and feeders and beef men—waiting to buy our stuff as
fast as we drove it through.”

“Really?” Taisie Lockhart almost forgot her morning’s troubles.
“Really?”

“Why, yes, I reckon it’s true, from what the men told me that came down
to cut the trail in the Nations. They declare there’ll be buyers for all
we can drive, up to a hundred thousand head—yes, two-three hundred
thousand!”

Inarticulate sound came in Anastasie’s throat. She cast a triumphant
glance at her foreman.

“Well, now, ma’am, how was I to know?” defended Jim. “I never did hear
of no Aberlene, not in my whole life, till this young gentleman rid in
here this morning.”

“Well, you ought to have heard of it!” rejoined his employer with a
woman’s logic. “Why, man, that’s what all Texas has been starving for
for years! Didn’t I tell you? Haven’t I been telling you? Haven’t I been
begging you to make a herd and drive north, somewhere, and trust to God
to find buyers there, since there’s no hope here, south or east? Haven’t
I told you, Jim?”

“I reckon you did, ma’am,” admitted her aid. “Same time, you didn’t know
a damned thing about it.”

“Oh, you!” Taisie turned to him. “Do you expect to have people show you
what’s in their hands before you draw cards? Can’t you take a chance?”

“For my own self, yes, Miss Taisie. For you—we all was scared. Especial
we was scared when you said you was going along.”

“But I am going along! And I am going to put up a herd!”

“Now, Miss Lockhart,” ventured Dan McMasters, “you couldn’t do that.
Your men can put up a herd and drive north for you, but no woman ever
has gone north of the Red, or ever ought to try it. There’s no real
trail—it’s all wild north of here for fifteen hundred miles or more.
There’s not a bridge—I’ve swum ten rivers and forded a hundred. There
are Indians. There are storms—and no shelter for you. Miss Lockhart,
there’s not a man in Texas ever would let you go.”

“There’s not men enough in all Texas to keep me from going!”

Taisie’s grief was entirely forgotten now.

“Even your father——” Jim began.

“Don’t!” Sudden tears came to the girl’s eyes.

“She allus bogs down—about her father,” explained Nabours.

“I’ll not bog down! I’ll get over this some day. Why, the reason I want
to go north is to find the man that did it! He’s somewhere up there.”

McMasters, captain in the Rangers, looked at her with a sudden kindling
of his own cool eyes; but he said nothing. The mistress of Del Sol
stamped her foot in its cross-banded slipper.

“Always you treat me like a girl. I’m not!”

“Yes, you are, Miss Taisie,” rejoined Jim Nabours. “You’re a girl, and
I’m your mother and your father both, till you get a new segundo.”

“Listen at him!” Taisie turned to the young stranger. “The whole state
of Texas is dying on its feet, and the men of Texas scared to drive,
with maybe five dollars a head waiting for them at the railroad! That’s
riches!

“How long would it take?” she demanded of her informant.

“All season, practically,” replied McMasters. “I rode about forty miles
a day, coming south, and I was eleven hundred miles away at one time.
Cows could go ten miles a day, maybe, if you could keep the herd going;
say two-three hundred miles a month. Say three-four months—that would
cover a heap of trail.”

“All the distance between here and heaven! All the difference between
poverty and self-respect! Oh!”—she looked him fair in the face—“it’s
no use to pretend! Do you know what I did this very morning, sir, just
before you rode in? Do you know why I’m crying now? I can’t help it.
Why, I was down there to tell my men that I’d turned them all loose this
morning. I discharged them all. I told them I was broke, that I couldn’t
pay my hands.

“Poor? Don’t I know! Go back to Gonzales and tell your people that the
last Lockhart’s down in the dust. I’ve got no pride left at all, because
I’m broke. Do you wonder that I cry?”

“She did!” said Jim Nabours. “She is!”

McMasters turned away and looked out the window. The tears of such a
woman made one thing no man could face.

“But, of course,” added the foreman, “I taken all that in my own hands.
I just sont the hands out like usual. Seems like I can hear the irons
sizzling on about a dozen long ears by now already.”

“And the lot not worth a pinch of old Milly’s snuff!” commented Taisie.
“The market—that’s the one thing! Mr. McMasters has brought news!”

“I almost hesitate over it,” said the young man. “I can’t bring it free
of risk and danger.”

“You don’t know my men!” broke out Taisie proudly.

“Oh, yes, I do! I know us all, ma’am. They—we would all die first. But
suppose that was not enough?”

“And if I’m a woman, at least I’m not an old woman. I’ll drive the first
Texas herd to the railroad with my own men if it takes our last horse
and last man! It’s north for me, or I’m gone. When you rode in, sir, I
was at the lowest ebb of all my life.”

“I wish the tide may turn, Miss Lockhart,” said young Dan McMasters
quietly.

“It will—I believe it has!” She was on her feet, her eyes bright, her
color up. “Why, listen! I’ll take Anita and Milly both along. We’ve two
carretas left. Jim, you old coward”—her hand was on his shoulder
affectionately—“you know you told me you could make a herd of five
thousand fours in our brand inside of a day’s ride from Del Sol. Even if
it was beeves——

“Tell me, what ages?” She turned suddenly to McMasters.

“I can’t say yet,” was his reply. “Fours and long threes would do best
for shipping East. But the talk I heard is that there’ll be use for
stockers—even yearlings, too, because the range is open all in north
and west of there. People are crowding out to the buffalo range,
following the railroads. It’s unbelievable how crazy they are. It seems
as though they felt they just have got to get West. They’ll all need
cattle.”

A new expression came to his face as he went on:

“There’s millions of acres of unbroken land up there, north of the old
slavery line of 36-30. It will take North and South both to make it. It
will be the West! It will be the heart of America!”

“We’ll be the first to see it! There’s no age from calf to fifty years
Del Sol can’t drive!” said Taisie Lockhart decisively. “How many?”

“That depends on your force of hands. Some said three thousand head was
around what a herd should be. A dozen hands could drive it—say
fifteen-twenty. Each man ought to have at least six or eight horses in
his string. There’ll be riding.”

“Well, what of that? I can turn out twenty men who can talk to cows in
their own language. We wouldn’t miss thirty-five hundred fours, Jim
says. When shall we start?”

She still was smiling, eager; but the look in her eyes was one of
resolution; and as Jim had said, a Lockhart never changed.

“Jesse Chisholm just followed the grass,” answered McMasters presently.
“It’s green here in March, and it’s February now. Once across the
Colorado and the Brazos, we’d go clean to the Red, easy—I know my
father always said that. He said a driver could go in west of Austin and
Fort Worth, and get to the north edge of Texas and be almost sure not to
see an Indian. The Comanches are away west of that line. We’re about on
the ninety-eighth meridian here, and near the thirtieth parallel. My
father said that it was a new world north of thirty-six degrees north
latitude. That land is all unmapped. No one lives there but the
Indians.”

“She eats Comanches,” said Jim Nabours. “Little thing like them don’t
bother her none. As for swimming a herd acrost a spring fresh, with
quicksand on both sides, why, she don’t mind that none a-tall!”

An ominous silence and a heightened color did not impress him. At length
his employer went on, addressing the visitor:

“Very well. Say fifteen men and a wrangler and a cook, with me and black
Milly, my cook, and Anita, my Spanish woman. We’d take the two carretas,
with oxen for them and the cook’s wagon. Sixteen riders by six or eight
horses is a hundred or a hundred and fifty for the remuda—we’d do it
easy.”

“Plumb easy!” came Jim’s solemn comment. “A thousand miles in a carreta
without a spring, right over a crooked mesquite ex, is right simple.
About one week and Milly’d die, her going three hundred net right now;
and Anita’d die of homesickness for her jacal she’s used to living in.

“Besides, ma’am”—here the foreman’s voice changed—“I may as well talk
plain. Not joking, we can’t live on beef straight. Three-four months of
meal and beans and molasses for twenty men is more than we have got,
though meal and beans and molasses and side meat we’d have to have, and
coffee if we could. The hands work better for coffee, mornings, and
after rains or hard rides.”

The color on poor Taisie’s cheeks grew deeper in humiliation. She spread
out her hands.

“I’m broke! I’ve said that!”

There was silence for some time. At length the young sheriff of Gonzales
spoke quietly.

“Miss Lockhart,” said he, “I don’t like to hear that word in Texas.”

“Truth is the simplest!”

“Yes, I know. But what one ranch in Texas doesn’t happen to have the
neighbors do have—they always have had. Take in one or two neighbors
with you for the drive—say a thousand head, each brand. They’d be glad
to put up the wagon and the remuda. You must not push away your
neighbors. This is Texas.”

A cold rage met his sincerity and friendliness.

“I’ll have help from no one! Del Sol will drive a lone herd north, win
or lose. I’ll take it all back, Jim—you’re all hired on again, the last
man of you. You’ll stand by me? I’ll sell my cows and pay my men; and
then I’ll see if there’s any law in the North or any men in the South to
help me find a murderer.”

“Ma’am,” said Jim Nabours, “you’ve put it now so’s’t not one of us can
help hisself. We got to go. When hell freezes we’ll all walk out on the
ice together.

“But you got to thank Mr. McMasters for what he’s done told us, Miss
Taisie,” he added. “I reckon he’s our best neighbor.”

“I do thank you, sir!” The girl rose and held out her hand frankly. The
young man bent over it. He did not seat himself again. “But you’ll stop
a day or so with us?”

“No, I must be riding now,” he answered.

He found his hat, bowed, passed out the door with no dallying or
indecision; nor said a word about return. He was abrupt to coldness, if
not to rudeness.

Anastasie Lockhart looked through the window shades so intently that her
hand remained not fallen after it had drawn them; so intently that she
did not hear old Milly as she entered.

“Laws, Miss Taisie, is that young gemman gone? I done brung in some
likker fer him. He’s quality, Miss Taisie! Who is he, an’ whah he come
from? Is he done ask you about marryin’ yit?”

“Not yet, Milly,” answered Anastasie.

She sat down in the one rocking-chair, staring at the uncarpeted floor.
She was older now than she had been an hour ago. Why had this neighbor
not promised an early return? And was he not a strangely stiff and
silent young man? Were the honors of sheriff and captain so much as to
render him superior to a girl with red hair who wore her mother’s
clothes, years old?

Anastasie Lockhart, astonishingly vital, astonishingly beautiful, rose
to find a mirror so that she could read an answer. As she did so she
recognized, standing at the end of the rawhide settee, where her visitor
could not have failed to see the sudden disorder of its interior, the
rawhide trunk which long had served alike as wardrobe and safety vault
for her. Vexed at the revelation of her first untidiness in
housekeeping, she bent now to close the heavy lid once more. Suddenly
she went to her knees beside it, her eyes wet once more at what she saw
of silk and lace gone to bits. She caught up the fragments to her
cheeks.

A daguerreotype in its disintegrating frame lay to her hand. She opened
it. Her mother. Yes, she had been beautiful. And this frame was the twin
of it—her father. She turned it to catch the light so that the likeness
would show. A bold, bearded face, aquiline, high. She sighed as she
looked at the picture of a man cut down by an assassin in the full of
his strength and resolution.

Below these things and others lay to half the depth of the old chest a
mass of papers, all similar. Contemptuously she thrust in her hands, her
arms, to the elbows.

“Scrip!” she murmured to herself. “Scrip for more Texas land, to raise
more Texas cows! He was mad about it—scrip, scrip was all he thought! I
only hope that he did not see it!” She meant Dan McMasters. “But of
course he did—he couldn’t help it, where he sat.

“Well, it’s no matter,” she added mentally. “He’s not coming back again.
If I’d known how cold he was I’d not have troubled!”

She spread out her long brown hands over her mother’s frock as, still
kneeling, she sat back on her heels, in her mother’s cross-banded shoes.



                               CHAPTER IV
                         THE FOOT OF THE TRAIL


THE sun-drenched landscape of the Southwest lay warm, indolent, full
of somber fire. The home buildings rested in the arm of a great live-oak
grove, opposite whose opening appeared a wide land of rolling contours,
now almost in the thin green of coming spring. Six miles away the tree
lines showed a stream, and beyond that, as most folk knew, lay the great
lake which originally had led Burleson Lockhart to take up this range.
This side and that ran miles of mesquite, stretching south, tall
cactuses showing betimes among the twisted thorny trees.

It was a little-known corner of America, in what one day was to be known
as the great breeding range, last of the holdings above the Rio Grande
to fall from the lax hand of Spain. The lack of rain left the vegetation
anguished. A thousand distorted souls in torment lived in these gray
trees. Soon the direct sun rays would again be searing into brown the
new and tender grass, though it scarce had had its one annual chance to
gasp in green.

A lizard scuttled across the dust of the dooryard. A road-runner sped
along the fence of poles and rawhide, bent on its own mission. War was
marked in every sign and token of Texas from its very first. No manner
of pest and curse ever lacked in its cynically indifferent confines.
Starvation, thirst, filled these mud-thickened bayous every year with
hundreds of dead horses. The bones of cattle lay uncounted for a
thousand miles, each dried hide and rack of whitening bones enriching
soil that had no answer to its own fecundity in animal life. To live, to
breed and to die—that was all that animal life there could do. Nothing
to the dead creature that it had never known the shambles. The rack of
bones was good enough for Spain.

But now had come Saxon men. Texas, savage, abounding, multiplying
undisturbed, was now for the first time seeking outlet for her
superabundant life, which for fifty years had increased undisturbed.
Texas owned millions of worthless cattle; how many, no owner knew, nor
could any man tell how far his cows ranged. He did not care. Unbranded
cattle still ran in thousands. No one hunted strays, and the increase of
strays belonged without reservation to the land that fed them. There was
no cattle association, no general rodeo; and the home gatherings never
claimed to be complete. Title, whether in land or cattle, was much a
matter of indifference.

Of law there was little. A vast and unknown empire was controlled by a
rude baronry whose like the world has never seen; who later were vastly
to extend that empire and its ways.

These men set up the one great law of custom. The custom of the range
was based on the natural habits of the cattle and the natural
peculiarities of the grazing lands. The accepted brand, the right of the
finder to an unowned range or water front, the tendency of cattle to
cling to home, the law of natural probability in all things—such were
rigid natural laws which no man might ignore with safety. As animal life
ran wild, so also did human life, one no more restrained than the other.
Only the saving grace of the Saxon instinct for some sort of law brought
Texas, literally born in the wilderness, up to what she is to-day.

There was no market. At least, rambling and unconcerted attempts had
found none till now. After the Civil War a seething unrest passed over
all Texas. The demand for some sort of market was first in the thought
of all men who owned nothing but cows and reasoned only in terms of
cows.

                 *        *        *        *        *

“She’s going to drive!” said Jim Nabours to his new-found friend as they
crossed the Del Sol dooryard. “That’s her pap’s old idee. What you’ve
said cinches it!”

“Yes? When can you begin the herd?”

The old cowman’s face clouded.

“Listen here! Keep what I tell you. That girl knows a lot about cows,
but a heap of things about her own cows she don’t know. She knows how
many her father had and she thinks she’s got more. She hain’t.”

“Combed?”

“Yes, combed! We’re too close to Austin! Hide hunters and calf hunters
and plain thieves and politics—that’s since the war. The damn Yankees
are trying to run a country they don’t know nothing about. All Central
Texas has took to hunting cows. This here’s a good place for thieves—or
for men who can see ahead a little ways.

“We didn’t know it till just now, but there must of been a band of
skinners and slick hunters working our range all last winter and winter
afore. She ain’t got one cow now where she thinks she’s got fifty. What
could we do? We didn’t know, and don’t know, who done it; but we didn’t
durst to let her really know it was did. Now, she’s going to find out.”

“But surely you can make up a mixed herd anyhow!”

“Oh, yes, maybe. But if we do hit a market, where’ll we round up the
next herd for her? Some one else has got our cows. There’s a big steal
been going on in Central Texas.

“You see, we done our damnedest to take care of her and not let her
know. God ha’ mercy on me! I’m the worstest perjured liar in Texas, and
that’s a big claim. We’ve had a rodeo now and then, here at the home
place, but she didn’t know how fur we driv some of them cows!

“But how could we fool her if we put up a big herd? She kin read a brand
as well as us. We’d road brand, I reckon—yes; but that wouldn’t change
the facts none. She’d ketch on. She ain’t no fool, that girl. What do
you say, then?”

“Why, I say start your round-up to-morrow! Keep in the T.L., the Del Sol
brand, or do the best you can. It will come to a show-down anyhow before
long, so why wait? Let hers be the first herd north of the Red this
spring. While the others are thinking it over, let’s be up the trail!
Believe me, all Texas will be moving north before long!”

“She pops!” said Jim Nabours suddenly. He had decided.

“How long to make the herd?” McMasters also kindled.

“Two weeks. We could brand out within another two, only we’ll have to
rope and throw. Our pens won’t hold. We got no chute.”

“Build one to-day. It will pay you.”

Nabours looked at the newcomer curiously with an eye not free of
suspicion.

“You taken a mighty interest.” He spoke slowly.

“I have! I want to go up the trail with you-all. I’ve reason for going
north again. My business there wasn’t settled.”

“But what’s your reasons for being so brash about coming in with us? I
dunno’s I’ve give you leave, and I know the boss didn’t.”

“Two reasons. One I’ve told you—the business that took me north and
brought me south will take me north again. Never mind what that is. I’m
a captain of Rangers, and we can’t talk. The other reason you can
guess.”

“I reckon I do guess.”

“_Muy bien!_ Our families both came in with Stephen Austin. They both
had men massacred with Fannin at Goliad. They both had men in the Alamo.
Her father and mine were both killed up the trail. Do you think any
McMasters would let any Lockhart starve? Listen! You say she’s poor; say
her range is skinned. Tell her nothing—but please let a McMasters help
a Lockhart. Let me send you fifty horses and two wagonloads of grub. You
needn’t let her know. Make it a loan or gift, either way you please. And
let me ride with you.”

A surprising irrelevancy marked Jim Nabours’ next remark.

“That girl can marry twenty-seven men to-morrow morning. She ain’t going
to marry no one until she knows who killed Burleson Lockhart. ‘Bring me
the man that finds my father’s murderer,’ says she, ‘and I believe I’d
marry him.’”

“She said that?”

“_Si, señor._ Maybe meant it, or thought she did. You can’t tell much
about no woman, and least of all about Burleson Lockhart’s daughter. One
thing, she’ll be slow to quit anything she starts. She’s sot now on
driving. I reckon she will.”

By now they had approached the cook house and the corral. McMasters had
his bridle from the saddle that straddled the pole near the bunk-house
door. Soon he had his horse under saddle. His pistol belt was now in
place again.

The foreman looked at it curiously as the two walked toward the rawhide
gate. Nabours pushed it open. As he did so a warning rattle sounded
almost underfoot. He sprang back with an oath. With the word came a
shot, not from his own weapon. The brown body of the serpent was flung
writhing, headless. McMasters’ pistol was back at its belt when Nabours
turned.

“Who done that?” he demanded.

“I did,” said McMasters. “You’d have stepped on him.”

“Well, if I want to step on a rattler, that’s my business, ain’t it?
Maybe I like to step on them. You shooting made me jump. Still, quick
work, huh?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you a good shot?”

“I was elected sheriff of Gonzales. I am a captain in the Texas
Rangers.”

His face was grave as he spoke, sad rather than boastful.

“What’s that?” suddenly exclaimed Jim Nabours. “Listen!”

The sound of hoofs had come suddenly from around the bend of the trail
that wound through the mesquite thicket screening the gate; hoofs of
more than one animal, not coming but going.

“Wait!”

The sound of the young man’s voice deterred Nabours as much as his hand.
He stood, absorbed, frowning, listening to the receding hoof beats. The
rhythm told him the horses had riders. At last he beckoned to Nabours.
The two set out down the trail.

“Look here!” said Dan McMasters at length as they rounded the bend.

At a clump of huisache the tracks of six horses could be seen making a
trampled spot back of the bushes. It all was plainly visible to eyes
experienced as these.

“They was tied!” said Jim Nabours.

McMasters nodded, bending over the bruised stems which the reins had
covered.

“They must have closed up a lot last night,” said Dan McMasters
cryptically, as though to himself. “They couldn’t have been far off this
morning.

“Thank you, Mr. Rattler!” He smiled grimly as he kicked at a crooked
stick for substitute of the dead snake. “You served me a good turn!”



                               CHAPTER V
                     MARRIAGE, COWS AND CARPETBAGS


THE foreman of Del Sol stood, hands in pockets, for some time, looking
down the trace whither the late visitor had disappeared. His head was
dropped forward, as one in studious distrust of his own judgment; a
frown yet more wrinkled his forehead. At length he turned and found his
way, not to the corrals, but to the house.

Blancocito still stood dozing in the sun. The mistress of Del Sol was
not riding this morning. Jim knocked at the front door.

“Come!”

He entered. Taisie was sitting at the end of the rawhide settee, still
in her bravest finery. Her hands lay in her lap; her eyes were somber,
clouded; doubt, distrust appeared her portion also.

She had looked about her with appraising eye; had reflected also. All
about, in every token, she saw evidences of lapse, of retrogression, of
decay, indeed of poverty rapidly running to seed. The lack of a strong
hand was not to be denied. Moreover, the conditions of this property
were reflected all over a state, where not even the strongest hand or
the clearest mind had been able to achieve solution. It was the hour of
travail for a great, unknown, forgotten country. Taisie Lockhart might
have known that the travail of a country is only the multiple of many
individual pains.

She looked now at her faithful henchman, silent for a time.

“Now, ma’am——”

“Yes, Jim?”

Nabours dropped into a chair, gripping the legs with twining spurred
feet.

“I was going to ast you how you liked this Gonzales man, ma’am. He’s
went now.”

“Were you taking a shot at him for luck, Jim? I heard a shot.” She tried
to smile.

“No’m. It was him. A rattler was by the gate. He shot its head off. I
must say he done it quick and easy too.”

“Well, he can ride.”

“Uh-huh—and shoot. Yes, I reckon. Fact is, he’s got a reputation now,
for a young man. He’s the youngest sher’f in Texas, like enough. He’s
only in six months, and in that time his county has done shrunk more’n a
thousand population. He ain’t killed that many, ma’am—no; but he has
done killed four or five, and them bad. Then when the Rangers was pulled
together again and him put in as a captain, a good many of them people
taken the hint and moved. It was time. Down there and in Uvalde there
was plenty of men that didn’t own a head or a acre, who’d agree to put
you up a herd of five thousand head on a month’s notice.

“I tell you, ma’am, the times is bad. The cow business in this state is
in one hell of a fix. . . . Well, it takes good shooting to be a sher’f,
let alone a Ranger.”

“Four? Four men? He killed them?” A sort of horror was in her voice, her
eyes.

“In duty, ma’am. It don’t hardly count.”

“He did not look—like that!”

“Huh! He didn’t? Well, I’d say he did! When he put on his guns they was
two, and he wore his right-hand gun pointing back and his left-hand one
pointing forward. I never seen no man do that before. If that don’t look
perfessional killer I ain’t no jedge. Now, which gun he done use to kill
the rattler I never could tell.

“He makes me study, ma’am. His eye is cold as ice. He don’t talk and he
don’t laugh. He’s got something on his mind. Somehow——”

“You’d trust him, Jim?”

“Ef he was on my side. But how in hell can you tell by looking at him
whose side he is on?”

“Four men! Yes”—her voice trailed off—“I thought he was—well, cold.
He never did—start.”

“No; and most does, Miss Taisie. And you that was dressed up your best
for him; and him a stranger you hadn’t saw sence he was a boy, and
hadn’t spoke to now till he come in and seen you. And he didn’t start!

“Miss Taisie, I’ve set in some games, but I can’t read that feller’s
game. He’s friendly, but he’s so damned mysterious I can’t get no line
on him.”

“What brought him here, Jim?”

“You, Miss Taisie! You bring ’em all here. Trouble is, all that comes is
dead broke; no more’n a saddle and a pair of spurs to their name. But
the McMasters family ain’t broke.

“Now, one thing is shore, Miss Taisie: This here can’t go on forever. I
ain’t no good at advice to womenfolks; all I can advise is cows and
caballos. But it looks plain to me that before long, you being a
orphant, you got to be married to some kind of a man. Peaceable ef we
can, by force ef we must, it looks plain to me, which am both yore paw
and maw, Miss Taisie, we got to get you-all married. It can’t no ways
run on this way much furder’n what it has.”

A dimple came in each of Anastasie Lockhart’s brown cheeks.

“Well, Jim?”

“But not to this man, no matter what he do, Miss Taisie! Not till I can
clean up my own mind. I’m oncertain on him somehow. Friends and
neighbors he ought to be—shore he ought. But Calvin McMasters, his dad,
was agin slavery and secession, and your paw was with the South he was
raised in. Them two was friends. I wouldn’t call the McMasterses damn
Yankees. But I can’t place him yet.

“Now, how about Del Williams? You know he’s been waiting and hoping. He
went to the war because you wouldn’t. He hung on with old Kirby Smith to
the last, wondering ef you would. He’s come back after the surrender,
hoping you would. He’s a good honest boy, that wears one gun one way and
saves his money, when he gets any. He’s a good segundo and he knows
cows.”

“Is that all I may ask?”

The girl’s voice was almost wistful. True, she was of the border. But
she had seen the wider world. There were books on shelves in that very
room. The portraits of her father and her mother were faces of
aristocrats. Their lives had been those of adventurers. To know cows?
Was that all the husband of the daughter of these two needed to possess?

“Miss Taisie, cows is all we got—and we ain’t got them.”

“I know it, Jim. I told you this morning, I’m broke. I was going to sell
out, move out. I was going to try to teach school, or something, over
East somewhere. Jim, it’s awful to be poor.”

“It’s awfuler when you ain’t been always, Miss Taisie.”

“But I’ll not be, now! We’re going to drive!”

“You say so, ma’am. It sounds so easy!”

“Why can’t we? Tell me? Haven’t I got cow hands working for me? Haven’t
I got fifty thousand cows in the T.L.? You say sixty-five thousand.
Isn’t the world full of grass and water north of here? Didn’t you hear
what he told you—hasn’t my father told you—that there’s a whole other
world waiting up north, not a man nor a cow nor a horse in it, hardly;
just waiting? Jim, the time to make money is when times are bad. If we
haven’t got cash we’ve got sand. This may be a time of despair or a time
of opportunity. It’s always been that way, all over the world. When some
despair others win—if they’ve sand to do it.”

“You talk like a book I read oncet, ma’am. It was full of maximuns.”

Taisie stamped her foot.

“We’ll put up a herd and trail it! I’ll go along! We’ll be utterly
broke—or else we’ll win!”

“You can’t go along, Miss Taisie. No woman could.”

“But I will!”

“You make things right hard for yore segundo, Miss Taisie.”

“Jim! Jim! Don’t talk that way! Don’t you think I know? Isn’t all this
hard for me too? But if we have luck I’ll make it easier for you-all.”

“You’re just a girl, Miss Taisie. Let’s get married first, huh? I don’t
mean me. How about you and Del?”

The girl rose, a native imperiousness in her gesture.

“Leave those things to me!”

“Oh, all right, all right,” sighed Nabours. “But maybe you’ll leave some
things to me?”

“What?”

The old range man rose and spread his hands.

“Miss Taisie,” said he, “fire me! I’m the damnedest liar in Texas!”

“What do you mean, Jim?”

“I am. I been lying to you. You ain’t got no cows left, hardly. Our
range has been combed and skinned; for two years it’s been going on—I
don’t know how long before. You ain’t got no sixty-five nor fifty
thousand cows. You’re lucky if you can put up a herd of four thousand.
We’ve all lied to you. We couldn’t tell you the truth. Ma’am, this
outfit would all lay down and die for you. They’d do almost anything but
tell you the truth. We couldn’t do that. We didn’t have the nerve.”

The girl sank back, her face pale.

“Why, Jim! I didn’t really know!”

“No, ma’am. Some gang’s at work in here, and north and west of here—far
north as Palo Pinto. We’ve been away, enduring the war and after the
war. We’re all broke, us Texans. But in Austin is plenty people ain’t
broke none a-tall. We don’t know nothing, can’t prove nothing. All I say
is, in Austin is plenty people ain’t broke a-tall.”

“You mean the Yankee treasurer?”

“I don’t say out loud what I do mean. All I know is, our range is
skinned; and I know we’re up against a strong game. That’s why, ma’am,
looking for the best of Del Sol and what yore paw meant for her, and
looking for yore own good interests, too, I been advising you to get
married. That’d simple up a lot of things.

“You see, then we could settle down and raise cows. We could build up
the range again. They ain’t going to be so brash about things when they
know they’s a real man in charge of Del Sol. But a orphant is easy
picking for a man like Rudabaugh and his gang of carpetbagging thieves.”

“You mean Rudabaugh?”

“I shore do. In Austin, we don’t know what’s going on. In office and
out, there’s a new gang in there. They’re organized fer to steal this
here whole state, lock, stock and barrel. They don’t stop at nothing.
They allow the war ain’t never done; that us Texans ain’t never
surrendered; that Lee’s still a enemy; and that all this state is fair
picking fer men that wasn’t never borned nor raised in Texas, orphants
and all. They got wide idees, yes. But they ain’t idees that was borned
in Texas, ma’am.”

“And are we helpless, Jim?”

“Damn nigh it, ma’am.”

“But surely we could raise two or three thousand head, of some sort, to
drive north this spring. Leave them the empty house, Jim! Leave them the
Del Sol round pen without a horse in it! Leave them our range—empty!
But by the Lord——”

She smote fist in palm, walked. Her foreman’s fighting blood kindled at
the flame of the old courage that had brought families into this
wilderness.

“Yes, by the Lord! Taisie, child, ef ever we do get on our feet, us
Texans, we’ll line up against them people and we’ll see it through!”

“Then we’ll drive, Jim?”

“Yes, we’ll drive! Ef it takes the last hoof, we’ll drive this spring,
come grass. I don’t know nothing about the country; I never driv a herd
so fur, and no one else never has. But ef you’ll let us do our very
best, we’ll bust north inside of thirty days!”

He caught both her long brown hands in his own gnarled and crooked ones,
his stubbled face grave, his gray eyes troubled; a figure not impressive
in his broken boots, his torn checked trousers, but with a sincerity
proved these years since his boyhood under this girl’s father.

“You’ll take it fair, child, ef we do the best we can fer you! You’ll
never holler?”

“You know I never will, Jim. And you know I’ll go along and I’ll go
through.”

“Lord help you, Miss Taisie! And Lord help us too! There’s been times
when my job seemed a heap easier than what it does right now!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

AUTHOR’S NOTE.—There is no Gregg, no Parkman, no Chittenden for the
lost and forgotten cattle trail. Although almost as important as the
east-and-west railroads in the early development of the trans-Missouri,
it has no map, no monument, no history, almost no formulated condition.
There is a comprehensive literature covering our westbound expansion,
but of the great north-and-south pastoral road almost the contrary must
be said, such is the paucity of titles.

The classic of the cattle trade of the West is a crude book, now rare,
by Joseph G. McCoy, called _Historic Sketches of the Cattle Trade of the
West and Southwest._ It is upon this book that the author has rested
most largely in endeavoring to restore the feel of the early cattle
drives. It was printed in 1874.

Within the past two years Mr. George W. Saunders, of San Antonio, Texas,
has printed a book, _The Trail Drivers of Texas_, containing brief life
stories from the pens of more than a hundred men who trailed cattle
before and after the railroad days. These sketches are human documents.
The author wishes to acknowledge obligations to this work, which he has
used almost literally in many passages for the sake of known accuracy.

The books of Andy Adams—_The Log of a Cowboy_; _Wayne Anthony_, Cow
Man; _Wells Brothers_; _A Texas Matchmaker_; The Outlet—make the most
authentic fiction or quasi fiction of the trail days. Mr. Adams made
trips on northern drives, his experience beginning in 1882. His books
are storehouses of later trail data. The author makes acknowledgment to
that source of information. Records of army exploration also have been
useful.

The quasi biography of Chas. A. Siringo, _A Lone Star Cowboy_, is still
another, and very useful record of life in the early Southwest. It
abounds in facts as well as in thrilling incidents. The author can
personally testify to its accuracy in many details of the bloody history
of New Mexico. Mr. Siringo’s boyhood dates back into the Texas that
existed before the northern trails began.

The author himself went to the Southwest in 1881; has lived and traveled
in the West all his life; and has followed or crossed the old cattle
trail at perhaps fifty points between the Gulf and Northern boundary
lines. The term of years thus indicated covers many changes. The future
will bring yet swifter change. As to the great pastoral days of the
West, it is high time for a fiction that may claim to be faithful and
reverent.

Fiction cannot be exact, else it would be history and not fiction. That
it should fairly reflect the spirit of its chosen day goes without
saying. To lurid writers who never could have known the West, the author
has found himself unable to contract any debt, but would make full
acknowledgment to all who have aided from a wider information or
experience.



                               CHAPTER VI
                             THE LONE HERD


“AND I’ll bet this is the sorriest herd of cows that ever was made on
the soil of Texas!” There was grief in the tones of old Jim Nabours as
he turned away from the dusty flat where the circling riders were
holding the main body of the T.L. gathering. For many days the men had
been riding mesquite thicket, timbered flat and open glade, sweeping in
the cattle in a general rodeo for the making of the trail herd. This was
the result.

“About one in ten of what we’d orto of had, and what she still thinks
she’s got,” he added, speaking to his own trail segundo, bearded young
Del Williams, as they pulled up and looked back at the cattle.

Williams nodded.

“It’s been a system,” said he. “Some one’s stripped the whole upper
range. We’d orto had fifty riders instead of ten—and not a Mexican in
the lot—to ride the upper water fronts. I got my own suspicions.”

“And me. But what’s the use? The war come and we couldn’t help it. But
even if cows wasn’t worth a damn we ought to of knew how many we didn’t
have. Till now, I never really did.”

Williams nodded. A tall, well-favored youth he was, with the gravity of
the returned soldier. He still, fault of better, wore the Confederate
gray. His garb was worn and patched, like that of the foreman.

“They robbed that range after the old man was killed and afore we-all
got here in charge. For over two years Del Sol was let plumb alone.
Laguna del Sol! Best range in Texas, and the onliest place in all Texas
that ain’t boiling over with cows right now! Fours? Long threes? Beeves?
How could we pick? We was lucky to get what we did, even with quite some
few that don’t show T.L. any too damned plain.

“Oh, there’s over four thousand head,” Williams went on; “four thousand
three hundred and forty-two is what we made it when we tallied ’em in.
But sufferin’ snakes!”

“Uh-huh. There’s steers there that looks like old Colonel Cortés in the
face—bet there’s a thousand head that dates back beyond the Spanish
Conquest. There’s yearlings here is ten years old, and the rest
perportionate. Spring calves and fours and threes and laws knows
what—that’s one fine outfit to drive a thousand miles, huh?”

“Well,” said Williams soberly, “we got to tell the boss we just made it
mixed, so’s’t she could suit every buyer. And damned if I don’t think
she could—unless’n a buyer wanted a even lot of good fours for beeves.”

“Of course,” assented Nabours. “If only she wasn’t so hard to fool and
so sot in her ways!

“Is the new chute ready?” he asked, settling back into the saddle as he
uncoiled a leg from around the horn. “We’ve got to get ’em in the road
brand.”

“The boys got the wings done this morning,” replied Williams. “It won’t
take forever to put our Fishhook road brand over the T.L. But I’ll bet a
horse there’s mossy horns in there’ll brand as hard as a tarrypin, and
calves that’ll take two to hold the brand.”

In a lesser flat, a couple of miles from the home corrals, new corrals
and a branding chute had hurriedly been put up by the T.L. hands for the
quicker process of working the trail herd. The material was mesquite
posts set deep, with cross poles lashed on with hide. A nail was a thing
unknown. The two men rode along the fenced lines approvingly.

“The sher’f’s a cow hand, all right,” said Nabours. “Just how he finds
time to quit the sher’f’s office is what he ain’t explained, no more’n a
lot of other things. But cows he does know. He’s coming in now.”

The rider who approached them from the farther side of the flat was not
easily recognizable as the same young man who had ridden alone into the
Del Sol gate a fortnight or more ago. His garb now was the loose wool of
the average cattle hand of the place and day, his checkerboard trousers
thrust into his bootlegs. Chaparajos he did not now wear, nor did any
Saxon Texans when they could avoid it. There was at that time no
standardized cowboy, nor any uniform for him. Indeed, the very name of
“cowboy” was unknown on the lower range. The Del Sol ranch hands were
for the most part sons of neighboring ranches, most of them lank,
whiskered, taciturn young men, and for the most part seedy of apparel.
They came in what garb they were able to get, and they utterly lacked
uniformity, beyond the fact that each could ride, rope and brand, and
all were able to live on food that would have killed men less hardy.

One of such company might have been Dan McMasters now as he plodded
forward, mounted on a stout _grulla_ of his own string—a blue-crane
horse such as would sometimes be seen in any large remuda. He had
appeared at Del Sol a week earlier than he had promised, but had
forbidden the men to announce him at the house. He had lived with the
cattle hands, and wished his presence to be unknown, he said, until
after the herd was on its way. All for reasons which he did not declare.

He was taciturn and mysterious as ever to Jim Nabours, and the latter
also grew chary of speech. Low as his own resources were, it did not
wholly please him that, stacked up in two newly arrived trail wagons
near the home corral, were supplies enough to run the outfit through to
Abilene. It pleased him no more that if the Del Sol remuda now carried
under its own road brand another brand, that brand should be the
McMasters Circle Arrow, which was ranged in Gonzales County, far below.
Del Sol had never borrowed, never been obliged.

“_Amigos! Caballeros!_” McMasters waved a hand as he drew near.

Del Williams looked at him in silence, nor was Nabours at first much
more communicative.

“Well,” he said at length, “that there bunch of cows is what we call our
trail herd. I expect they’d all hold still and let us brand ’em
standing. The boss don’t suspect nothing but what this here herd is all
select fours. Well, let her think so. Grass is up strong here, and we’ll
not ketch it as we move north. So let’s push this here Noah’s-ark outfit
into the pens and get it in the Fishhook soon’s the Lord’ll let us!”

“Well, we’ve all done our best,” commented McMasters.

Nabours looked at him dourly.

“Ef we wasn’t broke,” said he, “you couldn’t of done as much as I’ve let
you. Anyhow I didn’t take all the beans and molasses you sont
up—there’s half in your wagon yet, and I want you to send it back home.
Besides, I won’t take no wagon from you; we got our own carts, and
them’s good enough. Horses, now—why, yes, I’ll take the loan of them,
fer maybe you can sell ’em north. I don’t want to hit Aberlene with a
bunch of sore backs. Ef you got some horses, anywheres, why, there you
are; but ef you’ve et up all the chuck, why, where are you? We maybe
couldn’t never pay that back—I don’t know. So you jest send you own
wagon back home while you got it.”

“Well, all right,” replied McMasters, slightly changing color. “You
know, of course, I’m not pushing anything on you. I don’t want your
employer to know anything about it. And I know you-all have done your
best.”

“Yes, I reckon we have. We’re not hardly leaving a hen wrangler at Del
Sol—taking the whole force and family and most of the furniture, down
to Miss Taisie’s trunk. Buck Talley, our Senegambian chief, he’d of died
if he hadn’t got to go on as cook. Milly can drive one carreta, and old
Anita don’t know nothing better’n to set on the seat of a carreta and
talk Spanish to them oxens. Ef we don’t make Aberlene it’s because there
ain’t no Aberlene. Here we come, forty-five hundred cows, ef ye don’t
mind calling ’em that, sixteen more or less human cow hands, nineteen
kinds of rifles and six-shooters, a hundred and fifteen saddle ponies
and the only red-headedest boss in all Texas, which is a girl. God bless
our home!

“Speaking of hair, did either of you-all ever notice Miss Taisie’s sort
of hair?” he demanded, suddenly turning.

McMasters made no comment. Del Williams only looked at Nabours.

“Well, you see, her hair is plumb long and plumb straight, except at the
far end it curls up, like a drake’s tail. You see that? You know what
that means? Well, any woman that has hair like that can practice magic.
I read that in a dream book oncet. Them sort is witches, and it’s no
manner of use trying to stop ’em. That’s what the book said. Living
along twenty-two year with Miss Taisie, taking out three I spent in the
war, I’m here to say the book didn’t tell no lie. So here we all are,
sixteen fools that can’t no ways help theirselves, all along of the boss
having that kind of red hair that curls up on the end. Well, like you
say, we all done our best. I can’t look fifty horses and two wagons of
grub in the mouth—not yet.

“Del, ride back and tell the boys to throw the herd all closter to the
road chute. Let’s get as many as we can in the iron before she gets too
dark to work. We’ll put half at roping and branding on the flat and the
balance can work ’em through the chute.”

The three turned toward the dust cloud where the main herd was held by
the men. A rider was coming out, top speed.

“Hello!” began Nabours. “What’s a-eating him?”

The horseman drew up his mount squatting, throwing up a hand—old
Sanchez, all his life a Del Sol rider, and the only Mexican allowed to
go with the trail herd.

“_Pronto, Señor Jeem!_” he called. “_Los hombres—baja_!” He pointed to
the herd.

“What hombres, Sanchez? What’s up?”

“_Los hombres_—they cutta our herd!”

“Cut our herd—what’s that?”

“Read-a our brand—cutta our herd. They say-a we gotta their _vacas_.
They goin’ take!”

“Cut our herd? On our own ground. Not none! The man don’t live that’s
going to cut a Del Sol herd without my consent and my help. Come on!”

He set spurs, rode through the thin fringe of mesquite that made the
shortest path.

“Come on, McMasters!” he called across his shoulder. “I want you for
witness here!”

But as he and his two riders burst free and spurred down the slope to
where the great herd was made he looked back, not hearing hoof beats.
McMasters was not with them.

“I’ll be damned!”

Nabours smothered the remainder of a volley of hot-headed oaths. He did
not understand a man who sidestepped when he was needed.



                              CHAPTER VII
                            THE HERD CUTTERS


NABOURS, Del Williams and old Sanchez spurred down the saucerlike flat
in which the Del Sol herd was held. They arrived none too soon.

A party of six strangers, all armed, were engaged in argument with as
many of the Del Sol men, who had ridden between them and the edge of the
herd. The plunging of the horses and the loud voices began to make the
wild cattle uneasy. Other riders were doing all they could to hold the
herd from a run, which might have been precisely what the intruders
desired. Their leader, a heavy-set, dark-bearded, handsomely dressed
man, spurred out to meet Nabours, who came straight in and with no
ceremony jerked his mount almost against him.

“Who are you, and what do you want here?” he demanded angrily. The
stranger coolly turned.

“Since you ride up and ask,” rejoined he, “we’re cowmen, and we want our
property.”

“You’re no cowman!” hotly retorted the old foreman. “Else you wouldn’t
be hollering and riding around the aidge of another man’s herd. What you
trying to do—start our cattle back in the brush again? Your property be
damned! Get on away from the aidge of our herd while you got time!”

The numbers of the Del Sol riders, thus increased and led by a
determined man, impressed the brusque stranger; but he did not lack
assurance.

“You buck the law, friend?” said he. “I’ve got certified records of
eight brands, and powers of attorney from the owners to comb any herd
going off this range. We’re taking no chances.”

“You’re taking damned long chances if you keep one more minute where
you’re at,” remarked Jim Nabours. “Git back now, if you want to talk
this over!”

He spurred between the strangers and the herd, threw the weight of his
horse against the nearest rider, his eye never leaving the leader’s eye,
and his hand always ready. His men followed him, pushing straight into
the others. Any second a half dozen men might have been killed.

“Come on, boys!” called the bearded leader suddenly. “Pull off till I
tell this fellow what’s what.”

They reined off, confused, a hundred yards or so one side; but Nabours
clung against his man, knee to knee.

“You can’t tell us nothing!” said he. “You can’t cut a critter out of
this herd! You can’t look at ary brand we got! You savvy?”

“I savvy you’re running a right high blaze, neighbor. You reckon you’re
above the law?”

“Damn the law! The law ain’t got in here yet. Ef it had, our range
wouldn’t of been skinned by a lot of lowdown thieves that wasn’t above
robbing a girl when her own men was away. I’ve knowed all this year that
our range was skinned. What cows we got we need. We’re a-going to trail
’em all north, jest like they lay, and no outfit’s going to cut that
herd, law or no law. ’Tain’t no cow thieves is going to work over a
brand in our herd, or even look at one.”

“You can’t hang that on me! Cow thieves?”

“I do hang it on you, and it goes! You look like a cow thief to me, and
act like one. You come from Austin, but you never was raised in Texas.
Pull out or we’ll work you over, and do it the old way!”

The two bands, about equal in numbers—for the bulk of the Del Sol men
dared not leave the held herd—now faced each other, roughly divided by
a line constantly changing as the horses shifted and plunged. Every man
was armed. The insult had been passed. The smile on Nabours’ lined face,
showing his snarling white teeth, the scowl on the face of the other
partisan meant now only maneuvering for the first break. None of the
stern-faced group thought of anything else. Eye watched hand. Revolvers
lay itching and corded nerves were taut above them. Each man waited for
the break.

The thunder of hoofs coming down the slope at their rear made a new
factor. Jim Nabours dared not lift an eye to see who or what it was. He
had to watch the other man’s eye, his hand. But the voice of old Sanchez
rose, calling to the newcomers.

“_Pronto, capitan! Vien aqui, pronto! Pronto!_”

The intruders whirled, not daring to begin an encounter with new
assailants at their rear. The crisis was broken.

Now Nabours saw five men, splendidly armed and mounted, who swept on,
spurring. They wore the riding-garb of the newly reorganized Texas
Rangers, that strange constabulary of the border soon to make more
history of their own. A beardless boy, apparently their lieutenant, led
them now.

“Hands up, you men!” commanded he.

The five men were halted in line, their perfectly broken mounts steady.
A repeating carbine of the new Spencer type was in the hands of each,
and each of the five had a man covered, his rifle leveled from his own
waist.

“Sanchez, throw their guns on the ground!” ordered Nabours suddenly. The
young lieutenant nodded.

“Don’t move, any of you, or we’ll have to shoot.”

Quietly he sat his motionless horse while the old Mexican, dismounting,
walked to each saddle of the herd cutters and, drawing out each rifle,
threw it and the man’s pistols in a heap on the ground.

“What does this mean?” demanded the burly leader of the invaders, still
blustering. “We’re here peaceable. We’ve broke no law. We’re only after
our own property that these men are about to drive out of the country.”

“Back to Austin!” replied the armed youth tersely. “If there’s a court
left worth the name I’m going to get justice for you some time, Mr.
Rudabaugh.”

“What on earth do you mean by that?” rejoined the ruffian. “We got
papers to take up cows in these brands. Looky here. Don’t you never
think you can hold up a state officer of Texas! I’ll have you damned
rangers disbanded!”

“All right,” replied the youngster. “We ain’t disbanded yet.”

“But look here!”

The leader produced from the long tin case at his cantle a series of
papers purporting to be brand descriptions and authorizations. The
impassive young lieutenant shuffled them through, his rifle across his
saddle.

“Yes?” said he. “Brands? What brands? Gonzales County? How old is the
Six Slash E in Gonzales?”

“Twelve years,” asserted the chief of the interlopers.

“You’re a liar, Mister Treasurer,” smiled the boy. “There isn’t and
never was any such brand in Gonzales. I think your names are forged.
What are you doing in here, so far south?”

The partisan showed a sudden perturbation in his eyes.

“Well, who are you?” he demanded. “You seem to know mighty much for a
upstart. I tell you, I’ll have you and your robbers all disbanded!”

“Never mind! I just happened to meet up with these other boys. You ride
along as far as Austin and rest your hat there a while. We’ll see what
the court says, if there are any courts now. You’ve worked this range
long enough and close enough.”

The youth never lost his calm.

“You’ll wish you’d never pulled this sort of play with me!” flared
Rudabaugh. “I’ve got friends——”

“Yes, the state treasurer does have friends. Don’t you steal enough that
way, in your river-improvement ring and your other deals, without coming
away south to rob a girl? What grudge you got against her or against her
family? I wouldn’t let you cut that herd if I knowed it was full of
brands besides the T.L.”

“You’re getting out of your depth now, young fellow,” sneered Rudabaugh.
“What’s more, this is Caldwell and not Gonzales. You got no right to
arrest anybody here.”

“As a state Ranger I shore have. I’m nastier to run on than any
carpetbag sheriff that tallies in at Austin.

“Take them in, boys,” he concluded. “Work the old _ley fuga_ if they
break—but they’re damned cowards and will go quiet. Just make them ride
in front.

“That’s the horse!” he added to one of his men as he rode apart and
looked down on the dusty ground. “Shoe off, right front, and hoof split.
They was plumb up to the gate of Del Sol.”

“Yes, and we’ll get our cows yet,” exclaimed Rudabaugh savagely, as a
ranger nodded to old Sanchez, who now deftly bound each man’s feet
together under his horse’s belly with a Spanish knot that bid fair to
stay set.

“So?” The young rider’s smile was pleasant. “Now, how’d you all like to
have back your guns and an even break, you to begin right now to cut
that Del Sol herd?”

“I know there’s cows in that herd that ain’t in the T.L. Brand.”

“Well, they’ll all be in our road brand before sundown two days,” cut in
Jim Nabours now. “You lying, low-down dog, I wish to God these boys
hadn’t came! There’s only one way to handle people like you. Git out of
jail—and come back! That’s all we hope.

“McCullough, do you want any more men?” he added.

“Why?” The youth laughed and rode away. “Fall in there, prisoners!” he
commanded. “Ride for the ferry trail. I wouldn’t try to ride too fast.”

“Oh, we’ll be back!” called the gang captain, defiant still.

“I certainly do hope you will!” replied Nabours fervently. “I’ll come
all the way back from Aberlene, ef I ever get there, just to be around
here when you-all do come!”

A chorus of jeers and curses came back from the prisoners. The Rangers
said never a word, but herded their men on ahead.

Jim Nabours jerked up his mount—a sign to the herd riders, and the
latter swung away, glad enough to have the herd still under control. The
animals began to edge out, to thin, to spread, to graze. Old Jim Nabours
rode to the edge, singing a song of his own, as he sometimes did when
especially wrathful:

        “_Bud Dunk, he was a Ranger, a Ranger of renown,_
        _But says he to the cashier when he ride into the town._
        _Says he, ‘I need some money that the bank here owes to me._
        _So please to make it plenty, fer I’m broke ez I kin be——’”_

A scattering chorus came to him, roared out of the rising dust cloud:

        “_Oh, please, sir, make it plenty, fer we’re broke ez we kin be!_”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                              THE FISHHOOK


“CUSS take the law!” fumed old Jim Nabours. “I never seen nothing but
trouble come out of law. Ef it wouldn’t of been for them Ranger boys
we’d of killed Rudabaugh and his outfit right here, and that’d of ended
the whole business. Courts? They own the courts; they’ll all be out and
at it again inside a week. Ef they meet up with us again I shore hope
there won’t be no Rangers. When come it a cowman can’t take care of his
own cows?

“But come on, now, Del, push ’em over to the new pens; we got to work
this Noah’s ark right now.”

Nabours and Dell Williams slowly edged out a string of cattle, making a
point. Swing men rode gently somewhat farther back; others pushed in the
stragglers. Quietly, efficiently, with the long skill of men who all
their lives had “savvied cows,” they broke the compact mass into a
long-strung-out line, traveling quietly in the direction laid out by the
leaders. The herd submitted itself to guidance. All went well until they
reached the raw new lines of the crude branding chute, when a few of the
old mossy horns began to stare and then to roll their tails as though
about to break away; but trouble finally was averted.

The swing men crowded and cut the front of the herd to one side of the
others. Back of them others began to circle the long procession. In a
few moments two herds were made on the flat near the branding pens. In
half an hour three irons of the Fishhook road brand, made by Buck the
cook, were getting cherry heat in the fire near the chute. Men pushed a
thin line of animals out of the smaller bunch, heading them for the
fences. Once in the wings, they were crowded into the V till a row of a
dozen or twenty stood in single file back of the rising gate. Then, amid
swaying that strained the rawhide lashings of the new fence, and to the
chorus of bawls of the creatures as the hot irons sizzled into their
hides, the Fishhook began to appear above the T.L. holding and owner’s
brand.

“Tally one T.L. four! Two T.L. four! One T.L. yearling! One T.L.
yearling! One T.L. two!” Sometimes a man would grin as he came back to
the fire. “This here T.L. is the only thing I kin see on ary cow so
fur!” quoth Len Hersey, top hand. “Ef it wasn’t put on right good we kin
fix it some with a runnin’ iron. Keep about two straights in the fire.”

“Tally one three!” came a voice. “Say, Del, this here Fishhook is the
plumb catchin’est road brand ary feller ever did see! Does my eyes
deceive me?”

Laughter and jests, dust, noise, lowings and groanings, the clack and
clatter of cattle moved into the wings, the smell of the herd blending
with the odor of singed hair—all the old-time flavor of cattle work in
the open—went on now, the thin wedge of tail-twisting, surly brutes
pushed out of the chute gate increasing steadily. The nucleus of the Del
Sol trail herd grew steadily, until finally the red sun fell below the
distant screen of the live-oak groves.

“She pops!” said Del Williams.

“Shore she pops!” assented Nabours. “We’ll get the boss up a herd if we
have to make ’em out of red dirt, way God made old Uncle Adam!

“Hello!” he added. “There’s the boss a-coming!”

Indeed, through the dust, wind-carried up the flat, there showed the
white feet and front of Blancocito. Taisie Lockhart, again in her range
clothing, stained and worn, her hair once more clubbed between her
shoulders with a shoe string, rode up soberly, trotting close to the
pens.

“How are you, Jim?” said she. “How are you all, men? Where’ve you been
three days back?”

Jim Nabours wiped his face on the dirty kerchief he pulled around his
neck.

“Where we been, Miss Taisie?” he answered. “Why, we been strolling
around with our light geetars amid the cactus, a-rounding up the finest
road herd ever put up in Texas.”

“But, Jim, we said maybe beeves—fours or long threes! Look yonder in
the chute, man! There’s two fours, that’s all! The rest are twos and
calves!”

“I’m Noah, ma’am,” said Jim Nabours gravely. “This here, now, is my ark.
Don’t you come horning in. Of course, ef we do got a lot of she-stuff
and mixed ages along of the others, how could we help it? Reckon it’s
cheaper to iron ’em when you got ’em, ain’t it?”

“But you’re ironing everything, and all in the road brand, calves and
all!”

“Ma’am,” said Jim Nabours solemnly, “ef we wasn’t short of hands I’d
shore fire the segundo, Del Williams. He’s the onthoughtedest man I ever
did see. Now look what he done, him being in a dream! I expect he done
run our iron on a dozen or so that ain’t beeves a-tall! And it won’t
come off in the wash! Now, how can we get it off? Miss Taisie, as the
daughter of the best cowman Texas ever seen, what would you segest fer
me to do with Del?”

The girl turned aside to hide a smile that made her cheek dimple.

“Well, I’ve got a pair of eyes,” said she.

“Shore you have, Miss Taisie, and fine ones, too. I wish they was
different. But any good cowman has got to have two kinds of a eye—one
to tell a brand fur as he can see a critter and t’other not to see no
brand that he don’t want to see. Now you go on back to the house, Miss
Taisie, and leave us alone, and we’ll turn in up to Aberlene, ef there
is ary such place, with the damnedest, evenest, finest bunch of beeves
you ever seen, every one in the T.L. and Fishhook, and all of ’em yores.
God bless our home!”

He flicked at the white stripe on Blancocito’s hips with the end of his
own bridle rein; whereat Blancocito sprang a dozen feet to one side—but
Taisie with him, not at all concerned.

“Don’t, Jim,” she protested. “You always treat me like a child.”

“Well, ain’t you?” replied Jim. “Shore you’ll be the richest child in
Texas six months from now.”

The girl reined over to where her faithful adjutant stood, led him one
side. Her face was troubled.

“Jim——” she began.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Jim, what’s wrong around Del Sol? Something’s wrong!”

“What is it, Miss Taisie?”

She drew yet closer.

“Some one’s been around the house.”

“What? What’s that?”

“Some one’s been in the house! I don’t know just when. You know my
little old trunk—I mean the Spanish-leather box with the big hinges?”

“Why, yes, ma’am. I seen it a hundred times in the front room—seen it
just the other day.”

“It was in the front room. It isn’t there now.”

“What? What you telling me, Miss Taisie?”

“It’s gone! I missed it to-day.”

“What all was in it?”

“Some things of my mother’s; laces, you know, a silver comb,
pictures—and some clothes. That’s almost all, except a lot of old
papers. There were bundles and bundles of my father’s old land scrip. He
was always buying it, as you know; no one could stop him. He said it
would be worth something some day.”

“Miss Taisie, he said right! He told me that land would be worth five
dollars a acre in Texas some day; maybe even ten. He said a beef four’d
bring twelve dollars here on the Texas range. He said he was going to
buy land, all he could get, at five cents a acre, while he could. And
he’d of got a heap more in his pasture if he’d lived. And his trunk of
scrip——”

“By my mother’s grave!”—the girl rose to her full height in her
stirrups, in a sudden tempest of wrath, her right hand high above her
head—“I swear I’ll make the drive for him—and her! I swear if I ever
find the thief that came in my house I’ll live for my family’s revenge,
and for that alone!”

“Jim, they’re robbing us! I know that herd! Do you think I’m blind!
Don’t I know cows? Yon’s the leavings, the trimmings, of the Del Sol
range! All right! We’ll drive the leavings. My word and my life for it,
I’ll be only a man now till all these things are squared! Will you stand
by me?”

“You ort’n to ask, Miss Taisie.”

“Jim, now listen! I want every corner of the bunk house searched, every
tent, every wagon, every jacal, before we start north. If we find the
box we’ll know what to do.”

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._      _North of 36._
 “JIM, WE’VE GOT TO DRIVE OUR HERDS NORTH—IT’S OUR ONLY SALVATION.”]



                               CHAPTER IX
                               THE TRAIL


AN EMPIRE in embryo lay threading out vein filaments, insentient,
antenatal—Texas, not having an identity, not yet born, but soon to be a
world. What a world! How rich a world!

Above, for two thousand miles, nigh a thousand miles right-angled across
the needle’s path, swept another unknown world, the Great West of
America, marked till now only by big-game trails and pony paths and
wagon tracks. The road to Oregon was by then won. The iron rails that
very year bound California to the Union. But nothing bound Texas to the
Union. Unknown, discredited, aloof, a measureless wilderness herself,
she did not know of the wilderness above her, and until now had cared
nothing for it.

In this central part of the great, varied state the grasses grew tall,
the undergrowth along the streams was rank. The live oaks were gigantic,
standing sometimes in great groves, always hung with gray Spanish moss.
Among and beyond these lay vast glades, prairies, unfenced pastures for
countless game and countless cows. It was a land of sunshine and of
plenty.

A cool haze, almost a mist, lay before dawn on the prairie lands. Now,
when morning came on the Del Sol range, a sea of wide horns moved above
the tall grass. With comfortable groans the bedded herd arose one by
one, in groups, by scores and hundreds, stretching backs and tails. The
night riders ceased their circles, the cattle began to spread out
slowly, away from the bed ground, a little eminence covered with good
dry grass and free of hillocks, holes and stones, chosen by men who knew
the natural preferences of kine.

A clatter of hoofs came as the young night herd—the boy Cinquo
Centavos, vastly proud of his late promotion—drove up his remuda to the
rope corral. A blue smoke rose where the cook pushed mesquite brands
together again. It was morning on the range. Aye, and it was morning of
a new, great day for unknown Texas and the unknown West that lay waiting
far above her.

The two great trails—that running east and west, that running north and
south—now were about to approach and to meet at a great crossroads, the
greatest and most epochal crossroads the world has even seen. Here was
the vague beginning of a road soon to be bold and plain; almost as soon
to be forgotten.

Slow and tousled, men and boys kicked out of the cotton quilts which had
made their scant covering, each taking from under his saddle pillow the
heavy gun and such hat as he had. Few had need to hunt for boots, for
most had slept in them. Bearded, hard, rude, unbrushed, they made a wild
group when they stumped up to the morning fire, where each squatted on
one knee while using tin cup and tin plate. Cutlery was scanty, but each
man had some sort of knife. Sugar there was none, but a heavy black
molasses did for sweetening to the coffee, which itself largely was made
of parched grain. A vessel of great red beans had been hidden in the hot
ashes overnight; there was plenty of bacon aswim in the pans for
spearing; and of corn pones, baked before the fire, many lay about. Of
this provender Buck, the negro cook, made them all free by his call to
“Come an’ git it!” Of the regular chuck wagon of the well-appointed
later trail outfits, of the rough but better abundance, there was no
more than faint prophecy here in the rude high-wheeled Mexican cart. In
truth, the Del Sol outfit was poor, bitterly poor. Here was a
_noli-me-tangere_ assembly of truculent men whose adventure into unknown
lands bordered close upon the desperate.

Of the later accepted costume of the trail and range, there was no more
than indication. The hats were a dozen sorts for a dozen men. The neck
scarf of each man above his collarless tow shirt was a scanty plain red
bandanna, for use, not show. Spurs, saddles, bridles, boots—these
things were good, for the Spanish influence lingered in Texas a
generation after the “dead body of Coahuila” had been shaken off. The
saddles were heavy and broad of horn, each with double cinches. The
stirrups were without exception covered with heavy tapaderos. The reata
at each horn was thin, of hide close braided, pliable, tough as steel.
Of chaparajos, or leggings, as these men always called them, perhaps a
half dozen pairs were owned by older men; the young could not afford
them. Now, freed of the necessity of riding chaparral in the round-up of
the herd, the leggings were cast into the cook wagon along with the
ragged bed rolls. So now they stood or kneeled or squatted, coatless,
collarless, unbrushed, belted and booted, without exception thin, almost
without exception tall, each with his white-and-black checkered pants in
his boots, his garb light, insufficient, meager. They were poor.

But of good weaponry these men of the border were covetous. The older
men had each a pair of the army Colts—cap and ball, for fixed
ammunition was not yet on the range. His pistol flask, his little
cleaning rod, his bag of round balls, each man guarded with more care
than his less weight of coin. The rifles were nondescript as the men
themselves. One man had a revolving Colt rifle, a relic of the New
Mexican expedition of ’42. Of the new Henry rifles, repeaters, many had
found their way thus far south; and of the heavy Sharpe rifles, such as
were used by Berdan’s sharpshooter corps in the Civil War—with the
great Minié ball and its parchment cartridge and the lever breech
action—a half dozen survived. Most prized by some, execrated by others,
were the Spencer repeating carbines, throwing their heavy ball with at
least approximate accuracy if one could guess the distance of the shot.
The Yager and the Kentucky rifle, which won Texas, now had disappeared.
The first trail men had yet to wait seven years before the Winchester
and the Frontier Colt ushered in the general day of fixed ammunition.
The first wild cavalcades of the Texas trail certainly were
unstandardized.

Of the Del Sol men, all alike were silent now. Jim Nabours, a long leg
bent up, knelt over his plate on the ground. Del Williams, bearded,
young, comely, sat on a cart tongue. Sanchez, old and gray, was under
the cart itself. Cinquo Centavos, name and family unknown, called Sinker
by his fellows, slim, eager, boyish, stood as he ate, shivering in his
cottons. A reticent, ragged, grim, unprepossessing band they made, ill
matched and wild as the diverse cattle which now began to edge out from
their bed ground.

Nabours, shutting his jackknife and putting it in his pocket, paused as
he saw a man ride out from the cover of the mesquite. He knew
him—McMasters, who had not been seen since the affair of the Rudabaugh
herd cutters.

“Huh! There’s Gonzales at last! He’s powerful searchy about his work.”

McMasters came in, the last at the fire, and was hardly welcomed. About
him hung still the indefinable difference that set him apart from these
whose lives were spent in the saddle, and this now had grown
intensified. He was dressed as they were, but his garments fitted
better, he was neater, trimmer. His eye, gray and narrow, was calm, his
tongue silent as ever. A slow ease, deliberate, unhurrying, unwasting,
marked his movements. Still he seemed with them, not of them, and they
held their peace of him.

“I ask your pardon,” he said at length to Nabours, “but you see, I’m a
cow hand and a sheriff both. I had a little business overnight. I’m
ready to make a hand now if I can.”

“Well, we’re ready to pull out,” replied the foreman. “Del, didn’t
Sanchez tell you the two carts was ready?”

“_Si Señor_,” nodded his segundo.

“Old Milly went to bed in hern last night, to get a good start, she
said,” volunteered Len Hersey. “She taken her old Long Tom musket to bed
with her. You see, enduring the war, Milly’s husband, Tom, he done jine
a Yankee nigger regiment and never did come back home a-tall. That’s how
come Milly to go north—she’s lookin’ fer Tom. ‘Ef Ah ever kotch sight’n
dat nigger,’ says she, ‘Ah sho gwine blow out his lights fer him.’”

“Well, don’t let Milly talk war too much, so’s to spoil her cooking for
the boss,” said Nabours. “They’ll make a separate camp. Put Anita on
Miss Taisie’s cart, for when she gets tired of the saddle Milly can ride
in the cook cart.”

“Is Miss Lockhart really going?” asked Dan McMasters suddenly.

“She shore is going. I told her to pull out late in the morning from the
big house and follow our trail. Lord help the girl! There ain’t no woman
belongs on a fool trip like this here one.

“Move ’em out, boys,” said he at length, quietly. “Mr. McMasters, I want
you on point, with Del Williams.”

And so, unemotionally, there began one of the wildest and strangest
journeys ever made in any land.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Under the ancient art of handling cattle, known to each of these men,
the herd began slowly to move. McMasters and Del Williams, a couple of
hundred yards apart, gently threaded out the farther edge of the loosely
grazing cattle, along whose flanks a dozen hands sat loose in saddle,
ready to take their appointed places on swing and drag. A few old
steers, rangy, tall, wild, sunburned, trotted out ahead—the natural
vanguard, pacemaking, electing itself then and there, and holding place
for a thousand miles. The point almost formed itself, as should be; for
the art of trailing cattle was to use their instincts, not to alter
them; to follow them and not to crowd them; to let them feed and travel,
and never to take a back track on the road.

Gently, intoning a comfortable bar or so now and then, the swing men
spread and gently pushed additional numbers back of the front wedge. The
column began to form, to stretch, loose, indefinite, not close packed,
stopping, hurrying, turning to look back, lowing, no set purpose having
yet been developed in the vast band. A pair of swing men, no more, must
serve to control each three or four hundred head of cattle on the march.

The rangy vanguard were kept moving out, heading north, still on their
own native range. Soon they struck a steady walk, in which they were
encouraged.

“Roll along, little dogies! Roll along, roll along!” chanted Len Hersey,
on the head swing, as the great motley herd got form.

Far at the back came the unhappy drivers of the drag—the old, the
maimed, the halt and the blind, steers bowed down with weight of woe.
Here were gaunt cows, heavy with young, calves newborn trotting with
their dams, all in a vast pastoral hegira.

Young Cinquo Centavos, hustling his caballada together, wailed in a high
thin treble. “Neeter, Neeter, Wah-a-hah-neeter, ast thy-y-y so-o-oul ef
we mus’ part!”

Came shufflng of hoofs, crack and creak of joints, rattling of wide
horns not yet shaken down into good spacing in the march. At times the
great remuda, a hundred and fifty head of saddle stock, would thunder
off in a brief side break, and Cinquo must cease in his appeal to
Juanita. Forsooth, to his young soul Juanita was a tall maid, of red
hair that curled up only at the ends.

In less than an hour after they first moved, the lone herd of Del Sol
was made and trailed. Sinuous among the tall grasses, it rolled out and
on, northbound. It made a vast historic picture, in a vast forgotten
day; a day when a new world was made and peopled overnight.

Jim Nabours rode ahead of the herd as general guide and forelooper. From
his place, a half mile in advance, he turned back in his saddle, looking
at the long cloud of dust; the rolling sea of backs, the pale swing of
wide horns above. His fierce soul exulted at the sight. He shut his
teeth, his eyes gleaming, as he faced north and settled down into a
plodding walk.

Ten in the morning, and the last of Del Sol’s drag, little calves and
all, misfits, ignorant mistakes and all, had rabbled off and away, sore
under the fly-bitten road brand fresh on every hide. The dust cloud was
hours old at the upper edge of the flat, when at the opposite edge, on
the rim that divided the flat and the big house of Del Sol, another and
lesser dust cloud appeared over the broken turf.

It was made by two rude two-wheeled carts, each drawn by a double span
of oxen. The roughly spoked wheels, stiffened by slats lashed on with
rawhide thongs, emitted shrieking protest at each revolution on the
axle. Each carreta had a tilt of canvas stretched above its rough bows,
and each had certain cargo. On the front seat of the first vehicle sat
old Anita, brown and gray and wrinkled. The rear cart was handled by a
vast negro woman with a long musket at her side—Milly, as usual
grumbling to herself.

These two women, old beyond love and life, doggedly loyal, passionately
affectionate, made the bodyguard of Anastasie Lockhart, educated and
dead-broke orphan, setting out into the world at twenty-two on one of
the most impossible adventures any woman ever knew.

Just now Anastasie Lockhart, trousered, booted, gloved and hatted like
some slim, curiously eye-arresting young man, rode alone on her
crossbar, Blancocito. Her mass of heavy hair was down her back, burned
tawnier beyond the shade of the sombrero. Her eye moody, she gazed on
ahead at the procession that held every friend she had on earth and
every dollar that she owned.

She dropped back and rode alongside the leading cart.

“Anita,” she said, “if I only had my stolen trunk, I’d not be leaving a
single thing on earth behind me!”

Anita vouchsafed nothing for a time. She understood English.

“Tronk?” said she presently. “What-a tronk, _señorita_?”

“The one that was stolen from my parlor—you know very well what one.”

“That-a-tronk? He is not stole. He’s back. I setta on heem now.”

“What? What’s that, Anita?”

“_Si, Seguro._ I gotta heem under seat, serape on top. Sanchez, my man,
he bring. Las’ night he got heem back.”

“The lost trunk? Where? Where did he find it?”

“Sanchez, he look in waggone, he look in corral. In one waggone, come
from Gonzales, he find-a thees-a tronk. Sanchez, he tak-a heem and put-a
heem in here. You like-a heem, dose tronk?”

The hand of Anastasie Lockhart fell lax at her saddle horn.

“Anita, tell me, was it in his wagon—Mr. McMasters’, the Gonzales wagon
that went back yesterday? Was it in the wagon of Señor McMasters, the
sheriff of Gonzales?”

“_Oh, si!_”

“Ah!” A long sighing breath.

“_Vamenos!_” exclaimed Anastasie Lockhart after a long time. She looked
straight forward, not turning, as one who left a used-out world behind.



                               CHAPTER X
                             IN DAYS OF OLD


“WE got ’em going!” called Jim Nabours, riding back to his men. “Keep
’em moving! Push ’em hard for the first day, so’s they’ll be tired and
sleep good. Look at them long shanks walk! I’ll bet that old dun coaster
that’s done elected hisself head leader has got horns six feet acrost,
and ef he’s ten year old he’s a hunderd. Well, anyhow, he’s on his way
north. _And-a-lay_, old Alamo!”

“He knows about as much where he’s going as we do,” said Del Williams,
whom he had addressed.

“Shore he does, and more. I come from Uvalde, where it’s plumb wild. I
was raised on squirrel and corn pone, and all the learning I got was out
the little old blue-back speller. But my pap done told me that since
Texas taken most of the earth away from Mayheeco, Uncle Sam, he’s had
about six government surveys made a-trying and a-trying to find whereat
is the one hundredth meridian, and likewise how far north is 36-30, so’s
they can tell where Texas stops at. They can’t not one of them people
agree even with hisself where either of them places is at. Them
surveyors don’t know no more’n that claybank steer. Trail? There ain’t
no trail. We’re lost from the first jump, unless’n that steer knows.
There wasn’t never no Chisholm Trail nowheres, and I can whip any man
says there was. I didn’t read of no such thing in the blue-back speller.
But I allow, give me a good North Star and a dun steer, I kin find
Aberlene ef there is ary such place.”

“Oh, we’ll find a trail,” replied the younger man. “I’m telling you,
there is a trace called the Chisholm Trail north of the Red River. You
can get to Baxter Springs that way, or to Little Rock, and I reckon to
Wichita; and Aberlene’s north of Wichita somewheres. There’s grass and
water all the way through.”

“All trails is alike to a cow man,” assented Nabours. “My pap said all
trails was begun by horse thiefs. My pap come west into Texas from
Louisianny. He come over the Trammel Trace, from the prairies west.
Injuns made that, but it didn’t get nowheres. Injuns, horse thiefs,
whisky peddlers—I reckon that’s about how the cow trails started. What
they call the Chisholm Trail runs up to the Arbuckle Mountains. That’s
where we’ll hit the reservation Indians. They’ll all want beef—and
whisky.

“There’s a road up from Santone to San Marcos and Austin, so I reckon
we’ll head up Plum Creek and strike in north over Cedar and Onion. Ef
there is a trail we’ll find it. Ef there ain’t we’ll make one. Foller
that dun steer—he knows where Aberlene is at.”

Wheeling and riding far at one side of the scattered herd, the foreman
rode to the rear, where the cows and calves were straggling on. His drag
on that side met him—Sid Collins, flap-hatted, tobacco-stained.

“Corporal,” said he, “we got more cows now’n what we had at breakfast.
They’d ought to be riding mostly on a rawhide under the cook wagon, but
that nigger says if we put ary ’nother calf in his cart he’s gwine fer
to quit right now. Milly’s so big she fill up the hull carreter; and
besides, old Sanchez and Aniter has got it plumb full of chickens.”

“Calfs, huh? Well, now, that somehow hadn’t seem to come to my mind
none, about calfs. How many new ones you got?”

“Six. Not big enough to brand, but big enough to bawl. An’ we got six
cows on the prod, follerin’ the cook cart, so’s the cook he’s afraid to
git offen the seat. Ef this here now keep up, we’ll have half the herd
in the cook cart and the other half follerin’, lookin’ for war. I most
hatter shoot one cow right now. We got to hold the remuda way back. Miss
Taisie’s behind that, even, with the other cart.”

“Tell Miss Taisie to ride front, where she belongs on her own cows,
son.”

“I segest that, but she won’t,” said the troubled cow hand.

“Does she know who’s riding point?”

“Shore! I told her.”

“And she wouldn’t come?”

“No.”

Nabours shut his lips grimly; then, as usual when in trouble, broke out
into song: “Oh, granny, will yore dog bite, dog bite, dog bite? Granny,
will yore dog bite, dog bite me?”

“Leave me shoot all them calfs, Mr. Nabours,” urged Sid Collins. “They
kain’t walk, an’ they ain’t wuth a damn. Then the cows’d behave.”

“It’s what we shore orto do,” agreed Nabours. “They hold up the herd.
But we need every critter we got. Maybe we’ll find somebody to trade ’em
to fer something.”

“Why don’t we cut back all the she-stuff an’ on’y drive steers, Mr.
Jim?”

“Because ef we left a cow or a calf on Del Sol this spring, by fall
neither’d be on our range. As well as clean it and let it take a chance
as have thieves do it for us. No, ef our calfs die, I’m going to die ’em
as fur north as I can. Yes, and ef ary one of ’em dies I’m going to run
the T.L. iron on him after he dies—and, yes, the Fishhook road brand
over that—so’s’t the buzzards’ll know whose stock they’re a-eating of!
My good Lord! . . . Oh, granny, will yore dog bite, dog bite——”

He rode on back, through the thinning dust. The two carts were still a
mile behind. He could see the white-band horse ridden by the mistress of
Del Sol.

There were sixteen men on the T.L. herd. Sixteen loved Taisie Lockhart
in sixteen ways, save for the one element of fiercely reverent loyalty.
This grizzled old foreman loved her as his child. His brows narrowed,
his grim mouth shut tight under the graying beard as he approached the
slender figure which came on, facing her great road into the unknown.

“Push on up, Miss Taisie,” called Nabours. “Yore place is at the head.
We’ll see nothing hurts ye.”

“I don’t want to ride front,” replied the girl. “You’ve got men enough
there. Who’s riding point besides Del?”

“Mr. Dan McMasters is on left point, Miss Lockhart,” said Jim Nabours
quietly.

“Oh!”

“Well, he’s been over the road north, anyways—the onliest one of us
has. He’s a cowman. So fur, I taken him fer a square man. Not that I
care a damn fer a hand’s morerls. He may be a horse thief, but jest so
he don’t steal from us I don’t care.”

“Suppose a hand did steal from us.”

“I never did hear of no such thing!”

“Jim, listen! I’ve found my trunk.”

“No! Where at?”

“Sanchez found it in the—well, the McMasters wagon that went back to
Gonzales this morning. We’ve got it in our cart now.”

Nabours looked far out over the gray and green of the landscape a long
time before he ventured speech. His face then was sad.

“I’ve knowed men shot for less,” said he at length. “But are you sure?
Do you know who done it?”

“I haven’t seen anything. I only know what Sanchez says. None of my men
stole the trunk. It meant nothing to them. The land scrip in it might
some day mean a fortune to a man who did know about such things; and he
did know it was there; and he did say that there’d be a boom in land and
cows in Texas in less than ten years, maybe five.

“Well, we Lockharts always did open our doors. We thought the world was
honest!—It’s hard for me to doubt—to doubt—him.”

Downcast, she rode on. It was long before Nabours made comment.

“Miss Taisie,” said he at last, “there can’t no man rob you and get away
with it. Us men won’t have it. After supper I’ll be back at yore camp.
I’ll have with me my left-point man. I’ll have besides my segundo and
Sanchez and six of the best hands of Del Sol.”

“What do you mean to do, Jim?”

“Mean to do? You ast that, and you a cowman, and daughter of one? I mean
to hold a court, that’s what I mean to do. What us fellows decides is
right is what’ll happen. It’ll happen soon.”

“But, Jim”—the girl was suddenly pale—“we’d have to take any—any
suspected man to Austin. And he’s a sheriff himself!”

“Austin be damned, ma’am! Likewise, sher’f be damned! Del Sol runs her
own laws. That man’s father and yores was friends—until the war. Then
they wasn’t so much, maybe. Calvin McMasters was a Yankee sympathizer.
We don’t know it wasn’t him that killed yore father. But there can’t no
man rob Burleson Lockhart’s girl and get by with it!

“We’ll try him fair,” he added. “I’d never of believed it. This shore
does hurt.”

“It hurts, Jim. He was our visitor. Did he eat—with you boys?”

“He shore et. We taken him in. He done broke the one law of this
country.”



                               CHAPTER XI
                         THE COURT ON THE TRAIL


THE sun swung low. Nabours rode back, addressing his point men
impersonally. “We bed on the slope, yon. Let ’em water full.”

As the cattle quenched their thirst the men quietly pressed them to the
left of the route, urging them one side, blocking further progress. The
half-wild cattle seemed to know that here, on high, smooth ground,
breeze-swept and dry, with good mattress not only of new but old grass,
they could get a good night’s lodging. They grazed, slowed down, and the
men held them till they should bed down for sleep. Over four thousand
cattle, of all ages—too large and too mixed a body for good
trailing—now were by way of forming good trail habits.

But Nabours left the herd and spoke a time with Del Williams, five other
men of his oldest. Together they rode to where Dan McMasters sat his
horse, idly watching the cattle in the cool of evening. They rode so
silently, so grimly, that a shadow of menace must have lain before them.
Without a word the tall, slender figure whirled his horse to front them.
Like a rattler, he always was on guard. His elbows nearly level with his
hips, his two hands touched his guns.

“Yes, gentlemen?” McMasters spoke quietly.

“Better drop the guns,” said Nabours, also unagitated. “There’s six of
us.”

“There’s twelve of me,” said Dan McMasters evenly. “You wanted me?”

“Yes. Drop yore guns on the ground.”

“Don’t any of you make a move,” was the other’s reply to this. “I don’t
know what you mean.” Both guns were out.

“We came to arrest you, for trial, to-night, now. That’s my duty.”

“Nabours,” said McMasters, slowly, at last, “I ought to kill you for
that. But I’ve got to have this clear.”

“Give up your guns and stand fair trial. We’ll make it clear.”

“No man lives who shall touch my guns. But who brings charge against Dan
McMasters, sheriff and ranger and deputy marshal of the United States?
What sort of mean joke is this?”

“It’s Miss Taisie Lockhart brings the charge,” said Nabours.

The young man flinched as though struck.

“What charge?”

“Theft; stealing from a friend; stealing from folks that has fed you.”

Slowly the black muzzles drooped. With a movement as deliberate as their
withdrawal had been swift, McMasters thrust both guns into their
scabbards, unbuckled his belt and hung it over his saddle horn.

“Has she sent for me?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I’ll come.” McMasters spoke as though with difficulty.

Nabours pointed to a little fire whose smoke arose at the edge of a
clump of cover a quarter of a mile away; a small tent, two white-topped
carts making an individual encampment, apart from the trail cook’s mess.
Without a word the accused man, his head slightly dropped forward, rode
toward the fire, both hands on the pommel of his saddle, looking neither
to the right nor to the left.

Anastasie Lockhart came from her little tent at the call of Nabours. Her
hands suddenly were clasped at her throat as she saw the tall figure
among these other stern-faced men. It was too late for her now to
reason, to withdraw her charge.

“We brung in the man,” announced Nabours. “You are the judge. We’ll hear
what he has to say.”

A strange, inscrutable quality was one of the singular characteristics
of Dan McMasters. His face was a coldly serene mask now as he stood
beside his horse, looking straight at the tall girl who stood, woman in
spite of her man’s garb, her men’s surroundings. If any emotion could be
traced on his face it was a shade of pity, of great patience. Concern
for his personal safety seemed not to be in his mind. This indifference
to danger, this calm, did not lack effect. The men who guarded him
suddenly wished they were well out of it.

“I a judge? No! I’ve nothing to say,” Taisie choked.

“Yes, you have had something to say, and you done said it to me,”
rejoined Nabours. “You started something and you got to go through with
it. Set down there on that bed roll. You got to tell us all what you
told me. As owner of this herd, you’re the main judge. There can’t
nobody shirk no right and no duty here.

“Set down here, prisoner. It seems to me you’d orto give up your weapons
to the court.”

“I’ll give Miss Lockhart anything on earth but my guns,” said McMasters
evenly. “No one touches them but me.”

“I reckon no man here is scared to do what he’s got to do,” remarked
Nabours simply.

McMasters made no reply. He never had a hand far from his revolvers. He
seated himself now so that he could face all his accusers, flat on the
ground. His buckled pistol belt lay over one leg. An exact observer must
have noted that the toe of one boot rested inside the farther end of the
buckled belt, so that proper resistance would be offered in case their
owner should snatch at the butts of the heavy guns, both of which were
turned ready for convenient grasp. So he sat, facing the jury, facing
his Portia—facing what was a far worse thing than death itself to any
man of honor.

They were a jury of his peers, as nearly as might be, though he had had
no hand in their selection. Had he known all the histories of these men
he might have challenged for cause Del Williams, trail segundo, who rode
right point. He had heard a man or two pass a rude joke or so, although
he did not know that as Del Sol ranch hand Del Williams, ten years her
senior, had known Burleson Lockhart’s daughter from her infancy. The way
of Del Williams’ love was silence and reverence. But Del Williams was of
some chivalric strain. That now was to be proved. That his most
dangerous rival was this prisoner he knew perfectly well by the primal
instincts of man; and now came a certain test.

“Del,” began Nabours, turning to his lieutenant as next in authority,
“tell us what you know about this man since he come to our house.”

“I don’t know anything at all,” answered Williams slowly. “Ef I did I
wouldn’t tell it.”

His thin, brown-bearded face was set in quiet resolution. Talebearer he
would not be. His fellows looked at him stolidly.

“Ma’am,” went on the prosecutor, “you told me yore trunk was stole out
of yore parlor. It had papers in it—land scrip, God knows how many
sections.”

“Yes, I missed the trunk.” Taisie was very pale, her voice a whisper.

“Mr. Dan McMasters, did you ever see that trunk? I hate to ask you.”

“Oh, yes; I did.”

“What was in it?”

“I don’t know. It was open, close to me, where I sat in the parlor. I
saw some lace, some women’s gloves, or mitts. I didn’t look again.”

“Did you see it after that?”

“Yes.”

“Where was it?”

“Near the gate—outside the gate, in the edge of the brush. I thought it
odd it should be there. I was sure I’d seen it up at the house, the only
time I was in the house. You were there.”

“Shore I was! She said all her father’s land scrip was in that box; we
all said it’d be worth money some day to any cowman. You heard it. You
knowed where the trunk was and what was in it.”

“Yes; so did you.”

“Then why did you put it in your wagon that was going back to Gonzales.”

“I did not. That is either a mistake or a lie.”

“But it was there. Sanchez found it there. He taken it and put it in
Anita’s carreta. It’s there now. We declare that to you. It was missing
from the house. It was found in yore wagon. Yore wagon was going back
home. That was right where some men was laying up in the brush when you
left. You didn’t let me foller them. You didn’t show up when them same
men—we proved by the split-hoof track—was trying to cut our herd. Only
the Rangers saved that. Ef you’re a Ranger, why wasn’t you there?”

“I’ll not have any man ask me such questions.”

“Don’t tell us what you’ll have or won’t have. You’ll have what we give
you, no more, no less. Explain how come that trunk in your wagon. Not a
man on Del Sol except you and me knowed what was in it or where it was.
Now who done put it in yore wagon? It looked right easy to sneak that
south while we was going north, huh? And it with half a million acres in
it.”

“How come him to bring ary wagon up here anyhow?” demanded Cal Taney, a
top rider on Del Sol.

“I wouldn’t ask him that,” said Del Williams quietly.

“But I do”—retorted Nabours.

“Well, I had some supplies, you know,” answered McMasters. “A wagon goes
better than a cart. You said you didn’t want my wagon.”

“A wagon carries trunks or boxes better.”

“Yes.”

“Shore! Was you planning fer a load both ways—what you’d kerry in a
wagon from Del Sol?”

“You may guess,” said McMasters, suddenly dull red. “Most of you have
guessed.”

“We have!” asserted Nabours. “Miss Taisie, ma’am”—he turned to the
white-faced girl—“this here is hard for you. Del won’t talk and won’t
vote. The rest of us thinks the trunk and wagon is not explained. Am I
right, men?”

Four men nodded. Del Williams, gentleman in rags, sat staring straight
ahead. The gray eyes of Dan McMasters were fixed on the pale face of the
woman whom now he knew he had loved since first he saw her, would always
love. What price?

“We’re the jury, ma’am,” said Nabours. “You’re the judge. It looks to us
like all along the McMasterses was Yankee sympathizers. It looks like
this man, after all, was standing in with his own kind of politics at
Austin. That explains a lot of things that’s been going on. Rangers?
Arrest them folks? Huh! I’ll bet they won’t stay in jail two days!
You’ll have to say sentence on this man we-all thought was square,
thought was our friend, a square Texan and a good man. What shall it
be?”

Taisie Lockhart, Portia, spoke not of the quality of mercy. Instead, she
bowed her head in her hands and wept without reserve. That act utterly
changed the whole complexion of the trial.

Dan McMasters threw up a hand—his left hand. An instant later he was on
his feet, but his attitude had no hostility.

“Wait, men!” he commanded. “Don’t move, any of you! I’ll pronounce
sentence on myself!

“Of course, I don’t recognize any trial or any court here—I came
myself. But some men do fool things. You’d like enough say death or
banishment. All right! Let it be banishment! You haven’t proved more
than a suspicion. I’ll accept banishment and leave the herd quietly
now—not taking anything but what I have now, here.”

His face hardened into gray marble.

“If Miss Lockhart has had one suspicion in her mind that I—that
I’d—well, touch anything of hers, or of any other human being’s, then
it’s plain enough I don’t belong here. I can’t square that for her. She
can never square that with me.

“I’m going now!”

There was no hand or voice raised at this. Turning his back on them for
the first time, McMasters swung his belt to place, buckled it, caught
his saddle horn and was mounted and away, not looking back. He rode
gently, easily, straight. They knew no more of him now than they had
before.

“Del! Del, call him back!” broke out Taisie Lockhart. But Del Williams
shook his head. “I wish I could, Miss Taisie,” said he simply. “I don’t
reckon any of us could now.”

“It had to be,” said Nabours after a time. “I’ll pay him back after we
sell our herd. Del Sol can’t have no obligations to him now. But he’s
one of the mysteriousest men ever crossed this range. He’s cold, that
man. He needs watching.”

“Pay him back? What do you mean, Jim?” Taisie was still in open tears.
But she got no reply from her foreman.

“He’s a killer, Jim,” broke in Cal Taney. “We know his ree-cord. He’s
done killed five or six men a’ready, young as he is—four since he was
sher’f and not countin’ Mexicans. He’s bad, that feller.”

“He never killed no man as sher’f that didn’t resist comin’ along,”
ventured Del Williams. “Them two other men—one was coming at him with a
ax, on the buffalo range, and t’other had a even break on the street o’
Uvalde. But no man has a chance with him on a even break.”

“He’s cold,” reiterated Nabours, hesitant. But he suddenly was agonized
over the discharge of what he had held duty to his owner—the hardest
duty he had ever known.

“Good thing fer us he was cold,” said Del Williams. “He’d never have
went out alone if things had popped loose. He kep’ his mind and his hand
to hisself. Why?”

But he knew why.

Taisie Lockhart, alone in her encampment except for her serving women,
threw herself face down on her blankets. A black and ominous world
surrounded her. She knew that yonder man, riding away into the twilight,
never would come back to her.

“Get your night horses staked, men,” ordered Nabours gruffly, after the
return to the encampment.

Against a wagon wheel old Sanchez dreamily thrummed a guitar. Sitting on
his bed roll, a little apart in the dusk, Cinquo Centavos, for the time
off remuda watch, engaged in song. His face was turned toward a certain
star, above a certain remote camp fire, a quarter of a mile away. He
thought his voice might carry so far. He was fourteen, and very, very
much in love. His voice quavered and roared and broke.

“Neeter, Wah-hah-ha-neeter, ast thy s-o-oul ef we-e-e mus’ pa-a-art!”

“Damn you, kid, shut up!” called the voice of the foreman. “We got
troubles enough.”



                              CHAPTER XII
                            THE COW HUNTERS


AT midnight the tired herd, after the strange fashion of cattle, rose
almost as with one impulse and began slightly to straggle before lying
down on the other side. The four men then on the watch, slowly riding
two in each direction of the round of the massed cattle, did not
redouble their monotonous crooning—time out of mind a range custom in
handling cows—but kept their spaces, knowing the herd would soon again
resume its rest. No unusual sight or sound alarmed them. As Len Hersey
said to Del Williams, they handled sweet so far. The last watch saw the
herd rise for the morning, not yet beginning to feed, standing,
stretching. The cook began duties of the day, grumbling to himself.

By now, without a word, the wrinkled Anita was gathering bits of fuel,
starting a tiny practicable blaze, and groans could be heard from black
Milly, still in her cart, complaining of her misery. Frugal, but better
than the fare of these others who now moved here and there between the
tent and the massed brown blur of the herd, was the breakfast for the
owner of Del Sol.

The sun still was young when Nabours, moody, morose, finished his
snatched breakfast, got into saddle and resumed his lead. Len Hersey was
moved up to the left point now. He and Del Williams dribbled the thin
forward edge of the loosely grazing cattle into line. Without crowding,
stopping, grazing, advancing, the cattle again began to trail.

No man mentioned the incidents of the night before.

“Roll erlong, little dogies! Roll erlong!” intoned light-hearted Len. “I
don’t give a damn where we’re goin’, but we’re a-travelin’!

“Say, Del,” he resumed, “did you see that night kid when he fotch in the
remuder this mornin’? He ain’t got no coat, no slicker, and on’y one
shirt, and his pants is right wore out now. He was shiverin’ like a
monkey in a rain.”

“Did he holler?” asked Del.

“No, not oncet. And he lay his string on a new horse and when he clim
him the damn bronc he begin high, wide and lonesome. But the kid sets
him. ‘I allus take a pitcher fust off, cool mornin’s,’ says he, ‘along
of it’s bein’ so warmin’.’”

“Sinker’ll make a cow hand,” rejoined his companion. “He ain’t no bigger
fool than the rest of us.”

Back on the line of the great herd the swing men were edging the cattle
in. At the rear the two unhappy drags were again in argument with the
cook. With the latter, old Sanchez agreed every new calf should be shot
and abandoned. Cal Taney opposed this.

“’Tain’t fer you, boy, to say what you’ll do er won’t do. None o’ yore
difference ef we pile calfs on yore damn kyart tell their airs sweep the
groun’. I reckon afore us all gits to Aberlene we’ll have morn’n four
thousand newborned calfs—straight hundred per cent. An’ ever’ one o’
’em is a-goin’ to ride under or on top o’ yore ole kyart. You better
engage in prayer, nigger.”

It was again high and hot noon. The herd had fed and walked a half-dozen
miles, and now some had lain down in the shade of a live-oak fringe.
Nabours, scouting ahead, for an instant paused. Turning, he came back at
speed to his point men.

“Throw ’em off!” he called. “Hold ’em on this flat! There’s a big herd
ahead coming down from the west. We don’t want to get mixed in.”

“Who is it?” demanded Del Williams. “Somebody ahead of us, going north?”

“Kin savvy. No wagon in sight, and a right loose drive. I’ll go back.”

He met the leader of the new herd, who was riding to meet him; a tall,
loose-clad man of aquiline features. He was perhaps thirty-six years of
age, and of a certain gay assurance, as his laughing eye declared. His
beard, pointing down to his breast, was dark and glossy. Even in his
rags he did not lack in jauntiness.

“How, _amigo_!” Nabours pulled up.

“_Caballero!_” rejoined the other, grinning and extending a brown and
sinewy hand. “My name’s Dalhart, from Uvalde. Which way?”

“North,” said Nabours; and no more.

“You got a trail herd?”

“_Si, Señor._ Fustest and damnedest ever went out o’ Caldwell.”

“What’s your brand?”

“T.L.—we’re Del Sol people; old Colonel Lockhart.”

“Shore, I know you! Well, you’ll want to cut our herd, for we got plenty
o’ yore cows.”

“So?”

“_Si, Señor._ You see, we’re a cow-huntin’ outfit—on spec. We been out
around seven months. Started at the Nueces Cañon and worked north and
west clean almost into the Staked Plains. We cleared the Concho and was
over almost fur as the Pecos. We sold some cows in yore brand to a
outfit going to Sumner, and ’ll account fer them on our tally—less, say
a dollar a head for findin’. What they was doin’ clean over in west away
from home and off their range you’ll have to say, fer I don’t know. What
we got now in the T. L. we picked up mostly on the Double Mountain Fork.
You know as well as me they don’t belong in there, and how they got
there is something I kain’t figure. But we shore got three-four hundred
o’ T.L. fours.”

“I need ’em,” said Nabours.

“There’s others from even as fur north as Palo Pinto. All north and west
o’ where they belong at. What pushed ’em west?”

“Friend,” said Jim Nabours, “you’re a cowman. The truth is, Del Sol, and
maybe more, has been reg’lar skinned for two years. The push has been up
and west, toward the Llano. There’s been a big steal going on. It looks
like some big fellers was planning to stock that open range as soon as
the Comanches is got out of there.”

“How you figger that? And which way you headed now yoreself?”

“You ever heard of Aberlene?”

“No; what is it?”

“It’s the head of the railroad. A three-dollar steer here is wuth
five-ten-fifteen-eighteen dollars up yon—we don’t know how much. The
news has just came down. I’m trying to drive up the last leavings of our
cows—Miss Taisie Lockhart’s cows, to make a little stake for her. We’ve
been skinned by the gang at Austin ever sence the war. What we know we
can’t always prove. I’m talking to a cowman. . . . How many men is in
yore outfit?” he concluded.

“Only six of us. We got pack horses, travel light. But of all the
antigodlin’ bunches o’ cows off their range—I couldn’t tell you how
many!

“You see, us fellers don’t skin or drive to the coast canneries. We just
turn in any brands we get, and folks usual pays us a dollar a head—er
promises to. I reckon we’ve picked up two-three thousand head. Lots get
loose in the thickets; we ain’t strong enough to hold ’em.

“And so you’re drivin’ for Miss Taisie Lockhart? I’ve heard of her,
clean down home. Orphant, huh?”

Nabours nodded.

“Yes; and the damnedest whitest, squarest, worst-robbed orphant in
Texas. I’m shamed to show my herd to a cowman, fer it’s the sorriest I
ever seen. Now, I want them fours, all you can spare of ’em. I’ll trade
you in cows just come in with calfs; I can’t get them on north. Seems to
me like a million cows, now, every one of ’em, he taken this perticler
time fer to bring a nice spotted calf inter the world when he ain’t
wanted.”

Dalhart, the cow hunter, hooked a leg around his saddle horn, and
Nabours went on:

“You take them cows, and calfs, right now, and throw ’en back on Del
Sol, just below, and I’ll take what fours and long threes you can spare.
When we get back next fall, ef we ever do, I’ll set ’em in yore brand or
vent ’em to any one you say, and I’ll credit you fifty cents on each
trade inside our own brand, or a dollar if you’d rather have cash then.
I’m playing her wide open. Ef we bust on this drive anybody can have Del
Sol—corral, house, cows, calfs and all. I just don’t want to be
bothered with fresh she-stuff right now, that’s all. As for
money—friend, we ain’t got none.”

“Nor nobody.”

“You know you said it! That’s why this Del Sol herd’s important. We
allow to bring back money. We’ll settle then, and pay you a dollar a
head fer fours, damn glad, fer they was lost off the earth so fur as we
all was concerned. Well, you boys done swung over the whole north and
west of Texas? That’s the biggest rodeo on spec I ever hearn.”

“Not so much money,” said the other. “We started twelve strong, all good
men. One was killed by a horse. Four was killed by Comanches. It was one
fight after another on the old Comanche road. We could only bring
through the leavin’s, too, like yourself.

“Now, what you say is fair. We’ll throw your she-stuff back fer you—hit
ain’t fur and they’ll go back easy. Take what T.L. stuff we got rounded
up—and anything else you like. Comes to a orphant, no cowman in Texas
is going to ast to look at yore herd.”

“One bunch has,” said Nabours. “Some day I got one or two scores to
settle. But till I get back from Aberlene on the railroad, I got neither
time ner money. Mr. Dalhart, our outfit’s broke! We’re eating borrowed
corn meal and hog meat, and borrowed where I wish to God it wasn’t. Our
remuda ain’t all our own. And as fer our brand, I’ll bet you, outside
the Fishhook road brand, there ain’t hardly ary two head alike. I been
liberal. Please, sir, don’t comb our herd, because it’ll make you dizzy.
She’s a orphant.”

Dalhart nodded.

“I know. No man shall ride into yore herd, least of all us. Take what
you want out of our stray rodeo. Ef you get back, settle with us fellers
any way you like. Down in Uvalde we know of Taisie Lockhart. Ain’t a
Texan but says hit’s a damn shame the way her father was a-sassinated.
Since the war, there ain’t no law and no jestice in all Texas no more.
Hit’s eena’most each fer hisself, and no pay fer nothing. But orphants!”

“And like her!” said Jim Nabours.

“Is she perty as she’s said fer to be?” smiled Dalhart.

“More! Come and see!”

“How?”

“She’s three miles below, in our outfit.”

“You’re not lettin’ her go up the trail!”

“Where else’d she go? She’s broke, and a reg’lar organized gang working
out her last head! What elset could she do? Come back. We’ll talk things
over.”

When they sighted the scattered Del Sol herd, its riders sitting loose,
some of the men asleep in the saddle, the little pair of white carts
made first objective for Nabours and his new-found friend.

The latter was not prepared for the vision of the tall young girl who
rode out to meet them. Somber of eye, grave, sad, Anastasie Lockhart
could no more deny her youth, her beauty, her heredity, her education,
than she could negate the strong round figure, the clear skin and the
mass of ruddy hair which first impressed this observer, not easily
abashed, who now cast down his bridle rein and advanced on foot to meet
her, broken hat in hand.

“Miss Lockhart, this is Mr. Dalhart, of Uvalde,” began Nabours. “He’s
just above, with a rodeo of mixed stuff. He’s been on a cow hunt. He’s
done found cows. I was purposing a few things. We come down to talk it
over.”

Taisie Lockhart held out her hand in shy, stiff fashion that little
comported with her inches or her masculine garb.

“I’m shore pleased to meet you, Miss Lockhart,” said the newcomer. He
stood, a wild but not uncouth figure, a typical border man of that
fierce and self-reliant land. “We have heard of Miss Lockhart as fur
south as Uvalde,” he added.

When Taisie smiled, a small dimple, very feminine, quite often appeared
on her left cheek. This now unsettled Dalhart’s reason utterly.

Nabours now briefly outlined the proposition of trading cows for beeves
and making the herd more suitable for the trail. Taisie Lockhart nodded
soberly, by no means ignorant of cows and cow methods.

“But now,” broke in Nabours presently, “Miss Taisie, I’ll have to get a
new hand somehow, out of Mr. Dalhart’s outfit.”

“Yes? We—we lost one, sir.” Taisie’s voice was unsteady.

The cow hunter was, so it seemed, a simple man of direct habits.

“I rid down, Miss Lockhart,” said he, “to ast fer the job. Would ye take
me? I kin ride and rope.”

His eyes, brown, direct, unabashed, looked fair and square into the dark
eyes of Taisie Lockhart. She spread out her hands at length, with words
of assent which might have had a double meaning:

“One more man? Very well.”

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._      _North of 36._
 TAISIE INVITES THE MYSTERIOUS McMASTERS IN.]



                              CHAPTER XIII
                            “BRING AN IRON!”


THE cow hunter lost little time in settling down to work in his new
capacity. He had initiative, seemed masterful, independent.

“Let me bring two or three of my boys down and help you-all throw back a
lot of these cows and calfs. I’ll leave couple boys to hold our stuff.
Come on up again and look it over.”

They rode together until they reached the edge of the wild range
herd—literally the loot of a land untenanted—animals wild as buffalo.
Nabours gave the herd the quick glance of the practiced cowman.

“Yore stuff’s fatter’n ours,” said he; “yet you’ve driv further.”

“Shore,” replied the other. “We’ve been on a eight-hundred-mile circle,
like enough. Way out west, it’s high and dry, and the vine mesquite
grass, or the grama north o’ that, curls down like nigger wool. There’s
cows here been raised on vine mesquite, fat as Christmas ducks right
now.

“I hearn tell that away fur up north, thousand miles er so, they got
bunch grass and buffler grass that fats cows the same way; though, o’
course, no cow critter could live through them winters up north.”

“Shore not—nor no man, neither, I reckon.”

“Well, now, here’s the layout,” resumed Dalhart. “Here’s two-three
thousand to pick from. As I said, you’ll find plenty T.L.’s. We got
maybe three hunderd slicks here and there, fer ourselves. Ef we got a
dollar a head straight through we’d be rich on the hunt. Yet beeves at
Sumner and north o’ there is fotchin’ fifteen a head and up’ards.”

“Ef we got half that at the railroad my boss’d be rich on one drive,”
said Jim Nabours. “Then we’d have money enough to locate the gang that’s
been pushing stuff off this range. I don’t think we’ll need to scrape
Austin very damn deep.”

“I ain’t sayin’,” replied the cow hunter quietly. “Now what I segest is
that you-all cut yore light stuff and let our boys throw it back on yore
range. Take out’n our herd as many head o’ good fours and drive ’em all
north under the Fishhook, T.L.’s and all the rest. When you sell allow
us a dollar a head for findin’ and tradin’. Does that sound fair?”

“More’n such,” said Jim Nabours. “This first herd is a expeariment for
all of us. Let’s get the girl on her feet fer sake of her father. And
him oncet rich!” he added. “As square a cowman as ever crossed leather.
I tell you, that bunch of shorthorns that’s come into Austin done him
dirt. Politics, that’s what’s under it—Reconstruction politics. They
think they can steal this state because they win the war.
Reconstruction? I’ll bet one thing, ef I ever lay eye on the man that’s
been riding our range I’ll take him apart so’s’t he’ll be damned hard
ever to reconstruck again!”

Now in the glare and heat and dust of the frank Southern spring days,
two dozen lank, lithe riders split the two great herds, combed them
both, blended them both. Nabours’ face began to lighten as he saw
forming a real trail herd of marketable beeves and mature cows. Of the
unknown potential market at the rails he really knew nothing. It might
demand beef and might ask stocking cattle. The discards of each herd,
the yearlings, the cows with calves, the lame and halt, were to be cut
back south for the later distribution on their own home ranges.

The whole enterprise in which these two pastoral chiefs now by chance
were engaged was one of a day now gone by forever, and it was conducted
under standards not understandable to-day. There was no law but range
custom. Texas was but thirty years this side the time when twenty
enormous land grants, given to Americans, had covered practically all of
her vast territory. No scale of cattle values ever had been known. On a
strip of twenty-five miles here, not that many miles from the capital of
the state, now were assembled almost ten thousand head of cattle. Had a
buyer from the North appeared he could have bought the lot at three
dollars and a half the head, and at the tally-out he would as a matter
of course have been asked to accept the count as it ran, dogies, cows
and ancient steers, head for head. In those days a cow was a cow. All
horned kine, of any age or sex, were cows.

Again, as to the question of ownership, the gesture of the day was alike
close and hard, or large and lenient. No man argued with his neighbor,
since a cow was only a cow. A man gave his cloak also to his neighbor if
asked—though woe to the man who laid hand on coat, uninvited!

In the herd of these wild-cow gatherers were many unbranded
cattle—their own now by virtue of discovery, the custom being “finders,
keepers,” as to an unmarked animal. For the mixed lot of the branded
strays from widely scattered herds a dollar a head seemed then a fair
pay for finding and herding for a hundred miles or more. The adventurers
who had taken on this speculation of saddle and rope had rather
considered a dollar a head profit than range the find into the second
year—after which the increase of the strays would be their own without
possible contest. And a dollar a head, payable perhaps next fall, was a
thing large and golden to the eye of the bearded, half-clad fighting men
who now, with no plan on their own part, had uncovered a large plane of
contact of the old with the new, of the late past with a new and
crowding present. But for both parties, cow hunters and trail drivers,
it was all a speculation. The country north of them was an unknown land.
No values yet were established either here or there. The West was yet in
embryo.

But all the time, as Nabours and Dalhart, respective leaders, rode at
their work, their wonder increased at what each learned from the other.
Some malign intelligence, outrunning the apathy of the South in the
post-bellum period, had worked on more than a local horizon. There had
been a general pushing of the range product into unsettled West Texas,
as far as the Comanches would admit. The trail to the Pecos River, up
which cattle had been driven to Army posts, the pioneer work of Loving
and Goodnight, the casual Western drives of the half-breed Jesse
Chisholm to the Pecos crossing, must have been watched and known by
certain powerful groups of the new and avid carpetbag politicians then
crowding South.

That a covert range ring was working in Austin—as a beef ring later was
to work in Washington—as well as a river-improvements ring which was
hastening to sell or take over all the state lands at a few cents the
acre; and that this sinister gang of far-sighted and unscrupulous men
had visions of a day of a vast empire of their own, stocked with cattle
which had cost no more than the stealing, branding and driving, could
then be no more than suspected by Nabours or Dalhart. But both men were
shrewd. Both knew wild ways and wild lands, and both knew cows, though
neither had any real vision as to the swift future of cows. They knew
that crooked work had been going on, of so large and so vicious an
extent as to violate all the ancient and sacred law of custom, as well
as the written law. Both men were sober as they rode at their work.

“And to think,” said the old foreman of Del Sol, “they wouldn’t spare
even a girl like her!”

Dalhart, lean and bearded adventurer in cows, nodded.

“But there ain’t none like her!”

Nabours paused for a time.

“You been on our string three hours.”

“Three hours is enough, _amigo_. Three minutes was enough. I’ve never
knowed such a woman could ever be in all the world.”

“There’s others think so.”

“I’m sorry for them.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m going to marry that girl ef hit’s the lastest thing I do.”

“Others has told me such,” replied Jim Nabours, not so much concerned.
“It’s right funny about women. Now, I tried for all my early life to
marry a girl down in San Felipe. I done right well, and was going to ast
her; but another man done married her first. All right, he done it fair,
and I didn’t kick. I set down to wait him out, and shore enough, he done
die in about ten year and she was a widder. I begin to save up enough to
git me new spurs and hat and saddle blankets, and allow to begin
courting of Sarah right after branding time—and damn me, ef a Dutch
colonist don’t up and marry her afore I git around to it! He last four
year, and Sam Doan shot him one day over around Round Rock. I was in
debt to Sam fer that, fer now Sarah was a widder oncet more.

“This time I didn’t lose no time. I rid over and told Sarah how it laid.
‘Why, law!’ says she. ‘Why Jim, I never knowed you choose to marry me,
er of course I’d of married you rather’n ary one of them others! Why
didn’t you say so?’

“‘Well, I say so now,’ says I. ‘Even ef I’m crowding forty-eight, I say
so.’

“So we done set the day. And right then the war bust in our face and I
rid off to the war. I sort of forgot to git married to Sarah, in the
excitement. Well, when I come back I was apast fifty, and broke. When I
came to look things up I find Sarah has married a Arkansaw widower with
eight children over on the Brazos!

“That settled me with women. The game’s too damn rapid fer a man like
me.”

“Well, it ain’t going to be too rapid fer me.”

“No? Now look here! Let me ast you something—and let me tell you
something. I ast you—likewise I tell you.

“I’m that girl’s maw. I realize how much she owes every man on these
both two herds right now, but I allow that the real men in this outfit
has got to think of her cows and not her—first, last and all the time,
till the said cows is sold.

“You willing to take left point on them grounds and with that
understanding? No love making on this trail—not a damned word! Besides,
you’ll tell me who you are, after we get done driving and settle down to
courting?”

His keen eye sought that of Dalhart, whose own met it as fearlessly.

“It’s a trade!” said he. “I’ll keep my word on that.”

“Well, that’s settled. Now, let’s set off the branding gangs. We got to
get at least four hunderd of these fours in the Fishhook before night
day after to-morrow. That’ll keep us all from making love, I reckon.
Blest be the tie that binds! But you’re a T.L. hand now, and not no
more’n that. You got a naturalized citizen’s right to love the boss, but
you ain’t reached no years of majority ner discretion this side of
Aberlene.”

Jim Nabours rode back in the twilight and flung off from a foam-streaked
horse at Taisie’s fire. The tall girl came and seated herself beside him
on a bed roll, a hand laid on his knee.

“What’s wrong now?”

His quick eye noted her paleness. He knew she had been weeping. A large
gnarled brown hand of his own stroked gently the slender brown hand on
his knee.

“Why, Miss Taisie, ain’t nothing wrong, I’d say. Fact is, everything is
too damned right, that’s all.”

He went on to tell her of the developments of the day; how more than
richly their exchange of discards for beeves was working out; how well
the herd was developing. Then he came to what was on his mind.

“Now, see here, Miss Taisie,” he went on, breaking a bit of bark between
his fingers, “when we started out we thought we had stripped the Del Sol
range. We taken all ages. Only a act of God could of kept us from having
a plumb thousand calfs riding in yore carts. But now looky here! We’re
going to cut back all that stuff and throw in fours instead. The cut is
going back to Del Sol. But who’s going to take care of Del Sol while we
go north?”

“Well, who could?”

“You could. Yes, Miss Taisie, you! We can git along damn well without
you, and Del Sol can’t get along alone. Don’t you think you’d be safer
back home that way than what you will be going north up to the sixth
princerpul meridjun with sixteen pirates and God knows what kind of
weather?

“You’re only a girl, Miss Taisie—the damnedest finest girl ever borned
in Texas; but girls is girls. I can handle cows, Miss Taisie. I can’t
handle girls. You go on back home, please ma’am. We’ll pull in afore
Thanksgiving with a wagonload of Yankee money.”

The girl straightened up.

“I’ll not go back! I closed the doors when I started up the trail. How
could I live there alone?”

“I ain’t ast you to live there alone. What I say is, we’ll be inside of
ten miles of Austin when we cross the Colorado. I want you and Del to
ride in to Austin and get married. Then I want you both to take charge
of this cut and ride on back to Del Sol.”

The old man turned his gray grim eye to her.

“Can’t you leave me be yore maw, Taisie, child?”

“No—no—no, Jim!” Both her hands were on his. “Don’t ask me! I’ve
nothing to live for outside of what’s here on the ground. Everything I
own I’ve got with me, and all my friends. No, Jim, I’m going through. No
use to argue—no use to argue, Jim!”

“I reckon not, ma’am,” said the old foreman, sighing. “All I say is, God
ha’ mercy, that’s all! I got a dream there’s going to be hell on this
herd.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

So was the genesis of Anastasie Lockhart, cow hand. To-morrow came a
creature who rode unconscious of the horse beneath her, scornful of heat
and dust as any of these dust-screened figures, scarf over mouth, legs
clinging, body rhythmic, hands swift at the test moment; a creature of
incredible fascination, with all the velocity and vitality of youth and
strength. And before her, seeking respite of her in violent activities,
passed vague, flitting, heroic figures, each of whom rode his best for
her—and each of whom eke left to the tears of the recording angel
crimes in cattle brands they would have lost a hand before committing
for their own gain or that of any man.

A vast picture, and a noble, that of the remaking of the Del Sol trail
herd. A shrouded yellow sun, hot and again hot. The dulled green of a
landscape of timber and grass, of hill and valley, a wild land even
then, though under the eaves of the state’s capitol; a land partly
settled here, but tenanted under no real acceptance of a social compact.
Eager, early, primeval it was—all. Youth of the world!

A tossing sea of wide-pointed horns, overhung with a cloud of dust.
Rattling and clacking inside the dust. Rock of Ages; Jesus, Lover; Home,
Sweet Home, where lean riders held the mill. And always, cutting through
the cloud, one remorseless rider after another edged his chosen victim
out for the final rush and the relentless sweep of the thin hide rope.
Over and over again, more than five hundred times before that cut was
done—twenty times, twenty-five in an hour, counting them all—the
little Southern horses sat down and quarter-faced their quarry, each
taking his own weight and more in one wrench at his saddle horn and
saddle cinches, his gleaming eyes noting the hurled horned creature, his
victim also, at the other end of the rope.

Calls of “Bring an iron!” And men sweating at a half dozen fires were
ready for that. Till his trembling sides could no longer hold his great
heart’s purpose, each savage little horse went back into the dust under
a savage man. Two ropes for the heavy steers, two sweating horses;
twenty-five brands run in an hour, perhaps—a task for four days done in
two.

A vast and splendid picture, and of a great day. Since then two million
men and women have mated thereabouts. Yet now, center of that
picture—and its cause—there passed, hour after hour, gray, dusty,
flitting, tireless, the unmistakable and unconcealable figure of a young
woman. . . . Yes, a creature of incredible vitality and velocity, of
life and youth.

Youth of the world!



                              CHAPTER XIV
                            A STRANGE ERRAND


DAN McMASTERS, sheriff of Gonzales and captain of state Rangers, rode
into the straggling village of Austin, capital of a state so large a
horseman could not cross it in a month. He bore no outward evidence of
having passed through any agitating scenes. His apparel evinced no sign
of disorder, his face was coldly emotionless as ever. He might have been
almost any tall and well-clothed young man. One thing only set him apart
from the usual visitor: By virtue of his calling he wore his two heavy
six-shooters. The handle of the left-hand gun pointed forward; that of
the right-hand weapon to the rear—a puzzling combination to any student
of possibilities. Granted that he was a left-handed man, which hand
would first seek a weapon? Or if right-handed, which? That was a problem
which, lacking time, some half dozen men had never solved to their own
success.

A certain red-faced, gray-haired and rather rotund individual active in
the office of the treasurer of the commonwealth of Texas, sitting before
a low-topped desk in a room of the building which served as state
capitol, looked up as the newcomer entered.

“Good evening, sir,” said McMasters pleasantly. “Do I find Mr. Rudabaugh
in?”

The official made no immediate response.

“You do not,” said he finally.

“No? I infer that he is out of town?”

“Yes,” rejoined the other.

McMasters smiled innocently.

“In such case he is no longer in jail?”

At this the official displayed feeling.

“What business is it of yours?” he demanded. “And how do you know he is
in jail? He didn’t stay there longer than it took to call court. There
are not people enough in Texas to keep Mr. Rudabaugh in jail.”

“I heard that a deputy United States marshal took him and his party the
other day, below the Colorado, and sent him in with a force of Rangers.
As you say, it might have been supposed that no court in this town would
hold him.”

The red-faced official abated somewhat of his pompousness.

“From what I’ve heard in description, I believe you are Mr. McMasters,
sheriff of Gonzales,” said he presently.

“I am that same, sir,” replied McMasters smilingly. “If I needed to
quote Davy Crockett, I might say that I have the closest shooting rifle
and the best coon dog in the whole state of Texas. Yes, I’m McMasters of
Gonzales.”

“Well,” began the other, embarrassed, “it’s only right to tell you that
at the preliminary hearing all those men were discharged.”

“That is why I called. I wanted to talk things over with Mr. Rudabaugh.
I thought I might be able to explain one or two things to him. I thought
maybe I might be of some use to him.”

Silence of the other, now afraid to speak.

“Where can I find Mr. Rudabaugh?” The quiet voice took a new note.

“That I can’t answer. He left town again yesterday morning, with some
other gentlemen. They headed west.”

“It looks as though Mr. Rudabaugh thinks I still am after him. Perhaps
he has been mistaken about my motives and purposes with him. Perhaps he
forgets that my father voted and worked against slavery, the same as the
gentlemen of your party did. Why antagonize Gonzales? Why fight the
Rangers?

“Now, what I want to tell Mr. Rudabaugh is this: I know where that trunk
of Texas land scrip is to-day. I am ready to tell him where it is.”

The official coughed, embarrassed.

“That was what he wanted to get hold of at Del Sol. Well, I got hold of
it myself. I know where it is to-day. I can take him to it at any time
he likes. Does that sound interesting?”

The red-faced man sat up.

“It sounds strange, coming from you!”

“Well, there are times when it’s hard to get the truth. I never found
much use in showing all my own hand in public. A peace officer has to be
careful. Perhaps the state treasurer has misunderstood me. Perhaps I am
willing to work with him for a little time, and not against him. How
then?”

“Mr. Rudabaugh and his associates, too, have been very much
misunderstood by the people of Texas,” began the state official. “He is
a man of large ideas, a man of vision. Our friends of the other party
prefer to see Texas remain as she always has been—remote, impoverished,
with no commercial outlook, no hope on earth. Mr. Rudabaugh sees a wider
future for Texas. We all do here.” He spoke virtuously.

“Precisely! Well, I’m one of the growing number of Texans who’d agree
with him on that last. We don’t deny that there are chances in land and
cows such as we never dreamed. The men who work fast in Texas now will
be rich—as rich as they like. But we can’t always climb up on the
housetop and tell all the world about the means and methods. Of course,
that means that some may misunderstand such men as Mr. Rudabaugh. You
know that?”

“Why, yes, of course; I know the way Mr. Rudabaugh himself works—always
decisive, never telling much of his plans. His friends deplore the
criticism he has received in certain quarters.”

“Yes, he has occasion to be cautious. Still, if Mr. Rudabaugh, not as
state treasurer but as president of a certain land-and-cattle company,
has any wish to confer with the man who saw him arrested the other day,
when he was inquiring about a certain block of additional land scrip,
that man is willing to talk with him now. We might find something of
mutual interest. You-all here in Austin might do worse than make friends
down Gonzales way.”

McMasters smilingly waved a hand at either gun.

“I’m not quite alone. We will both have to come under a white flag. If
he wants to be _muy amigo_, maybe I can be of service to him.”

His gray eyes, now narrowed, were fixed without wavering upon those of
this other man.

“Tell me, where is Sim Rudabaugh!” he demanded suddenly. The man behind
the desk started as though under an immediate menace.

“Well, since you seem to offer your aid, Mr. McMasters, in a
misunderstanding—a very deplorable misunderstanding—I presume I may
tell you. He’s gone north, up the trail, toward the Brazos. He’s on some
private business of his own.”

“Yes? He’s in camp, waiting for the big Del Sol herd? Where is his
camp?”

The desk man grew very uneasy; but at length he replied hesitantly:
“Well, I’d take the trail that runs due north from San Marcos if I had
to find him. I would say he might be camped a ride of a day and a half
north of here—say, thirty to fifty miles north, on the general road to
Fort Worth village.

“You don’t know where that herd is, do you?” he added. “Mr. Rudabaugh
regards its going north as a very grave mistake; indeed, a risky and
ruinous thing for the state at just this time. You don’t know where the
herd is now?”

“Yes, I do know. I’ve just come from it. It’s been held up a few days in
west of here. They may get over the Colorado by to-day. I ought to be
able to find Mr. Rudabaugh well in advance of the herd itself, then, you
think?”

“But you didn’t tell me where the scrip is.” The other man flushed at
seeing his eagerness noted.

“Well,” said McMasters slowly, “you yourself and I myself are not
supposed to know a damned thing about that chest of papers, are we? But
we do, eh? Well, when we find the T.L. cows we will come pretty near
finding that scrip. And scrip is going up, eh?

“Oh, I’ll tell you this much, my friend. I know all about the moves of
Mr. Rudabaugh’s big company to get holdings west toward the edge of the
Staked Plains—on the Double Mountain Fork and above there. You see?
Well, I don’t see why you and I should beat about the bush. I know all
about the operations that have driven almost all the central range’s
holdings on out farther west.

“There are a lot of things I know. Well, do you think I am safe to
trust? And don’t you think the administration might do worse than be
friendly to Gonzales and Uvalde?”

The other man drew himself up with a long sigh of doubt, apprehension,
but made an attempt at merriment.

“Well,” said he, “of course, this is the first time we’ve met. I don’t
know that I’d trust you to take care of me, but I believe I’d trust you
to take care of yourself.”

“I always have,” said McMasters simply. “That’s why I’m here now.
Suppose you and I have a little war council, eh?”

When McMasters walked his horse down the long street of Austin town,
rifle under leg, he looked neither to the right nor to the left, though
well aware of the scrutiny which followed him from more than one door
and window. The reputation of the mysterious, always restless sheriff of
Gonzales, captain of the newly revived state constabulary, was one that
reached beyond the confines of his own county. No one had looked for him
in Austin—to the contrary. But then, as one man said to a neighbor,
McMasters, of Gonzales, could always be counted on to be doing some
unaccountable thing.



                               CHAPTER XV
                             NORTHWARD HO!


THE reconstructed and augmented Del Sol herd passed on northward
steadily, as though impelled by some cosmic force. It had required
well-nigh a week to cut the two herds and blend them into one, for
handling heavy beeves in the open is vastly different from the work of
the corral and branding chute on light cattle. At the end of the work
the remuda was dragged and drooping, the men yet more taciturn. But they
could look out with pride over well-nigh four thousand head of longhorns
such as would make any cowman’s eye brighten even in that day.

Now, daily more accustomed to the trail, the cattle shook down to the
daily march. At dawn they did not feed at first; but, never urged to
speed, in an hour or two would graze along, halting in the march,
advancing, the concourse at times stretched out over more than a mile,
perhaps a quarter that distance in width. At midday, thrown off the
trail—if trail it could be called which as yet had never known a
herd—they grazed well, and in that portion of the country could find
water two or three times a day; so that they took on or held flesh
rather than lost it.

“Did ary one of you-all ever hear how far it is to Aberlene?” asked
Nabours of his new man, Dalhart, whom he had put on point in view of his
obvious education as a cowman.

“Must be e’en around about a plumb thousand miles,” replied the latter.
“Hope hit’s thisaway all the ways—plenty of grass and the rivers full
enough fer water right along. We ain’t had to hunt water yet. You’d orto
see the Llano! We’ve driv two days, out yan, with their tongues hangin’
out.

“Water! When we hit the Colorado I thought we got plenty water. She’ll
swim a horse in a dry year, and she swum us for more’n a hundred fifty
yards! I was mighty glad to ferry them carts.

“Uh-huh. Ner that ain’t all—the Brazos’ll do the same, and only luck’ll
save us from swimmin’ a quarter mile, maybe, on the Red. Then beyond
that’s the Washita, narrer but deep. I never talked with no man that
ever was north of the Chickasaws. We’ll wet our saddles plenty, shore.
What cows we don’t drownd and the Injuns don’t steal, or that don’t get
lost in night runs—why, that’s what we’ll have to sell. Four thousand’s
a big herd to han’le—too big—but I’ve gethered cows long enough to
know a feller better git plenty when the chancet comes.”

North of the first unbridged river—the Colorado—the advance was over a
country practically new, although now subdivided into organized
counties. The main thrust of the early population was from the south and
lower east, so that now the farther north they got the sparser grew the
infrequent settlements. All North and Northwest Texas remained _terra
incognita_ even for Texans, and no map of it ever had been made, let
alone of the wild Indian Territory that lay north of it. The thousands
of longhorns, the first herd ever to go north from a point so far south
in Texas, plodded along, never turning a backward foot, but hourly
finding a new land. Austin was a county-seat town rather than a capitol
city. Such communities as Temple, Waco, Cleburne, Fort Worth—all close
to the ninety-eighth meridian, along which lay the general course of the
first of the cattle drives before the trails moved west—were cities in
embryo; Fort Worth, through which bodily the trail ran, had then not
over one hundred inhabitants; enough for a metropolis in a state that
had not a hundred miles of rails and no trace of a lasting market for
the one great commodity—cows.

Across a half dozen counties, a dozen lesser streams, the singular
procession passed onward, epochal, in an abysmal ignorance and a
childlike self-confidence. Its course was due north; and since now the
grass was good and water courses full, it needed to make no digressions.
The herd left a trail a hundred yards wide, two hundred, half a mile;
but the main road remained written plainly for any who might follow.

Nabours was cowman enough not to crowd his cattle on a march of such
indefinite duration, but continually he fretted over the necessary
slowness of the journey.

“It’s good country,” he admitted to Del Williams; “can’t complain; grass
all right; high enough, but not washed out; and a good creek every forty
rod almost. But I never did know Texas was so big. Here we are into May,
and when we make the Brazos we’ll be only maybe a hunderd and fifty mile
north of where we started at. It’ll be anyways a hunderd years afore we
make Aberlene, ef there is any such place, which I doubt, me. Not one of
us knows nothing, and nary one has ever been even up here afore. We’ll
just about hit the Red when she’s up full.”

“We ain’t there yit,” rejoined his new point man cheerfully. “We may all
git drownded in the Brazos; an’ ef we do we won’t need worry none about
the Red.”

They had not yet lost all touch with the settlements; indeed,
continually crossed the great pastures of men who under range custom
held their own river fronts and range. Now and again a sort of trace led
them north—the compass finger of fate always pointed north and not west
for the state of the Lone Star. But of actual road there was none,
fences were undreamed and bridges never yet had been held needful for
traveling man. When, therefore, they struck the great Brazos, coming
down as did all these upper rivers from the east rim of the mysterious
Llano Estacado, it was relief to Nabours to find a pair of rough boats
which he fancied he could lash together into ferriage for his
troublesome carts and their timid passengers. For the herd a swimming
crossing once more was necessary, and demand was made once more on the
native generalship of the foreman.

“Put ’em in warm, men,” he said to his men at the camp fire in a great
arm of the river. “Ef a cow’s warm and the sun’s shining he’ll take the
water easy. Ef he’s chilly he begins to think of home and mother. We’ll
rest ’em here till late to-morrer morning. The bank’s highest on the
south side and we can throw ’em in easy. I don’t think there’s more’n a
hunderd yards or so of swimming, no ways.”

His judgment proved good for an amateur—as all trail drovers then were.
Well warmed, the herd strung into the ford amiably enough, led by the
point men and pushed by the swings. The horse herd already had been
crossed, for horses swim better than cattle, and have more courage at a
wide crossing; and this laid down the line for the herd leaders, who
went in readily enough.

The long line of the cattle, as it reached the swimming channel, was
swept down stream in a deep U, but when they caught footing and made up
the farther bank the line was established and the crossing went on
steadily, the line never broken and not a head lost out of the great
total. It went forward as though in an accustomed routine; and this
first successful essay in crossing big water gave confidence to all.

All the saddle horses, including Blancocito, had to swim, and so did the
yoke oxen of the carts. The owner of the herd patiently waited her turn.
Old Anita crossed herself for two solid hours, sure her end had come.
Milly found her relief in loud and tearful lamentations.

“What ever brung us-all ’way up yere?” she exclaimed. “My folks wuz
Baptists, and so’m me; but what I says is, I done been baptized oncet
and dat’s plenty. I’m a notion to walk back home.”

“No you won’t,” said the trail boss, who with his best man had come back
to see to this last work. “You and Anita set right on yore cart seats.
Miss Taisie’ll take care of you. Ef you drownd we can get plenty better
cooks, so don’t you worry. Ef you did float off, you couldn’t sink
noways. Anita’s the one in danger—she’s all bones. You set in the
middle and say yore prayers like Anita does.

“Don’t you worry none, ma’am,” he added, addressing Taisie. “I’m going
to take them two John boats somebody has left here and make a raft
that’s safer than a bridge.”

His process gave proof of the Texan’s strange distrust in all boats and
confidence in all horses, although it showed no less the resourcefulness
of the real explorer, crossing country with such means as lay at hand.

It was no great matter to rope the two broad-horn scows together side
and side, and to lay a pole platform across to receive the carts, which
were run on by hand. Remained the question of propulsion, and none of
these knew aught of sail or pole or oars. This meant falling back on the
_vade mecum_—the horse, without which in his day the railroads and
bridges might as well never have been.

Nabours lashed his cart wheels fast to his craft, so that he could risk
strain on them. Then he got a long pole, some thirty feet in length. All
the time singing and whistling to himself, and vouchsafing no answer to
any, he passed this across the body of the foremost cart and lashed it
fast. The ends projected widely at each side.

“I got a steamboat now,” said he to his followers, “but I ain’t got no
side paddle wheels. Ride in there, you points—Dalhart, and you,
Del—you’re side wheels. When you get under the ends, each of you reach
up and tie yore saddle horn to the end of the pole. Then swim back
yoreselfs. The horses couldn’t sink ef they wanted to, and I don’t
reckon there’s only one way they can swim, and that’s acrost.”

Theirs not to reason why, the two men obeyed, managing to get into the
boat, which still lay aground, the side-wheel horses standing not over
belly deep, each encouraged by its rider, who lay along the gunwale
anxiously. But when at length the thing was put to the test by bodily
pushing the clumsy contrivance into the current, the unique experiment
proved a success. The horses, finding themselves carried off their feet,
began to swim vigorously, their instinct or their intelligence leading
them to head angling upstream. The result was that the craft, even thus
heavily loaded, made astonishing headway; indeed, finding a landing just
below the ford end established by the herd. With shouts and laughter the
remaining men once more swam their horses over in the wake. The
crossing, so novel that even Taisie forgot her fears, was made with
expedition and in perfect safety.

“It’s easy,” said Jim Nabours, modestly answering the compliments of his
men. “Of course, ef ’twasn’t for the womenfolks we wouldn’t have to
bother. A feller couldn’t keep house without a horse, could he? Ain’t
nothing a horse and a rope can’t do. My horse swum me over twicet, and
didn’t hardly wet the saddle to the tops of the rosaderos. There ain’t
nothing safe as a horse, ma’am.

“Now you men go on and string ’em out”—he turned to his well-wetted
associates. “They’re all over and all ready to move. It’s a dandy
crossing. We’ll bed three or four miles on, if it looks good. Feed ’em
slow and get ’em full. A full belly’s the best way to handle a cow. I’ll
push on ahead right soon.”

Just now he rode over to the moody figure that sat her reclaimed horse
at the upper side of the fording trail. His face was frowning.

“Miss Taisie,” said he, “one thing I’ve got to tell you. There ain’t
going to be two trail bosses on this herd. It’s you or me. Now I want to
say that we can’t be over about thirty of forty mile from Fort Worth. I
reckon you and Del can get married there, huh? Then you still could ride
back home to Del Sol. I don’t know what there is ahead. We ain’t more’n
started. I can take chances for myself, and men and my cows—but not for
you!”

“Jim! Why, Jim!” She laid a hand on his soaked sleeve. “You don’t think
I’m a quitter, do you?”

“Lord knows I don’t, ma’am! I wisht you was.”

“Jim! The lone herd of Del Sol, the first out of Texas? Something big,
Jim! I don’t think I’ll be scared any more. It wouldn’t be playing
square with you-all to get married and go back home. . . . Home?”

He turned quickly. Tears again were on the girl’s cheeks. With a savage
groan he caught the cheek strap of Blancocito and led her to the
vehicles.

“You Milly, damn yore black Baptist hide, quit yore shouting and build a
fire! Make some coffee for Miss Taisie. I’ll tell Sinker to hold the
remuda back, Miss Taisie. You-all come on up then.”

Presently Cinquo Centavos rode up, shy and grinning, abashed yet happy
at being appointed personal guardian of his deity. Thin, burned brown,
ragged, his hat almost no hat at all, boots and saddle alone marked him
worthy to join these other men—these and his instinctive mastery of
horseflesh. At sight of Milly clambering down over the cart
wheel—indeed a dismaying spectacle—his mount began to plunge and
pitch. The boy sat him, annoyed. Taisie waved a hand.

“Fine, Cinquo!” she called. “I like to see you ride.”

The boy smiled as he jerked up the head of the horse.

“I didn’t make him pitch, ma’am,” said he. “He’s jest done that hisself.
I reckon it was the sight o’ Milly’s laigs. He’s all right now.” He
dismounted.

“How are you coming on, Cinquo?” inquired his mistress. “Getting to be a
regular trail man?”

“I ain’t lost a head yit, ma’am,” said the youth simply. “One D Slash
hawse turned back this mornin’, but I crossed him. I got my hull bunch.
Now we’re over two-three rivers; they won’t turn back now. Hawses is a
heap reasonabler than cows.”

“Jim says you work too hard. You don’t need to be up all night on a
remuda, he says—horses stick together. You don’t have to watch them
every minute.”

“Shore they do, ma’am. You don’t bed ’em and tuck ’em in like you do
cows. I wouldn’t be no cowman,” superiorly. “Gimme two-three weeks on
the trail,” he added eagerly, “I wouldn’t hatter watch so hard, like
now. They feed against the wind, ma’am. I got the bell on that big white
Del Sol mare. I allus listen which way the bell is soundin’, and so I
allus know where they’re at: Why, sleep? I slep’ most a hour last night.
When I don’t hear the bell I wake up. It’s easy if you savvy hawses. I
ain’t gwine to lose nary head, to Aberlene, ma’am.” He colored deeply.
“I—well, I ain’t, now!”

“I’ve got all good men, Cinquo,” said his deity. “They savvy cows and
savvy horses.”

“Yes, ma’am.” The boy’s throat gulped.

“Have some coffee, Cinquo,” said Taisie. “Milly, give Cinquo something
to eat. He hasn’t lost a head.”

Seated comfortably on the ground, Cinquo grew more confident.

“Ma’am, ain’t the nights han’some?” he ventured. “So bright, quiet-like.
Times, I lay on the groun’ by my hawse; come midnight, I kin hear the
bell, and hear my hawses blow, nighest ones; er sometimes hear the cows
grunt and blow, too, bellies full and right contented. So all the
world’s kind o’ happy-like. And the stars is so fine, ma’am! Don’t you
think so? Like glass, they air. Seems like God must ’a’ busted a
winderpane and slammed the pieces right up agin the sky, and they stuck
there, shinin’ like they was wet.”

“Yes, Cinquo. So you’ve noticed the stars too?”

“Then we both do!” he exulted. His young, shy eyes shone. Indeed, he was
her knight, ready to risk all in her honor. So were his nights borne,
sleepless in ardor and reverence.

“Stahs!” broke in Milly. “Stahs! They’s common! I know whaffur I go
Nawth—I gwine to git me a apple! Onliest apple I ever done et,” she
explained, “were what Sher’f McMasters gimme. He taken it out’n his
saddle pocket and said would I eat it? ‘Mister Sher’f,’ says I, ‘what
setch a thing like disher cost now?’ says I. ‘Oh, it mout ’a’ costed
fifty cents,’ says he, ‘’cludin’ of freight.’ ‘Huh,’ says I, ‘ef it cost
fifty cent, I reckon Ah gwine to stahve on, stahve on!’ But some time,
ef ever I git Nawth, and ever I git whah apples is at, an’ ain’t nobody
a-lookin’—u-m-m—huh! Now, Mr. Dan McMasters, he sayed——”

“Go get my horse, Cinquo!” broke in Taisie Lockhart imperatively.
“Milly, pack the dishes. Come, we must get on!”

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture.      North of 36._
 “WHAT ARE YOU—FRIEND OR FOE?” DEMANDS JIM NABOURS.]



                              CHAPTER XVI
                              IN THE NIGHT


THAT night the stars, indeed, almost tallied with Cinquo’s description
in their pointed brilliances. The wind was nothing now, the silence,
save for a few quavering coyotes, was deep and full of peace.
Contentment sat on the wild bivouac. On a gentle slope well-nigh four
thousand cattle were lying close packed in a vast oval, less than a
fifth of a mile in extent, half that distance across on the lesser axis.
Bedded on high, dry grass, in the path of the breeze, themselves full of
grass and water, they lay, heads high, level with their cover, blowing
and chewing, eyes closed and happy.

The fire points of the cook’s evening meal now barely showed. Afar came
the faint sound of men’s voices, singing—the night watch riding slowly,
two men in one direction, two in the opposite, fifty feet or so back
from the bedded animals. These latter in some vague way knew they were
protected. They lay and grunted dully, having ended one more day of
their march toward fate.

“Ain’t that enough to make a cowman happy?” said Nabours to Del
Williams, nodding toward the herd as they lolled by the fading fire.
“You couldn’t kick ’em up.”

“We ain’t started yet, Jim,” said the young Texan.

“How come we ain’t? It couldn’t be much over four hunderd mile to Red
River Station from Del Sol. Them cows is plumb gentle already.

“I’m going to roll in, Del. You and Dalhart better go on at midnight, I
reckon. Watch the Dipper.”

Afar, at the established distance from the watchers, the tiny fire at
Taisie’s tent fell flickering into absorption by the night. Taisie lay,
wide-eyed, looking out through the tent front at the myriad-pointed sky.
She told herself that it was the coffee taken late, but she knew that
was not why she did not sleep. Or, if she slept, she wakened always with
the picture before her of a ring of men, one facing her, his eyes calm,
although he was being tried on the point of honor dearest to any man. It
was worse than trying him for his life, she knew that. Had she, Portia,
_provocateur général_, judge, jury, been just?

Restless, confined by the oppression of the tent, Taisie drew her
blankets beyond the flaps and tried the open air. Came the stertorous
sounds of Milly’s sleep, the cough of the few animals picketed near by.
She raised on elbow and looked to the tiny row of brush, piled as
windbreak by old Sanchez. He and his wife Anita always slept so, with
one scant serape above them. But they slept. She could not sleep.

She raised higher on her elbow, looked up at a sudden sound. Blancocito
was standing, ears pointed toward the fringe of mesquite that flanked
their little eminence. He had flung up his head, snorting. She turned,
would have risen, for she was a fearless soul and reared on the border.
Could it be Indians?

At that instant she felt a powerful hand close over her mouth. An arm
forced her to the ground. She looked up into the face of a man! He was a
tall man, a strong man. Suddenly she ceased struggling. She knew what
man this was!

But why, as he crouched beside her, holding her down, stifling her
voice, did he, too, look with eyes fixed where those of the plunging
horse just had been, toward the edge of the thicket?

“Hush!” She heard his voice, though he kept his head up. “Don’t call
out! Where is the little trunk? Have you got it?”

She nodded, under his stifling hand, or would have done so.

“You thief!” she tried to say. “Oh, God curse you!” For now she felt her
sentence had been just. “Oh, you thief!” she said, or thought she said.

But though again she writhed and tried to call, no sound came save the
hard whistling of her nostrils, coveting air.

Then she almost tore free—did tear free. Crouching almost over her, his
body above hers, one hand holding her down, suddenly she saw him go to
one knee, saw a move of his free arm. Her eardrums were almost shattered
by a double explosion just above her head. He had fired at something in
the dark.

Came medley of night alarm—horses snorting, men calling. Taisie’s
senses could give no sequence to all the varied sounds. She caught the
rush of hoofs toward the mesquite, thought that her horse had been
stolen; heard a man’s scream in the night, where she supposed the thief
had shot one of her own men.

But concurrently she heard another sound, one which terrified every man
who also heard it—the rumble and thunder of four thousand cattle,
wakened by vague terror.

The sounds of shots in the night were not usual, not understood by them,
hence ominous of ill. Jumping to their feet, addled by the slumber in
their eyes, their tails high and rolling, their horns rattling, the herd
by instinct turned in the direction opposite the sounds of terror. Then,
swayed by the one blind instinct left to them, they broke.

Two of the night watch, caught by the storm of horns, were pushed away,
barely keeping ahead in the night. The dreaded run was on. In the night
was no peace at all. No, nor peace in this girl’s soul.

                 *        *        *        *        *

With the first burst of the herd every man in the camp was on his feet
and hurrying for his night horse. Each knew what to do. There was no
oriflamme, but the ominous roll and clack ahead made command, guidance.
The one thing was to ride.

The first salvation for any man meant leaving everything to the horse.
To check or attempt to guide him meant death. Of better night sight than
his rider, and no more eager than he to be trampled into a bloody pulp,
the horse would put out unasked his limit of speed and care of footing.
Trust him, also, to edge ahead or outside of any enveloping part of the
herd.

But after a mile of this madness in the dark, the master intelligence
began to assert its purpose, to control brute terror. Those at the
flank, at the rear, began to see points and streaks of flame. The two
men ahead, at last free on the edge of the run, were crowding their
horses against the front ranks of the cattle, jostling into them the
best they could in a perilous give and take, firing their six-shooters
across the faces of the leaders, trying to force them into a mill; such
being the proper psychology in cows.

The pistol lightning dwindled to firefly points, ceased. The reports had
not been audible over the roar of the run. No one could reload the
cap-and-ball revolver, and six shots left the pursuer reduced to quirt
and spur. To the few who remained at the encampment, there passed a
lessening storm of sound. So at length came silence and suspense.

Thinking that the first two shots had been fired by some of his own men,
or possibly by a frightened woman, Nabours left no guard at the camp.
The side encampment alone had tenancy.

The two women of Taisie sprang from their sleeping places and ran to the
little tent, not to protect their mistress but to seek
protection—Sanchez was gone with the others. They saw her, in the dim
light, standing close to a tall man. This was certainly not a true man
of Del Sol, for he was not riding now. They ran back, undecided; could
not see or hear what went on in the gloom.

A voice spoke low to Taisie’s ear—a voice she knew.

“The little trunk—is it in your tent?” The hateful question, itself an
accusation for the asker, was repeated.

“No!” she got strength to say, clutched by her fears, her anger, her
sudden hatred.

“Where is it, then? Quick!”

“I’ll not tell you!”

“All right! But watch out for it! They’re after it!”

They were after it! Who were “_they_”? And who was this? Under which
flag, all along, has been Dan McMasters, sheriff, captain?

She did not hear his voice again. Suddenly, as though he sensed her
indecision, she felt herself swept to his body as she stood, her own
strong body helpless under strength of his. No hand was on her mouth,
but she could not cry out. She felt his cheek laid against her
cheek—for one half instant; heard a sigh, a gasp, felt at her temple
then a kiss as light and gentle as the embrace had been ruthless and
savage. Then she was free.

She stood alone. He was gone. Yes, he went that way, in the direction
the flame of the two shots had lined out. He went lightly, swiftly.

And in the morning, when first they sought why the great buzzards were
hopping, they found a man, a dead man, with his hands crossed on his
breast and his hat drawn down over his face. It was not Dan McMasters.
None of them knew who it was. But Taisie Lockhart knew that Dan
McMasters had killed this man. Why?

It was Sanchez, first back from the run, who first saw this dead man in
the daylight, and he knew him.

“_Nombre de Dios!_”

Sanchez crossed himself. He knew the man’s feet, his boots, his spurs.
Not so long ago he had tied those feet under a horse’s belly.

Sanchez coursed like a questing hound for the sign. Many tracks of
horses. A loose horse without the Fishhook brand. All of which made
mystery enough.

“Miss Taisie,” demanded Milly, “You’se all a-trimble, chile! Who dat
man? Who him were standin’ thah?”

She caught the hand Taisie had against her bosom, the hand that covered
her temple.

“No! I don’t know!” she heard her mistress say.

But Jim Nabours was harder to satisfy when he came in soon after sunup,
his face lined as though he had lost pounds in the night ride. He cursed
openly as he snatched loose his cinches and turned off his trembling and
sweat-stained night horse. Then he turned to Taisie, who had come over
to the men’s camp.

“Who done it?” he demanded. “You a-shooting at some shadow? Look what
you done! We get this run, just when they was gentling. I thought you
was a cow hand!”

The girl was on the point of saying that, yes, she had shot; that she
was sorry. She put a hand to her temple. . . . He had kissed her there.

“Jim, I did not shoot.”

“Who did, then? That fool nigger woman? You—Milly?”

“Me? I never didn’t. My gun only shoots oncet. Two shoots come, right at
Miss Taisie’s tent. So help me on my Bible, Mr. Jim, I never did shoot
not none. No, sah!”

“Who was it, Taisie?” He used her as a child now, but his voice was sad.
“The shots was right at this place. Who was it—one of our men?”

“No, Jim, no!”

“Who was he? Tell me now! You’re hiding him? You know who he was?”

A very long silence. The man’s face was fronting her, streaked with the
dust. He was a loyal man.

At last, “Yes!”

And now she faced him. Nabours guessed.

“McMasters! You know why he came? Ah, Taisie, girl!”

“I don’t know! I think it was the trunk. He said something about it—I
don’t know.”

“It’s the scrip, Taisie! He’s following that still? What did he say? Ask
where it was?”

“Yes. But he said to look out for it, to watch it. I don’t
understand——”

“I understand that that renegade McMasters is a thief and a scoundrel.
We never orto of let him go!”

She could not make reply. The world was getting too much for her,
overcoming.

“Sanchez!” she said pointing.

An exclamation broke from Nabours when he saw Sanchez fling an arm,
heard his faint call. He got on a horse, galloped over to where Sanchez
stood, dismounted. Then he also saw the dead man.

“I know-a-dis-a _hombre_, Señor Jeem!” Sanchez was excited. “We send-a
heem to jail. I tie-a da foot. How come-a heem here while he’s in jail?
_Nombre de Dios!_”

“But who killed him, Sanchez?”

Nabours saw the two wounds, an inch apart.

“_Quien sabe_, Señor?” replied Sanchez gravely. “I just find-a heem
now.”

But the tired brain of Jim Nabours, up all night and strained to his
limit over the scattered herd, only grew more muddled.

“Let him lay!” he ordered savagely. “That’s one more, anyhow, no odds
who got him. Buzzards is too good for him!”

“Miss Taisie,” he began again as he found her at the cook fire, “that’s
one of the Rudabaugh gang, all right. If it was Dan McMasters killed him
he done it by mistake; he thought it was one of our men. Afore he went,
he folds this corp’s hands and covers up his face with his hat. What
more could he do?”

The girl sat silent, her face cold as some cameo in ice.

“Taisie Lockhart”—the old foreman’s voice was hard now—“one thing at
least—you don’t need no more proof now! That’s over, anyhow!”



                              CHAPTER XVII
                          MR. DALHART DECLARES


“ON OUR way, Sanchez!” commanded Nabours, breaking the tense silence
of the disheartened camp. “We’ve got to get back. The boys are holding
three or four bunches over thataway.”

“_Seguro_, Señor Jeem,” replied the old man. He nodded. Yet another
rider was coming in.

“That’s Dalhart. He ought to know something. We’ve got to have fresh
horses.”

“_Poco tiempo!_”

The keen ear of the old Mexican again served. Afar they heard a
tinkling. From behind a screening mesquite fringe showed the head of the
remuda, following a gray bell mare at a stiff trot. Back of the horses
rode Cinquo, his clothing stripped, his face bloody and pale. He got no
word of praise, nor asked one. The black bruises on his legs showed
through his ripped jeans.

“Well?” The trail boss turned to Dalhart, grimed and dust-covered, who
had brought a tin cup to the fire.

“We’ve got around a thousand head, maybe twelve hunderd. Del and two
boys are holding ’em on a flat this side the pecan bottoms—three mile,
I reckon. Ain’t it hell? They scattered like pa’tridges. I ain’t seen no
one else.”

“_Yo_, me an’ dos hombres!” began Sanchez, excited, pointing.

“Damn it, talk English, Sanchez!” interrupted Nabours savagely.

“_Seguro; muy bien, Señor Corporal_,” rejoined Sanchez. “I say, two man
and me, we got plenty _vacas_ round up. They send-a me for tobac’. We
got h’eight, seven hoonderd head, _piense qu’ si_. Most half-a da herd.”

“Not half yet. Well, Dalhart, I’ve got to ride the fan. Stay here and
watch things. We’ll make the gethering to this bed ground.”

“But who done that shooting anyway?” demanded Dalhart suddenly. “That’s
what started ’em.”

Nabours looked over his shoulder to where Taisie sat.

“Dalhart,” said he, “there’s funny business. The Rudabaugh gang is
follering us, nigh as I can tell. They allowed to stampede the herd and
then jump what was left of the camp.”

“But who shot?”

“I’d take my oath it was Dan McMasters, the man we sent out of our camp.
Well, he killed one of his own men.”

“The hell!”

“Yes, he did. Look yon!” The great birds now made a black blot on the
grass. “That’s one of the Rudabaugh men. McMasters killed him by
mistake. He was right in Miss Taisie’s camp.”

“Jim,” said the cow hunter at last, “that Austin gang don’t never mean
fer no Del Sol herd never to leave this country. Why?”

“For the same reason they want that Burleson Lockhart scrip. For the
same reason they killed Burleson Lockhart. Dalhart, them carpetbaggers
have got a big game on. All the state of Texas to steal—and they’re
going to steal it!

“And McMasters got away again! I thought he was our friend. We’re riding
his horses and drinking his coffee now. She don’t know that. Dalhart, ef
ever a girl needed a man to take care of her, yon’s one that does. One
man’s better’n twenty, with a woman. She needs just one—and she ain’t
got one.

“Well, I got to go back. Come Sanchez,” he concluded. “You’ll have to
stay here and look out for the camp, Dalhart. They might come back.
Shoot first!”

Left in charge, Mr. Dalhart employed his own methods. First he inquired
of the cook for hot water, got a tin pan of water on the base of the
wagon tongue and found a bit of yellow soap. Cleansing his dusty face
and hands the best he could, he employed the very catholic beneficences
of a split meal sack which the cook also used as a towel. Then he
prowled among the bed rolls. After certain rummagings, he presently
emerged clad in a brand-new pair of the light-colored trousers, with
heavy stripes of black, which then made Texan apotheosis of male
splendor. He even added a brilliant tie, which in good sooth represented
the heart hunger of Cinquo Centavos, and almost his last dime. Dalhart
was a ruthless man. What he found to his notion in the several war bags
he took, trusting to be able to explain.

Oiled and curled as best might be in a cow camp, with a final sweep into
better order of his strong sunburned beard, Mr. Dalhart at last walked
straight across to Taisie’s bivouac, whither she had withdrawn. Without
so much as by your leave, he ordered Taisie’s women to go on away.

“I’m top rod here just now, Miss Lockhart,” said he, “and I want to talk
with you a little while. This is my first chance.”

The girl looked at him. She had been in tears. Her nerves were going.
She was no longer the daring Taisie Lockhart, “_dulce ridentem . . .
dulce loquentem,_” like the Lalage of Horace of old, always ready to
chat and ready to laugh.

“Drive them away!” Her glance was toward the distant row of solemn black
birds, advancing, hopping staring.

Dalhart dropped her tent flap into a screen. He found a bundle and
seated himself, not invited.

“Miss Lockhart,” said he directly, “one way, I’m only one of your hands.
In Uvalde, you could find out who I am.”

“I suppose so. You’re on point? That means my foreman thinks you know
cows?”

“Yes. Now, Mr. Nabours and I been talking. We think we’ve been jumped by
the Sim Rudabaugh bunch, of Austin. They don’t ever aim to let this herd
git north, Miss Lockhart. They aim to break it up and git it headed
west.

“They’ve got their own surveyors out—away west. We seen four camps of
surveyors in west there this spring, where we was hunting strays.
They’re locatin’ range by the hundreds of sections—waste land nobody
has wanted. They’re scrippin’ it, ma’am. They want all the scrip they
can git, and they done got it most all.”

He spoke of certain things. In his mind were certain other things. His
bold eyes, virile, assertive, demanding, never left the alluring picture
that Taisie Lockhart made for any man. She remained languid,
indifferent.

“My father said Texas lands would go up. He was laughed at. You knew
him—my father?”

“No’m; I didn’t know him personal. But all Texas knowed Colonel Burleson
Lockhart fer a square man and a big man. This state needs him now; it
shore does. We’ve got to clean up Austin, or Austin’s goin’ to take all
Texas away from the Texans.

“Them folks don’t want you to git the first herd north, ma’am. They’ll
drive that theirselves when they git things all fixed fer hit.”

The girl buried her face in her hands again. Her shoulders trembled. The
night had left her much unnerved.

“Yes, Miss Taisie,” said the man’s voice, now gentle. “Yore paw didn’t
come back from up north. Sim Rudabaugh did. He ain’t like us. He’s a
heap smarter’n us Texans. He’s seed more and been around more. No
tellin’ who’s in his gang. It takes a lot of big men to swing as big a
deal as he’s got in mind. Now, there was Sher’f McMasters——”

“Don’t! Please don’t! And—what is it that brings you over here?”

“All right, I won’t. I was only goin’ to say, hit all works out fer to
prove the general scheme Jim Nabours and me both has told you
about—Rudabaugh! That man made his boast in Austin, ma’am, last year,
atter he come back from up north, he’d have the last Del Sol cow. More!
He said he was goin’ to ride up to Del Sol and knock on yore front
door!”

“What?” She flashed a sudden glance of wrath.

“That’s all. Rudabaugh played to break you first. Then, when you hadn’t
a way to turn—well——

“Miss Taisie Lockhart”—his voice now rang rather true, very
humble—“it’s bad, your lookout. You’ve got all of us, yes; but like Jim
said, twenty men ain’t the pertection of one, fer a woman.”

“But what is it that you mean?”

“Now, I got to talk straight. Would you choose to look up at me,
please?”

She did not raise her face.

“Well, I throwed in with this trail herd because I’d saw you! I couldn’t
turn back from goin’. I did allow that when we’d made yore stake for you
and put you on yore feet independent, with all Del Sol and every Texan
back of you, why, then—when I couldn’t take no advantage at all—then I
was goin’ to tell you I was goin’ to marry you. I thought by then you’d
be more used to seein’ me around.”

Silence. The ruddy crown of hair covered her hid face, reddened with
outraged blushes. She rose, started away. He was at her side.

“Miss Taisie, this raid has changed the whole world in one night. It’s
left you in danger. You don’t need twenty men! You need one! The trail’s
no place for you, even married. But there’s a church at Fort Worth, and
a Methodist preacher. We’ll be there afore long. That’s time for you to
think it over.”

Anastasie Lockhart broke into a sudden hysterical laughter.

“Is it so funny, ma’am?”

“Yes!” she rejoined. “Fort Worth—that’s what Jim advised, too. But
first he said Austin. And it—it was another man!”

“It was Del Williams! Did you tell him——”

“I’ve told him nothing! He has asked me nothing! That’s nothing to be
discussed by you or me at any time! That will do!”

“Well, I couldn’t help it—me lovin’ you the minute I saw you, and
follerin’ in because I couldn’t no ways help it; and you needin’ just
one such a man like me, and all—and all——”

His voice broke a bit under the blow his astonishing male vanity had
received. And who was she, an orphan, to hold herself so high, when here
was an honest man, a Texan, like himself?

Suddenly he reached out a lean brown hand. Her beauty was too much for
him. The girl shrank, caught a cupped hand against her temple, where lay
still the illicit kiss of the dark.

“No! No! You must not! No! I need some one, yes. I do! But I can’t——”

“I kin wait, Miss Taisie. I allowed to wait till we’d sold yore cows. I
just thought things had broke so maybe it’d be best if I didn’t wait.”

“Wait!” was all she could say.

Torn and unhappy, she bent her bright head once more. He was man enough
to go away. When he was gone she reflected that he had been man enough
to come.

And thereafter, in yet more wretched self-searching, she reasoned that,
after all, her fate now had cast her into a world where a woman’s range
of choice was very narrow. After all, who was she, to ask the
fulfillment of the old dream of human happiness? She sought comfort in
philosophy. It is poor comfort for a woman.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                                FLOTSAM


THE morning advanced. The riders had begun to reassert the dominance
of man and horse over horned kine. Band joining band, converging,
controlled, the approaching dust clouds seemed to show that ruin had not
been complete; that the salvage was larger than an inexperienced man
would have hoped.

“They got anyways a thousand head there,” said Dalhart to the cook. He
swung into saddle and rode out, meeting Nabours, who came ahead,
throwing up a hand.

“Stop there, Dalhart! We got to tally in the findings. Knot your rope.
The boys’ll set ’em through.”

The two wheeled apart. Slowly the herd was dribbled through between
them, while the crude but efficient art of handling cows went on. Each
sat his horse, facing the other. At each hundred he advanced a knot
under his thumb. When the last steer had passed the two did not vary
five head in the tally of the crowding mob of cattle.

“Eleven forty-six!” Nabours called. Dalhart nodded.

“I can’t be sure. I made her eleven fifty.”

Nabours grumbled. “It’s a start, no more. Go back and help the other
boys, Dalhart. There’s a big holding yon way, about five mile toward the
hills, besides this one. Bring ’em in.”

Del Williams rode to the cook fire and had a tin cup of coffee before he
roped a fresh horse and changed his saddle. Before leaving he turned to
Nabours.

“Was any of our boys off north, about three mile, Jim?” he asked.

“I don’t know. The run was mostly east.”

“Well, I seen sever’l men riding over towards the hills where I was at,
about sunup.”

Nabours growled his own suspicions.

“Well, it might of been worse,” went on Williams. “I seen fifty head
piled in one arroyo. I don’t know how many more there may be, further
on; but the boys are gethering a good many at the aidge of the pecan
bottoms where the creek runs. Golly-hemlock! We ain’t half made the herd
yet! The boys’ll be bringing ’em in.”

“Now, Sinker!” The foreman turned as the boy horse wrangler came up,
grinning diffidently. “Reg’lar vaquero, eh, hide pants and all?”

“Del said I could have his leggins,” the boy replied, blushing vividly.
“Now, my pants was tore, and that there point man has got on my necktie.
But please kain’t I leave my horses and go help round up? My horses
won’t go fur.”

“Huh! Want to break in and be a full cow hand, eh? Your job’s on the
remuda. But you can go ef you don’t stay over a hour, like yore maw used
to say.”

The boy sang very loud as he rode off. He hoped she had seen the
sprouting down on his cheek.

“I shore know what I’ll do,” he said to himself. “After this, nights,
I’ll spread down, her side the camp. I’ll sleep the neardest of anybody
to her, so’s’t I kin keep watch.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Dust and noise, harbingers of more cattle coming in, twice more called
Nabours and Dalhart to their tally stands.

“Well, anyhow, we got over twenty-five hundred head right now, and more
in sight. Wait till Sinker and Sanchez comes in with their drag. Ef we
get over thirty-five hunderd, that’s big enough for a herd to drive
good. What’s a few cows? We can comb the whole country by to-morrer.
They was too full to run fur, but they fanned on us.”

Nabours, under the influence of rest and coffee, began to relax.

“I’ll go over to Miss Taisie’s camp afore long,” said he, “and tell her
we ain’t broke yet.

“But say, Mr. Dalhart, tell me”—he cast a quizzical look at the other’s
rather spick-and-span appearance in contrast to his own—“was you maybe
going to church? And you might let me know ef you put bear’s grease on
your whiskers too.”

Dalhart, unmoved, stroked his luxuriant beard.

“Nem-mind,” said he. “What’s a man withouten a good baird? Kain’t no
woman git away from a baird. Now, I riz whiskers sence I was twenty, and
I allus noticed, ever I swep’ my baird acrost a gal’s face she was shore
mine.”

“You ain’t got no gall hardly, have you?” rejoined Jim Nabours. “Well,
keep in mind there’s sever’l you ain’t swep’ yet, ner ain’t apt to.
Laigs is better’n whiskers in the cow game. Keep yore eye on that Sinker
kid! He’ll make a cow hand.”

As to this prophecy of the old foreman, events bade fair verification.
All the remainder of the day the bed-ground holding increased, and late
in the afternoon came a last drove of trotting longhorns, urged on by
the ambitious Cinquo, who had relieved faithful Sanchez, found watching
a considerable bunch grazing while he himself awaited help.

“You’re living up to them hair pants, son,” was the foreman’s comment.

The full complement of hands now was in camp. The cook’s fire was
glowing in its trench. Men were eating three meals in one—beans, corn
bread, molasses. They talked, mouths full, contented. Not a man lost;
maybe not over ten per cent of the herd gone; they thought the scrape
well over. Even Nabours began to talk. It was these last comers,
however, who had brought the biggest news.

“It was Sanchez found him,” broke in Cinquo in his repeated explanation.
“When I seen him, too, he was daid, plumb daid. He ain’t none of our
hands. He got kotched in the run where they piled over the bank.”

“That so, Sanchez? _Quien es?_” demanded Nabours of the old Mexican.

“_Es verdad_,” replied Sanchez. “_Quien es? Yo no sais._ Me, I dunno.”
He shrugged a thin shoulder indifferently.

“Now, he was a heavy-set man, with sort o’ red face, maybe—sandy,
anyhow—an’ he didn’t look like no real cow hand.” Cinquo was more
explicit.

“No, but I’ll bet he was a real cow thief,” growled Nabours. “I’ll bet
they was all around our camp, outside the herd, last night. Fools for
luck. Well, anyhow, that makes two. Leave him lay where he’s at, the
damned thief! I only wish it was Sim Rudabaugh or Mr. Dan McMasters!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

The losses, thanks to good cow work, bade fair to be far less than the
morning had promised. Nabours thought next day the main herd could be
pushed on northward, slowly, while a few men were held back, detailed
for a last combing of the broken ground where the run gradually had
faded out. True, the herd might tally out two or three hundred
short—probably less than that. But a cow was only a cow. Besides that,
a number of cows had come in that did not show the Fishhook road brand,
as Del Williams mentioned to Nabours.

“You mean they don’t show it yet,” remarked that veteran. “We’re working
for a orphant. A cow is only a cow, and these men in here wouldn’t mind
ef oncet they seen the orphant.”

“I gathered them strays, er some,” broke in Cinquo. “Er me an’ Sanchez
did. We brung in Ol’ Alamo, that big dun lead steer, an’ he brung in a
lot o’ strays follerin’ him.”

“I got a damn good lead steer,” said Jim Nabours solemnly, helping
himself to coffee. “Sinker, you got the nacherl makings of a cowman in
you.”

The tired men, taking without a murmur the added sleeplessness of a
full-night watch, made every safeguard against a repetition of the late
disaster. The whole camp was sleepless. The cook kept his fire going all
the night and fed the men as now and then they straggled in after the
reassembled herd seemed safely bedded.

Even at Taisie’s camp little sleep was known. Old Anita nodded at her
fire, but Milly was openly bellicose.

“Ah got a load in my gun fer dat triflin’ nigger Jim, Miss Taisie,” she
declared; “but Ah done put another load down on top o’ hit. Ef ary man
come snoopin’ roun’ yere in de dark agin Ah’m gwine to bust him wide
open—Ah suttenly will!”



                              CHAPTER XIX
                           THE CATTLE RIEVER


OF THE mysterious night marauders who—to their own sorrow—had
invaded the Del Sol trail camp, no further trace was gained or sought.
They had vanished as though into thin air, and left behind no more than
surmise and suspicion. To their dead, left on the field, no soldier’s
honors were accorded. The embittered cowmen let them lie unburied.

The last gatherings of the scattered cattle having been concluded with
such subtractions and additions as left old Jim Nabours not too ill
satisfied, the great caravan passed on to the northward, day by day,
like some vast millepede edging across the green surface of the unbroken
sod—cows, horses, carts, flanking riders and keepers of the drag, all
acting in their busy daily drama as though on a stage set upon some vast
moving platform of the idle gods.

Perhaps two hundred miles, as nearly as they could guess at an unmapped
and unfamiliar portion of their own state—a land by no means yet
redeemed from savagery—still lay between them and the Red River, the
Rubicon of that day, the northern boundary of Texas. Ten miles, twelve,
once in a while fifteen miles a day, the great herd grazed and strolled,
north and yet northward, unhurried by its guardians. Not so far ahead,
now, the wholly unsettled Indian Nations; and at any time the chance of
yet other depredations at the hands of the determined white savages,
whom they dreaded more, and whose work, they felt sure, was not yet
done. As they approached the Red River, still unmolested, their anxiety
grew less. Could they have seen into the unsettled land ahead of them it
might well have been more.

                 *        *        *        *        *

A wild enough scene it was, that made by Rudabaugh and his score of
hard-bitten men in their own encampment the first night after they
themselves, pushing swiftly on ahead of the Del Sol herd, which still
made their objective, pulled up on a bit of broken ground at the
naturally strategic point, the south bank of the boundary river. For a
time they roughly had known or guessed what the trail herd had made in
northering; but their own forced march to the Red had gained them
nothing.

It was time, but the Del Sol herd had not appeared or left any trace of
its whereabouts. The men in the rude bivouac—they had, in their haste,
brought little with them beyond what their saddle horses carried—began
to grumble.

“Well, how could I tell where they’d cross?” demanded Sim Rudabaugh
irritably, in answer to some query. “They ought to cross here. This is
right on the old Whisky Trail, due north of Worth and Bolivar. This is
where Jess Chisholm used to cross when he headed for the Canadian.
That’s why I pushed on in here.”

“Well, they didn’t. When they come to Bolivar last week they must have
swung up the Elm towards the Spanish Fort, away in west. Good cowmen,
they sure are. Anyways, they’ve give us the slip.”

“They’ve done nothing of the sort, Hanson,” retorted the leader of the
band. “There’s nobody gives Sim Rudabaugh the slip.”

“Well, they’re north of the Red by now, like enough.”

“Don’t you think it! The Red’s up, almost bank full. No herd could ford
it. Besides, even if they was north of the Red, I reckon we know the
Nations better than they do, and can do more with the tribes. If they
get too far west they’ll hit the Comanches. They’re not done with this
trail yet.

“Not that I want their damned cows now,” he added. “We’d make more by
going back to Palo Pinto and working up the Brazos. But it’s not every
herd that has a hundred miles of scrip along with it in a box. Once word
comes down that a herd’s been sold at Abilene, that scrip’ll go up, and
go up fast.”

“And then besides!” grinned another man.

“And then besides, yes! There never was a man I hated worse than
Burleson Lockhart. I’ll follow him beyond the grave. Scrip I take from
him now, or from his family, is worth to me five times over, even now
he’s dead. And his daughter——”

Followed some low obscenities from his followers which did not abash the
ruffian chief.

“Follow me and you’ll see yet,” he resumed. “I’ve never yet quit. It’s
easy to cross here if we have to, and follow the Arbuckle Trail along
the Washita. They go twelve miles a day. We can go fifty. We can head
them when we please. I don’t intend that herd shall ever see Abilene.
No, nor I don’t aim that any man on that herd’ll ever cross south of the
Red again!”

The cold-blooded ferocity of the man silenced his followers, as always
it did. They were all in one way or another allied in a vast and
unscrupulous border conspiracy in a land to which little actual law yet
had come. The dullest of them knew that their heyday would be brief,
that events were moving fast. The swiftest horse and the surest hand,
the boldest and most ruthless leadership—these were their hope. So they
followed Rudabaugh, the real leading spirit of the predacious drifters
who had seen in the disordered post-bellum political conditions a vast
opportunity for gain in a dulled and disorganized land which did not yet
suspect its own riches. Rudabaugh had imagination, saw far ahead.

“I swear!” he broke out in one of the half-epileptic fits of choler
which sometimes marked him—he was only a pirate of old reborn in the
blood of the Civil War—“I swear, some one’s got to suffer for some of
this! Last night four Indians rode right into our camp and drove off six
horses, and us needing every head we’ve got. You all hear me, now! I
swear I’m going to shoot the first Indian I see north of the Red, I
don’t give a cuss what sort it is. We’ve gone palavering along and
letting a lot of longhorns shoot us up, and then we have the Chickasaws
run circles around us.”

At first no one made reply, though a wild band they made, such as no
other land, no other conditions, could have produced.

“Do you mean that, Sim?” asked one of them presently.

“You know damned well I do,” rejoined the leader. “You needn’t put it
past me.”

To Rudabaugh, subterranean politician, soldier of fortune and renegade,
no title or description could more nicely have been fitted than the one
word “ruffian.” Of nondescript figure, perhaps of middle height, his
body as well as his face showed dissipation written indelibly even for
his age of forty-odd. His hair was dark, not yet much thinned, and had a
reddish cast as though reflected from the deep floridity of his
complexion. His eyes also were hazel to the point of redness, smudged
and flecked in the pupils and evil to look at. His lips, thick and
astonishingly red, carried out the misprized plan of his other features;
he was coarse, common. Yet the inordinate personal conceit, confidence,
vanity of the man had mirror in his clothing. Even on the trail he might
have been made up for the stage villain, with the high boots, the velvet
coat, the gaudy tie—in a borderland where tie or collar was not
customary. Excess as much as daring was stamped on him, flamboyance,
aberration; yet even at middle age he by no means had outgrown his
earlier faith in his own invincibility with women; nor had his other
activities put woman from his mind. His camp talk, not to be hinted,
always gave proof of that.

To his unquestionable mental boldness, his daring imagination in
material matters, Rudabaugh added the callous and ruthless indifference
to the rights or sufferings of others which often secures precedence in
a band of criminals. The bad eminence of Rudabaugh was conceded as of
merit.

Of Rudabaugh’s earlier and possibly criminal record there was little
known. Only a very few in his newly chosen home knew he had been border
outlaw for many a year in a time when border outlaws really existed. His
field lay in the shady confines of a circle comprising parts of Kansas,
Missouri, Arkansas and the unknown Indian Nations, always refuge for bad
men and those restive under the law. Leader of an organized band of herd
cutters on the Missouri-Arkansas border, on the very earliest cattle
drives, before the railroads came, he had of late got visions of wider
things. He had followed south, back-trailing, to the origin of the cows
that first dribbled north. Credit him with conservative business sense;
he had caught scent of profits to come in cows.

Working from these beginnings, Rudabaugh later had planned the most
extensive range rieving ever known. No better nor worse than many a
later man of large instincts and few principles who operated in trail
beef, he had found in politics the most powerful agency possible in
banditry. Once established as the covert boss of a wide state machine,
he did not lack followers. If his activities and those of his like had
much to do with the sudden stiffening and increase of the border
constabulary of the Texas Rangers, his shrewd notion of tremendous
effects on Texas of any valid railroad market also had weight in certain
widespread Texas circles.

No doubt pique, baffled vanity, had much to do with the presence of
Rudabaugh’s gang this far north; but as he had said just now,
persistence was a characteristic of the man. One thing he did not share
with any man. The image of Taisie Lockhart was in his blood. Whether he
planned to rob her and flout her, to rob her and humble her, to rob her
and then try to impress her with some large gesture of generosity, who
could tell of a mind so insanely blurred and vague? At least, he
remained resolved to follow the Del Sol herd and the Del Sol owner to
the last mile of the trail unless sooner satisfied in one or more
purposes of his own. Another quality of leadership—he could keep his
own counsel.

“Well,” Rudabaugh vouchsafed at last, helping himself again to food at
the fire, “they’ve only postponed things. So far, they’ve got two of us,
and one of them Sam Barclay, my office deputy, and as good a man as I
had.”

“Good on the books, maybe,” volunteered a voice, “but no good as a
cowman. The Del Sol men rid it through and gathered, like enough, every
cow except what landed on top of Sam. And they never dug a spade of dirt
to cover him!” he added virtuously. “No way to treat a man. Why, them
people is outlaws! And I’ll bet they’re crowing now over shooting
Bentley!”

“They’re good cowmen,” commented Rudabaugh, after a long time. “We can’t
take any chances with them, day or night. But I’ve got a few red friends
between here and the Canadian that’ll help pickle their goose, I’m
thinking. No white man yet ever scared a Comanche very bad, least of all
old Yellow Hand, and I’ll bet he’s in the Nations right now. If we can
find his band and show them four thousand beeves and two hundred picked
horses I don’t think that herd’ll get much further north. Talk of a
Cherokee outlet west to the buffalo lands—the Comanches’ll have
something to say about a Texas outlet north! I think I’ll show something
to our Del Sol friends.”

“You?” smiled a hearer. “Thought you said you’d kill the first Indian
you saw north of the Red!”

“So I shall. I don’t throw a bluff and forget it. That’s only my private
matter. I’m going to kill that Indian just as a matter of conscience.”
He grinned.

“But before we move out of here,” he added, “we ought to get some word
from our man McMasters. I’ve not seen hide or hair of him since he got
run out of the Del Sol camp and came pretty near getting shot. He said
he’d go on in alone and get the trunk out of the girl’s tent. Well, he
didn’t. Anyhow he disappeared.”

“He’s always disappearing,” remarked another man. “He won’t work with
us. I can’t line that fellow out.”

“Well, he told me he had to play both ends against the middle,” grumbled
Rudabaugh. “But he ought to come in and report. I don’t mind a man being
mysterious, but I don’t want him too damned mysterious. All I could do
to trade with him, after that Ranger run-in on the Del Sol, before he
moved north with the herd.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Had it been known, the bandit camp was not alone beset with puzzles and
problems. That very week, a few nights earlier, in the encampment of the
Del Sol herd, old Anita at dawn brought to her mistress in her own
little tent a note, folded, addressed to no one, in the handwriting of
an educated man—a handwriting she had never seen.

“_El caballero vien’ aqui, señorita_,” said Anita calmly, as she handed
over the folded paper. “_Esta noche, heem vien’ aqui._”

“He came to-night, Anita? Who came—what man? And what is this?”

“_Yo no sais_,” replied Anita. “I dunno. He’s tall-a man, _si_. He
come-a my _carreta_, shake-a me soft, while Sanchez he’s on da herd. He
say, give-a dis to _la Señorita_. But s’pose-a I make-a some holler, he
goin’ choke-a me sure! I dunno some more.”

Anita said nothing of a coin at that time tied in the corner of her
underskirt. Indeed, she thought it just as well Sanchez should not know.
As for her mistress, she might do her own guessing; she could read
Americano, whereas, herself, Anita, could not.

The communication was impersonal, detached, as Anastasie Lockhart found.
She hurried at once to her trail boss; and if she had any guess in her
own mind she kept it there.

    Above Fort Worth village, head due north, to Bolivar. Then don’t
    go on to the Station—swing northwest up the Elm. Cross near the
    Spanish Fort. Feel west then for the Beaver. Then run by the
    North Star six hundred miles. Good water and grass. You can make
    all crossings. Time about two months. Keep west of the Whisky
    Trail. Herd cutters and thieves. Watch out all the time for
    Indians.

Which, to a trail boss wholly without map, guide or knowledge of the far
and unknown country of the north on ahead, must have seemed a godsend,
even lacking authenticity or origin.



                               CHAPTER XX
                              TAKING TOLL


UNTIL now Jim Nabours, Texan native born and, barring his travels
under General Kirby Smith, of small experience abroad, had been in the
habit of regarding his own horizon as sufficient. He had yet to learn a
thing or two to show him how swiftly customs were changing in the Lone
Star State. In a general way he had heard of “river improvements,” paid
for in Texas land scrip, but as to details in that new and pleasing form
of plunder he had little knowledge and no concern.

Neither had he ever heard of cattle inspecting—yet another form of
graft devised in Austin, where more was known or foreseen of the coming
cattle hegira than anywhere else in Texas. Furthest of all now from his
suspicions was the fact that a gentleman by name of Jameson, well
accredited in the current administration, combined in his person the
duties of president of a certain “Land and Improvement Company” and of
State Cattle Inspector as well; and that this same Jameson that spring
was engaged with a small party of his own on a wilderness trip, scouting
up and down the Red, in search of towhead snags that might be pulled, or
of passing cattle that might be inspected, to the glory of God, as the
first Spanish improvers and inspectors of that country once would have
phrased it. Commerce sometimes becomes religion, as religion sometimes
becomes war.

There always lacked explicitness in the story of the Del Sol crossing of
the Red River. Jameson—owner of fat contracts in river improvements and
cattle inspector by the grace of the carpetbag imperator at
Austin—could bring no imposing narrative of himself and his deeds in
connection with the advent of this apparition of thousands of wild
long-horned kine, handled by a concourse of wild men, which one day
broke out of the blackjacks near his camp. That was the Del Sol herd;
but Jameson, being only a cattle inspector, could not be supposed to
notice the T.L. and Fishhook brand.

It was Nabours himself, riding ahead to scout the approach to the high
south bank, who had stumbled across the new camp of the inspector and
his men.

“How, friend?” the herd foreman saluted. Jameson came forward.

“Which way?”

“North”—succinctly.

“North? Across the river? That’s the Indian country.”

Nabours grinned.

“Shore it is.”

“North? But who are you?”

“Sincet you ask me, friend, I’m foreman of the Fishhook, four thousand
head, bound for Aberlene, wherever in hell that is. You ever done hear
tell of the old Chisholm road?”

“The Chisholm Trail? Why, that’s away in east. He crossed either at
Colbert’s or at the Red Station—the Station’s usual. You’re off your
road forty or fifty miles.”

“Am I?” said Jim Nabours innocently. “Sho! That’s too bad! Well, maybe
we can sort of cut in on the trail north of here somewheres, huh? I got
a high-trained old oxen, name of Alamo, a old mossy horn raised by
General Santy Anny, and he allows we cross in here somewheres. He knows
where at’s Aberlene. Do you?”

Jameson frowned at levity. Then suddenly his chest swelled.

“Well, lucky enough you happened to hit my camp,” said he. “You broke in
west, here, to escape the law!”

“Law? What law?”

“Well, you’re trying to move cows across the Red, off the soil of Texas,
and not have the herd inspected.”

“Inspected? We done inspected ’em several times. They’re all right.”

“You know perfectly well what I mean. The law provides a fee for the
proper inspection of all cattle moving off their own range—checking up
and recording the brands, looking to see they’re all in the same road
brand, accounting for strays, and so forth. Looks to me like you are
trying to evade the fees. Well, I’m the state inspector for this
district.”

“That so? You aim to collect something?”

“Yes, certainly. I’ve got to look over your herd before you cross;
that’s my duty. I may have to turn you downstream, to the regular
crossing. You don’t belong in here, and you know it. Where’s your herd?”

“Back below the blackjacks, on the Elm,” responded Nabours promptly, a
gleam in his gray eye that the other did not note. “How’d it do for you
to ride back with me and have a look at our outfit where the herd is
made?”

Jameson turned back to his own men, a half dozen ague-smitten whites,
and ordered his horse brought up. When he mounted to ride south with the
innocent stranger of the trail he made one of the capital errors of his
career in the new country of Texas, and one which he never saw fit to
describe in full to his chief, Rudabaugh, when at last he had reached
the latter in his own camp.

In a more open valley they came in sight of the great T.L. herd,
scattered over two miles of country, grazing or lying at rest. A dozen
riders lolled, leg over saddle horn, themselves a-doze, waiting for the
foreman’s return.

“Ain’t it purty?” said Nabours, the real cowman’s love of cows in his
speech. And it was a noble sight, this wild picture in a wild land. Any
way one looked there was no edge to the world.

But Jameson was more businesslike.

“Well, now,” said he, “it is a good bunch. How many did you say you
had?”

“Thirty-eight hunderd and sixty-five, we made our last tally,” answered
the T.L. foreman, the glint again in his eye. “Why?”

“Well, now, I never want to make bother for a good cowman,” Jameson
answered. “It’s true you’re off your course, but maybe that’s natural.
I’ll just take your own count and let you go. You can pay me the fee and
I’ll not bother you any more at all.”

“Won’t even ride in amongst the herd to look at the brands, nor
nothing?”

“Why, no! What’s the use? I can trust men like you. Just pay me the fee
and let her rip.”

“And how much is the fee, Mister Inspector?”

“Nothing at all, you might say—two bits a head. Taking your own
count—let’s see; call it thirty-six hundred head for easy figuring.
Divide her by four. Nine’s a nine and naught’s a naught—she comes to
nine hundred dollars. Ought to be a cold thousand; but as I said, that’s
nothing amongst men like us. Give me that and I’ll let you go and never
take another look. I’ll trust a man like you.”

Jim Nabours had played in many a game where one does not display his
emotions. He set his face now, almost suppressing the dull red that took
over the gray glint of his eye. The sum of nine hundred dollars was the
same as nine million to him. There was not a hundred dollars, even of
Mexican make, in all the convoy, and he knew that.

“Like you say, that’s little enough,” said he. “Two bits a throw ain’t
worth talking over, not amongst men like us. But just for sake of
friendship, let’s ride on over to our wagon and have a cup of
coffee—you orto see how pore it is.”

He spoke with a finality hard to evade. The other rode alongside. A
quarter of a mile, and Nabours threw up his hand. Del Williams swung
away from his stand and came up at a gallop. Nabours had loosed his
rope.

“Del,” said he, “this is Mr.—I dunno.”

“Jameson; Henry D. Jameson, of Austin, gentlemen.”

“And he says he’s the cattle inspector on the Red. It costs us two bits
a head to cross the river, Del. It ain’t much, only nine hunderd
dollars. And so——”

“Nine hun——” But Del Williams did not finish.

The rope which Jim Nabours idly had uncoiled suddenly shot out behind
him with a quick side flirt. It settled fair around the neck of Henry D.
Jameson, the first cattle inspector Texas ever knew. The next instant
the aforesaid Henry D. Jameson was out of his saddle, his hands clawing
grass as he slid along the ground, choking very rapidly. Del Williams on
chance laid his own rope on the neck of the Jameson horse, which seemed
a good one.

“You damn thief! You low-down, lying son of a ’niquity, you!” The wrath
of Jim Nabours, smoldering a half hour, now flamed. His tongue waxed
unprintable while in two composite languages of the Southwest he cursed
Henry D. Jameson till his own face was as red as that of his victim was
empurpled. Del Williams, gun in hand, followed close, his cue obvious.

“Git up, damn you!” at length croaked the foreman. “You stand up! You’ll
charge Texas men for wetting their girths in a Texas river, will you?
Pay you nine hunderd dollars? We’ll see you and all Austin in hell
before we’ll pay you a damned cent. Come on now quiet, or we’ll leave
you plumb quiet. Come along! It’s lucky we ain’t got no fire lit or I’d
run a Fishhook on you for luck.”

“Don’t shoot him, Del. But what’ll we do with this, now we got it?”

The men on guard saw the sudden commotion. A half dozen came, jerking
up, ropes a-swing, eager. A vast Cossack laughter rose when Nabours
explained.

“Prop up a cart tongue!” called Len Hersey.

But the victim now noted the sudden apparition of a slender figure
astride a singular white-hipped horse, coming up at a gallop.

“What’s this, men?” demanded Taisie. “What are you doing there?”

“Ma’am,” said Jim Nabours, now more calm, “we ain’t doing nothing much.
We’re just going to hang a damned thief that wants to colleck two bits a
head on our cows for swimming the Red River.”

“But what—but why?” Taisie’s own brow puckered.

Jameson found speech, even in his surprise, for now he saw this was no
slender boy at all.

“Madam,” said he, a noose lying on his shoulder and one hand at it,
“these men have resisted the law. I am the lawful inspector for this
district. I have come here in the pursuit of my duty.”

“You’ve got a dangerous duty,” said Taisie Lockhart straitly. Her own
soul was Texan. “Inspect us, charge us—for what?”

Jameson tried to explain.

“Shut up! We’re wasting time!” broke in Nabours, jerking the rope. “We
ain’t got nine hunderd dollars; and if we had we wouldn’t give you nor
no man a copper cent to ride this range ary way we like.

“What’ll we do with him, boys?” He turned again to his men. “Ef we let
him go he may start something. Hyenuses runs in bunches. What’ll we do?”

“That’s a question!” scoffed Dalhart. Len Hersey again named the wagon
tongue; but Taisie Lockhart raised a hand.

“No!” she called. “No! Wait!”

“We can’t wait, ma’am,” said Nabours. “We’re wasting time. The Red’s
running full now and maybe raising every hour for all we know. We can’t
wait here.”

“Then—tie him and leave him!” suddenly spoke the saddle Portia. “Leave
him here—his friends may find him.”

“Aw, hell!” said a voice. It was that of Cinquo Centavos, the horse
herd. Nabours turned to him.

“Sinker, go get a couple of hobbles.” The boy rode off.

“What are you going to do to me?” began Jameson. “I warn you——”

“Don’t warn us none!” rejoined Nabours. “Ef you do we’ll kill you. Keep
your mouth shut! The girl’s the only thing saved you.”

“Yon’s a nice cactus stand, boys,” he resumed, his face relaxing as he
looked around. “Hog-tie him and throw him in the cactus, deep as you
can. Ef he tries to get out plug him.

“That’s yore sentence, Mister Cow Inspector, and it looks like God has
had mercy on yore soul. Ef you get out don’t try charging no more Texas
men for riding over the free lands. They won’t have it. Quick, boys!
Don’t waste no more time.”

Portia rode away, not knowing exactly how far her authority really would
go with her wild crew. As she passed, her ears were assailed with the
supplications of Henry D. Jameson, bound hand and foot and exceedingly
full of cactus spines.

Whereby may be seen the very natural reason for his enmity and his
desire for revenge when he was found the next day by his own men. He
voiced the same emotions, though he did not give full details, when he
joined the freebooter camp of Rudabaugh, far to the east, when later he
had found those friends.



                              CHAPTER XXI
                              THE RUBICON


NOW it was noon of the next day. The cattle had been pushed close to
the south bank of the great mysterious river. The foreman sat with his
employer on the steep crest of the ravine selected as the take-off for
the ford. A bridge had never been, a ferry no man had dreamed of here.
Flowed only the wide sweep of tawny waters, boiling and fretting,
bearing rape of far-off flats, tree trunks rolling and dipping.

The Red was up! This was an ominous and savage scene, and one to depress
even the boldest heart; for over this flood must pass each horned head
ever to find a market in the north.

To Anastasie Lockhart, whitely looking out over the mad waters, this
seemed the very end. It did not appear possible to cross. It never would
have seemed possible to Nabours had he been of longer trail experience
or less desperate in view of other dangers which might come again if
they tarried here indefinitely. A freshet of less extent later was known
to hold back a hundred thousand cows. But Jim Nabours now had made up
his mind to take a chance.

“I’m going to throw the carts over first, ma’am,” said he. “Then I’ll
cross the cows. I’m going to hold the horses back this time. Then, after
the last head’s over, a lot of us’ll cross back after you. We’ll know
the channel and the bars better then. Don’t you be a-scared. We’ll get
you over somehow. That’s how I got it figgered, ma’am.”

“She’s up, Jim,” said Taisie quietly. She was trying her very best to be
brave.

“Yep, some. But she’s fell a foot since last night. She shows a bar, a
quarter below, and a low flat that edges in shaller on the fur side. I
think that’s the real bank, and like enough hard footing.”

“We could wait a week, maybe. She might raise and she might fall. We’ll
soon know how deep she is. I don’t reckon she’s not over two-three
hunderd yards actual swimming—I can’t tell. I don’t want to wait here.
You know why.”

“Can we make it, Jim?” asked the girl soberly.

“I think we can, ma’am,” said the old foreman as quietly. “Ef I didn’t,
do you s’pose I’d throw ’em in? She has been crossed by cows, down
below, for the Arkansaw market. Yore own paw has crossed her. Can’t we?
If Jess Chisholm, or any of the Chickasaw whisky runners, could cross
her with stock so can we. Huh? I’m a good cowman, ma’am, and I got the
best bunch of hands ever pushed a foot in a stur’p.”

Taisie Lockhart turned on him the sober gaze of her steady eyes, but
made no reply at the time.

“Jim!” Suddenly she turned on him.

“Ma’am?”

“Jim! I’ve got no one else—I’ve got to come to you. Cal Dalhart asked
me to marry him—again, to-day.”

“Well, you didn’t, and you can’t. The last minister was at Forth Worth.
There’s others of the same mind, Taisie. Has Del Williams spoke?
Dalhart’s lied.”

She shook her head.

“Poor Del!” said she. “So quiet.”

“Well, he done spoke to me more’n oncet. He allows, and so do I, that no
man had orto talk a word to you about no such thing until after he ain’t
working for you no more. That’s until after Aberlene. That’s the way Del
put it. I liked it of him. Cal Dalhart’s a leetle brash, to my notion.”

“Why do women always make trouble, Jim? I’m making trouble right here.
I’ve made it from the start.”

“Well, ma’am, Eve, she begun it right at the real start. They always
done so, since. I got to pass word again there can’t be no courting on
the Fishhook herd, not till after Aberlene, ma’am. I told you to get
married and go back home; but you wouldn’t. Now, see where you are! Time
enough for marrying and giving in marriage, ma’am, ef we ever get to
Aberlene. Ef we don’t we’ll not need study about that nohow. Huh?”

“I’ll be good, Jim,” said Taisie, smiling.

But when once more she looked at the river she did not hope ever to see
Abilene. She classed herself now as the last of the Texas Lockharts. She
would not disgrace the name.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Ticklish work it was, and asking alike resource and courage; but
methodically as though they had done nothing else in all their lives,
the men of Del Sol went about it now.

Under Nabours’ direction they got together long logs of cottonwood
drift, dragging them in at the ends of their lariats, cowman fashion.
Taking the cook cart for their first experiment, they lashed some of the
longer logs under the body, unbolting the tongue. The clumsy vehicle was
heavily loaded. How much of swimming water there would be none could
tell; but their philosophy was wholly empirical. Nabours turned back at
the edge of the water.

“Keep right after me, men, and keep her a-coming!” he called to the
riders who now were in readiness to take the water. “Don’t try to hold
her against the current. Let her slide down, and keep your horses
swimming. Ef we make that bar we’re all right.

“You, Del, go upstream in front—Cal, get in front below. You’ve got the
hind rope upstream, Len, and Sanchez, you go downstream. Keep her going
just like it was on the ground. She’d orto float some anyway. Come on
now!”

He spurred into the rolling discolored stream. His horse, snorting and
trembling even at the brink, within five yards of the steep bank was in
swimming water; but he headed straight across, gallantly, though carried
steadily downstream.

Stripped to their underclothing, and minus their pistol belts, the men
spurred in. With a sudden plunge the unwieldy craft took the water at
the rear of the horsemen.

“By golly, she floats!” called out a voice on the shore.

Cal Dalhart flung up a hand with a yell. Old Sanchez crossed himself
industriously. But all four of the horses, muzzles flat and nostrils
blowing, followed as best they could the leader who swam ahead, his
saddle horn still showing high. That it was all a mad endeavor, no sane
man could have doubted. But Providence was ever kind to men who dare.

Those remaining on shore watched the strange procession in absolute
silence. Taisie covered her eyes. The plan of the crossing had much good
judgment in it, but only extreme good fortune ever could give it
success. By some kind impulse of its own, the current began to carry the
clumsy contrivance toward the head of the sand bar at midstream,
scarcely more than visible above the surface, but offering great hope to
the swimming horses. The silent watchers at last saw the horse of the
leader plunge upwards and get footing. The two lead horses followed, all
of them still belly deep. The length of the reatas of the rear men
allowed them also to get footing while the great wheels of the cart,
hanging below the edges of the raft, remained floating free. The power
of five horses, even with soft footing under them, finally enabled the
men to drag it to floating water beyond the head of the bar. To their
relief it found temporary anchorage when the wheels caught bottom.

Nabours sat his half-submerged horse, looking studiously out across the
remaining waterway.

“Hold on here, boys, till I try her out,” he commanded. “I think from
here acrost she’s sorter flat. Ef she won’t float the cart, cut out the
logs, splice your ropes and fetch one on acrost to me so we can yank her
through.”

They got floatage for a little way out from the bar, but presently the
raft became a liability and not an asset for them. They cut log after
log free and let it run downstream. Nabours’ horse was no more than
belly deep ahead of them. Four hide reatas, each of forty feet and all
spliced, at last gave them connection with the solid shore. With a great
shout they yanked the first cart up the farther bank.

Nabours rode up to the front of his amphibious vehicle and disclosed
Buck, the negro cook, who had been praying on the floor of the cart, up
to his knees in water part of the time, and now still of grayish
complexion under his natural pigmentation.

“What’s the matter with you, boy?” he demanded. “Climb down out of
there, now, and get things ready for a meal against we get the next cart
acrost.”

It was necessary for the five men to recross the river. After a long
study of both shores for a take-off, they concluded to wade down to the
head of the bar, cross the swimming water from that point, and to land
below the original take-off on the south shore, at a point where the
high bank flattened. Two of the five men knew almost nothing of
swimming. Each man put his life upon the strength and courage of his
horse. Their work was there and it had to be done. They eased their
mounts by slipping out of saddle, swimming downstream and taking tow,
one hand clinging to a saddle thong.

It is enough to say that they did make the recrossing. Taking advantage
of the rebound of the current from the bar, they found footing on the
south bank perhaps a quarter of a mile below the original take-off. Wet,
half-naked, they all whooped on up to the ford head, where all the
remainder of their company were huddled.

“She’s all right, Miss Taisie!” yelled out Nabours. “We can do it plumb
easy. You stay here where you are. I’m going to put Milly and Anita in
the next cart. We’ll swim you over special, on horseback. That’s a heap
safer’n any boat. All you got to do is just to set still on your horse
and let him alone.”

The delay with the second cart was but short. Old Milly, on her knees in
the sand hysterically supplicating her deity, was forcibly assisted to
the seat where already Anita, patiently telling her beads, was seated,
a-waiting fate.

Again they pushed out; once more they made the head of the bar; and this
time, with even less difficulty than at first, finished the second half
of the crossing. For the second time, wet to the skin, the men crossed
back, cursing the luck which had brought them here to meet high water,
but as yet meeting with no mishap. Nabours looked dubiously at the
horses, which had made the crossing twice. The men refreshed themselves
with hot coffee and a hurried bite to eat. The farther camp now was
made, so there would be coffee at each end of the crossing.

But now they must address themselves to the tremendous experiment of
crossing the herd. True, these had had swimming water at the Colorado,
the Brazos, the Trinity; but in each case the farther shore was well in
view of the take-off and the swimming channel narrow. What would the
cattle do now, facing a moving sea of roily water?

“Ready with them fresh horses, men!” called Nabours. “Point the herd in
here. Make them take water just back of me, and throw ’em in spreaded.
All of you act just like it was on the ground. Take your points, you,
Cal and Del! All you swings, ride right above and below just like you
was on the trail. They’ll swing down plenty in the current. Take it easy
and quiet. If any of you gets scared them cows’ll be scared too. Ef they
begin to mill it’ll be hell for every one of us; so keep ’em spread out
and moving. Here’s where we make a cap or shore spoil a coonskin.”

With cracking of horns and tossing of heads, the front of the herd came
shuffling down the shallow draw to the edge of the water, led by a few
lank and rangy steers, old Alamo, the accepted lead steer, still in
front. They were creatures alert and wise as deer, true longhorn stock
of the lower range. Something of the wild instinct blended with their
recent practical education. Crowded by the numbers pushed against them
from the rear, old Alamo shook his head for half an instant, then bent
his knees and plunged in, following the swimming horse on ahead. Some
men still rode the same mounts. Now and then a man lightened ship, by
slipping out of saddle for a time.

One by one, by fives and tens and scores, the other cattle followed the
lead thus established. The inshore leg of the long moving U passed out
and down, the cattle swimming steadily, gently, their muzzles level,
their tails spread. They knew well enough where they were to land.

The stream of the herd seemed almost endless, but when the great U once
was established—the cattle finding footing on the bar at midstream and
wading over the shallows beyond—the line of action was perfectly
apparent to every animal as it was pushed up to the river brink. They
took the water as had those before them, and formed a continuous living
line across the river. It was a magnificent spectacle. It was a triumph
of personal courage combined with knowledge of the art of cows. But
surely fate aided in this first and riskiest crossing of the Red by any
herd passing northbound to the rails.

There was little need of guidance after the first of the herd had
reached the bar in midstream, and here some of the riders turned back to
the south shore, riding up to the take-off. Again and again they took
the water below the swimming stream of cattle. They could see the long
line of the cattle elevate itself like a great parti-colored snake at
the bar, thence writhing along as though upon the ground, and fully
visible as it topped the farther shore. The great adventure seemed in a
fair way to conclude itself upon the side of courage.

The old Del Sol foreman was a good cowman, as good as the next, and
there were few phenomena in the trade of cows with which he was not
familiar. One might have seen him all that day looking up anxiously at
the sky. The heavens were dull and overcast; a bad day to put cattle at
a ford. Rain portended; for long there was no glimpse of the sun. But
had there been any glimpse of the sun the veteran foreman would never
have pushed his herd into the river late in the afternoon, for a reason
which any trail man would have understood.

At that point the river ran almost north and south, so that the course
of the cattle was almost westward. In the evening any rays of the sun
would lie like a path across the water.

But cattle will not swim into the sun. No good trail boss ever undertook
to cross a herd into a sunset. The one hope of Nabours was in a
continuous cloudiness of the evening sky. He did not want the sun to
shine.

But now, as he turned his own anxious face toward the west, he saw a
greater definition of the piling clouds. The lower edge of yonder heavy
bank was tinged with silver. By and by the sun would drop through. Then
its light would lie across the water, straight into the eyes of the
swimming cattle.

The sudden oath of old Jim Nabours had many factors in it—pity for what
he knew might happen, regret for his own hastiness, apprehension for the
property which was not his, resentment at what seemed to him an unjust
fate and a poor reward for the courage which his men had shown. Nature,
always merciless, now seemed mockingly vindictive.

No act of man could affect that which was now to happen. The almost
level rays of the sun did fling their burnished path across the yellow
waters. It was cast straight into the eyes of the drag, some three or
four hundred animals which had not yet crossed the swimming channel. It
half blinded for a moment even the eyes of the men. A floating log came
down among them, caught the upper cattle, swung crosswise.

The line broke. There was a great uptossing of horns, a jumbling of
shoulders as some animals attempted to find floatage on the backs of
others. The spaces were lost, the bodies were packed together in a mass,
struggling, moaning—and steadily passing downstream. The dreaded
swimming mill was on!

Little enough could the bravest or most skilled men do now. What men
could do, the two riders now caught in the mill attempted. They did not
try to swim free of the mass, but drove into it, attempting to break and
point out the mill so that the cattle would find footing somewhere
below. At times the head and shoulders of their ponies showed, climbing
upon the shoulders of the swimming cattle, the men beating with their
quirts, kicking, urging, shouting. But the cattle would not swim into
the sun.

Those upon the nearer shore heard the sound of the rush of waters and a
combined low moan, indescribable. It was hopeless. Not the best efforts
of the entire company could have broken that fatal midstream mêlée. As
though in a dream, Taisie Lockhart, wringing her hands, stood dumb and
saw go forward one of the sudden tragedies of the trail.

“Leave them go, men! Come back! We can’t save them now! Come on out!”
Nabours ordered back his men on the farther side of the bar.

They stood looking at the moving mass which made a dark blot below the
bar, where the current once more headed for the east. Neither head of
horse nor man long showed above the floating island.

“That was Dan and Billy,” said Jim Nabours, the first tears in his eyes
any man had seen there. “I done it my own self! Look at that sun!”

It was dusk when he and half a dozen of his best men once more rode up
the shore to the take-off. Taisie met him, sobbing unreservedly. The
veteran herdsman himself could not speak.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                             “TILL ABILENE”


“WE can’t do nothing more to-night.” Nabours had joined his companions
at the fire. “Find a critter if you can, and kill it for supper,” he
added, turning to Cinquo, who white and silent, had stood at the side of
his mistress through all the late tragic scene.

Stripped, wet and cold, the trail men sat in silence. The sound of a
distant shot in the brush promised them food—a straggling yearling from
the drag which had been lost among the willows; but they were so dulled
with fatigue, regret, sorrow, that they hardly would have cooked for
themselves had not Taisie and Cinquo taken a hand.

The night settled down with a certain chill along the water’s edge. The
darkness held unusual terrors for the lone girl. Suddenly she dropped
her face in her hands, huddling against the wet shoulder of the man who
came nearest to being her protector.

“Jim! Jim!” she sobbed. “Take care of me! I am scared!”

“So’m I scared, Miss Taisie,” rejoined Jim Nabours truthfully. “Lord ha’
mercy on me!”

The men of Del Sol slept ill enough, close to the embers of their fire.
Cinquo’s saddle blankets, partly dry at least, he gave to their
mistress, for whom he had made a bower somewhat apart.

The boy was the first to move in the foggy dawn and to find his horse.
He rode down the river bank in the direction of the last tinkling of the
lead mare’s bell. He was gone for the best part of an hour before he
brought up the remuda. By that time the other men had rebuilt their
wastrel fire.

Something seemed on Cinquo’s mind. He approached Nabours, who stood
apart, moody and depressed.

“Mr. Jim,” said he, “I met a man down there, and he was riding a
blue-crane Fishhook horse.”

The foreman turned to him.

“You are sure?”

“I kin read a brand.”

“Did he say anything to you? What?”

“He was rather quiet. He was a tall man with a little mustache and a
gray hat. He told me not to tell you who he was—and I hain’t told you.
He told me he seen the place where the mill landed last night. There’s
dead cows all along this side the river, and besides was two dead
men—that was Bill and Dan. He said he pulled them out and covered up
their faces. He said he knew a better crossing down below, and he wished
we’d of knowed where it was at. Then he rid back down the river, when he
left.”

“A damn good thing he did!” said the trail boss. “Ain’t I had enough
without that set of thieves?

“Eat, men,” he added to the half-clad group of stiffened men around the
fire. “We have got work to do.”

He made no comment on the news the boy had brought, but led the way.
With knives and sharpened sticks, they dug two graves in the sand; stood
with hats off for a little time, silent. Some men began to kick dirt in
on top of two saddle blankets. They rode away.

In the draggled bivouac at the head of the crossing there remained then
only the mistress of Del Sol and the boy Cinquo, who had been ordered to
remain. The latter engaged himself in broiling some pieces of meat at
the fire, not for himself. His divinity came out at last, having made
such toilet as she could.

“Where are the other men?” she asked.

“They’re down a-burying Dan and Bill, ma’am.”

The not infrequent tears came again to Taisie Lockhart’s eyes.

“They come ashore nigh a mile below here, a man told me. He come up from
down the river when I was down after the horses. A tall young fellow he
was, with a dark mustache. He told me he had found where the mill
landed, and the boys and everything.”

“You don’t know who he was?”

“I know he was a-riding a Fishhook horse, ma’am. I’ve saw him afore,
yes.”

Taisie Lockheart turned quickly away, with no reply.

                 *        *        *        *        *

“Well,” began Nabours surlily, without much speech to his mistress or to
any one of the company, “we’ve got to get the horses acrost. Throw them
in, Sinker; drive that old gray mare in first.”

“I don’t have to drive her in; she’ll foller me,” replied the boy. “I
ain’t going to let nobody point her lead for me and my remuder. They
know me. Old Suze, she’ll foller right in after me. Ef you can swim it,
I kin. Besides, she’s six inches lower than she was last night.”

“Huh, six inches would do a heap o’ good out there, wouldn’t it?”
grumbled Nabours. “You ain’t running this herd.”

“No, but I’m running the remuder,” said the boy stoutly. His eyes began
to fill with tears.

“Oh, well, get in then!” The trail boss looked at him kindly, his own
eyes none too dry. “There’s only one way to make a cow hand. If he lives
he lives!”

None the less, he and his two lead men flanked the horse herd close
behind the plucky boy when he spurred in ahead, followed by the bell
mare and the rest of the horse band. The course was much as it had been
with the cattle. The horses swam strongly and confidently and in due
time made the head of the bar, which now was more exposed.

“Take ’em on out now, Sinker; it’s safe from here on. We’ve got to go
back oncet more, to get the boss. Come on, you, Cal and Del. This is the
last trip. Hurry! She’ll be scared there by herself.”

To the primitive brain of the old Texan, who trusted nothing so much as
a horse, the uncertain raftage of the previous day had made the carts
seem riskier than the back of a swimming horse. For that reason he had
decreed that Taisie Lockhart should remain until the very last. His plan
now was revealed.

“Miss Taisie,” said he, when at length he had regained the take-off,
“you’ve seen us all cross there time and again. It’s perfectly safe for
a good swimming horse like yours. I’m a-going to cross you like we done
everything else. I’m a-going on ahead my own self, and put Del and Cal
above and below you, with ropes to your saddle, so’s to steady you if
anything should happen. There ain’t no cows now. Just keep your hands
off your bridle; don’t try to guide your horse none at all. You mustn’t
look down at the water, for if you do you think you are going
downstream, when you ain’t. Just you look on ahead, right at the top of
my hat; then you’ll be perfectly safe. Us men ain’t going to let nothing
happen to you.”

The girl was pale, but the family courage and the traditions of the
border were her own. She got into saddle without a word and spurred the
snorting Blancocito directly into the curling waters when Nabours gave
the word. It seemed to her to be facing death. She resigned her soul.

But suddenly she felt under her a certain lightness, accompanied with a
throbbing vibration—movement, progress. She knew her horse was
swimming. On ahead, Jim Nabours sat as though upon the surface of the
tawny water, the top of his saddle cantle showing over the streaming
tail of his horse, which swam on, steadily and confidently, after the
gallant fashion of the Texas strain. She looked right and left. Two
other men were advancing also strangely over the water, only the upper
portion of their bodies visible. It was like some fantastic dream.

In absolute silence they crossed the swimming channel, saw the face of
the sand bar come nearer, as though it were approaching upstream across
the swirling flood. Fifty yards, thirty yards, twenty yards—they would
be safe! And then came one more jest of the immortal gods! It was an
accident made more readily possible by the mistaken attempt of using
guide ropes on a swimming horse.

A great tree, uprooted somewhere unknown miles to the westward, came
rolling and dipping its snaggled branches. The men saw it perfectly
well, and coolly made ready to meet the danger, each man with hand at
his reata.

Impossible to predict the freak of the changing current! A bared root of
the tree caught at the edge of the bar. The heavy trunk swung down
toward Dalhart, who had the upstream side. Nabours was now ahead, on the
bar. His back was turned. He was looking curiously at the man they all
had seen approaching through the shallow water from the farther bank.

The cool-headed plainsman, Dalhart, gave length to his rope, flipped it
to free it of the one menace, an upstanding snag which would not allow
the rope to clear. But in some way, no one could tell how, a roll of the
menacing leviathan threw the snag a little higher. The drag of the rope
in the water did the rest. The rope fouled on the snag. As a
consequence, the horse of Taisie was drawn directly in front of the log
as it swept downstream. A scream, shouts. In a flash the girl’s pony was
trying to get his forelegs over the log. The girl herself, thrown or
slipping out of the saddle, was in the water; and all of them, horses,
riders, with the giant log, were steadily swept down below the head of
the bar.

The sudden disaster concentrated all the world into an immediate surface
of eddying, onward water, coffee colored, and the narrow strip of wet
sand edging it. The scene was not fifty feet across, so near were the
swimmers to the one trace of land. Beyond that limit, for the
participants existed no horizon and no use for eye or ear. Nabours had
some indefinite, vague sense that the wet noise of a horse’s advance
through the shallow back of him was close, now directly at his back; but
to turn his head from the tragedy at his hand was not possible as even
an instant’s thought; so that when the hurrying horseman appeared at his
side, as though dropped from the sky, it seemed quite natural enough.

The quick cast of his own rope fell short from where he sat his horse,
with footing on the bar. Those in the water had only their own powers
now. There was no conscious plan on Taisie Lockhart’s part, or that of
the two swimming men; no one could tell how it all had happened, or what
now must happen. But suddenly the girl felt herself caught in the strong
grasp of Del Williams, himself dismounted, swimming. He dragged her into
the swinging branches—across them. By then Dalhart’s rope was free, and
Taisie’s pony, dropping back from its struggle to surmount the log, also
was free, as the ponderous tree trunk swept on by. So by renewed freak
of fortune, all three of the horses made the edge of the bar before it
was too late. By this very fact the lives of those caught in the current
were set in more instant danger.

It all was in silence. No one called for aid, supplicated; no one
shouted advice, instruction; there was not a sound to the advance of
death. Nabours, perhaps, held his breath thrice the usual space as he
jerked in his rope, cast again.

The loop fell wide, sank; but Williams missed it, was swept down,
encumbered by the current, here very strong in its rebound. The water
had cut off the slope of the bar a few yards below and left a gouged
channel, sharp, swift. But Dalhart’s hand fell on the loop. With a
groan, unable to cast again for the white face of the girl, Nabours
returned, whirling his horse, gathering slack, feeling his whole life a
failure now, since he had saved only a man.

Now into his consciousness came identification of the horseman who had
plunged across the shallows to the harder footing of the bar, well
trampled by the cattle which had passed. Of course, vaguely, generally,
he had known at first loose sight that it was not any of his own men.

It was McMasters, his pistol belt wrapped around his saddle horn, his
coat off and held under a leg, his reata free. He pushed down the
bar—off the bar; but before his horse swam, a whirling back cast had
spread the loop over the heads of the two swimmers, who, plainly, never
could have made the bar.

He would have dragged them out by the neck, choked, yea or nay, had his
horse held footing. As it was, he was the one of the three who had some
plus power, even as his horse swam. With a desperate struggle the
gallant brute got his feet on holding ground, floundered out, up. By
then the loop had narrowed to the hondo. But the bit of rawhide there
was gripped in Del Williams’ clutch. He still held in his other arm the
heavy drag of the girl’s body. He did not know whether or not her eyes
were closed; hoped only he had been able to keep her face high.

After that, it was quick, simple, silent. The essential thing had been
done. McMasters used the horse to drag out the take of the rope. He saw
Del Williams come to his knees on the wet sand, crawling, the limp form
of the girl still supported by his arm as he staggered up.

He saw her stand alone, her arms feeling out, dazed, central figure now
on a stage which was a wide sea of whirling water. Whether or not she
knew him he could not tell. Taisie herself could feel little of definite
plan. But what McMasters saw, result of her impulse to reach the one
point of safety she could sense, was her stumbling, hurrying, arms
spread, to the saddle skirts of Jim Nabours, who was on the narrow strip
of sand exposed by the lowered waters, hardened by the trampling it had
had.

The girl, scarce able to stand, flung an arm across the old foreman’s
saddle front. Upon the other side Del Williams, following, suddenly
reached out and caught her hand, even as Jim laid hand upon her arm to
steady her. Her eyes, until now closed in terror, opened and looked
straight into those of Del Williams, the man who from his own boyhood
days had loved her, as she knew; who had risked his life for her now.

“I reckon you saved my life,” said she weakly.

She did not specify. The man who had done the essential thing was fifty
feet away. But Dalhart heard the words.

Now the tense silence of the drama’s action was resolved into
hurly-burly, horses plunging, splashing, snorting, men coiling ropes,
all voluble in speech, undifferentiated calls, shouting, accusations.

“Come here, you!” Nabours called, beckoning to the tall rider, apart,
who was coiling his wet reata, looping securely his pistol belt, pulling
a latigo around his wet coat to hold it better. But McMasters flung a
hand in salutation, deprecation, for what not, or for it all.

“But come on, man!” the foreman again commanded, with what intent was
not plain. The laughing voice of McMasters came, clear and seemingly not
much perturbed.

“See you at Abilene!” he called. Almost the next instant he had spurred
bodily into the flood.

They watched him steadily carried out and down and across by the set of
the current, following the same system Nabours had first used in
crossing back to the south bank. None of them knew that McMasters had
from his own chosen spot watched the whole crazy operation of crossing
the Red in freshet, had crossed at a better ford below, and had within
the hour taken position near the camp on the far shore, whence he had
seen the last departure from the south bank—and done some thinking and
reasoning of his own about it.

“He’ll make it all right, damn him!” said Nabours, in mixed emotions, as
he watched the strange sight of a man’s body, half out of water, plowing
across, following a small object dark and flat ahead, surmounting a dark
broken line, a V of ripples, even so, visible in the tawny descending
flood.

“Well!”

He did not explain. No one explained. No one made comment. Perhaps a
sort of chagrin now held them more or less, a feeling that glory lacked,
that life itself had lacked here, but for the casual, unrequited aid of
a man who had come and gone after doing the essential thing.

“Help her up, Del,” said Nabours. “Can you ride, child?”

Taisie nodded, got into saddle when her horse was brought across the wet
bar. So she was not yet to die? The thought was curious to her, bringing
not elation but surprise. She had not once spoken, had never once cried
out, appealed—not so much courage as resignment to the wish of fate.
And now fate had selected a certain agency to give her back to life and
its lackings. She had neither joy nor sorrow in such thoughts as came.

Nabours, his hand on Blancocito’s cheek strap, rode with face held down,
his mouth grim. He sighed so deep it was well-nigh a groan, knowing that
under his leadership two human lives had been lost, a third almost lost.
Had that last consequence of his own folly ensued, what then? It had
come so close he now had no perspective other than that it would have
been the end of the world. And the draggled figure at his side, passive
center of all the action, as woman is in all the great crises of the
world, had no better perspective. The edge of the world lay at the south
bank of the Red. Well, he had reached that horizon, passed once more
beyond the edge of her world—that strange man.

The other two men dropped to the rear as Nabours led Taisie’s horse out
at the landing place. Del Williams had ridden silent. Dalhart began to
abuse him.

“That’ll do! The whole thing was your fault,” said Williams after a
time. “You let your rope foul in that log. It’s a wonder you didn’t
drownd her. If you say it was any part my fault, you’re a damned liar,
and you know it! Even thataway she’d have drownded, and me, too, if it
wasn’t for him.” He jerked his head toward the opposite shore.

Neither man was armed, both were nearly naked. They wheeled their horses
head to head and sat looking each into the other’s face.

“The world ain’t big enough for both us two,” said Dalhart slowly.

“It shore ain’t,” answered the other man in even tones. “What you say
suits me. We’ve all promised Jim there wouldn’t none of us make no break
until we had delivered the cows. Does that suit you?”

“Yes, till Abilene!”

“Till Abilene!”

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._      _North of 36._
 PREPARING TO DRIVE THE LONGHORNS ACROSS THE RIVER.]



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                           UNDER WHICH FLAG?


THIRTY miles down the Red River, where it originally was crossed by
the old Arbuckle Trail, early known as the Whisky Trail, Rudabaugh and
his men lay encamped. They were and for some days had been impatiently
a-waiting news from the south. Mr. Jameson, cattle inspector for the
northern district of Texas, brought them news; but Mr. Jameson, for
reasons of his own, preferred to preserve his dignity; so his news was
highly censored, expurgated. He declared that his horse had thrown him
into a cactus patch. Moreover, he declared that the Del Sol herd was
already across the river and bound north; whereas the truth was that he
only had guessed that the herd soon would cross, provided that the
waters fell. He had not tarried. Rudabaugh was irritated.

“You ought to have got two bits a head straight through for those cows,”
said he.

“They’re out of our jurisdiction now,” defended the thornful fugitive.

“They ain’t never out of my jurisdiction!” rejoined the leader savagely.
“I’ll follow that outfit till hell freezes. Where there ain’t no law is
where Sim Rudabaugh’s jurisdiction runs.

“I wish I knew where that fellow McMasters is,” he added. “I’m only
waiting for him.”

That evening at dusk McMasters did come into camp. Rudabaugh welcomed
him with as much graciousness as he could muster, but did not spare
complaints over the long delay.

“None of you Texans seem to know the value of time,” he began. “You
can’t look ahead. The herd that breaks trail for five million Texas cows
ruins every plan for us if it gets to the railroad. If that herd gets
through, cows will be worth ten dollars a head in Texas this fall, next
year twenty dollars—and they have been costing me twenty-five cents!
When cows go to twenty a head, land goes up with them. Now, it don’t
take any watchmaking to figure why I don’t want those things to happen
just yet.

“McMasters, that herd must never get out of the Nations. We’ve got to
have this season to finish our plans. I don’t intend to have my hand
forced by any red-head girl and her red-neck cow hands, I can tell you
that. Let that bunch trail north this summer, and they’ll make a market
for every cow in Texas! If they don’t get north Sim Rudabaugh’ll be the
richest man that ever set foot on Texas soil. And what do you suppose
Texas will do for a man who can prove that he has doubled and trebled
and quadrupled the price of every acre and every cow inside the lines of
Texas? In that case, Mr. Rudabaugh might be able to look wider than the
lines of Texas, eh?”

“Your plans do seem large,” said McMasters quietly. “How can I help you
in them?”

“Every way in the world. Scout out on ahead. It’s hard for me to keep my
fingers on you, you shift about so much; but if you help me break up the
T.L. herd there’ll be everything in it for you that you will ever want
in life.

“Of course, you know I kept awful quiet. It’s a long way out to the edge
of the Staked Plains, and only a few cowmen are in there now. But the
lands I have got my eye on are covered with vine mesquite like a carpet,
or with bunch grass almost as good. That’s the coming cattle range, once
the Comanches are off of it. That’s where I am locating our lands. I
want a million acres more of scrip.

“And to think,” he added, “what all of that hangs on! Leave them alone
and they may find Abilene, for all I know. I am taking no chances about
that—that’s why I want you. I want you to go on north and find that
outfit.

“We’ll cross the river in the morning.”

Again he resumed his pacing and his cursing, in one of the moods during
which he really was out of his own mind. He was well in his cups almost
all the time.

McMasters turned toward him suddenly.

“You carry fire a long time, don’t you?” said he.

“I never had any one oppose me yet that didn’t get the worst of it,”
replied the outlaw, ever serene in his conceit.

McMasters smiled.

“Not even Burleson Lockhart?”

“Not even Burleson Lockhart,” rejoined Rudabaugh savagely. “He did!”

He pulled up. Something chill seemed to sit in the air about him. “Well,
come into camp,” said he, “and let’s have a snort of liquor. I have got
some left.”



                              CHAPTER XXIV
                               THE MURDER


RUDABAUGH and his band, early on the following morning, broke camp and
crossed the Red River, finding no difficulty in making the ford at the
old Whisky Trail. They rode a dozen strong, alcoholically buoyant,
defiling the air with their boastful blasphemies.

McMasters had suggested that they keep together and follow the old
Arbuckle Trail up the Washita, their course making one side of a
triangle whose other leg probably would be covered by the Del Sol herd.
The two courses naturally would converge somewhere to the north and
west, at some point on the Washita. He pointed out that in no case could
they miss the Del Sol men, because certainly they would see the
northbound trail if they came to it, and could wait if they did not. The
logic of this appealed sufficiently to Rudabaugh.

At the end of their first day’s march they stopped at the edge of a
walnut grove through which ran a little stream. All that country was
full of game, and Rudabaugh took up his rifle, promising soon to come
back with meat for the company. McMasters himself, unobserved, followed
not far behind him.

Rudabaugh had been gone perhaps a quarter of an hour or so when his
mates heard two reports of his rifle in the direction of the stream. He
came in not long after, but without any game.

“Well, Dave,” said one of his men, “did you get your meat?”

“I certainly did,” answered the ruffian.

“You didn’t bring it in?”

“It ain’t that kind of meat.”

They stood looking at him. His smile was distorted. He began to work
himself into one of his rages.

“Well, you heard my promise!” he broke out. “Down yonder I told you that
I intended to kill the first Indian I saw in the Nations. I don’t bluff
and I don’t miss—there’s two Indians laying in there. If you don’t
believe it go and look. I told you I’d show those people how to steal my
horses.”

A man or two slipped out of the camp, moved over toward the edge of the
little stream. Hard men they were, and used to rough deeds; but what
they saw made them start back shuddering.

Two Indian women, one young, lay upon the farther bank. Their clothing
remained upon the nearer shore. They had been bathing, and hearing the
approach of an intruder had started up the farther bank. There they had
been overtaken by the aim of the most heartless ruffian that ever
crossed even that dark and bloody land. The older woman now lay dead,
the younger even yet was struggling to reach the cover of the thicket.
Hearing the sound of yet others coming, she fell forward on her
face. . . . They both were women, and had the younger woman lived——

McMasters, following close behind Rudabaugh, was not close enough to see
him when he fired, but soon he saw what had been done. Horrified, he
turned away, leaving the men he met to see for themselves. He picked up
the moccasins the women had left on the hither bank.

His step was light as that of a panther when he entered the camp. He
crossed the grass to where Rudabaugh now sat, and touched him lightly on
the shoulder.

“Get up, you damned hound!” he said. “Get up and look a man in the face,
you beastly, murdering coward!”

Rudabaugh reached for his weapon before he struggled upright, but stayed
his hand in time. The two hands of the younger man were raised above the
dark revolver stocks. But he did not fire.

“The man who would do a thing like that is no part of a man at all!”
Rudabaugh and all his remaining men heard the words. “I’ll not ride a
foot with a murderer like you. Now take my advice—get out of here fast
as you can! If these people catch up with you they’ll even things with
you—their village can’t be far from here. Those women never harmed
you.”

“You all heard my word!” Rudabaugh’s voice broke hoarsely.

“You’ve heard mine! I ought to kill you now, but I am going to leave
you.”

“The lousy thieves!” Rudabaugh tried to work up his vanished rage. “You
think I’ll let them steal my horses and get away with it? It’s two less
of them. Besides, there’s no law in here. Besides, you’re going to break
your own word.”

The eye of McMasters narrowed.

“Don’t say that again,” said he. “I am saving you for a later day. Those
were Comanches that you killed.”

“They’re not Comanches!” asserted Rudabaugh. “The Comanches don’t range
in here. It’s all Chickasaws above here. They were Chickasaws, or maybe
Wacos.”

Dan McMasters held up two moccasins before he replaced them in his
pocket.

“I know Comanche moccasins when I see them,” said he. “Those women left
these when they went into the water.

“There is no use your trying to trail me,” he added, as he backed to the
edge of the wood where his horse was tethered. “I tell you, the best
thing you can do is to get out of here as fast as you can!”

There was not a man in all that armed band that had courage to reach
hand to weapon as he passed. Perhaps a sullen contempt for their leader
had come to them. Rudabaugh’s own blasphemies, his sudden recovery of
his weapons came too late. McMasters was in saddle and riding, hid by
the cover of the wood.

At first they thought he had headed for the north, as they later trailed
his horse. But half a mile farther on they saw where he had turned in
his tracks and headed directly south.

“I don’t know where he went,” remarked one trailer, “but I wish I did.
He’s likely to be mad enough to set the Rangers after us again. I more’n
half believe right now that he had a hand in their catching us down at
Del Sol. If we’d got away with all that scrip Rudabaugh says there was
we’d have been out of this, maybe.”

“The Rangers can’t work anywhere outside the state of Texas,” his
associate reminded him.

“No, that’s so; they can’t. But the Comanches can!”



                              CHAPTER XXV
                               THE KILLER


IT was high noon of the third day north of the Red River; a frank
spring noon on the prairies. All the morning nothing except the
countless wild game had offered life and motion to the eye of Jim
Nabours, scouting carefully ahead of the herd. But now, as he topped a
gentle rise, he saw coming toward him from the cover of a clump of
distant timber the figure of a rider whom soon he knew to be a white
man. He pulled up, sat intent. The rider seemed a not unfamiliar figure.

The horseman advanced directly toward him, evidently seeing him. As he
approached more closely in his steady trot he flung up his right hand in
the sign of peace.

Nabours himself rode out to meet the stranger. All at once he halted
sharply, his hand on his gun. But the other paid no attention to the
hostile movement, came up at the same pace.

“How are you, Jim Nabours?” said he quietly. He dropped both his hands
to his own saddle horn.

A scowl came over the foreman’s face.

“You have broke your word, Mr. McMasters,” said he. “You are in a risky
place right now.”

“I come with my hands up,” said McMasters. “I’m in no more risk than you
are. But I am going back with you to your own camp.”

“No! We want no truck with you.” Then a sense of the proprieties coming
to him, he added, “You’re counting too damn much on what you done down
at the Red. No one ast you.”

“Look at my horse,” said McMasters quietly. “He’s a Fishhook, isn’t he?
Yes. And I have been back of this herd or alongside of it for three
hundred and fifty miles. You know that you got my letter, and you seem
to have followed my advice. You’ve done very well by it. You’d have done
a lot better if I’d been with you before you tried that crossing.”

“Well, we put you out of our camp oncet. We meant it. We hain’t held no
trial sence then. I haven’t ast you in, no time.”

“Yes; but you don’t seem to be able to keep me out. I’ll ride this
country the way I like, and not even Texans can keep me from it. I have
come now because I think you need me again, and need me very much.”

He told his news. The features of Nabours changed as he listened.

“My God!” said he. Then, suspicion dominant again: “But you was
traveling with them people. You went right from us to them. Now here
you’re back.”

“I need travel with them no more. I have got what I was after. I know
who killed my father and Miss Lockhart’s father. I am coming into your
camp, and I am going to talk with Miss Lockhart.”

“She sont you out oncet. We tried you. She won’t talk to you—no, not
even after what you done. She’s never mentioned your name about that.”
Nabours still sat looking at him uneasily. “Besides, my men won’t let
you in again.”

“No? I have been in your camp more than once since you first put me
out.”

“Not that I know of, you haven’t.”

“No? Jim, who killed that man near the women’s carts the night of the
big run on the Colorado?”

“I don’t know who killed him; I only know he was dead.”

“Well, that man was after the trunk you thought that I had stolen.
Rudabaugh wants that trunk. He sent his boldest man after it that night.
I was a little ahead of him, that was all. You know what happened to
him. Now you know who did it. Yes, you might say I stole Miss Lockhart’s
trunk and put it in my wagon. But I stole it from Rudabaugh, not from
her. What I said at the trial was true. Theft from her—why, good
Heavens!”

He suddenly spread out his hands.

“I’m a killer now, Jim!” said he, his face strangely drawn by a smile
that could not come to it. “I can’t turn back now. The man who says I
ever was a friend of Rudabaugh is a liar, and a fool besides. I call
that to you here. I will call it to your whole campful just the same.”

“Them’s right strong words,” said Jim Nabours quietly. “I only listen
because I more’n half believe you’re right. I can’t answer what you say.
But why in hell didn’t you say all this at the trial?”

“Trial! Who gave you any right to try a McMasters of Gonzales? I took
what you-all gave me because I thought it might make it easier for me to
stay away.”

“Well, I don’t know what you mean by that.”

“No; and I don’t know that I can make you understand. Let me say, I
realized that my path and hers could never run together.

“But you’re in the Indian Nations now. There are three hundred Comanches
in here somewhere north of you that have come in from the Plains to
visit with the Kiowas. That’s Yellow Hand’s band. If you meet those
Comanches after what they surely will hear—why, I suppose, you might
maybe be willing to have a good killer along with you.

“I supposed maybe you’d be thankful to get this word in time. So, to
that extent, you see, my path does once more run for a little way not
far from hers. Maybe she’ll talk to me. I’m going to see. You can’t any
of you stop me. You’ve all been ignorant fools. You deserve nothing.”

“I used to read my Bible, in Sunday school,” said Nabours after a long
silence. “I done read about that there, now, Rachel—was it?—same name,
she had, as Cohen’s wife down to Gonzales, of the Golden Eagle Store.
Now Jacob, he was a good cow hand, and he worked seven years night
wrangling for said Rachel—maybe her name was Rebecca, I don’t know.
Well, anyhow, I reckon, maybe it was all right about Jacob and the ranch
boss. The trouble with me is, I got too damned many Jacobs along already
in this here outfit. I wasn’t studying to take on no more.

“Still, when the men hear about old Yellow Hand it’s more’n likely
they’ll be glad to pick up a hand that can throw lead if he has to. Come
on in. I won’t let nobody start nothing. We can dig into this further
along.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

McMasters paid no attention to the other men about the camp that
evening, who, even after the foreman’s explanation, remained sullen and
aloof. Without asking consent, he walked to the cook-cart plunder,
unearthed his own bed roll and war bag and chose a place for himself
outside the circle appropriated by the other hands. He made such toilet
as he could, helped himself at the cook’s kettle and pans—breaking a
two days’ fast—all without converse with the men who once had adjudged
him unfit for their association. And in the twilight he walked without
any by-your-leave directly to the camp of Taisie Lockhart and her
servants. They watched him go. She saw him coming in the dusk; she felt
her heart leap strangely. How could she keep her face calm, her eyes
severe?

“It is Mr. McMasters?” she spoke coldly, did not put out her hand. He
had remained silent, his own face sad enough. “Why do you come—how dare
you come?”

She had not asked him to be seated; was treating him as though he were
one of the hands; as though he were her enemy, not her hereditary friend
or ally, not a man who had saved her life but now. It was hard even for
his courage to endure. Something at last gave way. When he spoke a
resonance was in his voice which she had never known before.

“Dare? Why did I dare come? I dared not stay away!”

“You always presume on obligations I never asked of you. But I can’t
see—I don’t know——”

“You know I love you; that’s the thing I can’t help. You couldn’t help
knowing it. I am the man who kissed you that night in the dark—yes, I
did that. You knew! I won’t tell you why I was there that night, or why
I am here now. Forget what happened the other day at the river—you’d as
well. The woman who doubts me once is done with me forever.”

She could not speak to this new man, savage, impetuous, the chill all
gone from him.

“Dare? I do dare! I dare tell you that there will never be any other
woman in the world for me. I’ll never be even the last man in the world
for you.”

Doubt, contrition, fear—a horrible fear that she had been cruelly
unjust, a yet more terrible fear that he was going away—all mingled in
the mind of the girl who heard him.

“I cannot possibly understand how you could come. I don’t know why you
should. Always you put a load on me.” Her own voice had been more
certain at other times.

His answer came very slowly.

“A man has an indefeasible right to tell the one woman in the world that
he cares for her, even if he is going to the gallows. I might as well be
on my way to the gallows, so far as any chance with you is concerned.
Chance? Why, a chance with you? I’d not give myself one if I could. Look
at my hands!”

He extended his hands, long, slender, well kept, so that she might see.

“I am a killer!” said Dan McMasters bitterly. “That’s what I have become
for sake of Texas, for sake of the law, for sake of women and children,
I suppose. But no woman or child for me! It’s worse to be a killer than
it is to be killed. Well I know that. But I was mad that night. I just
thought of what might have happened to you.”

“Sir, this is not easy to listen to!” She sank back on her rude fireside
seat, trembling. “I wish you had not come! I wish I had never seen you!”

“I can say the same! But why do you wish that? It’s easy to forget me.
But I cannot forget.”

He stepped closer, his voice low. She only shook her head from side to
side and would not speak.

“Why?” he demanded again fiercely; and still she answered not at all.

“You have nothing to forget,” he went on. “It may be easy for women to
forget—I don’t know. But it is my curse that I can never change—I
can’t forget. What I want I must have—I can’t change!” He sighed. His
hands dropped, still crooked to clasp her, to grasp her arms, and hold
her fast.

“Well, say that I come to you now only as a peace officer to-night. I
have used my own methods. That’s all the life work there is for Daniel
McMasters. There is no possible reward for me except to come to you some
time and tell you that I have finished the work I started out to do.”

She sat, her head bowed forward in her hands. A cricket was calling
loudly in the grass. Presently she heard the man’s even voice go on.

“I know who killed your father and mine. I could have killed Rudabaugh
three days ago. I ought to have done so. I was on the point of killing
him. What kept me from it? I knew that some one of his men would kill me
if I did, but that ought not to have mattered—I don’t think it would
have mattered; we have to take those chances in my business. Why did I
hold back? Why did I wait for another time? I’ll have to tell you!
Suddenly I thought, ‘If these men kill me now I’ll never see her face
again!’ Wasn’t it silly?

“I reckon I wanted to see your face again. I’d not be honest if I did
not tell you that. I, McMasters of the Rangers, held back—for that! But
this will be the last time. I came to your camp—it was a hard thing for
a proud man to do. Well, now you know why I dared.”

“Won’t you be seated, sir?” Taisie’s voice came faintly.

“No; you speak too late. I must go. But before I go I shall tell you
once more, so you may remember it always—I love you more than anything
else and everything else in all the world. There’ll never be any other
woman for me.”

“Then, why, why?” she demanded hoarsely. “What is it that you mean when
you say that you must go—that you never will——”

The cricket in the grass was asserting himself loudly, insistently.

“Life is short for me,” he answered. “It may be long for you. Why should
I pretend, who am about to die?”

His voice was relentless. He carried always the feeling of
relentlessness, of an unemotional, unconditional coldness in purpose. An
icy man, a terrible man, even now.

Again the cricket, for a little space. The firelight was but faint.

Suddenly he sank on his knees beside her, one hand on the bed roll that
made her seat, so that he could look into her face. But her hands
covered it. He touched her hand. It was wet with tears. Slowly he drew
back.

“What have I said? What have I done?”

“Ah, you should be content!” she broke out presently. “You have your
revenge!”

“What do you mean? I can’t well stand to hear you say that. Revenge?”

“Yes! Very well, I called you a thief once. Let that go. You are one
now.”

He was entirely silent for a long space, trying to understand. Then she
felt her fingers caught in a clasp like steel.

“Have I stolen anything I ought not to have taken? Tell me! Believe me,
that one thing I never dreamed! I never thought that you—that you
did—that you ever could! You don’t! You cannot! That can never be!
That’s not possible! There are many men in the world for you—all of
them—for you. I said only that there was no other woman but you in all
the world for me. I didn’t ask or expect even justice, even mercy, from
you!”

“You are avenged!” said Anastasie Lockhart again. “It is noble of you!
You—you reason well! You come in the night!”

After all, how could they avoid youth, evade love? In some way, when or
how, neither of them knew, they were standing. He had caught her up,
they were face to face, body to body. Their arms found themselves about
each other. He felt her arms about his neck, his shoulders; to her his
clasp was like steel. He saw her face, pale, wet, wholly adorable,
irresistible, a woman of a million. She saw his eyes, studious,
marveling, frowning, his face one she never had seen before. It was
done. It was too late.

He struggled as though to put off a mask, as though some armor coat
oppressed him. Their lips met as though they dreamed; they did not know
of plan at all, were as two dazed, beyond volition, beyond right or
wrong.

It was he who drew back, half sobbing, still wrestling with that
something, now that it was too late. He felt the swift rush of her
awakened impetuous woman emotion, strong and sudden as though some dam
had been disrupted to let an unmeasured torrent through; felt her arms
slide back along the sides of his neck, her hands catch the sides of his
face as they parted. Her face was not that of a country girl kissed
merrily by some swain, or evilly; it was high, serious, not illusioned,
calm; the face of a great soul in a splendid beauty, a woman of a
million; a face terrible and young, as was his own.

There were no tears now. The great hour, the one instant for two strong
natures had arrived—had passed. If any theft were done it had been
done.

“You were a savage, a criminal!” said she after a time, voicing that.
“But what is done is done, and what is written is written. Many men?
Where? And I think I shall hate you now.”

She heard his voice as of a man musing, chanting to himself: “I was
strong! You are taking my strength away.

“Do you want me to break my vow to my state?” He groaned after a time.
“Would you ruin a man? Do you want me killed before my day’s over? I
love you, and it cannot be.”

“I suppose not.” Her voice dreamed. “I said, you are avenged. But I
suppose I was wrong about—about calling you a thief. That trial—I
suppose I ought to tell you——”

“That’s too late! I told you, I can never change. That’s my curse—I
can’t change. My honor is as good as you are good, and I know you are.
But you doubted me once. It was forever. I don’t know how to forgive
that, for man or woman. And even if you hadn’t, I’m not for you.
Unclean! Unclean! Look at my hands—they’re red, I say. Look at
yours—white, sweet, good.”

He choked, struggled; could no more than crush her hands to his lips.

“It’s not for us!” he said at last. “Yes, I’m a thief. I’m almost a
coward. I did not know. I’ll never ask you to forgive me. Let me go. Let
me finish my work. If I live, when I’m old and done and crippled, let me
come and kiss the hem of your garment. There are—there must be—other
men. They say there’s more than one love, for a woman. I don’t know. I
reckon that’s not true. Oh, if I could only change!”

But even so he could not go. Frowning, he caught her face in his
steel-like hands once more, and at the flame ripple of her hair above
her temple kissed her again and again and yet again where he had seen
her cup her hand over the first kiss he gave her—stolen also—in the
dark.

He was gone. What comfort for her now? Or what for him? There is no such
thing as fairness in love between man and woman.



                              CHAPTER XXVI
                           THE INDIAN NATIONS


NO blue smoke rose against the far horizon of the wild paradise
through which these pioneers of a new industry were passing. Civilized,
semi-civilized, even savage mankind lacked then in the Nations. The
country was unsettled and unknown. The men of Del Sol neither followed
nor intersected any trail of hoof or wheel. Only the deep paths of the
buffalo, immemorial, marked the green carpet of unbroken sod. There
never had been hoof of any domestic creature here. The bands of horses
that swept away were wild horses. Wild deer, wild antelope made their
only neighbors. There was not a weed. There was not a bee. The white man
had not come.

Of them all, not one Del Sol man had any idea of the country ahead. They
were only holding to the easiest way, the ridges that separated the
heads of divergent streams.

Nabours held his silence as long as he could, but at length spurred up
to the morose and solitary man who rode without a word regarding the
herd, himself or his own plans.

“Mr. McMasters,” said he, “I don’t know where we are right now. I don’t
know where we’re going. We haven’t got no map. I don’t know when
Rudabaugh may jump us. It’s time you and me got plumb serious.”

“Yes, I think so.”

“For instance, we ain’t on no Chisholm Trail?”

“No, that’s over in east, if it can be called a trail. Fort Sill—that’s
what they call the camp where the soldiers stop, in west toward the
Wichita Mountains—is the nearest white settlement. It’s only a camp;
there is no actual Army post there yet.”

“My notion, soldiers mostly ride around and don’t do nothing much.”

“They’d do more if they were let alone by the Indian Department. Those
men are doing what Captain Marcy advised fifteen years ago—figuring on
an Army post north of the Red, to watch the Comanches.

“The worst Comanches, as you know, are the Quahrada bands—that’s old
Yellow Hand. Their right range is north of the Buffalo Gap and west into
the Staked Plains; that’s their big buffalo country. But I think word
has gone out for some kind of a council between them and the Kiowas, and
that’s what has brought Yellow Hand in here.

“The policy of the Indian Department now, as you may know,” he went on
explaining, “is to round up all these Indian tribes and get them on
reservations. That’s going to mean war, next year probably. This whole
country in here is just as like as not to be on foot right now. The best
hope we’ve got is that none of them get together with Rudabaugh.”

“That’s fine, ain’t it? And you done told me that Rudabaugh was heading
in ahead to meet us.”

“He doesn’t know where we are any more than we know where he is. If we
keep on north and he keeps on up the Washita we’d naturally intersect at
the crossing of the Washita, two or three days’ drive north of here. I
don’t know which will get there first. He travels light.”

“What d’you think I’d ought to do?” demanded Nabours, after a time.

“There is not much you can do. When you go into camp every night set
your wagon tongue so that it points toward the North Star. Line out on
that course the next morning. Keep on going north for a month. What
comes, comes. But keep your herd closed up.”

“Well, I done sont my cook cart on ahead a ways,” admitted Nabours. “I
told Sam to kill a buffalo and pick out a good camping place, if it
looked anything like a bed ground.”

“What comes, comes,” said McMasters once more.

They separated, since he would talk no more. He rode apart from the
herd, would accept no duties, no friendships, never cast a glance toward
the closed cart where Taisie had taken refuge.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Nabours hardly had resumed his place at the head of the column before he
found cause enough for actual alarm. On ahead there was coming toward
him the white top of the cook cart, its oxen lashed to a gallop by the
negro driver. Buck made no attempt to stop his vehicle, but thundered by
with the evident intention of getting as far to the rear as possible.
The shrieks of Milly, who had gone on in the cart, rose continuously.
Nabours was obliged to ride ahead to bring the cart to a halt.

“What in hell do you mean by this?” demanded he of the frightened negro.

“Fo’ Gawd, Massa Jim, don’t go up dah! Dey’s five thousand Injuns right
up dah! Dey’s a million buffaloes not two mile ahead, beyant the woods,
and them Injuns is a cuttin’ and a chargin’!”

“Go on down to the other cart and pull up close!” commanded the trail
boss. “Hurry, now!” He spurred off to the point of the herd.

“Throw ’em off the trail, men!” he called out. “Make the herd right
here! Injuns! Get your rifles out!”

In ten minutes the strip of prairie was covered a half mile deep with a
mass of cattle, and the remuda was closed up at the rear. The men made a
rude laager of the bed rolls in front of the carts and ordered the women
to keep hid. So far as might be, they were ready for what must come.

It came soon. The cattle shuffled as they stood, turned, raised their
heads. A thunder of countless hoofs grew loud, louder. And now became
visible, close at hand, one of the wild spectacles of the tribesmen’s
country. A vast black mass of running buffalo appeared, strung out in
little clumps as far as the eye could reach. Heads down, their beards
sweeping the grass tops, they ran, an endless series of black, rolling
forms, in a tremendous momentum that shook the very sod—the wildest
picture of a wild world.

The men who immemorially owned that world were here. Naked horsemen
clung on the flank of the herd. It was the Comanches, at the savage
trade which the Comanches most loved and best practiced—that of lancing
the wild buffalo.

A half hundred, perhaps a hundred riders, stretched out in a long
line—in fact a line two miles or more in length. The savages, stripped
to the waist, rode their bareback horses alongside and into the detached
masses of black which stretched west and north out as far as the
horizon. Even in the distance and in the dust they might have been known
to be Comanches, since they thus were at work with the lance. That was
always the favorite Comanche weapon in the buffalo hunt.

Nothing imaginable could be more cruel or more efficient than their
trade as these wild riders now were practicing it. Each spearman rode
even with his chosen quarry. It was not his purpose to strike it in the
vitals, but only to disable it. A hunter leaned sideways suddenly,
plunging, both his arms raised. A lunge, a heave backward to wrench the
point clear, and the great beast fell, cut through the loins; not killed
at once, but sure to fall; which was enough for the savage workman. The
old men or squaws following after with their bows and arrows would
finish what the long lances had begun. To the rear a mile-long line of
black struggling blots lay on the grass. But the blood lust of the
riders had not yet been glutted.

Their chase was now to end. Their attention, rapt as they had been in
the pursuit they loved above all others, could not now escape the sudden
sound which broke upon their ears even over the hoof roar of the
buffalo.

In a vast rush of crackling hoofs and rattling horns the entire Del Sol
herd was now off in the wildest stampede any of the men had ever seen.
Worst of all, they were not undertaking to evade but to join the
stampede of the buffalo.

Always there was a sort of affiliation between the wild and the domestic
cattle of the Plains; and all old plainsmen knew how difficult it was to
separate the two, once they were commingled. This commingling of wild
and half wild, with the attendant rumbling and trembling under the hoofs
of all these thousands of running creatures, made a swift climax to the
scene. The black mass, lengthened and strung out by the impact of the
line of hunters, now was joined by a vast influx of lighter colored
animals, coming in at an angle. Red men might take toll of this. White
men could not control it. No men could stop it now.

The savages had ridden long. There was an endless line of black blots
rising and falling on the prairies back of them. The stampede of the Del
Sol herd was sufficient to break the trance of slaughter.

Spears in hand, naked, their arms red to the shoulders, their bodies red
to the waist, a group of the riders broke away from their chase and came
up, grinning and shouting, to where they saw the white men huddled. They
had taken their time. The Comanches entertained but little fear of the
whites. They were insolent lords of the far Southwest, raiding the
feeble Mexicans as they liked and even imperiously telling the
Anglo-Saxon frontiersman when he must cease advancing or even pull back
his frontier lines. They always had held the best of the cattle range as
well as the best of the buffalo range of Texas, and had kept the cowman
out.

These had no fear now of the whites. They carried with them proof of
that. Repeating their own tribal history of grim sense of humor, at some
sutler’s store looted far to the west they had practiced one of the
jests they had been known to employ in early border times. They had
gathered bolts of flannel, bales of gaudy calico, from which they had
liberally taken decorations for their horses. Not one of the latter that
did not have attached to his mane and tail such strips of calico as long
and rough riding had left him. It was the pleasant Comanche practice to
tie one end of a bolt of cloth or calico to the tail of a horse and then
to ride off, leaving the fabric to unwind as it listed and the horse to
run as it chose. These wild decorations, unknown of origin, still clung
in colored fragments to the blood-stained ponies which they rode. The
ends of the prints fluttered in the prairie wind, mocking the flowers in
their own remaining hues.

No herd of cattle could have withstood the sight of this wild
phantasmagoria. The men who owned these felt that their own time had
come. Without command, each man dropped low behind his bed roll, his
rifle resting above his bent arm.

“Don’t let than in, men—but don’t shoot yet! They’ve got nothing but
spears!”

It was the voice of Dan McMasters which arose. He alone of them all was
standing, rifle in hand. He threw up his hand in the command to halt as
the Red men came on in, slapping his rifle stock.

The Comanches paid little attention to any command, but made no
immediate motion of hostility. Their leader was a great-chested man with
wide chin and mouth and narrow eyes. Jabbering in his own tongue,
two-thirds Spanish, he grinned as he came on close up to the rifles
which covered him and his men. At length he threw up his own hand
carelessly, indifferently, curiously, as though he now would see what
was to be found hereabouts.

“How, _amigo_! How, _amigo_!” called out McMasters. No one had chosen
him as leader, but none now denied him the place. “_Usted_ Yellow Hand?”

The leader rode out carelessly.

“_Si_,” said he. “Me Yellow Han’. _Habla Español?_”

“_Si_,” replied McMasters, and went on in that tongue.

After a few moments of rapid talk he turned.

“He says they are Quahradas, but are riding through, going home. Says he
wants some spotted buffaloes. Says they are on Indian land and we have
got to get out. Says we will have to give him half our horses and all
our tobacco. Says he knows we have got something in the wagons because
we keep the covers tight. Says we can’t go on through, but have got to
go back.”

“You tell him to go to hell!” broke out Jim Nabours. “Tell him I know
who he is. Yellow Hand has got no right in here. Tell him the soldiers
will be after him for chasing the Chickasaws’ buffalo.
Flour—beef—tobacco? Tell him we won’t give him a damned thing! Tell
him if he rides ten feet further in we’ll open fire and clean ’em
out—our rifles shoot a week and we don’t have to load.”

He patted the stock of the rifle which he held up before him in
defiance—one of the Henry repeating rifles, first of repeating arms
seen in the Southwest after the Civil War; and already the Comanches
knew what these repeating rifles meant. Old Yellow Hand also knew that
his men had nothing but their spears. He traded Comanche lives as dear
as possible always. No doubt it occurred to him that he could get all
the beef he wanted by following the stampede. Perhaps he figured that
night time would be a better hour for an attack—when all his warriors
were on hand.

“Heap shoot!” called out Jim Nabours, again slapping the side of his
rifle. Yellow Hand grinned pleasantly.

“How! How! Heap _amigo_,” said he. He advanced a foot or so, his hand
outstretched. “What you got in _carreta_? _Que tienez?_”

He motioned toward the closed fronts of the cart covers, pointing with
his spear. McMasters’ rifle barrel struck up the spear shaft. Yellow
Hand could see the hammers of the rifles lying down like the heads of so
many rattlesnakes. He could see the light shining on the brass plates of
these Henry rifles. Comanches on the Concho had told him that a rifle
which had this yellow spot on it would keep on shooting forever without
any need for loading again.

“_Si, seguro!_” he now said calmly. “Heap shoot!” He waved a hand
towards the rifles. “_Muy grande escopetas._ Heap swap. _Uno caballo por
uno escopeta_!” He meant he would trade a horse for a repeating rifle.

“_Nada_, damn your soul!” broke out Jim Nabours: “You vamose pretty damn
_pronto_! I’m sorry I ever learned your damned language, but you hear me
now. _A doondey usted_—where’d you come from here?”

“_Nos vamenos, si._” said Yellow Hand ingratiatingly. “_Poco tiempo._
Swap?”

“You’ve got a gall,” rejoined Nabours, whose blood now was up as he
began to think of what had happened to his herd. “Git on out or I’ll
kill you for luck!”

The chieftain turned towards McMasters, whom he again addressed in
Spanish. McMasters replied quietly, evenly, evidently arguing and
pointing out certain facts which ought to be observed; which facts had
to do with spears as against repeating rifles; with buffalo as against
beef.

After a time Yellow Hand turned back to his followers, who had sat their
horses impatiently. He spoke a few words in explanation. Then, without
paying any more attention whatever to the whites, they all turned and
rode away.

For the time safe, the white men arose and looked at one another, still
almost too much strained for speech.

“Look yonder!” said Nabours at length.

Off to the west and north other Indians were appearing, group after
group, evidently the followers who did the butchering of the fallen
buffalo. With spears and bows and arrows they were finishing the work
which had been begun. Obviously there must be some considerable village
not far away, for many or most of these advancing figures were those of
squaws engaged in the butchering work.

“They are in no hurry,” said McMasters after a time. “They are willing
to wait. Bows and arrows. They don’t seem to have any guns.”

The Del Sol men looked around them for the horses which they had
picketed, broke the front before the carts, where now could be heard
women’s lamentations. The boy, Cinquo Centavos, was disclosed sitting
with his back against the cart front of his mistress, a Sharpe rifle
across his knees. Tears were running down his cheeks—not tears of fear.

“My horses is all gone!” said he, sobbing.

“Hell, the cows is gone, too!” commented Dalhart. “It’s lucky we ain’t!”

McMasters, once banished, had now without election been received back
into the ranks of the Del Sol men. Indeed, he was now their leader.
Before the stripped trail drovers made any move they held council.

“Yellow Hand knows he don’t have to swap,” said McMasters. “He knows he
can choose between dead buffalo and dead cattle. Our horses—they know
what we’ve got in that line. They know all they want to know, except
what’s in there.” He nodded toward the carts. “They’ll come back to find
that out.”

The men all looked at him in silence. He spoke again, to Nabours.

“There’s only one good thing about this whole thing,” he said.
“Rudabaugh has not seen these men. They haven’t heard of the killing of
those two Comanche women. If they had they’d have rushed us long ago.
The women must have been in a visiting village, over toward the Arbuckle
hills.”

Nabours was silent for a moment.

“The jig’s up. We’d just as well leave the herd,” said he at length. “We
can’t spare men to send after them. It looks like our only hope is to
push on ahead with the carts and find a place to fight for what we’ve
got left.”

McMasters nodded.

“I think that’s best. They know they’ve got only bows and arrows against
our repeating rifles. Horses they like more than anything else. Maybe
they’ll be contented with rounding up our remuda if we slip away. Maybe
we can come back again and pick up what they leave us. At least, they
don’t yet know what we have in there.”

Once more he nodded toward the close-drawn flaps of the carts, to which
not a man had yet ventured. They did not want the women to know. “We’d
better be on our way before anything worse happens.”

Nabours nodded. The broken cavalcade closed in and soon was moving north
once more, now convoying nothing but the shrouded carts, around which
they formed a cordon.

Unencumbered with the herd, they made a dozen miles in their hurried
march, and finally chose a camping place upon a little eminence crowned
with a few straggling trees, which gave them good sight of the
surrounding country. They made their camp with the carts inside the
circle of guards; hobbled and picketed their remaining saddle horses and
put up such barricade as they could. They now had done the last that
remained within their power. Nabours told the women to come to the men’s
camp. A fire was built, but was kept low.

Taisie Lockhart joined her men, her face exceedingly pale.

“It’s the Comanches!” she broke out at last. “I have brought you into
this!”

“Ma’am,” said Nabours at length, “that’s hardly a fair way of speaking.
It’s us has brought you. We all throwed in together in this.”

“I told you I was broke and couldn’t pay you,” sobbed the girl, “and you
wouldn’t quit. Oh, if you only had!”

She missed one figure in the gathering of rough-clad hard-bitten men. A
trifle apart, McMasters paid no attention either to her or any one else.
Nabours caught the direction of her glance and nodded.

“We done taken him on the herd, full, now,” said he. “We need men that
can shoot. Go on back to sleep.”

But Taisie Lockhart no more slept than did the others. There was no
shoulder against which she could lean. The voice of the cricket was no
more. In its stead came the raucous roar of the gray wolves scenting
blood.



                             CHAPTER XXVII
                          THE GAME OF THE GODS


ONCE upon a time the immortal gods, desirous of playing their favorite
game, in which mortals are used as pawns, cast down upon the surface of
the earth their great chessboard. It was simple, having but four
squares. They traced a wandering and wavering line two thousand miles in
length along the indefinite line between the tall grass of the prairies
and the bunch grass of the plains. It lay somewhere near what men
afterwards came to call the one-hundredth meridian.

Across this line at right angles they put down yet another indefinite
line to finish off their board. Since they knew nothing of geography or
mathematics or politics, they did not call this line the parallel of
thirty-six north. For them it was enough that it loosely divided the
land of winter snows from that of winter suns. They cared not that at
some time it might be the indefinite line between corn and cotton,
between lean beef and fat, between breeding and feeding. They knew
nothing of quarantine. It was nothing to them that had they gone one
degree further north they would have established the south line of a
land called by men the state of Kansas. They had never heard of the
state of Kansas; or of the Missouri Compromise; or of slavery. They
dealt with a great land which then and now has been forever free. Men
came to call it the West.

The great east-and-west line, like the great north-and-south line, one
day was to be broken down and forgotten, after the immortal gods had
kept their chessboard sufficiently long to themselves and had wearied of
their game. They left the chessboard to their pawns and sat back, idly
watching them, smiling that the pawns knew so little of great games.

                 *        *        *        *        *

When the early herds pushed up into that unknown land from the
straggling half-Spanish settlements of the Southwest men ignorantly
walked over wealth which they then did not heed and did not need—the
wealth that lay under the tall grasses and the short grasses. Of the
bunch grass, the vine mesquite grass, and the redtop and the Eastern
bluestem, they could talk understandingly. They lived in a day and land
as yet pastoral. But their cattle walked over unsuspected millions of
millions of gallons of oil that one day later would be needed. The rude
white bandits of the nation, men even of Rudabaugh’s shrewd type,
themselves did not suspect the measureless measures of coal and other
minerals that lay under their feet. The immortal gods smiled at them,
knowing that in time they would give their pawns everything they needed,
equal to their changed requirements, as age succeeded age.

Now, pawns on the great chessboard of the gods where not even pawns ever
had been placed before, the ragged crew of Del Sol was pushing up, two
degrees eastward of the north-and-south dividing line. They had been
traveling somewhere near the ninety-eighth meridian, of which not one of
them ever had heard. Not many of them ever had heard of
thirty-six-thirty, or of the Missouri Compromise. They fought a war
without much history, for the rank and file, as always is the case, had
but narrow horizons. They were simply cowmen; and now they were driving
north. To them Abilene, their objective, was as vague a thing as had
been the cities of Cibola to Coronado’s men when they also once crossed
the great chessboard of the immortal gods, caring not even for the
grasses, so good for buffalo and cows, and also missing all the minerals
that lay beneath their feet, although it was one mineral they sought.

That was in the past. The immortal gods had decided that now it was time
for men to move north. There was to be a great new constructive day.

But it seems that there is implanted in Nature and in the universe the
law of two opposing forces; centrifugal and centripetal; good and evil;
constructive and destructive; that which feeds and is preyed upon by
that which fattens; that which produces and creates, countered by that
which destroys and tears down; that which sows to reap, and that which
reaps where it has not sown. Therefore it was quite as much foreordained
that Rudabaugh and his men should pass north to prey on the Del Sol herd
as that the Del Sol herdsmen should be driving north into a new day.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Be all these things assigned such causes as they may in each man’s
philosophy, at the end of his nose or farther, a new epoch was at hand
for the vast unsettled West. Rudabaugh and his men had discussed that
daily and nightly as they pushed on up the Washita River of the Indian
Nations. They finally camped at the ford of the Washita, well in advance
of the Del Sol men and directly north of them, although neither knew the
proximity of the other.

The ruffian leader had no more than twenty men in his band. He had
recruited these from classes naturally unscrupulous and restless under
any law. But all criminal tendency is in its way a sort of individual
initiative, self-assertiveness, after all; so that Rudabaugh found his
men not always wholly submissive to any man’s will. They were less so
now than ever. Repeatedly Rudabaugh had to explain to them again and
over again that they were after large game, that the division would be
large per capita. They were more like Coronado’s men—wanted mineral in
hand; minted mineral.

“Well, I don’t mind saying,” remarked one of the bolder of his men at
the second night of encampment at the Washita crossing—a city lies near
there to-day—“I’ll be free to say that I don’t noways like the look of
things.”

Rudabaugh turned to him savagely.

“Why don’t you? What’s the matter with you, Baldy?”

“There wasn’t no cause to kill them Indian women. If we don’t keep
moving, them Comanches may run into us any time.”

“Where’d we move?” sneered Rudabaugh. “What are we after up here? Have I
got to make a picture-block map to show you? Don’t you see, you damned
numskull, if that herd gets to the railroad the whole jig is up for us?
We’ve got to make our clean-up right now, this season or not at all, I
keep telling you. We’ve got to get our scrip and get our lands, and get
our surveyors out to locate them; and we’ve got to do it all now. Next
year will be too late if that herd gets through. I’ve told you all this
a dozen times. Now if you don’t like my way of leading, you know what
you can do. If I hear any more grumbling I know what I’ll do.”

None the less this spreading doubt and dissatisfaction on the part of
his followers did begin to make impression upon even so hardened a soul
as Rudabaugh’s. He could do nothing if left alone. Looters always
organize. In spite of his bravado, in spite of the quantities of fiery
liquor which he had consumed, he began to feel a sudden uncontrollable
chill creeping over his heart. Just now he began to pace up and down,
restlessly endeavoring to work himself into one of his berserk rages.
But he looked over his shoulder once in a while. No one knew what he
saw, unless they themselves also saw the picture of the two naked women
lying in their blood at a bathing pool.

“Damn it!” said Rudabaugh now, petulantly. “I don’t see why that bunch
of buzzards should pick a tree so close to light on!”

He caught up his rifle. A great black bird dropped dead from a limb a
hundred yards away. The others rose clumsily, wheeled in dark caravan;
but they alighted on another tree not even so far away.

“That ain’t luck, I tell you,” repeated the first speaker of Rudabaugh’s
men. “Me, I don’t like the look of things.”



                             CHAPTER XXVIII
                          A COLONEL OF CAVALRY


JIM NABOURS, who had known but little sleep, kicked out of his
blankets before sunup and stood, grimy, haggard and moody, his hands in
pockets, his hat pushed back on his head. There was no familiar sight of
a great sea of longhorns rising just above the level of the grasses. The
Del Sol herd was gone.

All the men finished their sodden breakfast in silence. Only the
hysterical sobbings of the black woman Milly made any variation from the
general taciturnity. There came no word from the tight-closed tilt flaps
of the _carreta_. Del Williams and Dalhart had not spoken to each other
since the crossing of the Red. McMasters paid scarce more attention to
any than if they had not been there.

The sun rose red above the wet grass, climbed steadily till it seemed
smaller; but it did not look down upon any mass of longhorns rising from
the bedding ground. There was no long procession heading out for the
north. The men of Del Sol were without an occupation.

Moody and unhappy, they sat in their bivouac, waiting. It was McMasters
who spoke, suddenly pointing to the south.

“Look, Jim,” said he, as he came in and touched Nabours on the shoulder.
“That’s not Indians—that’s cavalry!”

In five minutes proof was complete. There came into view, company front,
at a stiff trot, guidon fluttering bravely, two troops of the
hard-bitten United States cavalry, then stationed variously on the
Plains. An officer rode in advance. As he came closer there showed near
him the headdress of an Indian warrior, whether guide, scout or captive,
none could say.

In the sudden relief from their long strain, and under the influence of
this spectacle of riding men, always inspiriting, the men of Del Sol
rose and gave a ragged shout of welcome to the Yellow Legs. The leader
rode straight on in without any salute or reply; a grim, grizzled man of
forty years or more, in the Western uniform of our Army when it was at
its best. He dismounted stiffly, came up with military stiffness, stood
on one leg stiffly, looking for the leader. He kept with him his Indian
companion. The Del Sol men now saw that it was the Comanche chieftain,
Yellow Hand, the partisan of yesterday’s affair.

“Good morning, men,” said the cavalry leader. “I am Colonel Griswold,
from the Sill cantonment down below. What’re you doing here in the
Nations?”

“Good morning,” said Jim Nabours, stepping forward. “We are shore glad
to see you colonel. Well, we ain’t doing a hell of a lot of anything
right now. Yesterday we was a-driving thirty-six hundred and fifty-nine
fours and mixed stuff north to Alberlene. That was afore we met yore
friend there. We was just a-strolling through.”

“Well, this old thief was just a-strolling through. I was following him.
Last night I saw they had some fresh beef hides as well as buffalo in
their camp. One thing led to another. I took your trail.

“They rather busted up your herd, eh? Well, I brought Yellow Hand along
on the chance that he might be useful.

“Where do you men come from?” he continued. “Don’t you know that driving
cattle across the Indian Nations is the foolishest thing in the world?”

“It looks thataway now, colonel,” assented Jim Nabours. “We come from
Caldwell County, Texas, five hunderd miles south of here.”

“You’re not trading with the tribes in any way?”

“No, sir, we don’t want no truck with them.”

“Got no whisky along?”

“Good God, no!” replied Nabours soulfully. “I wisht we had.”

“H’m,” said the army officer, looking toward the fire. “You got any
coffee left?”

“Some. Set in,” said the foreman simply.

So invited, Sandy Griswold, seasoned colonel of cavalrymen, made himself
at home, a tin of coffee in his hand. His eye took in the arrangement of
the scant equipment of these cattle drovers. He noted the giant carts,
their covers drawn tight. He noted also when the flaps of the nearest
cart cover parted, and some one—at first he thought it was a young
man—began to climb down from the lofty seat via the cart tongue.

“Hello, what’s that?” said Sandy Griswold suddenly. “That’s no
man—that’s a woman!”

“Shore she is,” said Jim Nabours. “She owns the cows. She’s going
through to Aberlene.”

By now Taisie Lockart, in blue shirt and checkered trousers, boots and
wide hat—her only apparel—was approaching the men. The officer arose,
hat in hand. Jim Nabours made such clumsy introduction as he could. The
soldier’s eyes were running over the trim, straight, round figure of
this astonishing apparition. He saw the great club of bound bright hair,
the easy lines of young womanhood; the poise and grace of as fine a
specimen of young womanhood, indeed, as any land might well produce. He
knew at the first glance that here was a young lady. She was with this
party but not of it. Her first words affirmed his first conviction.

“But why are you here?” he repeated in wonderment. “You don’t belong
here. This is a man’s job. Didn’t you know the risk you’d run?”

“None of us knew very much about it, sir,” rejoined Taisie Lockhart. “We
are beginning now to see.”

She spread out her hands, indicating the absence of her herd.

“Sit down here by me, please, young lady.” Hat in hand, he made a place
for her. “Which one of these men did you say was your husband?”

The bright blood flooded Taisie’s cheeks. Her trail boss answered for
her.

“She won’t be married none till we get to Aberlene,” said Jim
explicitly. “But that ain’t nobody’s fault but her own.”

Sandy Griswold laughed uproariously.

“By jove!” said he. “It’s an awful thing to be old and lame and
married—married before you were a day old, my dear. If I wasn’t, I
swear I’d marry you now, before you’re a day older! What’s the matter
with all these young fellers?”

His keen blue eye under its shaggy brows swept the company of the Del
Sol men, but found no mate for her. His eye lingered for just a time on
a tall young man who stood quite apart.

“Come now,” he resumed, turning to the girl from whose fresh
beauty—which was beauty even in daylight, and even in the morning—his
eyes did not willingly wander long, “tell me all about things. You don’t
belong in here, but of course I have got to help you out. I wouldn’t
fret too much. If I had not come along old Yellow Hand here would have
put you on your uppers. As it is, we’ll put him on his. We’ll all go
back down the trail together with my bullies yonder. We’ll hold a big
rodeo down there and see what the buffalo and the Comanches have left
for you. Very foolish of you, my dear; very foolish, indeed. But we’ll
see what can be done.”

“How could we ever pay you?” said Taisie Lockhart, turning upon him
fully now the gaze of her disconcerting eyes.

“You’ve more than paid me now, my dear girl,” said the old warrior.
“Lockhart, you said your name was? What was your father’s name?”

“His name was Burleson Lockhart, sir. He was colonel of the Ninth
Volunteers in the war. We came from Alabama, once. But my father did not
believe in the secession, though he fought with Texas.”

“Why, I knew him! His regiment and mine were opposed, in Tennessee!” His
voice dropped. “But the men said you were an orphan. Your father did not
get back from the war?”

Sudden memory caused her to drop her face in her hands. Once more her
foreman spoke for her.

“Her pap was killed on the Missouri border, after the war, by the
Federal bushwackers up there. He was driving cows up thataway. Them
Yankee people in Austin have done robbed this girl of everything she
had. We was driving these cows to see if we couldn’t make a little stake
for her oncet more.”

Sandy Griswold sat silent for a time. At last he spoke quietly to the
tall girl who sat on a bed roll beside him.

“Well, now!” he said. “Well now, we’ll see what can be done. You don’t
belong here, but I’d be no sort of a soldier if I didn’t see you
through.”

Now, as though by providential plan, had arrived unity of purpose and
cheerfulness of spirit, an hour earlier unpredictable. Colonel Sandy
Griswold was no man to delay action. In a half hour the camp was broken,
and the entire party, preceded by the troopers, was retracing the way
south to the scene of yesterday’s disaster. The commanding officer rode
by Taisie Lockhart’s cart. The ferret eyes of the sullen Comanche saw
now what had been hidden in the _carreta_. Between the cavalry commander
and these wild savages there existed a distinct understanding of some
sort, resting on fear of the troopers’ carbines.

“I’m going to put the whole band to work for you,” said Griswold, and
called his interpreter.

The Del Sol men found themselves before long enriched by the recruitment
of a couple of dozen laughing young Indian braves—all of them
unarmed—who for the mere excitement of the thing were ready to assist
in the rounding up of the scattered cattle and horses. A strangely mixed
round-up band they made, half of them grim and silent, the other half
wildly whooping, when they started off down the trail which lay written
on the grassy soil.

As all of them knew, a buffalo stampede was the worst possible run on
the range. But fortune partially favored the harassed drovers. It soon
was evident that the buffalo had avoided the fringe of timber which lay
ahead, had kept on running into the wind, as was their custom—alone of
all cud chewing game. The domestic cattle had plunged into the thickets
and split up in the edge of shallow timbered draws, and the wind meant
less to them. This partially combed out the cattle from the buffalo.
Inside of three miles the riders began to pick up groups and strings of
the cattle in the long dragnet which they swept through one cover after
another.

“By golly!” exclaimed Jim Nabours suddenly, after they had ridden an
hour or two. “I’ll bet a thousand dollars there’s old Alamo! If he’s
there, there’ll be more!”

It was true. A gaunt yellow head crowned with wide horns stared at them
over the thicket tops. Old Alamo, self-appointed leader of the herd, had
concluded he had gone far enough—indeed, he was willing to fight to
establish that fact now. But the sweep of the riders driving in the
groups of cattle induced him to change his mind.

There never were better riders than the Comanches, and they were hunters
as well. The round-up was sport for them. The wild band helped the trail
boss to pick up one string after another of the scattered herd, horses
mingled with them. One body after another of the gathering Nabours
turned back to the old encampment where the run had begun. Especially,
he set the Indians to rounding up the horse band, a task in which they
took the most extreme delight. The joined forces combed out the entire
country to the southeast for perhaps more than ten or fifteen miles by
evening. All day long, under this or that party of riders, the stream of
reclaimed cattle and horses continued, until even Jim Nabours ceased to
grumble at the product of the day.

That night and yet another night Griswold held his camp, which included
that of the drovers, some two miles apart from the Comanche village; but
his subalterns day and night had out troops who held the Comanches under
control. There was no outbreak. The fearless Comanches, feasting full,
laughed and chattered like children. When Nabours reported to Griswold
that he was content to end the rodeo, the tally showed that the Del Sol
herd, cut down as it had been by the unprecedented losses, still
numbered three thousand and ninety-six head of cattle; and sixty good
riding horses remained in the remuda. They were pioneers. The term “per
cent of loss” was then unknown on the trail. Later, such losses would
have meant ruin.

“What cows is left,” said Nabours, “I’ll leave for to stock the
Chickasaw range. As for the lost horses, I reckon these here Comanches
will take care of that after we are gone. To-morrow I’d like to start on
north. We ain’t got anything too much to eat but beef, and we mustn’t
waste no time.”

“All right,” said Griswold. “We’ll all pull north together in the
morning. My supply wagons are up and I’ll trade you flour and bacon and
dried apples for fresh beef. I’m tired of buffalo. I’ll see you, anyhow,
as far as the Washita crossing.

“I’m going to take Yellow Hand along with me,” he added. “All these
Comanches have got plenty of meat now, and they’ll stand hitched until
he comes back. I have told them that if they start any funny business
I’m going to shoot Yellow Hand in front of the whole village.

“Send that man over to my tent,” he said to Nabours. He pointed to
McMasters, whose work he had seen. “I want to talk to him, since I know
who he is. If he is a Texas sheriff and a captain of Texas Rangers he
and I have got to have a little conversation about Comanches.”

They two sat late that night in front of Griswold’s tent, talking by the
little fire. When they parted the soldier gave the young Ranger a strong
clasp of the hand. What they had said no one but themselves knew.

And now, when the pink dawn of the prairie again came above the dewy
grasses, there might be seen once more the sea of wide horns, in the old
comfortable morning picture of the trail; the trail of days now gone by
forever.



                              CHAPTER XXIX
                            A MAID’S MISTAKE


DIMINISHED but undaunted, the great herd swept north once more into
the wide, sweet, unknown world. The mingled grasslands and narrow timber
tracts which lay between the heads of the water courses made for cattle
drovers a land of plenty where man had not yet come. In every hollow the
wild deer sprang away, the head of every draw contained its flocks of
great wild turkeys. On the grassy flats were uncounted coveys of the
prairie grouse. The air was enlivened with the wild calls of the giant
sickle-billed curfew; and from above came the mysterious, baffling
liquid tremolo of the upland plover, honey sweet to hear. Glossy green
parakeets showed in the timber mottes, meadow larks made gay the air
with their metallic clankings, mixed with the broken strains of melody
all their own. There was life, motion, all the time in the wild
landscape.

The vegetable world also was rich, richer than our Government had
thought when in ignorance it gave this domain to the savages in a treaty
which, like all our treaties, later was to be repealed. Fruits began to
appear, few of them yet ripening; wild grapes, plums. They crossed one
strip of sand dunes which ran through the grassy knolls, and found an
astonishing growth of dwarfed grapevines, showing not more than a foot
or so above the sand, but promising fruit of great size.

In the timbered valleys there was an admirable growth of elms,
cottonwoods, black walnuts. Haws and persimmons, not yet ripe, young
acorns of the oak trees, showed what the fall mast would be. The black
bears and the deer even now were hunting mushrooms. Abundance of food
was there for every species. The spotted wildcat made no unusual sight.
Now and then a panther passed ghostlike from one covert to the next. A
rich land and a contented, indolent, assured. The white men had not yet
come. Nor was there even here either weed or bee.

Though really near the eastern edge of their range of that day, distant
bands of the buffalo still showed; and adding yet keener zest to an
enlivened landscape, frequent bands of wild horses passed in their easy
drifting over the grasslands, or stood at gaze in superb confidence in
their own speed. It was the open country, the free country, of the old
West. In it these men were as much adventurers as had been the sailors
of Columbus or Cabot, Leif Ericson or Magellan. It had taken three Army
expeditions and a half century of time to find the head of the Red
River, which made the drovers’ Rubicon. Young in the youth of their
world, they exulted as they rode.

Colonel Sandy Griswold quit the saddle for the jolting cart seat to
which Nabours had banished Taisie Lockhart. The wilderness makes swift
friendships.

“My dear,” said the soldier to the girl one day as they rode, joltingly
along. “I wouldn’t ask anything better than just to ride along this way
with you forever. You are by no means painful to the naked eye, and
within sixty days you will be rich. Abilene is not a dream, although it
is just beginning. Two railroads are going west across the lower Plains
now. They are going to make a cattle market at Abilene and you are in on
the ground floor. Rich? Are you going to support a husband? You could,
you know.”

“I think I’ll buy myself some clothes the first thing I’ll do,” said
Taisie, slowly smiling, “if there is such a thing as women’s clothes at
Abilene.”

“There you go! Woman’s first instinct. Tell me”—suddenly—“where is
that tall young man—you know which one I mean. You don’t know where he
is?”

“I think he’s back behind to-day. He’s not regularly on the herd—now.”

“You don’t know very much, do you, my dear? You’d let a brave, square
man ride on the drag?”

“Please don’t, I beg of you! I don’t really know why you mention him. My
men all are splendid.”

But he went on relentlessly.

“Yes; and I suppose you know that your men are riding his horses—that
you are eating his food yourself? Did you know that he staked you for
this drive—that he is going to make your fortune for you? No, you never
knew that. But that’s true.”

“Oh, don’t tell me such things!” broke out Taisie in swift
consternation. “I never knew that! Of course I never knew it! I’d never
have gone a foot! Oh, this is an awful thing!”

“Yes, my dear; there are awful things that a woman can do to a man, too.
Now that it is too late it would be quite like a woman for you to love
him. You ought to have trusted him in the first place. You can’t fool
with a man like that. He’s cold iron.”

“He didn’t—he wouldn’t—don’t you think—do you suppose—why, what can
I do? I’ve been unjust. Yes, I know that now!”

“Well, I wouldn’t climb down out of this cart right now anyhow,” said
Colonel Griswold calmly.

“But I can’t go on this way. What shall I do? Rich? No, I’m a pauper!
And I’ve not a soul in all the world to go to.”

“Oh, yes, you have, my dear! Observe me beat on my chest. I, Sandy
Griswold, will save this maiden in distress! But it’s always best to get
the truth, the first thing. Well, you’ve got it now. You never would
have learned it unless I had told you. That young man would rather cut
his throat than tell you what I have told you. He never dreamed I would.
But I thought it right.”

“But I can’t go on this way!”

“You have got to go on in this way, my dear. There is nothing else for
you to do. When that man says he is through he is through. He’s got the
chief ingredients of a bad man. But there never was a bad man who didn’t
have good things about him. That sort of a man can’t alter a decision.
He thinks once, acts once, is done once and for all, and when he’s done
he’s done. I can’t help you with him. But what a splendid pair of human
beings you have spoiled!”

“A fine prospect you give me, sir! Oh, you are comforting!” said Taisie
Lockhart bitterly.

“It will be very hard for a girl like you not to marry some man. It is a
very terrible thing to marry the wrong man, my dear. It’s a very
terrible thing to let a man think you meant to marry him when you
didn’t. It’s the worst when a man wants to marry and can’t—because he
can’t forgive an insult to his honor. It is lucky you are not a man.”

“Ah, less lucky that I am woman! I shall choke at the thought of eating
his bread!”

“Oh, no, you won’t. That’s melodrama, my dear. If you don’t like his
flour eat some of mine.

“No, keep your eyes closed and your mouth closed, too, until you get to
Abilene. I may meet you or send for you up there myself. That’s what the
Army’s for—we’re organized to help damsels in distress. That you are in
distress I know very well indeed. While there’s a sack of flour or an
ambulance mule left—well, we’ll see.”

At the encampment of the last night below the Washita, Taisie Lockhart
might well have felt a sense of security. There were two troops of
cavalry and all her own men bivouacked about her. But she could not
sleep.

Soon after dark that night Dan McMasters, asking no consent and giving
no notification, quietly rose and caught up his night horse. He
disappeared in the darkness headed toward the ford. He said no word of
good-by to any one, and was not missed by any one—save by one unhappy
girl who had lacked his coming all these days. She was sure she hated
him—when she reasoned. When she did not reason she felt her veins run
hot with love of him. He had kissed her. Their arms had encircled one
another. Ah, obligations?



                              CHAPTER XXX
                           MANY TRANSACTIONS


THE cattle, full fed and well-watered, had bedded down in their
compact oblong, willing to rest after two days’ hard march. Nabours had
doubled the night guard. The men in pairs rode in reverse around and
around the herd, passed and repassed slowly, regularly, singing the
cradle song of the cows.

Nabours, worn by long hours, early pulled his blankets over his face.
Cinquo Centavos himself dozed under his ragged quilt, in his dreams
comforted with the subconscious tinkling of the gray mare’s bell. In the
cavalry camp, a half mile away, all was quiet save for the methodical
tramp of the sentinels.

Midnight. Jim Nabours felt a strong hand laid on his shoulder.

“Hush!” whispered a voice. “It’s McMasters.”

“What’s wrong?” demanded the foreman, flying off his blanket.

“Rudabaugh’s gang will jump us in less than half an hour. Get all the
men up. I am going to tell the soldiers.”

The loud challenge of a sentinel halted him, but soon he was admitted in
the cavalry camp. Griswold was up at once. McMasters put before him a
hurried report.

“They’re ahead about four or five miles,” he explained; “camped on the
Washita. One of their hunters saw us to-day. He had just got in when I
made the edge of their camp. I was close enough to their camp to hear
them talking. But I don’t think he knew the soldiers were here. He must
just have seen some of our cattle. Of course they know what herd it is.
There are about twenty of them. They’re going to try to surprise us.
You’ll help us surprise them, won’t you?”

Griswold rubbed his chin.

“Well, I don’t know that the U. S. Army has any special cause to act as
a police posse in a family row; but I suppose I’ll have to throw in with
you. Fine place for a woman, isn’t it?”

He had no reply to that. But a few moments later Taisie Lockhart heard
steps approaching her cart. She put out her head to answer Nabours’
hurried call; saw McMasters and Griswold also standing close. Nabours
announced the plan already made by these three.

“There’s danger, Miss Taisie. The Rudabaugh gang is coming. They’ll come
right to your cart the first thing, like enough. Hand us out that chest.
We’re going to hide it under the beds by the fire. Come on with us. The
men are all up now. Crawl into any bed you see and get all the blankets
and saddles around you that you can. You’ll be safer there than here.
They want what’s in that box.”

An instant later, fastening her jacket, she ran, but turned back.
McMasters was not coming.

“But you,” she began—“where are you going?”

“I am going back to get in your cart,” said he. “That will probably be
where they’ll head in.”

Apparently he did not hear her speak again.

Under Griswold’s military orders now, two long curving lines of soldiers
and trail men were spread out, leaving a wide opening at the end where
the attack was to be expected. The orders were that each man was to lie
flat in the grass and not to fire until the invaders were well inside
the lines.

Perhaps a quarter of an hour passed, a half hour. The herd still slept
well. The riders, duly warned, kept up their crooning. The embers of the
fire smoldered.

Suddenly the strain of vigilance was broken. The night air was rent by
the shrill yell of the Comanche war whoop!

It was no war cry of the attacking party. It was only the devilish
fashion that old Yellow Hand, close guarded, had chosen to appraise
approaching invaders of his own presence and of his defiance of the men
who held him captive. Whatever he expected to gain by his bravado, the
wily old Iago got quick results in a swinging blow at the side of his
head from a cavalry carbine which laid him out for the rest of the
fight.

The fight, of course, was on at once; the keen ears of the savage had
detected the presence of the enemy between the two lines of guards. The
night went alight in slanting streaks of rifle fire. There was general
mêlée. The Del Sol men and the troopers could make out little, except
that their enemy was between the jaws of the trap that had been set for
them.

One man of the assailants, unsuspected, had crawled close to the cart
where Taisie Lockhart had slept. When the yell of the reckless savage
broke the air—followed by the general rattle of musketry—there came
the roar of the startled herd once more stampeding in the night. No
cattle could stand under this. In this increase of the confusion the
crawling invader arose and made a rush toward the cart. There came two
red flashes from the front flap. The man fell forward and lay
motionless. For a second time Rudabaugh had failed to get his coveted
title to uncounted Texas acres. At the same hands, another of his
boldest men had fallen.

From the rear of the cook cart came the roar of a Sharpe Berdan. Cinquo
had gone into action.

“I got him! I got one!”

The boy began to crawl out from under the cart, hastening to where he
saw something lying in the grass. He had lain close to the spot where
the mistress of Del Sol lay bundled up in blankets; and he had thrown
around her a barricade of every saddle he could find, combined with
every roll of blankets.

A bugle sounded, the signal for the two lines to close in. When they
heard the rush of many feet on both sides of them Rudabaugh and his men
knew that they were trapped by vastly superior numbers. Not many of them
were left standing. Of these, all now sought quarter. There came cries
of, “Don’t shoot! We surrender!” But the Del Sol men, fearing treachery,
were merciless. When they had crowded together the remainder of the
bandits the trail men rushed upon them with pistol butts and quirts and
rifle barrels. The few left alive were roped and bound.

Of the score of assailants only two remained alive and
uncaptured—Rudabaugh and the crafty man known as Baldy. Crouching low,
they got off in the grass at the best speed they could muster, and until
tally was made at the camp fire no one missed them. Not until daylight,
indeed, could the full list of fatalities be determined. For the
defenders there was but one casualty—Al Pendleton, who had got a shot
through the leg and was disabled for the time.

What had been a trail camp was now anything but that. The men gathered
their prisoners closer to the fire, built it up. A trooper dragged up
Yellow Hand, barely conscious, sullen and silent.

“Here is your friend, gentlemen,” said Griswold grimly to the surviving
men of the attacking party. “He did all he could for you. I ought to
blow his brains out, and yours out, too, and I’ve a damned good mind to
do it.”

He turned toward Dan McMasters, who had come to the fireside.

“Now about these men,” he said, “I am going to take them out with me on
a charge of killing those Indian women down near the Arbuckles. They’re
accessories anyway. I’ve got no jurisdiction and no warrant, and it
isn’t my business; but what’s the Army for? Now about this old thief,
I’m going to ask him a few questions.”

He jerked Yellow Hand roughly to his feet.

“Come here, Danny,” he called out to his interpreter. “Tell this old
liar I want to ask him some questions.”

“Says he don’t want to talk,” began the interpreter, as the savage
grunted a few sullen syllables.

“Tell him he’s got to talk. Ask him this: Ask him, suppose white man
come into camp and shoot two women, what does Comanche warrior do?”

“Says Comanche warrior catch white man some day.”

“Tell him the chief of these people that came into our camp ran away
like a coyote in the grass. Tell him that man, last week, he shoot two
Comanche women, just to see them kick. Yellow Hand tried to be the
friend to-night of the man who shoots Comanche women. Yellow Hand acts
not like a chief but like a foolish person.”

Rapid and excited conversation for some time between the interpreter and
the warrior.

“Says Yellow Hand and his men shot a few buffalo. The Kiowas said all
right. Says he’s good Indian. Says white man tie him up and knock him in
the head. Says holler just now in the dark because he feel good. Says he
don’t know who come. Says if it’s all right for white man to try
Comanche, then all right for Comanche to try white man. Says suppose if
that man killed two Comanche women, then white man catch him for
Comanche. Then Comanche try him plenty.”

“How! How!” exclaimed Griswold. “Then they’d be willing to forget that I
asked Yellow Hand to ride with me a while?” Griswold’s face was
animated. He was working out some plan.

The interpreter replied, after translating some Comanche and Spanish
mixed:

“Says, yes, sure. Comanches like this country. Comanches no want to
fight. Says his young men will have bad hearts if they find two of their
women killed. Says s’pose warrior gets killed—all right. S’pose woman
gets killed, that’s plenty bad shame.”

“Ask him what people this?”

Griswold suddenly held up before Yellow Hand’s face the two moccasins
which McMasters had brought with him from the Arbuckle Trail.

The old savage looked once, twice, closely. His face underwent an
astonishing change—was convulsed with surprise, grief, anger. He gave
but one ejaculation and drew his blanket across his face.

“Says his people! Says his family—his squaws! He know them shoe!”

“Yellow Hand! Yellow Hand!” The officer shook the old chief roughly by
the shoulder. “Listen to me! Chief of the Comanches, this is our council
now! Me, I talk!” The soldier stripped back the blanket from the
Comanche’s face.

“Yellow Hand, for years we have been trying to get you to stop killing
our people on the Staked Plains. The Great Father has always fought you
fair. The Great Father never killed your women. The Great Father will
put his blanket over his face when he hears of this thing.

“Listen Yellow Hand! Chiefs do not break their word. If we follow the
man who did that—that man who ran away—and bring him to you and give
him to your people to try him in your village will you think that the
Great Father is just in his heart?”

“Says yes, he would.” The interpreter had made it plain.

“Listen, Yellow Hand! I have been trying to make treaty with you. I have
been trying to get a great piece of land here where the game is plenty
for the Comanches and the Kiowas, a place where they could sit down. You
have not answered me about that. I have followed you. I have fed you. I
have not killed your women.

“Listen, Yellow Hand! The white men are going west into your hunting
country. The white men are coming north here. You see them. My young men
with long knives are coming out too. They will surround you, as many as
leaves on the trees. You can never kill them all. They have guns that
shoot seven days.

“Listen, Yellow Hand! When the buffalo are gone you will be hungry. I
gave you a great piece of land. I asked you to sit down. I gave you a
treaty. I make no war now on the Comanches or the Kiowas. I will give
you a good place, many miles, down by the mountains of the Wichitas,
where there is much game.

“Listen, Yellow Hand! Tell him to answer me, Danny! If I do all this for
you, and if I bring that man back who killed your women, will the
Comanches come in and sit down by the side of the Kiowas in this country
where all around them are the men of the other tribes, who have taken
treaty with the Great Father? Tell him to answer, damn him, Danny!”

Yellow Hand himself sprang to his feet, cast off his blanket and stood
now the Indian warrior and orator. Chief of a people, he spoke to an
audience who understood him not, an audience who sat about him in the
dark; but the fire of his words showed his conviction, made him
understandable.

“Says he is ready to be killed. Says he tells the truth. Says his heart
is sad because his women have been killed. Says if you will bring him in
the man that did that, then he will be good Indian. Says he will make
treaty. Says he will sit down by the side of his friends, the Kiowas.
Says he will do nothing now without asking the Great Father. Says he has
nothing more to say.”

“How! How!” exclaimed the officer.

He reached out and took the hand of the Comanche in his own. Then he
turned toward McMasters.

“Dead or alive, we’ve got to have that man Rudabaugh. Do you know what
that means? The man who can do that will be of more use to Texas than
almost any man Texas ever produced. That means the end of the Comanche
war. That means the Comanches will take a reservation in the Nations.
Even Indians have some idea of actual justice. Dead or alive, I want
Rudabaugh!”

“Take him away, men.” He nodded to his top sergeant. “Feed this man
well. Give him coffee, give him sugar, give him anything we’ve got.
Build up the fire. This is one good night’s work!”

He continued his talk to McMasters, pacing up and down in his
excitement.

“If we could make peace for Texas, if we could clear the western border
for settlement—why, we’d be preparing a cattle trail clear across the
Staked Plains! Other herds? You can be sure more are going to follow
yours, farther west, as soon as the road is clear. I’d rather fight
Indians than feed them any day, but if I’ve got to do both I am going to
do them both on the square.

“Now I want Rudabaugh. When we’ve brought him in we have done more for
the cowmen of Texas than all the railroads and all the United States
Government ever yet have done. Little things sometimes run into big
ones; good may come out of an evil deed. I want to see that low-down
brute who killed those women. The sight of his face is a thing right
dear to me.

“Yellow Hand,” he said, once more addressing the Comanche, “your hands
are no longer tied. In the morning go back to your people. You shall
ride alone if you wish. Tell your people that I am going back to my own
village at the Wichita hills and sit down. Tell them I will not follow
the Comanches this summer. Tell them that my young men are following the
men who killed the women of the Comanches. All these men are going on
the war trail. They will not rest until they bring back that man.” And
thus spoke Danny to the chief.

“Well, sunny days and starry nights to you, my dear!”

The old soldier turned to Anastasie Lockhart. Her troubled eyes looked
into his an instant. He would not listen to her stammering attempt at
thanks.

A bugle sounded. The troops took formation, rode away, jaunty guidon at
the head; a waif of silk in a buckskin land, themselves waifs of
fortune, doing their duty unseen on the far frontier, with thanks of no
one and criticism from all. They were men of the Army which had saved a
country and now was finding one—our Army—never understood; one day,
to-day, our day, ignorantly to be despised.

                 *        *        *        *        *

“It looks like you was riding, too,” commented Nabours. He nodded to the
saddled horse of McMasters, the additional horse with light pack, whose
lariat was thrown over the saddle horn.

“Yes,” said McMasters in his cold and noncommittal way.

“I wish you didn’t have to go. The men don’t want to see you go. It’s
only kind of hard for them to say so. But afore you do ride north—and I
reckon I know why you do—I wisht you’d sort of give me some idee of the
country ahead. You’ve heard or seen more of it than I ever have.”

McMasters took a stick and began to make a map in the smoothed ashes of
the camp fire.

“I’d like to help you over the Washita,” he said: “but you won’t find
that a very bad crossing—steep banks, and swift, but narrow. You’d
better make some sort of raft and get the carts across.

“The next big river is the main Canadian, not so far above here. It’ll
be dry, always very little water in it. It’s bone-dry sometimes for a
hundred miles.

“The North Fork of the Canadian—it runs here—is the crookedest river
out of doors. It carries more water than the big river. You will
probably have to swim some there, but you ought to make it all right.

“You’ll get through the blackjack country, and then you’ll come up to
the Cimarron-easy fording. Just beyond that you’ll be somewhere close to
latitude thirty-six. You might then almost say you are getting out of
the South and into the North.

“My father and old Colonel Lockhart always used to talk to me about
wintering all their cattle just under that line. They said that would
make them free of sticks for the next season. Some longhorns took fever
even as far north as Illinois. It didn’t make Texas popular.

“Now, when you get north of 36—here’s where it runs—you have only got
the Salt Fork of the Arkansas between you and the main Arkansas. It
comes out of Kansas not so very far from where you’ll hit the Kansas
line.”

“It sounds right far,” said Jim Nabours.

“Yes: when you get up in there you’re coming into the edge of a thousand
miles of open range, the best cattle ground out of doors; and there
isn’t a cow in it from one end to the other. That country’s waiting for
cows. It needs them as much as our cows need a market.

“Well, you’ll find out all these things as you come to them.”

Always scant of speech, he turned away, swung into the saddle. Reaching
down he held out a hand to Cinquo, the boy herder, who had followed him.

“We done saved her, Mister Sher’f,” said the boy.

But Dan McMasters did not cast a glance back of him to the white-topped
cart which made the only home of Taisie Lockhart.

“Now,” said Jim Nabours, turning to his own horse, “everybody can start
like he pleases except us. Afore I need a map I need some cows. Come on,
men, we got to foller out one more run. Lucky if we get seven and a half
cows to Aberlene.”

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._      _North of 36._
 IN THE MIDST OF THE RIVER CROSSING.]



                              CHAPTER XXXI
                               THE JONAH


“MOVE ’em out, boys! We’ll see what’ll happen next.” Nabours spoke
with a half sigh in his voice. The departure of McMasters and of the
soldiers had left a strange feeling of loneliness among the Del Sol men.
They began to brood, to lose morale. This was after two more days of
riding, combing cattle out of the timber along the Washita, which very
luckily had caught and left partly nugatory the last run of the much
harassed herd.

The hour was not yet late; and although the tired trail hands had little
enough of sleep, there was no active murmuring, and the order of the day
once more began, the long line of longhorns stringing out, the guides on
either side.

The cattle paced on methodically enough, but the arrival at the Washita
was so late in the day that the trail boss concluded not to cross until
the following morning. They found the banks as McMasters had said—high
and steep; and the river had swimming water. But much to their joy they
found a good-sized raft which some one, probably Rudabaugh and his men,
for reasons of their own, had spent some time and care in building.

“Well, there won’t many of them need it now,” commented Nabours, “and we
do. That’s the first luck we’ve had. I’m scared to swim that girl
again.”

They crossed the carts without difficulty in the morning, and the entire
herd swam over easily, a narrow trail being plain on the other side.

Once more on their way, and with the Washita behind them, a certain
feeling of light-heartedness came to the trail drovers. They sang
cheerily to their cows as they rode alongside, caught the feel of the
new country lying on ahead.

The weather was not unfavorable, but in the afternoon the older trail
men began to look at the sky. There was a dull, lifeless feeling in the
air. The wind had ceased. A bank of clouds lay black in the lower west.

“It may rain,” said Jim Nabours, coming over to Taisie’s near-by camp
after the herd was turned off to bed down. “You and your women, Miss
Taisie, had better sleep in the carts to-night. I hope to the Lord our
little dogies won’t take a notion to run again to-night! This herd’s
getting plumb spoiled. Before long they’ll run every time a feller
lights a cigarrito.”

“Look as that lightning in west, Jim,” remarked Cal Dalhart. “It’s worse
than cigarritos. I hope she’ll pass around.”

But the prairie storm did not intend to pass around them. They lay
directly in the center of a low barometer. The air was oppressively hot,
so still that a leaf would have fallen straight to the ground; yet the
face of the western cloud was lit with continuous electrical discharges.
An uneasiness came into the air that even the cattle felt. The greenhead
flies had swarmed in the grass all day. Now clouds of mosquitoes made
life a burden for men and beasts. It was hard to bed the cattle down.

“Set the wagon tongues on the North Star, boys, while you can see it,”
said Jim Nabours. The dark cloud was steadily rising. “This is going to
be one hell of a night. You’ll need your slickers. Look yonder! I’ve
heard tell about that sort of a thing, but I’ve never saw it afore.”

He pointed toward the bed ground. In the strange electrical condition of
the air the horns of each steer showed two little balls of flame,
thousands of them in the total, a strange and awesome sight in the
gloom. As the night watch rode later they saw electricity on the tips of
their horses’ ears. It almost dripped from the air; the earth seemed
bathed in it.

At midnight the stars passed away under a high vanguard of scurrying
clouds. The strange tensity in the air increased as continuous rolls of
thunder came closer.

“We’ve all got to get on the herd,” said Nabours finally. “There’s going
to be trouble.”

The men all mounted their night horses and made ready. There came to
them all a feeling of pygmylike incompetency as the edge of the storm
extended itself as though with some inner propelling power. The wind had
not yet begun. They knew they were in for one of the terrible electrical
storms of the prairies.

The steady flashes of lightning along the cloud face broke into jagged
forks. Intermittent among these came short bolts of the chain lightning.
A smell of sulphur filled the air. A strange blue tint seemed to come
into some of the lightning bolts. At times there seemed to be a
continuous sheet of fire along the grass tops towards the west. This
later was broken by balls of fire which rolled along the ground,
exploding like bombshells. There seemed nothing in the air except light;
sparks and whirls and wheels of light, like so many pin wheels. A
strange, alarming, oppressive feel, as though of a settling fog, came
upon them all. If a man reached a hand to his hat brim the electricity
literally dripped from it.

Rarely, even on the high prairies, did the tremendous electrical
disturbances ever reach such violence; not one of these hardened range
men had ever seen the like of this. But to the wonder of all the cattle
did not at once make any break. They seemed stupefied themselves. They
now all were on their feet, but in the continuous succession of blinding
flashes on every side, the crash of thunder coming from all quarters,
they could form no course for running and stood rooted in sheer terror.
Nor was there a man who did not think his own end had come.

The climax came in a straight bolt from above, which struck and exploded
directly in the middle of the herd. The detonation was as though a giant
shrapnel shell had dropped. Twenty cattle were killed outright. Two
horses dropped. A rider was smitten dead, another came out of the shock
dazed and for some hours stone deaf. The old Mexican, Sanchez, had a
fashion of wearing a pair of ancient spectacles. They were burned from
his ears, only the bow between the rims remaining, and that burned deep
into his nose. Len Hersey boasted a fancy tie with a stickpin, once
bought in better days. The gold was melted from it, the stone dropped in
the grass. The nap of his sombrero was singed smooth. A score of
unbelievable phenomena, a series of miraculous escapes came all at once.

This last exploding bolt, so disastrous in its effect, was more than any
herd could stand. The cattle started like a covey of quail. The universe
seemed in dissolution. There was nothing for the men to do but follow as
best they could. It was as safe in one place as in another, and of
shelter there was none. Never was a wilder ride than that night; for
now, with a rush and steady roar, came the wind and the slanting rain.
The encampment at the bed ground was afloat, deserted. Old Milly put out
her head.

“Miss Taisie! Miss Taisie!” she called. She got no answer. “My Lord! she
done killed!” she called out to Anita.

Then arose her lamentations continuously as she lay in her drenched
blankets. They two were all that remained. Even Buck was gone.

The run in a general way had headed north. A couple of miles ahead,
between them and the Canadian River, lay a little boggy creek lined with
thickets. Suddenly enlarged by the rain, it overflowed and made very
soft footing for fifty or a hundred yards. Into this boggy trap the
animals plunged in their madness. Within a few moments a third of the
herd was bogged down. An inexplicable confusion took place among the
others. No man could do anything here. The riders only followed such
strings of cattle as they could hear farther down the stream. They all
knew that when daylight came they would have their work to do in
salvaging from the quagmire. Most of them tried to find their way back
to camp, and those who made it sat huddled, drenched, as the weird
flame-edged clouds passed on. Until dawn, they never knew there was a
dead man lying in the grass on the bed ground three hundred yards from
the camp, among the dead cattle and horses. Well, it was another grave;
and this made the first duty of the day. They put up the third little
headboard. So passed Al Pendleton. Though crippled by his gunshot wound,
he had insisted on taking saddle.

Now the work of snaking out bogged cattle—the most unwelcome of all
range work—must go forward along the muddy stream, hour after hour, as
soon as the depressing dawn gave light for the beginning. The waters
falling, some of the cattle struggled ashore as soon as they could see.
Others needed but little help, a few had to be abandoned. In this work
of roping and dragging, it took two men to handle a steer. As soon as
one of the wild creatures got his feet he was certain to charge his
rescuer. Hard work, dirty work, dangerous work; slow, utterly
disheartening. But it was here to be done. Once more, slowly, a battered
and begrimed cohort of broad horns began to assemble, watched by tired,
muddy, cursing men.

“Sinker,” called Nabours to the boy as he came by coiling his muddy rope
in the gray cold dawn, “you go on and find Dalhart, and ride back to
camp. I don’t know where the rest of the horses went. Drive in what cows
you find. It ain’t so far. Tell the cook we’ll be in for a little
coffee, some of us, right soon.”

These two, so commanded, came into camp only to learn the news from
Milly. The bed of Taisie Lockhart was empty. Her horse was gone.

“I’ll bet I know!” said Cinquo. “I’ll bet she follered the remuda in the
dark!”

He was off, following the plain trail of the running horses, Dalhart at
his side. They rode hard for a mile. The horses had struck timber,
slowed up and scattered.

“I see her!” called out the boy at last. “That’s her zebry horse
anyway.”

The white-banded son of Blancocito was not to be mistaken. But the
saddle was empty! At the foot of a near-by tree lay the object which
they sought.

She was alive, was sitting up, propped against a tree trunk; indeed, was
on the point of mounting. So much they saw with sudden joy as they flung
down and ran to her.

The man pushed the boy away roughly. Kneeling, Dalhart caught the girl
in his arms, uttering impetuous words. What he saw filled Cinquo with
shame and horror. This man had touched the divinity of Del Sol! He was
holding her in his arms! He was going to kiss her! Sacrilege!

Cinquo saw flame points. He sprang forward, his long revolver in his
hand.

“Say, you! You let go of her, mister! Stop now, or I’ll stop you for
shore!”

The boy was blubbering in his excitement, but as Dalhart turned he saw
that the aim of the weapon was true. Taisie beat at him with her hands,
weakly, pushing him away.

“I’ll wring your neck!” began Dalhart, starting toward the boy. Only the
girl’s voice saved them one or both.

“No! No!” she called. “He means well! Cinquo, come here!”

Dalhart turned to her almost savagely.

“You promised me!” he said. “You gave me your word down there! Is this
how you keep your promise?”

But between the two of them, the girl with her tears and the boy with
his revolver, Cal Dalhart got on very ill with his wooing.

“I can wait,” said he slowly at last.

In his sobbing excitement the boy was dangerous as a rattlesnake, and
Dalhart was wise enough to know it. Only one voice could calm him.
Taisie spoke with decision.

“Throw down your gun, Cinquo! Drop it, I tell you!”

Cinquo obeyed. His tears came freely now. He trembled.

“Trouble with me is, ma’am,” said he, “I got chills and fever. To-day I
got ’em both. I been up all night. I don’t give a damn for that man, but
this here is awful hard for you.”

“Cinquo,” said Taisie, putting her hand on his grimy shirt sleeve as she
drew him beside her, “you are as good a man as I’ve got. Listen now! I’m
not hurt. I just ran into a tree in the dark and got knocked out of the
saddle. For a long time I didn’t know anything—my head’s bruised; but I
was going to get up and ride right soon. Now go and find the horses;
they’re not far. I saw the bell mare just below.”

The boy, shivering in his saddle, racked by the native ague, went off
dully about his duties. He cast an eye over his shoulder, saw Dalhart
riding close to the side of the mistress of Del Sol.

“The trouble with you is,” broke out Dalhart moodily, “you don’t know
how a man can love you—you don’t know how I love you!”

He reached out a hand to touch the bridle of her saddle horse, which
flung its head impatiently.

“I think I do,” said Taisie slowly. “You love me like a man. They’re all
alike.”

“I believe you do love that damned Gonzales renegade. He’s gone again,
and he may come back, or he may not. What you need is a man to take care
of you; some one better than that cold-blooded killer that ain’t got a
heart for either man or woman!”

“Stop! I tell you I want to hear no more of this!” The girl’s voice had
in it a quiet fury. “At least I never have heard that man say a word
against you or any one else. If he’s a killer he’d face his man, I’m
sure of that, and not curse him behind his back.”

“He’d better not say anything about me,” Dalhart blustered.

But Taisie Lockhart’s contemptuous laugh at that was the cruelest thing
he had ever heard in all his life. She spurred on and left him.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Dribbles of the herd continued to come in. The draggled encampment was
slow to take on even a little order. The men had begun to lose
confidence, to dread their luck. And now was time for a repetition of
the scene on the south bank of the Red—another rider must find burial
in his blankets. Never had the spirits of the men been so low, the hope
of success so faint, the savage irritability of all so unmistakable.

It took a day and a half to finish the unhappy duties of the last camp
below the Canadian and drive forward the remade herd. It was necessary
to follow down the boggy stream to find a sound crossing. Beyond, within
a mile or so, lay the main Canadian. Here at least they met no trouble.
The spongelike sands had swallowed up the torrents until only an
occasional thread of lazily trickling water marked the wide expanse from
bank to bank. The cattle, warm and thirsty, seemed disposed to break
ranks and explore these little trickles of water, so that the men had
enough to do. Dalhart rode moodily, indifferently, on his point.

“Damn it, man!” called Del Williams to him, approaching him after one
more chase after a wisp of stragglers. “I’d think you could ’tend to
your own end part ways somehow!”

It was the first time he had spoken to Dalhart in days. Their enmity was
smoldering.

“I don’t need any help from anybody about handling cows,” retorted the
other; “least of all from you.”

Del Williams rode straight up to him at what seemed a challenge.

“I don’t see you for no cowman, myself,” said he.

They sat face to face midway of the dry river bed.

“I want to know what you mean,” said Dalhart. “I’ve been as good a hand
on this trail as you have.”

“I don’t think so. Nothing but luck kept you from drownding that girl
crossing the Red. More than that, it was you that let logs come through
the cattle when they was swimming the day before. That started the mill.
Four hundred cows lost and two men drownded. You was upriver side of the
herd.”

This was mortal affront, as Del Williams was willing that it should be.
At the time both men were unarmed.

“You know I won’t stand that,” said Dalhart.

“You heard it plain,” rejoined Williams quietly. “Make your play any
time you like.”

“All right, I will make it! We both said we’d hold off till we struck
Abilene. We’ll not both ride south together,” said Dalhart savagely.

“I hope not,” smiled Del Williams. “I have got plenty of grief riding in
sight of you going north.”

Neither man liked to be the first to back his horse. Their actions
caught the sight of Nabours, who started back.

“Look here!” he began. “What are you two doing here?”

“Well,” began Dalhart, “he told me I wasn’t doing my work.”

“Then he told you plumb right. Look at you now, both of you. You two
give me your word, both of you, that you’d quit this quarreling till you
got to Aberlene. Now quit it or else get out. If a little more happens I
am going to get on the prod my own self.”

They separated. Del Williams later approached Nabours, both moody, sore.

“Jim,” said he, “look at the luck! Could anything more happen to us? I
tell you, there’s a Jonah somewheres on this herd.”

“There shore is!” rejoined the harried foreman. “There shore is! And
it’s got red hair.”



                             CHAPTER XXXII
                             LAZYING ALONG


UPON even the most seasoned outdoor men the weather has undeniable
influence. Came now a bright sun and gentle winds. The prairie lay like
a silver sea. The surliness of the men vanished, they were children
again. Once more the force of custom, of duty, made itself felt.

One more camp brought them to the North Fork of the Canadian, a more
serious proposition than had been the main river of that name. The
channel was narrower and deeper, and the banks, especially upon the
south side, much more steep. There was only a narrow channel of swimming
water, but not a man in the outfit would have consented to see the
mistress of Del Sol undertake to swim her own horse across even the
narrowest channel. The entire herd was held up for half a day while the
men make a rude raft sufficient to cross the carts and their occupants.
They dug down the bank on the farther shore so that better egress might
be offered for the cattle.

“By the time a cow has swum a river,” said Jim Nabours to expostulating
men, who did not like shovel work, since that, at least, could not be
done on horseback, “he’s plumb tired, like enough. Make him climb a
steep bank and he may fall back in. The worst place for them to get
crowded is on the far side of a river. Now you fellows go on and dig a
nice path, or else maybe we won’t have no cows a-tall before long. I’m
scared to make a tally, way it is.”

So they passed yet another unknown river and swung on out, their own
trail makers.

“I wish to God I knowed where we was,” grumbled the trail boss to Len
Hersey, carefree cowhand, to whom he happened to be talking. “Unless’n
that wagon tongue has got warped we’re still heading north. I done set
her on the North Star last night my own self. But a trail scout had orto
have a watch and a compass, and there ain’t nary one of either in this
whole outfit.”

Hersey took a chew of tobacco.

“Heap o’ things in life ain’t needful,” said he; “just only folks gets
used to them, that’s all. That lead steer Alamo’s all right if nobody
don’t move the North Star. He’s got his eye sot on that. I seen him
standing up the other night about one o’clock, looking at that star with
one eye. He done wink at me with the other one. He shore knows where
we’re at, Jim. You’d oughtn’t to worry. This suits me, although I will
say that this here shirt I got now might be a little better around the
elbows. I hate to go to meeting in it.”

“When I was a boy,” said Nabours reminiscently, “the onliest kind of
church we had was camp meeting. I ain’t saw one of them for quite a
while.

“Them big meetings used to bring in everybody from all over. The
preacher’d throw the camp in some nice grove, and folks would build a
shed with a brush roof and make some seats out of slabs. That was the
church. I’ve saw a bearskin used for a pulpit cover. If there was extra
ministers on hand, sometimes they’d have rawhide-bottom chairs made for
them. The mourner’s bench, it always had a good rawhide bottom too.
There used to be plenty straw scattered around between the benches for
the sake of them that got conviction right strong and begun to throw
fits. What with horses and dogs and babies, there was quite a settlement
to a good camp meeting, while it lasted. The men didn’t always have hats
and the women couldn’t always afford calico, but I can’t see but what we
got along all right.

“Them days a feller had to load a rifle at the front end exclusive—no
Henry rifles then. It was perlite for to lean your shooting iron against
a tree and hang your powder horn on it before you went in to get
religion. My pap always taken a drink of corn licker afore he set in;
but he always put down a gourdful of cold water on top of it, so it
didn’t hurt him none, he told me.

“I recollect when we built the first log school in the valley. It was
about ten foot square. But come to style, the courthouse up to Sherman,
twenty years ago, it made a ree-cord. I was there when that house was
built. It was twenty foot square. That and a few furrows of plowed
ground was all there was to the county seat. We dedicated her with a
barbecue; a barbecue was the only thing Texas could afford then. Huh!
It’s the only thing she can afford now. We all sot under a brush shed
and everybody felt right good. There was a barrel of whisky and a tin
cup and a nigger with a fiddle. That’s the way to start a county seat
right.

“There wasn’t a foot of railroad anywheres in them days. Yet in Texas
we’ve got over a hunderd miles of railroad built already. The Lord knows
what’ll happen next.

“You talking about shirts, Len! Enduring of the war, three or four years
ago, all my folks had to make their own shirts. The women folks had to
weave and spin the woolsey. First thing I can remember was helping to
braid hide and horse-hair ropes. Everybody tanned their own leather with
oak bark. We made our own saddle trees out of forks and rawhide, and we
covered them with our own leather—_lastro_, _rosaderos_, taps and all.
We didn’t have no wells; we drunk out’n the creeks. Some neighbor had to
make all the shoes we got. We ground our corn meal in a hand mill and we
made our own wagons and ox yokes. If we got a loom or spinning wheel we
had to make that too. Folks used to make hats out of palmetto; they
braided them theirselves. What we got done we had to do; there wasn’t no
one to hire nor nothing to pay them with.

“Shirt? Why a shirt, now, Len—a shirt in the old times used to last a
feller for years. Has yores?”

“It shore has,” replied Len Hersey. “She’s been a plumb good one, too,
and I’m sorry to see her go. My mammy made her for me, I don’t know how
long back, but quite some time. Trouble about shirts is, anyways
boughten ones, it takes so much for spurs and boots and saddles a feller
ain’t got much left to buy a shirt. I wouldn’t be no ways contented with
one of them homemade saddles of yourn no more. It don’t leave much for
shirts atter you got a cow outfit paid fer.

“But as I was sayin’, I’m happy just to drift along over this here
country. Ain’t she fine? This morning, along when the sun was shinin’ so
perty, you’d orter seen old Sanchez’ fighting rooster! He natural flewed
up on the cart and crowed to a fare ye well, he felt that good!”

“He’d ’a’ been a lot better off if he’d ’a’ sot on top the cart every
night,” commented Nabours. “Anita, old Sanchez’ woman, she starts out
with three roosters and eight hens, allowing, I reckon, to start a hen
ranch somewhere up north in case we got busted and couldn’t get home.
She can’t no ways start one now. The skunks and wildcats and coyotes has
got ’em all excepting old Mister Gallina, and he shy part of one wing.

“Ain’t that rooster like a fool Texan? He’s lonesome and broke, and
don’t know where he’s at, and part of his comb is tore, and he can’t fly
much; but, ‘Praise God,’ says he, ‘I got both my spurs!’”

“Shore he does,” nodded Len Hersey. “All the whole state o’ Texas ever
has owned has been a pair o’ spurs.

“Funny how time changes,” he went on, lolling on his saddle horn as he
spoke. “When my pap moved into Ulvade County cows wasn’t worth nothing.
The only thing to do was to kill them for their hides, and if you got
four bits for a hide that was big money. Lately people got a dollar
apiece fer hides. I wouldn’t be surprised ef we got two dollars a hide
in Aberlene. We’ll like enough have to sell ’em fer the hides. Ain’t no
money in cows.

“I was on a herd oncet that driv to Shreveport time of the war. We got
into cockleburs so heavy the cows’ tails got like clubs. They’d hung up
by the tails in the piney woods over in Louisiana. You could hear ’em
bawl bloody murder. I don’t know how many we left hanging in the piney
woods. There wasn’t no money in that drive and the cows got thin as
rails. We couldn’t even skin ’em.”

“Huh!” commented the older man. “The longer you live the nearer you’ll
come to learning how many things can happen to folks that trails cows,
son. Give us two or three more acts of God on this drive, and we’ll be
lucky ef we hit Aberlene with fifty head of cows to skin. We-all may
have to sell our saddles to get home.”

“Then I wouldn’t get no new shirt?”

“I ain’t promising you none.”

“Well,” said Len Hersey philosophically, reaching in a pocket for loose
tobacco, “so long’s a man has got his spurs he don’t need a thousand
shirts nohow. I don’t see nothing to worry about.”



                             CHAPTER XXXIII
                               THIRTY-SIX


ONE delay after another, one disaster with another, the Del Sol
adventurers now were far into their second month on the trail. The
summer was approaching, although they had as yet made scarce more than
three-fourths of their entire distance to the railroad. Day after day
they advanced over a wholly unsettled country that lay for nearly its
entire length between the more settled civilized tribes on the east and
the buffalo range toward the west. Clinging in their wavering line
fairly close to the ninety-eighth meridian, without a guide, watch,
calendar or compass, they now had reached a region beautiful as a
wilderness, but soon to be the seat of a later and undreamed
civilization.

They had been in wilderness practically all the way. At that time Austin
was little more than a straggling country town. The herd cast dust into
the one street of Fort Worth, then boasting not over one hundred
inhabitants; and that was the last of the upper Texas towns. But what a
line of cities was to follow their path on ninety-eight!

In the Indian Nations they had crossed the Washita, where now stands the
thriving town of Chickasha, Oklahoma. El Reno, of Oklahoma, was
grassland then, near the ford of the North Fork of the Canadian.
Kingfisher was not dreamed of on the trail from the North Fork to the
Cimarron; and beyond that the city of Enid was to wait until long after
cattle days were gone and the cattle trail had moved itself much farther
to the west. Above them they aimed for Caldwell, just across the Kansas
line then but a ragged frontier town. Thence the wagon tongue pointed
toward Wichita, when Wichita was hardly more than a furrow in the
ground, “a mile long and an inch wide.” A railroad was still unforeseen
in any of these vicinities in 1867; but railroads soon were to follow,
almost in the footsteps of the earliest herd to Abilene. So much, to
make understandable the exultation of these men as they discovered for
themselves a country, or a succession of countries, absolutely virgin so
far as the white man was concerned; a pastoral empire that never has had
a parallel.

Whether by accident or design, the location of their northbound path was
a lucky or a shrewd one. Scarcely anywhere else would there have been so
few Indians to disturb them, nor could their experience easily be
repeated. The depredations of the tribesmen, their begging of the
drovers, their demands of tribute of all the northbound herds were still
in the future, since as yet the Indians had not learned of the northern
passing of the white men which was to come in a great wave in the
ensuing years; and since not many tribes knew this herd was passing. The
Del Sol men were pioneers.

How rich, how wildly alluring, this unsullied world which now was all
their own to enjoy! Their wild cattle now advanced quite usually in
sight of an almost continuous spectacle of wild buffalo, wild horses,
wild deer. At times the herd had to be held while a body of buffalo was
parted by rifle fire to let them through. There seemed no end to the
animal life of the region into which they came. It was all so different
from Texas now that they felt themselves strangers in a foreign land.

Their next river was the Cimarron, one more stream heading down from the
high, dry buffalo plains of the Panhandle to the sandy reaches and the
flat loam lands to the eastward. Making down out of the strip of scrubby
timber which they encountered below their crossing, the herdsmen made
short work of the Cimarron, which was at so low a stage that the carts
were driven through and the cattle did not have to swim at all.

Their start had been approximately at the thirtieth degree of latitude.
They had now reached, just above the Cimarron crossing, the parallel of
thirty-six, which later represented, as well as any arbitrary
delineation, the vague dividing line between the southern and the
northern ranges.

Above them now by one degree of latitude lay the south line of Kansas;
between, the narrow unsettled and unorganized east-and-west tract so
long known as the Cherokee Strip or the Cherokee Outlet. The existence
of this strip of land was proof that the greatest range of the buffalo
lay yet farther to the west, in the short-grass land; for forty years
before this time the Cherokees had fought the Osages to secure an outlet
over their land to the buffalo range beyond. But of all these things
also the Del Sol men were ignorant or careless. They did not know where
they were.

Roll along, little dogies, roll along! You broke one of the greatest
paths in all the world! You carried the South into the North! It was you
who ended the war!

“Roll along, little dogies, roll along!”

The lazy song of half-somnolent riders, ragged, lean, brown, rose on the
afternoon air of one more sunny day after sunny day. By this time the
herd had but one more considerable stream, the Salt Fork of the
Arkansas, between it and the main stream of the Arkansas. The men now
all were studying geography as best they might, for gradually they all
had concluded that Texas was far behind them, and that they were in a
world they knew not.

“She’s shore a perty country, Miss Taisie,” said Jim Nabours when they
paused for their noonday rest, the first stop north of the Cimarron. “It
looks to me like folks could almost live here, some day, though I don’t
see no cows nowheres.”

He could not dream that within a few short years there would be cattle
under fence in all that country; that long before that time abundant
strays would run wild as wild horses; that even then stretched
illimitedly the great upper range, wholly undiscovered, soon to be
clamoring for cows, to carry on a business which was then an unsuspected
thing.

“Come along here, Miss Taisie,” he continued, inviting her to take a
seat beside him on the grass and spreading down a crumpled sheet of
brown paper. It held what cannot be bought to-day for any money—a more
or less precise map of the first old cow trail from Texas north,
although only his rude amateur hand had drawn it. The clumsy finger of
the trail boss pointed out to his employer their locality as near as he
himself could guess it.

“Dan McMasters and me talked this over afore he quit us,” he explained.
“I’ve drawed it the best I could, and it’s sort of helpful too. Near as
I can figure it, we’re just about to cross thirty-six north. My pap told
me that thirty-six-thirty was where slavery ended and the damn Yankees
begun.”

“Yes; the Missouri Compromise,” nodded Taisie.

“Anyways my pap told me that thirty-six, along in there, was about where
cotton wouldn’t grow so well nohow, and where the ticks probably would
fall offen the cows in the wintertime. The line must come right about
here.”

“What line?” demanded Len Hersey, who was listening in and who now bent
over the rude map curiously. “I kep’ a clost look all the time we’ve
been on the trail, an’ so fur from seein’ any thirty-six lines atween
here and where we all started, I ain’t seen nary line a-tall.”

“They ain’t marked on the ground, man,” replied his leader gently; “it’s
only on the paper. But what can I expect of a boy raised on squirrel and
corn pone, like you was? Yes, sir; thirty-six is just in and around
right here.”

He made on this soiled paper a little cross, using a gnawed stub of a
pencil which in its time had tallied perhaps a hundred thousand cows.

“There ain’t no moss on the trees no more,” mused Len. “The grass ain’t
the same here. My law! did you ever see so many greenhead flies in your
borned days as we’ve had all the way from the Red River north? And as
for mosquitoes, Miss Lockhart,” he added, “a feller don’t darst get his
arms out of his blankets at night.”

He looked ruefully at his elbows, entirely visible through the sleeves
of his only shirt.

“Like enough a man could make some corn up here,” mused Jim Nabours,
sagely, looking around him over the rolling prairie. “He couldn’t raise
no cows; it’d be too cold. No, nor of course he couldn’t raise no
cotton. Well it’s a right purty country; but can’t never be settled,
even if the Osages was gone.”

“I wonder how big a place is Aberlene, anyhow,” queried the ragged
cowhand. “Me, I never seen a railroad. Down at Fort Worth several men
been saying there’d be a railroad there some time. That’s all
foolishness.”

“Shore it is,” said Nabours. “Well, we got no railroad here neither.
Let’s move along.”

They were now, although they were not aware of it, to pass up the course
of Turkey Creek towards the Salt Fork for two days’ march above the
Cimarron. When they came to the heads of that stream and of Mulberry
Creek, which ran thence southeast—also a stream unknown to any map at
that time—they reached a pleasant rolling plain where it seemed as
though the entire country was alive with moving game. It was a spectacle
which awakened even their blasé souls, used to wild game all their
lives.

Northward appeared a vast herd of buffalo, usually a most welcome sight
to the plains traveler, but one always dreaded by the drover, who
sometimes had to start a road through them at cost of much ammunition.
Antelope, wild horses, all the great game of the unfrequented plains
were visible also. But all this game was on the move and not feeding
peacefully, as naturally it should be. Why was this?

Nabours came back as soon as he sensed the nature of what lay ahead.

“Throw ’em off, boys!” he called hurriedly. “Hold ’em in here and don’t
go a foot further, or we’ll lose every hoof we’ve got. That country’s
full of buffalo and everything else, and something has set them going.”

Leaving his best men to keep the cattle under control, he took with him
two or three men and rode rapidly on ahead. They pulled up at a little
eminence.

“Great Snakes!” said one of the men. “Just look there!”

The entire country was dotted with scattered black masses of moving
buffalo. The numbers seemed endless, uncountable. Something had pushed
them east of the more abundant short-grass range far to the westward.

“We’ll have to break that up or we’ll never get through,” said Nabours.
“Yet I was thinking this country up here wouldn’t feed cows! Just look
at the game!”

They could see also band after band of wild horses, magnificent animals
with high heads and heavy manes and tails; creatures that never failed
to awaken keen enthusiasm among even the most experienced plainsman.
Now, also, they were in an elk country, and herds of these creatures
trotted off, following the same general drift to the east and south.
There was such an immeasurably vast blending of wild life as not any one
of these men ever expected to see again.

“Look! Look, men!” called Nabours, who was studying the sight eagerly.
“If that ain’t cows I’m a liar!”

He was entirely right. Caught in the general drift, there were two or
three score of domestic cattle, of no man might tell what origin; no
doubt outcasts or strays of some Osage Indian settlement to the east.
The sight of these especially caused the blood of the range men to leap.

“Don’t tell me this ain’t a good country!” exclaimed Nabours. “Them’s
cows!”

“They’ve got right funny horns,” said Lem Hersey critically; and
forsooth these cattle, descendants of some Eastern stock, even then
lacked the wide horns of the old Texan breed.

“I ain’t particular about their horns,” remarked Nabours. “They got hide
enough to hold the Fishhook brand, and they look like strays to me. Any
of ’em comes around here too clost I ain’t going to let his horns stand
in the way. We need some more strays.

“But ef once our herd gets in there they’ll be strays too. We’ve got to
hold ’em back, boys, and wait till this thing gets by. This is a general
movement of the range stuff, plumb out of the country, and if our cows
begin to drift with this it’ll be worse than anything we’ve run into
yet.”

“Hark!” A man threw up his hand. “What’s that? Shooting on ahead?”

They sat their horses, uncertain. The sound of rifle fire in their
experience was usually a signal of danger.

“Wait! Wait, men!” Nabours in turn raised a hand.

The sound of rifle fire was unmistakable. The heavy reports were borne
by the prairie winds across what might be a mile of open space. The
detonations were spaced almost mathematically alike.

“That’s not Injuns!” exclaimed Jim Nabours. “That’s a white man! He’s
got a stand on a bunch of buffalo: I’ll bet a horse that’s what it is.”



                             CHAPTER XXXIV
                            THE TRAIL MAKER


THE reports came steadily—ten, fifteen, twenty. It was easy for the
trail men to locate the rifleman. They advanced rapidly in his
direction. As they topped a little ridge there lay before them the last
scene of one of countless similar tragedies of the Plains then going on
all over the country a thousand by fifteen hundred miles in extent.

Within the circle of a shallow swale stood a huddled group of black
figures of buffalo still on their feet. Among them, around them, over a
space no larger than a half acre, lay motionless or struggling two score
other dark figures—the bodies of the fallen.

The drovers saw the rifle smoke, two hundred yards from the game. The
killer lay concealed back of a wisp of grass which topped a near-by
ridge. He lay flat, his heavy rifle supported by two cross sticks, his
wiping rod and another hickory wand held together by the fingers of his
left hand as a rest for the barrel. His hat was off. His hair tossed,
blending with the waving grasses. He never had shown himself at all.
Mercilessly, carefully, he placed one shot after another. At each shot a
dust spot spurted out on a dark hide. An animal staggered, made a little
run; but, shot through the lungs, soon lay down. The survivors smelled
at it, made short rushes, returned, stood confused. Each time one of the
victims headed out, it fell before the white puff of smoke which came
from the hidden death engine.

The killer had the range perfectly. He paid no attention to the result
of any shot, for he knew that it was fatal. Each heavy bullet tore
through the lungs of a buffalo. It would not go far. The ground was
black with them already. Some day the bone pickers would rejoice, for
here they would find fifty skeletons packed close together.

It was the “stand” of the professional or the expert buffalo hunter. The
skin hunters were even then pushing out into the Plains on their unholy
calling.

But the skin hunter did not belong to the Indian lands, and no Indian
hunted buffalo in this way. The Del Sol men therefore were not sure as
to the identity of this man. They rode off to investigate, not showing
themselves at first. But at length they did sharpen on the sky line. The
staggered remnant of the befuddled animals caught their scent in the air
and at last nerved themselves for a saving rush away from this slaughter
hole.

When he saw the intruders the rifleman himself drew back to safety.
After a short mutual reconnaissance he rose and held up his hand in the
sign of peace. The Del Sol men approached in like fashion.

The marksman might now be seen to be a man of anywhere from forty to
sixty years of age, wrinkled of face, crowned with stubbly hair. His
dark, thick skin showed him to be of mixed blood. His garb was that of
the white man, save that he wore no hat. He leaned on his deadly rifle
with unconcern and in silence as the trail men approached.

“How, friend!” saluted Nabours.

“How do you do?” replied the other in fair English. “Which way you go?”

“North. We’ve got a herd of cows, three thousand head, five miles south
of here.”

“Three thousand head! Ha! You go Ab’lene—Caldwell—Wich’ta?”

“Yes, if we can ever get through here. I was wondering what had drifted
the buffalo.”

“I kill ’em few for hides,” grinned the half-breed. “My man come pretty
soon for skin. My camp over, there, maybe so two mile. Where you come
from?”

“Caldwell County,” answered Nabours. “Our brand is T.L. You’re headed
south? Are you buffalo hunting?”

“No, got wagon train—Army supplies. Take ’em south from railroad across
Nations, for Caddoes, Wichitas, Wacos. I just laying out road for
wagons. Army forts got to have supplies.”

“Well, the country needs a road all right,” commented Nabours. “We
started to find what they call the Chisholm Trail. There ain’t no such a
thing.”

“No?” The oldish face wrinkled into a smile. “No find ’em trail? Too
bad! You don’t know me,” he added after a time.

“No, we don’t know nobody.”

“I’m Jesse Chisholm. My ranch is in Nations, south long way. I bring
plenty horses up from Texas. I know your people. I been all across Texas
from Palo Pinto to Double Mountain Fork, Buffalo Gap, Estacado; all the
time I make trails.”

“And you have left one behind you now?”

“Sure! She’s easy from here to Caldwell. I got fifty wagon, plenty
horse, plenty mule; make ford, sometime make bridge, sometime make raft.
I got some wagons for Colonel Griswold. He’s going to make big
reservation for Kiowas and Comanches. Fort Sill, he’ll call ’em.”

“So you’re Jesse Chisholm?” remarked Jim Nabours after a time. “I didn’t
know for sure there was no such person. Tell me, is there such a place
as Aberlene?”

“Sure! I trail up Arkansas River from east, pass Wichita. I hear Ab-lene
up north. Sure!”

“All the Injuns know Jesse Chisholm,” he continued. “Osage, Cherokee,
Choctaw, Chickasaw—I trade ’em horse all through there. I know Shawnee
Trail, through Choctaws.”

“Then tell us, friend, since you know this country pretty well, how far
is it out of the Nations from here?”

“Maybe so fifty-six mile. Caldwell, he’s on line above Osages. Always
grass. So you go Ab’lene?”

Nabours nodded.

“We don’t know where it is.”

“You come my camp with me. I got a man in my camp, he come from Ab’lene.
He come down here to find you people.”

“Find us? He never heard of us!”

“I dunno. He say he come south till he meets cows. He show you Ab’lene
all right.”

“Len, ride back to the men and tell them to hold the herd till I come,”
said Nabours, turning. “I may be late. I’ll go over and see what there
is in all this.”

Without further speech, the famous half-breed trail maker led them back
for a quarter of a mile or so to where he had picketed his horse. Soon
they passed another uncommunicative half-breed, driving a wagon team. A
few words between him and Chisholm, and the driver passed on to begin
his share of the work—skinning the dead buffalo, for their hides alone.

In time they found the wagon encampment, its band of horses and mules
hobbled or picketed near by; a pleasant though extraordinary sight in
these surroundings. Chisholm led the way to a point a few yards distant
from the main camp.

Lying on his saddle blankets under the shade of a scrubby bush, there
was a white man—a bearded man of middle age, with clothing not much
worn and of distinctly Northern cut. Caught by a severe attack of fever
and ague, he now was in a raging fever. But at the sight of these
newcomers—who presentiment told him were the very men he sought—he
sprang to his feet and held out his hand.

“I knew you’d come!” said he. “I know you are drovers! Where is your
herd? I told them I’d find a herd coming up to Abilene this spring.
McCoyne’s my name.”

“Well,” said the trail boss, “they call me Jim Nabours. We’re people
from Caldwell County, Texas—thousand miles south of here for all I
know, or anyway six hundred. We’re in the T.L.; Fishhook road brand. We
was headed for Aberlene.”

“That’s my town,” said the stranger. “And I’ll tell you, friend, she is
a town! We’ve got the railroad, and I’ve got the stockyards, built and
waiting. Don’t let no one talk to you about Baxter Springs; don’t you
think of stopping at Caldwell or Wichita. Abilene is the only town in
Kansas with a railroad and a stockyards and a real market. There’s
buyers five deep a-waiting for you up there. How many cattle you got?”

“Say three thousand.”

“Great Scott! Abilene’s made! You’re made too!”

“How much did you pay for cows when you started north?” he asked.
Nabours was looking at his eyes.

“You ain’t so sick!” said he. “Well, we didn’t pay nothing for ours. We
raised them by hand from calves. How much can a man get for fine fours
in your neighborhood?”

“Well, that depends; but all they’re worth. Do you want to contract
yours as they come, straight fours at ten a head?”

“Ten a head!” said Jim Nabours with well-feigned surprise. “What? Fours
like them? Fat and ready for market? Well there may be a little
she-stuff in here and there, but we couldn’t help that. Us Texans always
figgers one cow’s as old and as fat as another.”

“As good as any,” asserted the stranger. “There’s millions of acres of
range north and west of Abilene, a-weeping and a-wailing for stock
cattle. There’s millions of pounds of beef that’s got to be raised on
Army contracts to feed the reservation Indians. There’s all America and
all Europe east of here. Market? Why, man, we can take five million
cattle, in five years, if you can bring them in! You’re the first, and
you didn’t know it! You didn’t even know where Abilene was!”

“We don’t yet,” replied Nabours; “but we’re willing to rock along with
you and have you show us.”

“I’ll be glad to! What d’you say to three cents a pound on the hoof?”

Nabours looked at him with astonishment in his eyes.

“Mister, you talk like them cows was sugar or coffee. I never did hear
of ary man selling a cow that way. No man can tell how much a cow weighs
by looking at him, and I never did see one weighed. Of course, I could
make a scales by swinging a pole and putting a few men at the other end
of it to balance up a cow—you can guess how much a man weighs pretty
clost. But all that’d take too much time. No, a cow is a cow where I
come from, whether he’s big or little.”

“Well, what d’you say to eleven dollars a head?”

“I don’t say nothing. These here cows is family pets, and we don’t like
fer to part with them. But like enough this is the only herd that ever
will come up from Texas, anyhow this year.”

“You wouldn’t say twelve dollars?”

“Straight count, a cow for a cow, as she tallies out?”

“Well, I’d sorter like to see the herd first.”

“It ain’t no trade,” said Nabours calmly. “If I’d sell them family
favorites of ours the owner of Del Sol would feel sore—she shore
would.”

“You say ’she’ would. Are you working for a widow?”

“She ain’t a widow yet, but she may be a’fore long.”

“Married?”

“The same answer. Not yet, but right apt to be.”

“How old is she?”

“Why, I don’t know. Plenty of cows we got in that herd is a heap older
than she is.”

“And you’re taking a girl through to Abilene!”

“What’s wrong with Aberlene, friend?”

“Well,” admitted McCoyne, “we got eight saloons and five gambling
palaces now; a good many railroad men and skin hunters and people like
that hang around. It might be a little bit swift if you ain’t used to
traveling fast.”

“What you say sounds cheerful. We’d like to wet the dust in our throats
and play a few cards in a innocent way.”

“I wouldn’t say that Abilene ain’t safe,” argued the market man. “We got
the best town marshal in Kansas, or are going to have if we can get him
away from Hays City. Wild Bill Hickok is his name. He’s the best shot in
Kansas.”

“He may be in Kansas, but he ain’t in Texas,” replied Nabours. “We had
him along ourselves. You didn’t happen to meet up with a man named Dan
McMasters in Caldwell, did you?”

McCoyne drew himself up.

“I don’t go to Caldwell. But since you mention it, that name sounds
familiar. I met a McMasters over in the Baxter Springs country last
winter; tall fellow, with a little mustache. He was the man that told me
he was going to send up a Texas herd when he got back home.”

“He done so,” replied Nabours. “Here it is.”

“He certainly done us both a good turn. I was saying McCoyne—Joe
McCoyne’s my name. I come from Indianny. I’m president of the stockyards
up to Abilene. The whole Eastern country is out here hunting cattle.
There’s a thousand miles of range north and west of us that’s got to
have cattle. Why, cattle will be gobbled up as fast as you can drive
them in.”

“You must be running a kind of cow heaven, friend,” said Jim Nabours.
“Well, come and see our boss. You needn’t be scared, even if she ain’t
married. I will pertect you against any designing female that might be
smit by your looks.”



                              CHAPTER XXXV
                            IN THE BEGINNING


THE Del Sol men with their new-found friend turned back to bid a
temporary farewell to Jesse Chisholm and his wagon train, departing
thereafter for the herd, which had been held some miles below. The
Eastern man sat his horse somewhat strangely to the eyes of the Texans;
but no matter what the speed, he ceased not joltingly to sound the
praises of his community.

“Every time he come down in the saddle he says, ‘Aberlene! Aberlene!
Kerchunk! Aberlene!’” explained Len Hersey to his fellows.

When they came into view of the great herd, held closely by the riders,
Nabours pulled up with the enthusiasm of the natural drover.

“Look at ’em!” he exclaimed, waving a hand. “If that ain’t a perty sight
I don’t know what is!”

“Great glory!” exclaimed the Abilene man. “I didn’t know there were that
many cattle in the world! Sir, my fortune is made! Where’d you get them
all?”

“In Texas we don’t ast no man that. I told you we done raise them cows
by hand, every one of them.”

The Abilene man gave a deep sigh.

“You don’t know what that means!” said he. “The first herd up from
Texas!” He babbled, speaking of revolutions, epochs, swift changes.

One by one he met the wild crew of the Del Sol men, who wore a garb and
spoke a language unfamiliar to himself. Praying for trail herds from the
South, the Northern men never really visualized the new personnel which
was pushing north from the lower range. Indeed at that time of the
American civilization there had been but little actual interchange of
population between the North and the South. The natural expansion of the
republic had been westward. As to the old cruel line of Mason and Dixon,
it never fully was broken down by the Civil war. But here was the first
break—the penetration of a peaceful, natural commerce, here on the
Western plains. Through that opening, in the years immediately to come,
flowed values greater than those of barter and trade in horned kine. A
manly understanding passed back and forth, and out of that a tacit
union, a concord in all young strong impulses. That union of North and
South built the West overnight. The world has never seen a better
country.

That empire gave us our first and only true American tradition—the
tradition of the West. Great as that American tradition is, grotesque as
we have rendered it, far as we have carried from dignity and truth the
tradition of the West, “the Range” still is a word to conjure with
to-day, and will be to-morrow. Here, then, was the very beginning of
that great tradition. It was no more than a generation ago.

“My Lord!” repeated the Northern man. “Just look at them! I guess that’s
all the cattle in the world.”

“No, I don’t reckon so,” replied Nabours. “We got sever’l left down in
Texas. Come along; you must meet the owner of them all.”

They approached Taisie Lockhart’s camp where the giant carts—things of
wonder to the stockyards man—stood gaunt and grim in the twilight.
Taisie was superintending the preparation of the evening meal, her women
busy at the fire. At first the Northern man took her to be one of the
young riders of the herd. She stood straight and free of
self-consciousness as any of the men; as brown of face and hand, much
like them in apparel. She wore the universal checked trousers, stuffed
into her boots. But the boots apparently had been made by loving hands,
so neat were they, so sewed with countless little seams. And at their
tops, in red, was the Lone Star of Texas.

Taisie’s cotton shirt, a man’s shirt, was open at the neck. Above the
high-water mark of the ardent sun, protected by her hat brim, flowed
back the mass of her bright hair, which for sake of comfort she wore
now, as customarily, in a great queue wrapped with thong, as though she
were some Indian woman. True, she might have been the forerunning
arbiter of woman’s ways of costume fifty years later in the West; but
Taisie Lockhart’s dress was not done in any imitation or any
affectation. She had chosen it for two reasons—firstly, because she was
broke; secondly, because it was convenient.

“Miss Lockhart,” remarked Jim Nabours in the formula which he best knew,
“shake hands with Mr. ——. What did you tell me your name was?”

“McCoyne—Joe McCoyne, of Abilene, ma’am. I’m pleased to meet you.”
Which also was in conformance with ineradicable formula.

Taisie held out her hand in silence, with her usual straight glance.

“You didn’t expect to see me down here from Abilene, did you, Miss
Lockhart?” began the stockyards man.

“Why, no sir; are we almost there?”

“Right there. It ain’t much over two hundred mile. I knew there’d be a
herd up this year. I was telling your foreman that I met a Mr.
McMasters, Daniel McMasters, a while back, over around Baxter Springs.
He said he was going down to Central Texas. You don’t happen to know
him?”

The swift blood surged up to Taisie’s forehead.

“Why, yes; he rode with us for a time.”

But the Northern man was all for business. He cleared his throat.

“Miss Lockhart,” said he, “I’ve been offering your man twelve dollars a
head straight through. I’d contract for them at that right here.”

Taisie Lockhart gave a sudden gasp. Twelve dollars a head meant riches!
But she turned toward her trail boss, who had emitted an ominous cough,
audible a quarter of a mile, and began now to wink so portentously that
even the blind must have given him attention. She hesitated, her eyes
dubious. The stranger laughed.

“I see you’ve got to talk it over together.”

But his zeal for Abilene overcame even his own disposition to do a turn
in personal trade. Besides, the personality of this young woman produced
its usual effect, on him as on most men.

“I want to buy your cattle, Miss Lockhart,” said he, “and maybe I will;
but let’s not talk price any more down here. This is the first herd to
come to Abilene, and I’m going to see that you get the best price
possible, so when you carry the news back to Texas that’ll bring more
herds up next year. I don’t want to rob as young and fine-looking a
woman as you are; and besides that, the first one to come up the trail.”

“And the last!” said Jim Nabours conclusively. “You don’t know what I’ve
been through!”

The stranger smiled humorously, his eyes once more turning to the young
girl, of unmistakably gentle breeding. “In a way, you don’t belong
here,” said he.

“Come an’ git it!” came the supper call of Buck, the negro cook, now
rising at his fireside.

The men not engaged on the herd straggled in toward the fire. The
distant crooning of the hands at the bed ground came through the
twilight. The stockman threw back his shoulders, drew a deep breath.

“I been having a little fever and ague, ma’am,” said he; “but come to
think of it, it’s quit. I’d rather be here than any place else in the
world.”

“We have quinine,” said Taisie Lockhart, “and coffee and boiled beef,
and some very good bread that Milly has made. Won’t you please sit down
with us?”

They all sat upon the ground around the little fire, children,
contented. The world still was young.



                             CHAPTER XXXVI
                       ROLL ALONG, LITTLE DOGIES!


LATE at night the leaders of the herd sat talking, but the start on
the next day was early. The country ahead was now open and free of
buffalo. Once more the great herd trailed out. They left the camp of
Jesse Chisholm with his wagon train a little at one side, but the
leaders rode over to say farewell to the taciturn old half-breed.
McCoyne promised him many things if he would load his next cargo at
Abilene instead of Wichita. And so they parted, as ships sailing seas
but little known.

Thence on there was no need for the wagon tongue or the North Star. One
Chisholm Trail, of many mythical ones, was now really begun. The marks
of the wagon wheels were unmistakable. The giant steers of the Del Sol
vanguard swung out along the main traveled road as though this was what
they long had sought. McCoyne expressed wonderment at seeing so few men
handle thousands of great animals.

“You’ve been doing ten or twelve miles a day?” said he. “We can make
fifteen or twenty. Push them along. All Abilene is waiting for them.”

It was plain sailing and the weather was good. No tribute-seeking
Indians appeared, and the cattle were as peaceable as though they never
had dreamed of a run. The Del Sol outfit put mile after mile behind it,
rapidly, steadily, the work oxen on the carts sometimes almost on a
trot, the sore backs exempt in the remuda, every man feeling that
trail’s end was not so far.

Between them and the Arkansas River now ran only one considerable
stream—the Salt Fork, spoken of with respect by drovers, for quite
customarily it offered swimming water. But now, even if the advanced
season had not left the water low, the Salt Fork would have been by no
means an insuperable obstacle, for Jesse Chisholm had left here a good
raft which he had built for his own purposes. It was better than a
bridge. The cattle swam the stream readily, confidently, and in brief
order the carts were jerked across at the ends of spliced reatas. The
entire crossing went forward methodically and without the loss of a
single head.

“So that’s the way you do it?” commented the man of Abilene. “You had
some rivers below here too?”

“Almost. This here is play compared to it,” said Nabours. “But you can
go anywheres with cows if you know how. That’s the only thing us Texans
does know. Yes, we got sever’l cows down in Texas. And I don’t see why
this country here wouldn’t raise cows—in the summer anyhow.”

They advanced through the Osage country, over as beautiful grassland as
a man ever saw, the prairie covering wavering knee-deep and spotted with
many flowers. Wild game was in sight much of the time. There was not a
weed. No plow had been here.

“Roll along, little dogies!” came the lazy voice of a swing man. “Roll
along, roll along!”

Fifty miles more of happy, lazy, carefree loafing along the trail, and
they left the straggling village of Caldwell on the right, just at the
Kansas line. Nabours would not let his men go into town, but headed
twenty miles to the westward across the grasslands of lower Kansas,
making for the crossing of the Arkansas which Chisholm had established
with his wagons.

Heretofore the advance had been happily and singularly free from
annoyance at the hands of the Indian tribes whose great domain had been
crossed. When well over the Kansas line, however, they were caught up by
a little band of Osages who had followed along their trail, ignoring
reservation limits for reasons of their own. In stature they were
gigantic men, their heads partly shaved, leaving a high roach of dense,
stiff hair after the traditional Osage custom. They were painted bravely
enough in red and ocher, and all were armed with fine buffalo bows of
_bois d’arc_. Their leader and his band seemed friendly enough and
disposed to parley. Not caring for such hangers-on, Nabours and a few
other men stopped for a conference. The chief began with a request soon
to become usual along the trail.

“You got plenty wohaw,” he began. “This Injun country. You give wohaw.”

He held up all the fingers of his hand.

“Give you ten cows?” exclaimed Jim Nabours. “I ain’t give a cow to
nobody all the way up the trail, and I won’t give one to you. You go on
back.”

“Good Injun!” said the leader of the Osages. He handed out a folded
piece of paper. “Caldwell. Him send.”

He was a message bearer. Nabours took the letter.

“Why, this is from Dan McMasters!” said he. “Five days ago he was in
Caldwell. Says he has gone on now to Wichita,” explaining to McCoyne and
the others. “He may be at Aberlene by the time we get there.”

“Say, you, here!” he remarked to the chief. “We’ll give you one wohaw.
You set down and wait a while. We’ll ride on up to the wohaws.”

“All right,” said the Osage partisan in good humor. “Him say you give
wohaw. We bring you paper.”

They disposed themselves on the grass, their bows unstrung.

“You seem to be all the time hearing from this man McMasters,” said
McCoyne. “How come he’s on ahead of you so far?”

“That’s a long story,” said Jim Nabours. “He did ride with us for a
while.”

“I knew that man over at Baxter and on the Missouri border,” ruminated
the man from Abilene. “Quiet sort of fellow—mysterious—never did say
much. I was figuring on a market over there for Texas cattle. But I
learned about a gang of raiders in there that had been cutting every
herd that came up from Texas bound for Missouri or Iowa or Illinois.
Those border ruffians killed probably a dozen men altogether. They tied
up and whipped maybe a dozen more. They terrorized every trail outfit
that came through there, and the natural result was that they kept off
St. Louis from ever becoming a real cow town. Nothing could get through.
A little thing sometimes makes a heap of difference later on in big
things.

“The leader of that gang was a ruffian by name of Rudabaugh,” he added.
“The Missourians finally run him south.”

“Yes,” said Nabours quietly. “The Texans have finally run him north
again.”

“And this man McMasters was after him?” McCoyne turned suddenly.

“He might be. He is now. He’s been keeping ahead of us, and that’s the
reason.”

He now explained at length the machinations of the trail pirates and the
untimely end of them in the night battle on the Washita.

“He mostly plays a lone hand,” Nabours concluded. “He’s an officer in
the Rangers. That’s putting law into Texas—the Rangers.”

“Well, we’ve only got one man to put law into Abilene. I’m going to hire
Wild Bill Hickok for our town marshal. Wild Bill has got these bad
people buffaloed. Counting in his work as a Union sharpshooter, under
Curtis, in the Missouri country, he’d have to have a long gun stock to
carry all his notches. It’s sure he’s killed somewhere between
seventy-five and a hundred men. In 1860, when he was taking care of the
stage stock over in east of Abilene, he was jumped by McCandless and his
gang—ten men there were in all. You’ve heard of that fight? They were
going to run off the stage stock for the Confederate Army. They tackled
Bill in his shack, ten of them, and he was alone. He killed nine out of
the ten by himself. Not so bad, eh? I don’t know as I ever knew Bill to
serve a warrant or make an arrest. But I’ll bet one thing—if we get him
for town marshal, Abilene will be first in graveyards, the same as she
is first in everything else.”

“It shore looks like Dan McMasters has a pleasant time a-waiting for
him,” commented Nabours. “But he’s usual able to take care of hisself.

“Now, I’ll have to cut out a beef for these yellow-bellied friends of
ours,” he added. “We’ve picked up a shorthorn stray or so a couple of
days ago, and put a Fishhook on him to keep him from catching cold. Like
enough it was a Osage steer, anyhow, so I reckon I’ll let ’em have that
one. Go cut it out, Len, when we come up with the herd.”

Osages and all, they rode along. Easily, lazily, as though he knew
precisely where the animal was, Len Hersey found it, rode it out of the
herd and drove it back close to the Indian group.

“Here’s your wohaw,” he said.

The Osage chieftain smiled amiably. A bow twanged. In five minutes the
ribs of the beef were broiling on a prairie Osage fire. The dust of the
great herd of spotted cattle was lessening to the north.



                             CHAPTER XXXVII
                                ABILENE


IN THE front room of a raw board building, on which carpenters still
were laboring noisily, sat a tall man at a table, pleasantly humming a
tune to himself as he bent over his task.

In appearance he was a Viking; a very strong man, bulky, above six feet
in height, and yet lithe, easy, graceful, with perfect coördination of
physical faculties. His eye was very blue. His yellow hair was long,
like that of ancient warriors; so long that it fell in ripples on his
shoulders; and, as hair of any warrior should be, it was admirably kept.

The garb of this striking-looking man—one of the handsomest men that
ever crossed the Missouri in the days of the frontier, which is much to
say of males—was on the whole devoid of pretentiousness. His dark
clothing was ready-made, but his boots never were ready-made. He showed
the influence of the South, where a man may be slouchy in all things
save as to his feet. This man’s boots were of fine calf, closely cut to
cover a small foot. A pair of gloves lay on the table, the best of
buckskin. His hat, of the finest felt, was wide of brim and low of
crown—the hat of the upper range, distinct from the steeple-crown
Mexican sombrero.

Had the entire border been combed, a finer example of the better type of
border man could not at that time have been found than this one. In any
corner of the world his appearance would have called attention. Two or
three men sitting across from him against the wall in the hotel
office—for this building was no less than the Drovers’ Cottage of
Abilene, soon to be famous across the Western world—eyed him with
silent respect as he sat busy, humming his carefree melody. They very
well knew Wild Bill Hickok, whom rumor reported to be sought for as the
new town marshal of Abilene, first of the cow camps.

The famous marshal of Hays City—as he then was—now was engaged in the
daily task which he never neglected and never gave to hands other than
his own—that of cleaning his two heavy revolvers. No hand but his ever
had been allowed to touch one of these weapons, even in the slightest or
most friendly way. He himself never failed to examine them every
morning.

They were very long-barreled revolvers, and their owner’s artistic fancy
was indulged in them to the extent of ivory handles. The metal work was
dark. The front sight on each had been filed down low. That was just
before the day of fixed ammunition, and all revolvers still were
muzzle-loaders as to the cylinders. Under the barrel of each piece
worked a hinged ramrod, and the backs of the cylinders were indented and
tubed to permit admission of the percussion caps. They handled a large
round ball. Some of these, with the small flask of fine rifle powder,
lay on the table near at hand. With a short, well-polished round stick
of hickory, Mr. Hickok was now engaged in cleaning barrel and cylinder
so thoroughly that not a speck of dust remained. His boots and gloves
were clean; his shirt was clean; his face and hands were clean; and, be
sure, his guns were clean.

He finished his task at length, replaced each cylinder and pushed down
the pin on which it revolved. Then, with eyes narrowing and lips pursed,
he poured into each cylinder barrel an exact—very exact—charge of the
fine powder, gently jolting each charge home, and on top, with the
utmost care, seating the round ball and pushing it home with the hinged
ramrod. Each load was precisely like every other load. Then he capped
each nipple of the cylinder, held back each hammer and rolled the
cylinder with ear intent to see that the click of the lock came
absolutely even. After this he slipped the long weapons into the greased
holsters at his heavy belt. His coat tails unobtrusively covered the
equipment. He walked to the new washbasin at the new sink, cleansed and
wiped his hands on a towel not absolutely new; and so was ready for the
duties of the day, whatever these might be.

“Well, Bill, going to get somebody to-day?” one of the loafing skin
hunters against the wall guffawed, trying to be offhand, friendly and
humorous. The tall man looked at him steadily, his own face absolutely
emotionless, and made no reply at all. His dignity was that of a lion
among small animals. He was a man of few confidences and no
familiarities.

When Wild Bill Hickok stepped out into the street he saw coming across
the railroad track a stranger, a young man tall as himself, though not
so heavy of build. The newcomer was clad much like himself, in dark
clothing, with neat boots. His coat swung easily free, but to the
specialized eye of Wild Bill it covered something on either side.
Moreover, he presently noted that the young man wore his guns in an odd
way—the right-hand stock pointing back, the left-hand one pointing
forward. This peculiarity he had never seen in the equipment of any man,
cowman, gambler or professional bad man. He asked himself, if this man
should happen to be left-handed, or if he were a two-handed man, which
gun would be used first? That constituted, as Wild Bill admitted then
and there, a sort of mental problem which it might take the thousandth
of a second to decide.

There was no pretentiousness about the newcomer, more than there was
about Wild Bill Hickok. They both were simple, quiet men, low of voice,
pleasant of address. Two more typical killers did not then stand west of
the Missouri stream, although they were from widely separated countries.
The range, north and south, upper and lower, ran well-nigh two thousand
miles in its longer dimension, and covered wide variations in all types.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said the young man, advancing. “I know this is
Marshal Hickok. I am McMasters, sheriff of Gonzales County, down in
Texas.”

The blue-eyed man put out his hand readily.

“I know about you,” said he. “You are in the Rangers, too, down there.
That’s a good body of men. I reckon they need to be good.

“Well, it’s a lovely morning,” he continued. “I’ve not had a drink yet
this morning.”

They walked down the ragged street, if street it could be called,
passing over the railroad track, whose rails as yet hardly had been
burnished by any wheels; a track which ran but a few hours’ journey west
of Abilene at that time. There was a switch which would accommodate
perhaps twenty cars, some pens which would hold perhaps five hundred
head of cattle, some chutes which never yet had been used. Like all the
rest of Abilene, the yards presented an aspect of raw newness. The
residential portion of the city consisted largely of sod houses, dugouts
and canvas tents, although it did not lack unpainted pine in its more
ambitious structures. The broken expanse of high-fronted wooden
buildings along its single main street offered the appearance
conventional in the new railroad town of the frontier of the West. There
was a Golden Eagle Clothing Store; two or three offering general
merchandise. There was no drug store, but there were two barber shops
and the Twin Livery Barn. There was no church or school. But, as the
apostle of Abilene had said, there were many saloons and free
dance-halls, each in its way openly advertising its wares.

Toward the saloon of his choice—which also apparently offered
dance-hall accommodations at seasonable hours—Wild Bill bent his steps.
The interior still presented a certain dishabille. A sleepy negro was
sweeping out the corks. A barrel in a corner held empty bottles in
careless profusion. The chairs presented an order apparently not
preconcerted, and the legs of some were broken. There was no billiard
table in all Abilene, and mahogany was not yet known in any bar of
Abilene. None the less, here was a goodly plank, and back of it were
arranged shelves still holding bottles of liquid contents in spite of
the late obvious demand. The interior was not, to any imagination, howso
violent, a lovely thing to see in the ghastly light of day. The light
now was rather dim. Two or three kerosene lamps still were burning,
yellow and sickly, not devoid of fumes, which joined the other fumes.

“I usually come here for my liquor,” said Wild Bill, “because I know
Henry Doak has a barrel of real bourbon, besides what he sells. It ain’t
poison. I never go against the liquor game very hard myself.”

“It isn’t best,” said McMasters. “Still, the oldest man I ever knew told
me he’d lived so long because every morning before breakfast he took two
or three fingers of bourbon—when he could get it—and rubbed his chest
with a fresh corncob.”

“As good a way as any,” said Hickok. “A man never dies till his time
comes—and then he does.”

He was humming to himself as he searched for the bottle which suited
him.

“No three or four fingers for me,” said he. “Too much, especially if you
have got anything particular to do.”

A short gray man with white mustache and goatee shuffled in, not
vouchsafing any speech at all. He brought them glasses and motioned Bill
to a quiet corner of the room, where at the hour they found themselves
quite alone.

“Well, Mr. McMasters,” said Bill, “I am glad to see you in Abilene, and
I wish you were going to live here. It’s not just the healthiest place
for a peace officer. It maybe won’t be any healthier if the Texas herds
ever do begin to come in.”

“I know of one on the way,” said McMasters. “It will be in now almost
any day.”

Hickok nodded.

“They used to drive up the Neosho in towards Sedalia, a few years ago.
Those toughs in there used the trail men mighty rough. Dougherty,
Ellison, Hunter, McMasters, Lockhart—they were all good men that tried
to drive in there from Texas. It would have paid St. Louis to have sent
her whole police force down there and cleaned up that gang of cattle
bandits. They’ve just headed off all the Texas cattle that came up that
way.”

“Yes, I know about that pretty well,” assented Dan McMasters. “You say
McMasters. Calvin McMasters was my father. They killed him. He was a
friend of Colonel Burleson Lockhart. They killed Lockhart too. I’ve been
in there since, once or twice, on business of my own. That gang were
very largely friends of Dave Tutt.”

Their eyes met silently. Dave Tutt was a man whom Wild Bill Hickok
killed in a street duel on the public square of Springfield, Missouri,
in the presence of his friends, all of whom had threatened to kill
Hickok on sight.

“Well, those people couldn’t seem to make a living any way except by
robbing folks,” said the border man after a while. “The real brains of
that outfit was a fellow called Rudabaugh—Sim Rudabaogh. I heard that
he went South; to Austin, I think.”

“Yes, he got some sort of Northern political pull back of him I don’t
just know how. He has given us a fine example of organized
Reconstruction politics. He has put on foot the biggest plan of
wholesale cow stealing and land stealing and general highway robbery
that ever was started even in Texas.”

“Using his old trade, eh? Working large?”

“Yes. Just now he’s getting hold of all the land scrip the state ever
issued—you know Texas retained her own lands when she came in. His plan
is to get hold of about all of Texas north of the Buffalo gap, and then
to steal cows enough east of that to stock the whole Staked Plains.”

“That sounds like a pretty large order!” smiled Hickok.

“It is a large order. The man is crazy who would ever think of it. I
don’t doubt that Sim Rudabaugh is crazy—crazy with his own egotism and
his success in deeds that no sane man ever could have thought of doing.”

“Have you got any personal quarrel?” asked Hickok of him quietly.

“That word doesn’t cover it, sir! Mr. Hickok, I have said that Rudabaugh
killed my father and Colonel Lockhart. That is, I am practically sure of
it. My father was sheriff of Gonzales before they put me in. I could not
refuse. I knew I was elected to end the Rudabaugh gang.

“Quarrel? I can’t call it by so small a name. For every reason in the
world I have got to have that man dead or alive. And you’ll think I am
crazy myself,” he added, “when I tell you I want him alive. He is worth
much more to Texas alive than dead. The fact is, the whole peace of
Texas—and the whole end of the big steal in Texas—depends on my
bringing that man in, not dead but alive.”

Hickok looked at him in silence for a time.

“You have had to shoot sometimes.”

“Several times. I have made a good many arrests as sheriff in my county
and as a captain in the Rangers in other counties.”

Hickok shook his head. A light drinker, he pushed his glass aside not
much more than tasted.

“No good in making arrests. There is only one way with a man like
that—let him make his break.”

McMasters went on to explain the circumstances of Colonel Griswold’s
talk with Yellow Hand, below the Washita, giving the details of the
fight.

“We put a pretty stiff crimp into them there,” he said. “I don’t think
Rudabaugh has more than two of his best warriors with him—Baldy Collins
and Ben Estill. He got Estill at Caldwell. He’ll maybe pick up some more
recruits over toward the Missouri line. He’s been trailing our herd ever
since we started out, maybe a thousand miles and he’ll never quit if he
can help it. As I have explained to you, it has been all to his interest
to break up this herd. If word of its success got back to Texas this
season, that would end his dream of cheap land and cheap cows. All Texas
would be on its guard. You see why I want to arrest Rudabaugh. You will
see, too, I’ve got to have him alive if possible.”

“Then why do you want to see me? I’m not living in this town, though I
may later. Besides, my specialty is not taking people alive.” Wild
Bill’s forehead wrinkled in thought. “I don’t believe in arrests for
that kind of people.”

“I’m not so particular about any of those men being alive except
Rudabaugh,” replied McMasters. “I haven’t got any warrant for him, and
can’t get one, and couldn’t stop to prosecute him if I had. I couldn’t
prove that he killed any of the drovers of the old Shawnee Trail. I
don’t want to prove anything. I’ve got no warrant and no requisition
papers. All I want is to get my hands on him.

“But I can prove that he killed the two Indian women down near the
Arbuckle Mountains. There is no white jurisdiction down there, and in
Kansas it’s no crime to kill Indians. But there won’t be any habeas
corpus if he is ever brought before the court of the Comanches. That’s
the court I want! That’s what Griswold wants, and he wants that because
it means peace with the Comanches. Don’t you see? It means that they’ll
come in out of Texas and go on their reservation. That will open up
everything. There’ll be any number of cattle cross at Doan’s Store, and
even further west, as quick as the drovers know it is safe against the
Comanches, in further west than where this herd crossed the Red.

“So you see, Mr. Hickok, just why I want Sim Rudabaugh alive. That’s why
I came to Abilene. I heard you were here, and I thought maybe
Rudabaugh’d come here. If you don’t mean the law here, there’s going to
be no law in Abilene.”

Hickok sat for a time in silence.

“Well,” said he at length, “I suppose I am generally intended to keep
the peace. If I help you to get Rudabaugh in Kansas I am helping keep
the peace in Kansas. And if they want me for town marshal here maybe I’d
better give them a sample of the goods. Every town marshal in the world
ought to help a Texas Ranger.

“But listen, friend,” he continued; “when two men go into a business of
this kind each puts his life in the other man’s hands. Mostly I’d rather
risk my life in my own hands. Are you a married man?”

“No, sir.”

“Are you a good shot with a revolver?”

“Yes, sir.”

Hickok rose lazily, leaving the liquor in his glass.

“Let’s take a walk out of doors,” he said.

They stepped to the front of the saloon and stood looking up and down
the street. Some forty yards away a sign hung out over the walk: “Dance
Hall and Saloon.”

“I’ll take the right-hand O,” said Hickok quietly.

With the ease of great practice and native genius—and all the Army men
rated Hickok as the best shot with rifle or revolver that the West ever
saw—he raised one of his weapons to a high level and fired the six
shots of the single-action piece with unspeakable rapidity. He carefully
returned the gun to its place. He did not look at the sign. He knew!

“That’s fine work, sir,” said Dan McMasters with undisguised enthusiasm.
“Your reputation is deserved. Quite often I doubt a man’s reputation as
a shot until I see him shoot.”

“How about your own?” demanded Hickok. “I myself never shoot in public.
I don’t want anybody to know how I shoot.”

“Nor I. My reputation? I haven’t any this far north.”

“Well, there’s the left-hand O. Can you see the one I shot?”

“Perfectly,” smiled McMasters.

“You’ve a good eye. Can you hit it one time out of six?”

“I can hit it six times out of six, sir.”

“You think so?”

“I don’t think so—I know it.”

“Cut loose!” said Bill succinctly.

For an instant McMasters stood facing his mark, both hands poised above
his heavy guns after his invariable fashion, which had swiftly become a
tradition on the lower range. Hickok did not really see which gun he
chose, his own eye for the time being fixed on the signboard. But a gun
did rise in Dan McMasters’ right hand. And once more, with perfect
spacing, came six reports.

By this time a crowd had poured out in the streets. Men were at their
heels as the two walked close to the signboard. Wild Bill saw the six
bullets grouped close, splintering one into the other at times, not one
touching the outer rim of black.

His own eyes narrowed. He looked curiously, studiously, at the face of
the first man he had ever been obliged to credit with pistol work
approaching his own. The face had changed. It had not lost its
concentration. It was a mask, expressionless. Hickok studied the mask
for a moment. He saw in it his own face also. He put a hand on
McMasters’ shoulder.

The two turned down the street, Hickok flinging back his long yellow
hair in a gesture habitual with him.

“Take a good look at the work on them two signs, men,” said he,
accosting the curious followers. “You ain’t apt to see better. This man
and I are going to see peace and quiet in Abilene. He’s my friend and my
deputy.

“I didn’t think the man lived that could do it,” said he to McMasters as
they walked away together. “Your six are bunched as good as mine, and
your time is perfect. Come on down to the Cottage and let’s sit around
for a while.

“Hello, what’s that?” he added. A group of men was coming up at a fast
gait from the southern edge of the town. Among them was one, apparently
a leader, whose rapid discourse occasionally was broken by wild whoops.
“Who’s that?” laughed Hickok. “Some more wild men from down the trail?”

In effect, it was Mr. McCoyne, explaining to the citizens of Abilene
that beyond a peradventure he had met and traveled with an actual herd
of cattle, actually bound for Abilene. Moreover, the said herd was then
and there camped just below the Solomon, within easy reach of town.

This certainly was news of interest to McMasters as well as to Wild Bill
Hickok. McCoyne was too much excited to identify any one, did not
remember McMasters, whom he had not recently seen and never had known
well.

“Listen, men!” he shouted. “We’ve got to have a celebration. Get all the
Eastern men together. Go see if our new band is sober enough to play any
sort of tune. Get ’em down on the portico at the Drovers’ Cottage in an
hour or so. When I bring the herd into town, and we get right opposite
the Cottage, tell ’em to strike up. We’ve got to show these people what
a real live town is.

“Now, come on,” he resumed. “I own a interest in the Spread Eagle
Saloon”—it chanced to be the one whose sign had served for a target
just now, later a matter of much pride to the owner—“but I’m going to
change the name to Lone Star. Come on and have a drink with McCoyne,
president of the Abilene Stockyards!”

By magic, from their tents and dugouts, their sod huts and log hovels
and their residences of raw pine board, the men of Abilene
assembled—border men, skin hunters, loafers, gamblers, thieves,
citizens and aliens, merchants and cattle buyers; a throng sufficiently
motley for a total population of a very hundred. They crowded into the
saloon, formed an overflow meeting upon the outside; primitive men in a
primitive day.

Around this primitive scene stretched a wide and primitive world. The
blue sky, flecked with fleecy clouds, bent over an endless sea of
grasses growing to the very edge of Abilene. The flowers nodded and
beckoned in the gentle wind. Not a furrow of plow was there. These rude
men of Abilene were forerunners of an inland empire soon to come but not
yet over the horizon.

Hickok and McMasters did not go beyond the edge of the crowd. The former
seemed now, as so often he was, absorbed in the sheer beauty of the
prairies.

“It’s pretty,” said he, waving his hand. “I hate to think of its
changing.” A tinge of his occasional melancholy fell upon him. “Of
course, it will change and change fast,” said he. “Well, I was a part of
this.”

Without affectation, he spoke in the past tense. There never was a
killer who gave himself a long life.

Inside the saloon, mounted on a chair, McCoyne, president of the Abilene
Stockyards, was addressing the multitude.

“They’re a strange-looking people, them Texans,” he was saying. “They’ve
got no wagons; only some carts, each with two yoke of oxen. There ain’t
a whole pair of breeches in the outfit, nor a decent hat. Every morning
when a fellow wants a horse, where his rope lands, that’s his—and he
has to ride to stay with it. They can ride any horse in the world.
They’ve got a fighting chicken on top of one cart and they say they’ll
bet the herd on that rooster—and here us folks ain’t got a single one
in Abilene! They’ll bet anything you like they’ve got the fastest horses
in Kansas. They say they’ve got a man they’ll back in a shooting match
against anybody in the world.”

“They must mean Wild Bill,” said a voice.

“No, his name is McMasters—Dan McMasters. But he ain’t with them now.
Besides that, they got something else; you can’t guess. They’ve got a
woman!”

“Aw, go on!” A voice.

“Yes, they have. Young woman, too, and prettier’n any picture you ever
saw in a frame. She owns all the herd. She’s rich as she is pretty. Her
name’s Lockhart, Miss Lockhart from Caldwell, County, Texas, but not
Caldwell, Kansas, gentlemen. She owns the Del Sol ranch down there. They
raised this whole herd on that ranch; or anyhow that’s what they say.
Men, here’s to Miss Anastasie Lockhart, the finest girl in the world and
the first one up the Texas trail!”

Two men of the crowd who had been listening quietly stepped out at the
door, looking at one another but not speaking. They passed close at
hand; the future town marshal of Abilene and his deputy.

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._      _North of 36._
 RUDABAUGH (NOAH BEERY) AND DAN McMASTERS (JACK HOLT).]



                            CHAPTER XXXVIII
                             ALAMO ARRIVES


FOR the last two hundred miles of the long trail up from Texas, life
was less eventful for the Del Sol men. The cattle now were shaken down
to the daily routine of marching and gave little or no trouble. They
took the smaller streams almost in their stride; and as to the last
large waterway, no problem of note existed, for at the Arkansas River,
the trail maker, Jesse Chisholm, again had provided passage in the scow
he had left moored not far from Wichita after it had served his own
purposes. It was merely a procession north of the Arkansas to Abilene,
across beautifully undulating country whose attractiveness would have
been hard to match in all America.

Arrived now at the Solomon River, however, almost at the environs of
Abilene, they found that civilization had prepared a bridge—the first
and only bridge of the entire journey of perhaps a thousand miles. It
was a structure of raw pine, well meant enough, but done by men in
ignorance of the actual nature of Texas steers. It served well enough
for the carts, but the herd would have none of it and insisted on
swimming, as they had crossed so many other streams. It was after they
had crossed that, yielding to the supplications of McCoyne, a halt was
called until the latter could go into town and complete certain
arrangements of his own. He asked Nabours to bring on the herd later.

For some anxious moments the apostle of Abilene stood in the street
looking southward. At last he waved his hat.

“Here they come!” he cried.

Tears ran down his face, perhaps alcoholic tears, but not unworthy, and
pulled up in his straggly beard. He had verified his prediction. Here
came the cows!

A cloud of dust approached, blown by the prairie wind. By and by the men
could see the heads of the herd advancing steadily, a mingling sea of
longhorns in a procession interminably long. The word passed now and
even the saloons were emptied. All Abilene came to see and welcome the
first herd up the trail. It seemed a large event to them. Not a man of
them, not the wildest dreamer of them all, ever guessed that it was the
opening of one of the greatest epochs in American history. Men even
would have scoffed at the assertion that thirty-five thousand cattle
would reach Abilene that year, seventy-five thousand the year following;
that soon the state of Texas would be trailing north over a million head
a year.

Ahead and alongside, mounted on wiry little horses, rode men ragged,
coatless, long of hair, bearded; tall men, sinewy, insouciant. The
saddles of these men had double girths, wide low horns and deep leather
flaps hanging low over the feet of the riders. Each man had a thin hide
reata coiled at his saddle horn. Each man wore a heavy belt at which
hung a heavy revolver, and a few carried rifles under their legs. They
came easily, steadily, ahead, their own eyes full of wonder but not of
fear.

Well to the front and paralleling the column to windward came the great
wheeled carts with white tops, each drawn by two yoke of oxen. On the
front seat of one sat a black woman, with a long musket across her lap.
Upon yet another was an old woman, dark, wrinkled of face, attending
strictly to her own business.

The tilt flaps of the lead cart were closed. The cattle which drew it
followed the horseman who rode just ahead—an old man, of face also dark
and wrinkled, who wore a very tall conical sombrero, the first of the
like ever seen in Abilene, the only one of all his company. His cotton
clothing was meager, he himself was meager, his horse was meager. Upon
his saddle horn there was perched what proved to be a bird whose plumage
bore a luster of its own; a bird somewhat battered and bedraggled, with
certain feathers of wing and tail missing and a crest somewhat torn and
dragging; which none the less raised its head from time to time and
emitted a loud and defiant crow. At times Sanchez ran a thin brown hand
over Gallina, his sole surviving fighting cock.

Back of this cart marched, saddled and bridled, a singular horse,
beautiful of head and crest, its dark yellow body coat broken by white
markings, a broad band of white from side to side across its hips.

In the vanguard of the herd proper marched a great gaunt steer, a giant
in stature, long of limb and wide of horn, a yellow dun in color. It now
was coming on with a rapid sidewise shuffle, not dissimilar to the fox
trot of a Southern riding horse, alertly looking from side to side. Back
of him the wide sea of other longhorns showed, tossing in the dust. It
might all have been some circus caravan, so wholly out of human
experience it all seemed to the observers.

At the points of the herd rode two stalwart men, one at either side, men
who never looked at one another. Back of them at long intervals, every
four or five hundred cattle, came the swing men; and at last the dust of
the drag—the weak, the maimed and the halt. Back of these yet again
showed the darker colors of the remuda—some scores of horses easily
handled by a ragged, thin-shouldered, tallow-faced boy, who wore the
only pair of _chaparajos_ in the company, for sake of trousers no longer
fit to see.

In all their lives these Texas cattle never had seen a town even so
great as embryonic Abilene. It took a quarter of an hour to get them to
enter the cross street. As McCoyne had admitted that the new corrals
would hold only a fraction of the cattle, it was the new intention to
drive through the town and hold the herd a mile or two to the north;
Nabours himself assenting thus much to the idea of a triumphal entry
merely to oblige his guide. He rode back to the lead cart and leaned
over.

“For God’s sake, Miss Taisie, get on Blancocito and ride in front, why
don’t you? Get on your own horse and ride in front of your own cows.”

But Taisie was not for triumphal entry. She stood out for closed
curtains on her cart. Through a narrow crack she gazed out. There were
countless men, but not a single woman.

Once headed for the cross street and crowned up by the riders, the head
of the herd, with much clacking of horns and cracking of hoofs, advanced
until it came opposite the gallery of the Drovers’ Cottage. Now came
climax in welcome. Here the town band of Abilene lay in ambush.

Came a sudden blare of brass—a cataclysmic thing in its results,
generously intended and not lacking precedent in welcomes, but failing
in all understanding of a herd of Texas cattle.

Probably each musician was playing the air which pleased him best. It
made no difference. With one tremendous rush and roar the herd surged,
broke, ran. The wildly rolling tails betokened one of the sharpest
stampedes of the entire trail. Simultaneously the great majority of the
saddle ponies began efforts to disencumber themselves of their riders,
in whom they now apparently had lost all confidence. Had the population
of Abilene sought a circus, they needed now no more than to look about
them.

The band played on, as those having engaged in an undertaking which they
did not like to discontinue. But they played on to an empty house. The
Del Sol herd was gone!

The riders leaned once more into the work, headed by Nabours, profoundly
cursing all brass bands, in a run the worst they had seen, even in their
abundant experience. The men of Abilene had the first and finest
opportunity of their lives to see a herd of wild Texas cattle handled as
no men other than these could have done the work. Even for these it took
time and distance.

The sudden burst of melody had left the cattle without concertedness.
They broke into different bands, even deserting their vanguard. Of the
latter, old Alamo, the giant steer that had paced the herd for a
thousand miles, alone held to the proper course. Alamo laid back his
horns and raised his muzzle like some wild elk. He dashed past the mob,
past the band at the Drovers’ Cottage, past everything of Abilene except
the railroad and the stockyards.

“Pore old Alamo!” said Jim Nabours later. “He shore knowed which way was
north, but he didn’t seem to know nothing else.”

The head of old Alamo with its immense sweep of horns in later years
long was known in the general freight office of a Western railroad,
where, had he then retained his faculties, he might at every hour of the
day and night have noted sight and sound of railway activities. But at
the time then current, Alamo had never seen a bit of railroad iron in
all his life. Perhaps to his startled gaze the two twisting lines of
steel were two giant snakes. In any event, Alamo swerved suddenly,
trying to evade them. His hard hoofs slipped on the metals and he fell.
His right foreleg, doubled under him, snapped below the knee under his
own weight and that of two other steers which had made bold to follow
him. So there he lay, much like other figures in completed destiny.

Engaged in opposite directions, not many of the men of Abilene or of Del
Sol noted what happened. There came out of the dust, spurring forward,
only one slim ragged rider—who even had left his beloved horses—the
boy Cinquo Centavos who, so it seemed, had some sort of admiration and
understanding of the lead steer of Del Sol.

Excited, tears streaming down his dusty face as always in his moments of
tension, Cinquo spurred up to the railroad track and sprang down where
the great steer lay struggling. His was the first rope that ever sang in
Abilene streets. It caught the great steer over the horns and laid him
flat, the pony setting back even as his rider left the saddle.

“Oh, Alamo!” wept Cinquo, seating himself on the steer’s muzzle to quiet
his plunging. “You done busted that laig plumb off!”

“Now, ain’t that too bad!” said one of the more sober musicians, who now
strolled over from the Drovers’ Cottage.

“Here, you!” commanded Cinquo. “You go back to that cart where the
nigger woman is at and get her to give you the hide of that yearlin’ we
killed yesterday.

“Gentlemen,” continued Cinquo, drawing himself up to his full height,
after he had the victim properly strung out, “this may be a cow town,
but you-all don’t know nothing about cows. Now look at that! Just
because it’s Fourth of July, you think you got any right to bust the
best damn steer that ever come out of Texas?”

Alamo and Cinquo were to take the first curtain call. The boy was no
theorist. Under his direction they brought him some pieces of barrel
staves. Around these he wound again and again strips of the green hide,
stretching it tight—perhaps the first surgery on a Texas steer, if not
the last, ever known on the long trail up from the Southern lands.

“Rawhide,” explained Cinquo to the gathering group, “is the holdin’est
thing there is. Once that dries, that steer’s laig will be a lot
better’n new—if it don’t dry too tight. Is them the pens over yon?” he
continued. “Well, swing a pole acrost the sides of the chute. Some of
you-all go and git some grass or hay. We’ll make a belly-band o’ the
rest of the hide and swing him up offen the ground so it won’t hurt his
sore laig.

“This here steer’s name is Alamo,” he explained to his audience. “He’s
the onliest Texas cow or horse I ever knowed to have a name. But he
started through. What us Texans starts we finishes. Git back now and
leave me if he can stand up.”

Old Alamo, relieved of rope and with no weight on his neck, proved his
mettle by springing to his feet as though nothing had happened, and only
the strange feeling in his foreleg prevented his charging the crowd as
an evidence of good faith. But Cinquo impressed Sanchez, who was visible
coming up, and Alamo yielded to the force of numbers and of skill. A man
flung open the gate of the Abilene Stockyards. Alamo entered in.

“He’s one game steer,” said McCoyne, when later he found him there in
place, in solitary grandeur. “If five hundred dollars will buy that
steer he’s mine right now, and I’ll keep him as long as he lives. Hurrah
for old Alamo, the first steer up the trail! Strike up some more music
again, fellows; he can’t get away now. Show my friends from Texas what a
Fourth of July can be in Abilene.”

But a certain thought came to the mind of Mr. McCoyne upon the instant.

“We’ve forgot about that young lady in the cart,” said he. “Anyhow, she
ain’t stampeded. I told you we had a woman along, and now I’ll prove it.
Come on, men, march in front and play your damnedest. I’m going to fetch
her up to the Cottage.”

The landlord and manager of the Drovers’ Cottage was an Eastern man
imported for this special purpose of running a hostelry devoted to trail
men, and now on his trial trip. His name—which so far as he is
concerned is of no consequence—was Gore. His wife’s name, which for
years was of very great consequence in all Kansas, was Lou Gore. A
portly woman she was, with a heart as large as that of any ox that ever
came up the trail. Of Lou Gore’s countless acts of charity, of her
unceasing ministrations to the ill and the afflicted, the wounded and
the impoverished men of the old trail, history has written all too
little. She was known sometimes as the Mother of Abilene, sometimes as
the Mother of Kansas; more often as the Mother of the Cowboys.

As yet Lou Gore had small acquaintance of those mad scenes which so soon
were to become a regular experience with her. But now the carpenters had
her new hotel almost completed, nearly ready for occupancy. Somewhat
flustered that she had not quite finished sweeping out after the
carpenters, not quite put up all her curtains—for curtains she insisted
upon at the cottage—the landlady of that edifice came to the front door
in time to see some of the incidents above recorded. Therefore, duly, as
she hid her hands under her apron, she heard the reassembled musicians
once more essaying sweet sounds, saw the procession of pedestrians
advancing toward her door.

And then Lou Gore saw, after a second and more careful look, what she
had not expected to see—a tall and beautiful young girl, an
astonishingly and strikingly beautiful young girl, who now for the first
time parted the curtains of her conveyance and sprang lightly to the
ground.

Taisie Lockhart, in men’s clothing—a thing then almost equivocal for a
woman—stood looking about her as though about to fly. She seemed so
much alone, so helpless, so appealing, that the only other real woman of
Abilene ran to her and took her into her hospitable arms.

“Why, you poor dear!” said she. “You poor dear! You’re a girl, ain’t
you! Of course, I knew! Now you come right on in!”

So Taisie Lockhart, the first woman ever to cross the doorstep of the
Drovers’ Cottage, with the exception of Lou Gore herself, came right on
in. And as she passed the door and started toward the hall which opened
from the front-office room she saw standing before her the man she had
hoped and feared she would never see again—Dan McMasters.



                             CHAPTER XXXIX
                               THE WOMAN


ON the flat prairie, whose solid turf offered good footing to the
ponies, the Del Sol riders, cursing their luck, finished rounding up
their stampeded cattle.

“I’m willing to admit there is such a place as Aberlene now,” grumbled
Nabours, “but it ain’t inhabitated by no human beings. This here idea of
meeting a herd of cows with a brass band ain’t no ways according to no
kind of Hoyle.”

“I ain’t taking no more chances about going through town,” he added.
“We’ll throw them around the town and stop about three mile north. Ef
anybody wants to see them cows they’ve got to come out there to our
camp, and not bring no brass band neither.”

Wherefore, with exception of the few head already penned in the Abilene
Stockyards, the Del Sol herd circumvented Abilene and all its
attractions, and finally turned out on good grazing ground north of
town. When at length the cattle were quiet and grazing the men pulled up
with a feeling of vast relief, which each expressed in his own way.

“Well, boys,” said the trail boss to those nearest him, “here’s where we
lean our saddles on the ground for a while. Tell Buck to pitch about
here. The other cart’ll likely stay in town.”

It was the last camp at the end of the road, farthest north for any
Texan longhorn at that hour. The long days and nights of trail work now
were over.

Anita helped the cook to unload the cart which nominally was his,
although he rarely had driven it. Strange and complex seemed the cargo
as it was heaped up on the prairie. The three saddles of the lost men,
their bridles and others; bed rolls and saddle blankets, kettles, pots
and pans; ox yokes and trace chains; spurs, hair ropes and hide reatas;
collapsed sacks of meal and flour and beans; some slabs of side meat, a
mess box and a coffee mill, sections of several dried rawhides—all
mingling with the meager war bags of a score of men. There were even a
pair of horns of giant size, detached from the head of an aged steer
whose neck had not proven able to withstand the pull of two reatas when
it was attempted to haul him out of a quicksand crossing where he had
bogged down. Len Hersey had chopped them off and put them in the cart,
declaring that he wanted them for a “soo-vee-ner.”

“We got all the comforts o’ home now,” remarked that insouciant soul as
he rode by. “Maybe I kin trade them horns fer a shirt.”

Nabours waited until he saw the cattle well scattered and disposed to
feed, and until he saw the dust of the remuda coming in at a run, Cinquo
Centavos and Sanchez by this time having completed their surgery on
Alamo. He straightened in his saddle and drew tighter his belt, pushing
his hat back on his furrowed forehead. Even now the burden of his
responsibility was on his shoulders, and would be until the herd was
sold; and the proximity of town brought certain problems.

“Del”—he turned to his point man, whom he found seated on the ground
engaged in wiping and reloading his revolver—“you ride on down to the
hotel and tell Miss Taisie I want her to stay in town to-night at the
hotel. She’ll be safe with Milly along. The rest of us will come in when
we can; maybe some to-night. This is the Fourth of July by the almanac,
but there ain’t going to be no Fourth of July so long as there is any
chance of this here bunch of cows taking another run; and, of course, we
can’t tell just when we’ll make any kind of sale.”

Some of the men were disposed to grumble at the restriction of their
range liberties, but the trail boss remained firm. Del Williams, quiet
as usual, mounted and rode off toward town. He looked over his shoulder
as he rode off alone toward the town, whose smoke was distinguishable
across the prairies. Most of the other men were off at edges of the
herd, all of them intent on gentling them down, with the exception of
one.

Cal Dalhart knew that an agreed truce now had terminated. Up to this
time both he and Williams had stood by their promise to let their
quarrel wait until they had reached Abilene; and, truth to say, both
scrupulously had refrained from word or act of hostility till now. But
at the suspicion that his rival intended to forestall him, the pent-up
wrath of Dalhart blazed high upon the instant. Without asking consent of
any one he spurred out from his own place on the herd a quarter of a
mile away. Nabours saw him, but could not or did not attempt to call him
back. He shook his head; a sense of impending trouble came to him.

“Who was that man rid off yan just now, boy?” Dalhart demanded of Buck
the cook.

“Who dat? Why dat’s Mister Del. He rid pint wif you all summer—you doan
know him?”

Dalhart spurred off, but did not overtake his man outside the town
limits. He saw Williams’ horse standing with the reins down in front of
the door of the Drovers’ Cottage, near to Taisie’s cart; a sight which
filled him with rage. A few moments later he himself flung off and also
entered.

Williams had found the office room empty. Hearing voices, as he thought
on the floor above, he passed upstairs, ignorant of the ways of hotels
and looking for some one who might tell him where he might find Miss
Taisie Lockhart.

He exulted in the success of their experiment as though the herd were
all his own. His eyes were filled with a glorious picture. In fancy he
saw her triumphant, as though swimming upon a cloud, radiant, scarce
touching the earth. He had seen her thus in camp a hundred times,
himself standing apart, distant, hungrily regarding. No actual interview
between them had taken place since they had left the home ranch of Del
Sol. He never had declared himself actually, never had spoken a word of
his love. She had seemed always a divinity too far off for his
aspirations. But now he was about to see her. He swore now he would
touch her hand, would stand face to face with her alone. The thought of
this was too much for Del Williams. Suddenly he began to tremble in his
fear of her and his great and terrible love for her, as reverent and as
loyal as any love man ever bore a woman. His courage left him. His limbs
grew weak. Seeking a temporary truce with the situation, he turned into
one of the little rooms which made off from the narrow hall and seated
himself upon the bed, intending to pull himself together before he
sought her further.

Dalhart, following up his quarry, also found the office empty. Hearing
footfalls on the floor above, he also ran up the stair, looking for the
man whom he knew to be somewhere in the house—the hotel was not yet
really fully open for business. He found himself also in the upper hall,
a long Marathon course between rows of doors all just alike, leading
into rooms all just alike, all furnished just alike and each divided
from the others by a shackling raw board partition, of ceiling loosely
tongued and grooved. In each room was a single chair, a single washbowl,
a single towel, a single bar of soap, a single coat hook on the back of
the door. In each room sat a single bed, in each precisely at the same
place—against the partition near the single window and facing the
single door. Hotel making and hotel keeping still were in their infancy
in Kansas.

Seeing no one in the hall, and still seeking for the sound he had heard,
Dalhart, moody and blood mad—a more ruthless and dangerous man than
Williams—entered one of these rooms to peer about. He found no one,
flung himself down upon the bed. He leaned against the partition,
causing it to rock somewhat.

Del Williams heard him but did not know who he was. He sat up,
listening, his hand on his revolver, for a situation of doubt was
usually one of danger in that border country.

The two men now were but a few yards apart, though separated by three of
the thin board partitions.

Dalhart called aloud, “You Williams! Where are you? You are hiding, you
damned sneak! Come on out if you dare!”

Williams heard his call. He rose eagerly to meet the challenge, fear of
any man unknown in his heart, his weapon in his hand ready to meet this
man. A swift thought came to him that he had been riding hard, so that
the caps on the cylinder tubes might have become disengaged. He pulled
up the revolver and overran the cylinder rapidly to see that the piece
was in perfect order, as now it needed to be.

Dalhart heard the movement somewhere beyond him. He stepped to his own
door just as Williams was about to emerge at his. Then came a report.
Immediately upon it came a grunt or groan, the fall of the body of a man
upon the floor.

Del Williams was himself in a flash. He fully had intended to shoot
Dalhart deliberately. Now he had shot him practically by accident. The
barrel, which happened to be just at the level of the man’s body as
Williams whirled the cylinder, discharged the heavy ball as fatally as
though by intent. The hammer must have been hit with his thumb. He never
knew how it happened; no man ever does know how these things happen. The
bullet pierced one partition after another. It had force enough left,
driven by the heavy charge of fine rifle powder, to penetrate also the
chest wall of a man’s body.

Dalhart fell, nor was it given to him to see the man who had killed him.
If ever he heard the running feet of that man, or saw his glance cast
into the room as he ran, no one ever could tell. He was dead the instant
after the ball struck him.

A man met Williams in the front room, at the foot of the stair.

“What was that?” he demanded. “Who shot?”

Williams smiled.

“I reckon some fellow up there must have let off his gun by mistake.
Maybe he has got too much liquor on board. Leave him go; he won’t hurt
nobody.”

He passed out deliberately; deliberately gathered the reins of his
horse; deliberately swung into the saddle and turned down the street.

Dan McMasters and Wild Bill Hickok, a block away, both had heard the
sound of the shot and were walking toward the door.

“How are you, Del!” called McMasters. “I’m glad you got through all
right.”

Del Williams stopped, leaned over and shook hands with McMasters, whom
he had not seen north of the Washita crossing.

“Why, everything’s fine,” said he. “We’re holding the herd about three
miles north. Come on out and see us. So long. I got to be going now.”

He waved his hand, passed on at a gentle trot.

But Del Williams did not hold his trot. He did not ride to a saloon,
neither did he swing northward out of town to join the herd. To the
contrary, he jerked his horse’s head around to the south, sunk home the
spurs and left town, heading south, as fast as a good cow horse could
carry him.

Many men saw him cross the town of Abilene at speed, but a cowman on a
running horse was no new sight on that busy day. Liquor was flowing at
every bar. Del Williams, coatless, penniless, ragged, bearded, unkempt,
not a dollar in a pocket and without a morsel of food, had no one to say
him nay as he headed back down the long trail which just now had found
its end. Plenty of men remembered how he looked. But no man, friend or
stranger, ever looked on him again in that part of the world. He
disappeared as though some quicksand had engulfed him.

So passed poor Del Williams, as good a cowman as ever crossed the Red
River. Poor Del Williams, for after all he had not seen the face of the
woman whom he adored, had not touched her hand, had never spoken to her
a word of the love he had given her since his own boyhood. He knew that
a murderer might never look into her face. True, he knew that the record
of the shot, piercing the several partitions, would have been a perfect
alibi as an accidental case of homicide. But he knew also that he had
been a murderer in his heart. So he never looked into Taisie Lockhart’s
eyes and never touched her hand at all. And to this day no man knows
what ever became of Del Williams, for no word ever came back from him.
Perhaps he got into Old Mexico; perhaps he disappeared somewhere in the
Indian Nations; perhaps he lived to old age and perhaps he did not live
twenty-four hours.

Dan McMasters and Wild Bill Hickok, quasi officers of the law, after
their hurried investigation, looked one into the other’s eyes and agreed
that it would have been absolutely impossible for a man to kill another
man in that way except by accident. In that case, and in Abilene at that
time, there remained no need to question the killer or to pursue him.
Neither of them asked or mentioned the name of the rider heading south,
and if either had a suspicion, neither voiced it.



                               CHAPTER XL
                         MR. RUDABAUGH APPEARS


LEN Hersey, one of the swing men, condescended to converse with Cinquo
Centavos, the fourteen-year-old horse herder. They sat their horses in
the sunshine, watching the distant herd contentedly grazing. The wind
was very soft and the sky very blue. Life would have been a pleasant
thing for them both had they not been so close to town. They planned
metropolitan conquest, both of them.

“I want to take a ride on the railroad kyars afore I go back home,”
resumed Cinquo. “If I didn’t, my folks wouldn’t think I wasn’t much
noways.”

“Them kyars probably don’t go nowheres near where you live at,” replied
Len. “I don’t feel like taking no chances. Ef I am on a horse I’m all
right; but ef a man’s on the kyars, where is he?

“If you was in town what would you advise fer to buy first, Cinquo?” he
continued.

“Some onions and some fried potatoes and pie first, I reckon,” replied
the boy. “Then some ammernition. Then maybe I’d get my hair cut. I had
orter have some new pants. I mean ef I had any money.”

“And then a shave?”

The boy blushed red.

“I reckon I can get shaves if I pay the man,” said he, “and I reckon I
am going to have plenty of money afore long. What’re you going to do?”

“Fust thing I am going to do when I get to town,” replied Len, “I am
going to get a drink.”

“Then what?”

His companion gazed in deep thought.

“Then I think I’ll get another drink. Fur as I can see now, that’s about
how I’m going to perceed. Of course, I may take both drinks at oncet. I
can take other things under advisement, as the justice of the peace
said. Maybe I would buy me a new pair pants; maybe I’d work around to
the barber atter a while. When I got fixed up I might go and see what
kind o’ dancin’ was in this town. Oh, yes! I did fergit about my shirt.
I may buy me a shirt—ef there’s any kind of monte played in Aberlene.”

They both saw approaching across the prairies to the eastward a
low-lying cloud of smoke. It was the first railroad train either of them
had ever seen. They became very much excited.

“Look at her come!” said Cinquo. “Bet I ain’t skeered to ride on that
thing! Now you see!”

“You’re a long ways off when you say it!” scoffed Len Hersey. “She’s
goin’ to look a heap bigger and dangerouser, clost up. I bet we’d have
to blindfold you and put two ropes on you afore we could put you on that
there train, and then you’d be so skeered you’d shake your spurs off.”

“I ain’t got no more shakes than what you have,” said the boy. “You
ain’t saw any more railroad kyars than what I have. But I don’t reckon
I’ll go to town untel we sell our cows.”

“Nor me,” nodded Len. “But did you ever see such a town like this here
one, now? They don’t savvy dobe none, it seems like; they don’t dry no
mud; they just cut slabs of grass roots and build ’em up into a house,
and put on a dirt roof. I looked inside of one as I rid by. It was lined
with red caliker, walls and ceilings; no gypsum to white it up, nor
nothing. Yet humans was livin’ in it. They live in them dugouts,
too—just push a hole back into a bank an’ crawl in atter the hole like
badgers. An’ there ain’t no trees; an’ when they do have trees, hain’t
no moss on ’em. I ain’t saw a cactus nowheres, an’ as fer mesquite, I’m
a notion to ride into one o’ these plum thickets an’ stick some plum
thorns in my laigs, so’s’t a feller kin feel more nache’l.”

Meantime the continuous shriek of the locomotive whistle had brought to
the station practically the entire population of the city of Abilene. It
was a great day—a trail herd and a railroad train all in one day.

From the four coaches which made up the train there now descended an
astonishing number of men, comprising all sorts and conditions of
humanity. Some obviously were Eastern, and as many bore the imprint of
the border. All of them pushed on toward the head of the train. There
was no station building. The Drovers’ Cottage stood then for all of
Abilene, and in that general direction the newcomers made their way. The
ubiquitous McCoyne was first to greet them.

“Right this way, gentlemen!” said he. “Let me lead you to our hotel, the
finest in the West. Welcome to Abilene, my friends! Yonder is the
stockyards. I suppose some of you are looking after cattle. There is
some in there now, and there is three thousand more right north of town.
If you’re looking for cattle, we’ve got them and don’t you never doubt
it! Gentlemen, you certainly have come to the right place. Boys, where’s
the band?”

With some sort of instinct of his own McCoyne more especially addressed
a quiet-looking sandy-bearded man in dark clothing, who seemed to be a
man of distinct purposes and direct methods in life.

“How’d you like to ride out this evening and see our herd? They’ve just
got in from Texas this morning.”

The stranger made a noncommittal reply to the effect that he was hungry.
The crowd of newcomers began to disintegrate. Men looked after their
hand bags, their rifles. Picturesque, certainly, was the personnel of
every westbound train in Kansas at that time, when the head of steel was
but little beyond the boom town of Abilene, first cow camp of Kansas.

Hickok and McMasters stood near the door of the Drovers’ Cottage,
looking at the stirring and curious scene before them. The man of the
Northern border was quiet after his fashion, moody. He turned suddenly
to Dan McMasters.

“Look at them come!” he said. “Next year they’ll be here in thousands;
and there’ll be cattle here in thousands too.”

McMasters nodded. The older man went on:

“Let me give you some advice. There is going to be big money in raising
and selling cattle right up in this country; more money than there will
be in trailing them north and selling at the road. If you’ll listen to
me, you’ll get some land of your own up here. I’ll tell you where you
can get a ranch, and a good one, over on the Smoky Hill, with all
outdoors for your pasture. Put some cows on there. They’ll get fatter
here than they ever will in Texas, though you don’t believe it. I’ve
seen cattle up here, around the Army posts—and fat too. There’s no
money in selling thin cattle. You’ll find that out if you keep at it.
I’ve lived up here, north of the tick line, longer than you have.”

McMasters nodded.

“I’ve been studying this country now for quite a while,” said he. “I’ve
seen some wintered cattle up in here, and as you say they were heavier.
There’s a lot to be learned by Texas men. They don’t know that there is
any world north of thirty-six. They’re still fighting the war, down in
my state.”

“Huh! Well, this trial outlet for your cattle’ll end the war quicker
than all your speech makers ever will.

“Of course,” he continued, “if you settle down to ranching you’ve got to
get married some time. It’s a hard life for a woman here on the front,
with the Indians not so far away. They tell me you have brought a young
woman up here with this herd. I haven’t seen her. Lou Gore took her in
charge and I’ll bet she’ll keep her close. She’s young? She can ride?
Why don’t you marry her and settle down up here?”

He laughed at his conceit.

“You can bring up cattle from below as fast as you need more stock.
Marry and settle down, son, and go into the sheriff business up here.
I’ll give you my recommendation that you’re the best pistol shot I ever
saw, unless it’s myself, and I’m not any too damn sure of that last.

“I’d bring Agnes out here if I was in a little different line of work
myself,” he added. “That’s my wife.”

No man ever heard him speak in other but terms of gentleness of the
woman who had married him, knowing what he was.

“I have got to finish my work first before I can settle down,” said Dan
McMasters, almost as sad and moody as his companion here—indeed,
singularly like to him.

Suddenly he touched the arm of Wild Bill, spoke in a low voice.

“Look!” said he, “Don’t move! There’s our man! That’s Rudabaugh down
there by the last car! So that’s the way he took to get here!”

“Yes,” smiled Hickok, only amusement on his face. “He’s got here too
late to stop that herd from making Abilene.”

“Yes; but he got here at just the right time, for all that!”

McMasters’ face was cold. The mask of expressionlessness again was
covering it. His eyes, narrow, the skin of the upper eyelids drawn
triangularly down, never left the man for whom so long and patiently he
had been waiting.



                              CHAPTER XLI
                            EASTERN CAPITAL


THE passengers who descended from the train left the coaches nearly
empty. The head of steel was to the westward and new towns were
projected for thirty miles; but the greater fame of Abilene, the city of
the future stockyards, capital of a coming cow trade, still acted as
magnet for a majority of the traders and buyers, adventurers, hunters,
all the curious-minded gentry then eagerly exploiting a West which never
yet had lived. The rumors of northern drives of Texas cattle had in some
way gone abroad; this first arrival was a news event of the first water.

Before these arrivals now spread the vastest, sweetest empire that ever
fell to gaze of any adventurers of new fortunes. The very feel of it was
in the warm but vital air that blew across the waving prairies; lay in
the far horizon that swept untarnished by any settler’s smoke, far as
the eye might reach. The flowers here also had not yet known a bee and
there was not a weed. At times the edge of the buffalo grass was east of
the Western border. The bluestem had not yet fully got to Abilene. The
buffalo that year moved a little farther west. Their wallows dotted the
surface of the earth thereabout for years to come. The great
checkerboard of the gods, four vast spaces in the corners of the
greatest crossroads of the world, still lay out as the Range—mesquite
and grama in the Southwest, bunch grass and buffalo grass in the
Northwest; native—and later bluestem—grasses in the Northeast; redtop
and its fellows in the Southeast; all lapping, encroaching, passing,
augmenting as the swift years altered the range. From Spanish-moss lands
to the sagebrush steppes, from the scant grama to the waist-high green,
lay the country of the cows. At that time it was but imperfectly known.
The original, the aboriginal titles had not yet been extinguished.

The raw little village of itself meant not so much to most of these men,
who had seen such villages before, east of the Missouri. The scanty
edifices were accepted at least as sufficient. There were saloons,
stores, a hotel. The travelers looked to their weapons and their
luggage, and then, each after his own fashion, headed out toward the
signs which made offerings to civilized man. Most went to the saloons, a
few moved toward the Drovers’ Cottage, where even now, before her formal
opening, Lou Gore was making mankind comfortable on the frontier. Others
wandered up and down the street, gazing this way or that. None passed
the corrals of the Abilene Stockyards without a curious gaze at the
gaunt, long-haired creatures which now marked a renaissance of the
entire cattle trade in America. It all was crude, young, new and
unspeakably alluring—this strange new world, offspring of time and the
whim of the immortal gods at play on their great four-squared
checkerboard.

McMasters called Hickok aside, spoke to him quietly, after a time.

“Our men have gone over to the new saloon,” said he. “I see one is
headed for the Twin Livery Barn. They’ve probably got horses there, or
are looking for some.”

“Well,” said Hickok, “you know them best. They haven’t made any break
yet and I’ve got nothing on them. None of them ever harmed me. What’s
the game?”

“I want you to watch them for a little while,” replied McMasters. “I’ll
not leave much to you except the watching. I’ll be with you very soon.
Just now I want to find out what’s going to be done about the sale of
this herd. McCoyne has got some man in tow; and yon’s Nabours, the Del
Sol trail boss—he’s just come in. I think I ought to know what goes on
there.”

McCoyne, the exuberant and irresistible prophet of Abilene, indeed now
was bringing forward a stranger, a bearded, stocky, self-contained man
of nondescript dress, yet rather of Western look himself. The three
little groups now joined.

“Mr. McMasters,” begun McCoyne, “and you, too, Mr. Nabours, and Marshal
Hickok, this, now, is Mr. Pattison, just come to town. He’s in the
market to buy some range stuff. He’s been in the packing business in
Indianapolis for several years, and he has just come out to Junction
City, a couple of hours over east, to start a packing plant of his own
out here; though I don’t see why he didn’t pick on Abilene for that.
Anyhow he has to come here for his cattle.”

“Good morning, gentlemen,” said the stranger thus introduced, smiling
humorously. “I am glad to meet you. Yes, I am looking for some cattle. I
don’t know how you guessed it.”

“Where’d you want them delivered?” inquired Jim Nabours, coming to the
thing on his own mind. “We got some cows. I can testify they’re good
travelers.”

“Well, not far,” replied Pattison. “That some of your cattle over in the
pens? Junction City is just over here a couple of days’ march. I am
going to try to pack a few cattle in there this year. I shouldn’t wonder
if we started some stockyards in Kansas City before long. My friend, old
Mitch, has been talking of it a long time. If they get the yards it
won’t be long until a packing house is started there. That would save a
lot of distance in shipping East.

“I know that two Milwaukee and Chicago men—Plankinton is the name of
one and Armour, I think, is the other man—well, they are figuring on
going into the packing-house business in Kansas City. They’ve got a man
out there now, looking things over.”

“Then where does it leave you at Junction City?” demanded McCoyne.

Pattison spread out his hands with a shrug.

“Of course, their man is crazy. He’s talking of using a hundred thousand
cattle every year. I shouldn’t wonder if they did put down half that
many. All this Western country is going to take a mighty jump since the
railroad has gone West. That’s why I am here, of course. I’ve come out
to look over this whole business myself. If it’s all the same to you I’d
like to look over your herd. Mr. McCoyne says it isn’t far out to where
you are holding it.”

“How’d right now do?” asked Nabours calmly. “How much time do you want
to look over our cows? With me it’s sharp’s the word and quick’s the
motion.”

“About five minutes. I’ve seen your sample in the corrals here. How much
a pound do you figure you ought to get?”

“How much a pound? I don’t know nothing about that. I don’t know how
much a cow weighs.”

“Well, I can tell you. One of your sample steers will weigh about nine
hundred pounds. They look like greyhounds crossed on a window shutter.
Two cents a pound would be a lot for them. Now, a fat steer will weigh
twelve hundred instead of nine hundred, and he’ll bring four cents
instead of two. Say I give you eighteen dollars for your lean steers,
right off the trail. I could give you thirty-six dollars if they was
fat; say if they’d been wintered up here and fed north.”

“Mister,” said Jim Nabours, “you’re talking foolish, though pleasing. I
don’t know how much nine hundred pounds is, nor twelve hundred pounds;
but when you tell me any Texas steer is worth more than thirty dollars
you make me think you ain’t got no money to buy nothing. You don’t mean
to say that in the presence of witnesses?”

“I certainly do mean to say it,” rejoined Pattison. “But that isn’t all.
Your Texas steers will bring a good deal more than thirty dollars when
you have taken time to move them up north of the edge of winter and
ranged them and fattened them and bred the horns off of them. That can
all be done in five years.”

“I ain’t got no five years,” said Jim Nabours. “You allowed five minutes
will do. Well, let’s climb on top our broncs and ride out and see; it’s
only about two miles or so north.

“Come on, Dan.” He turned towards McMasters. “Ride along with us. I rely
some on your judgment.”

McMasters turned toward Hickok with a quiet word or so, and waving his
hand strolled off to pick up his own horse. McCoyne, anxious as he was
to see a trade effected, did not dare forsake the city of Abilene at so
critical a time. The newly christened Lone Star was full. Besides, he
was mayor of the town.

“Bill,” said he, accosting Hickok, “I got you here now, and I’m going to
have you elected town marshal. We can’t hold any election right now, and
we may need a town marshal right soon. I appoint you marshal right now,
and Mr. McMasters as your deputy.”

Hickok looked at him lazily and smiled.



                              CHAPTER XLII
                     TWENTY STRAIGHT ON THE PRAIRIE


THE great herd, scattered over a mile of grazing ground, by now was
well quieted. Wearied by their own exertions, some of the animals were
lying down, as though aware that the end of their journey was at hand;
the remainder scattered, grazing contentedly. Men were on guard here and
there at the edges of the herd; others were at the fire, eating. A
sudden excitement arose among the cow hands when word passed that a
buyer was on the scene, for so they interpreted the advent of Nabours
and his companions. Nabours waved a hand with genuine cowman enthusiasm.

“Look at them!” he exclaimed. “Did you ever see a finer outfit of cows
in your borned days, Mr. Pattison?”

The face of the trader remained expressionless, though his eyes were
busy as he rode.

“You’ve got some she-stock in here,” said he at length; “some yearlings
in too. I should say, too, that you’ve got several sorts of brands.”

“Well, maybe we have,” said Nabours. “I’d have a damned sight more if we
had not hit so much country where there wasn’t no cows coming north.
This here herd belongs to a orphant, Mr. Pattison, and in our country
they ain’t no questions asked about orphants; the law of brands don’t
run on orphants. We put up this herd in our own country. Our road brand
is a Fishhook, and when you buy a Fishhook steer you are buying our
support of the brand—twenty good men that can shoot. I got to sell
these cows straight too.”

Pattison reined up, still dubious.

“Let me tell you something. I know beef—that’s my trade. You’ve got
maybe three or four hundred of light stuff and shes. They don’t pack
well. Still, here I am with a good ranch over on the Smoky Hill. It
hasn’t got a head of stock on it yet.

“I just took in the land and water and trusted to God for the cattle. I
know where the real money is, and it isn’t in buying lean fours. If I
had any way to handle these stockers over on my ranch I’d take your herd
straight.”

“I can’t split no cows,” said Jim Nabours. “It’s all or none. I got to
sell all these cows afore dark. We both allowed that five minutes was
plenty.”

“Well, it is,” said Pattison quietly. “I trade as quick as anybody, and
I don’t go to the saloon first, as two or three other men have, whom I
happen to know, that came on that train. Now I’ll tell you what I’ll do:
If you’ll hold out that stuff below the fours I’ll give you twenty
straight for your fours, right here on the prairie. Five thousand cash
down, balance in draft on the First National of Kansas City.”

Suddenly Dan McMasters turned to Nabours.

“The herd is sold,” said he. “Twenty a head, straight through.”

“How do you mean, Dan?”

“I am taking all the she-stuff and stackers for myself. Let Mr. Pattison
have the fours.”

“But what’re you going to do?”

“I am thinking of starting a Northern ranch for myself. It don’t take me
long to decide either. I believe Mr. Pattison is right. There’s where
the money is. Besides, I’m leaving Texas before long.”

Pattison turned toward him with his quizzical smile, estimating him
after his own fashion.

“You bid me up, young man,” said he; “but you’ve sold this herd,
yearlings and all, at twenty straight on the prairie.

“Now, we’ve got plenty time left—two minutes by the watch. I’ll give
you just a minute and a half to think of me as your partner in my ranch
on the Smoky Hill, myself to own half this stuff you’ve just bought in,
you to trail a fresh herd up to us next year and to run this upper ranch
for me—all dependent on your investigation of me back East, preferably
by telegraph to-night. I’ve got the land, you’ve got the cows.

“I’ll show you how to get three-four-five cents a pound for beef on the
hoof. What do you say?”

McMasters turned his own cool gray eyes upon the other, regarding him
with a like smile as their eyes met, and their hands.

“We have traded,” said he quietly.

Nabours looked from one to the other, scratching his head.

“Then is my cows sold?” he demanded. “Do we get twenty straight?”

“You heard us,” said Pattison. “There is a new company on the new
northern range—the PM brand. Mr. McMasters is my partner; you see, I
know something about him already. And I want to say to you, sir, you are
on the road to more money than you could ever make in Texas. We’ll cut
this stuff and tally out to-morrow if it pleases you. Come on over to
the fire, partner; let’s light down.”

Each in his mood, Nabours somewhat chastened as he endeavored to figure
out how much the five minutes’ work had meant to him, they moved to
where the giant cart of Buck the cook loomed on the level prairie.
Pattison reached into the pocket of his coat and drew out a great
package of folded bills, which he tossed on the ground before him as he
reached for his coffee cup.

“I think that’s five thousand dollars,” said he. “I can’t carry much
cash with me, of course. In town, I’ll give you a draft on the First
National of Kansas City for fifty-five thousand more if the herd tallies
out three thousand head. I am almost ready to take your own tally.”

“No,” said Jim Nabours, “we haven’t tallied out since the last run; I
been scared to. If we hadn’t had no bad luck down the trail there
wouldn’t ’a’ been money enough in Kansas City to buy all them cows we
started with. Do you mean to say to me that you’re going to give me
sixty thousand dollars for them cows?”

“I certainly am if you don’t object too much about it. And I call this a
good day’s work. I have bought the first northern-trail herd. Besides, I
have got a partner and a manager for my ranch, and a line of supply for
the ranch, too. Yes, I call it a good five minutes’ work.

“You shall have all the time you want to put up your half for these
stockers, Mr. McMasters,” he added.

“I don’t want any time,” replied Dan McMasters. “I can raise a little
money. You see, I know the history of this herd. I’d almost have been
ready to buy it straight through at twenty a head myself.”

“I was afraid you would,” said Pattison. “But I wanted the cows and a
partner too. All right, take your pleasure as to your half of the
northern ranch ante. I tell you, I am going to make you more money than
either of us ever made in our lives. Lord, this is just the beginning of
things! What a fine world it is out here!”

He turned to the others as he went on, tin cup of coffee in hand.

“You see, I am banking on two things that you Texas men didn’t know
anything about. One is the stockyards at Kansas City. The other is a
packing business in Kansas City. There’s going to be the market for this
range stuff. Meantime I’ll have to get some of your boys to drive these
fours over to Junction City for me. I’ll buy all your ponies except what
you need to get back home. My partner and I will need some horses for
the PM outfit on the Smoky Hill.

“Oh, I don’t blame you for not seeing the game very far ahead up here,”
he went on. “This is a colder country than you are used to. But if I can
hire some of your men to run the herd for us, they can build dugouts in
a few days like those you saw in town, and hole up warm and snug for the
winter. After a while you’ll begin to make hay, but you’ll need a whole
lot less than you think right now.

“We are going to start the first winter ranch on the heels of the first
herd north of thirty-six. I am going to show you that cows will do a
heap better when you fatten them north of the edge of winter and north
of the tick line.

“Is our five minutes up? I don’t like to waste time here. Let’s go back
to town.”

“When do we deliver, then?” asked Nabours.

“You’ve sold and delivered right now and right here, on the prairie,”
replied Pattison. “I am hiring all the men that will go in with Mr.
McMasters and me; we’d like at least six or eight. Mr. McMasters will
come out to help tally to-morrow if that suits you. I never knew a Texas
cowman to falsify a count, and I never knew one that didn’t go broke
trying to pack his own cattle. It takes big men to do big business, and
you will have to pardon me if I say it never was in the cards to pack
cattle in Texas, by Texas or for Texas. The South needs the North in
this thing. It’s going to take both the North and the South to make this
country out here.” He swept a wide arm. “The West! Oh, by golly!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

“Well,” sighed Jim Nabours, still unable to credit his sudden good
fortune, “my boss is the richest girl in Texas right now, if she was in
Texas. I’ll have to admit she owes part to a damn Yankee, same as part
to us Texans.”

He turned earnestly to the Northern trader.

“You’ve got to see our boss when you get in town,” said he. “You’ll be
glad to see where all your money went to. She shore is prettier than a
spotted pup.”

“Well, let’s ride,” laughed Pattison. “We’ll have a look at Abilene and
the Texas orphan.”

“On our way!” said Nabours, and they mounted. Nabours rode off to accost
one of his men. “We’ve sold the herd, Len,” said he. “I’ll pay off
to-morrow in town. All you fellows that wants to hire out to these folks
can do it. You split the men to-night, Len, and half of you come to town
if you feel like it.

“Oh, yes,” he added, turning, as he started off, “I forgot to tell you.
I forgot to tell you that Cal Dalhart got killed in town a little while
ago. I heard it just when I left. Del Williams done shot him, looks
like.”

“The hell he did!” remarked Hersey. “Well, it was plain enough the last
three months they had it in for each other—both allowing to marry Miss
Taisie.”

“And now they won’t neither of them will,” nodded Nabours. “Ain’t it
hell how men fuss over a woman? Now Del’s gone somewheres. Both good cow
hands as ever rid. That’s the fourth man I’ve lost since we left home,
not mentioning several hundred cows. I’m the onluckiest man in the
world.

“Yet,” he went on as he joined McMasters and Pattison, addressing the
former, “I call this a good day’s work. We’ve brung our brand through,
and we’ve done sold her out. I reckon Mr. Sim Rudabaugh has played in
hard luck. He didn’t keep us out of Aberlene, now did he?”

“He did his best,” replied Dan McMasters. “He got here just a little too
late. He came to town on the train just a little while ago. There are
two or three of his men here already, maybe more.”

Nabours looked at him narrowly, suddenly serious.

“Some of us boys’ll be in town to-night,” said he.

As they rode by the jumbled heap of the camp-cart goods a very exact
observer might have noted that the pair of wide horns carefully
cherished by Len Hersey had disappeared since the first passing of the
group from town. No one had particularly noticed Len as he rode up near
the cart with a stubborn little yearling dogy on his rope; it was
thought the cook had requisitioned beef. But now, as the party turned to
leave the herd, the keen eye of Pattison caught sight of an astonishing
creature, scarce larger than a calf, but bearing so enormous a spread of
horns as would have graced any immemorial steer of the Rio Grande.

“My Lord!” he exclaimed. “What on earth is that? Is that the way cattle
grow down in your country?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Len gravely, still holding the animal on his reata.
“He’s a nice little yearling. Give him time, an’ he’ll raise right smart
o’ horn. O’ course, he’s still young. Texas, she sort of runs to horn,
in some spots, special seems like.”

“Spots? Spots? What spots?” demanded Pattison. “Where’d that critter
come from?”

“He come from our range, sir,” replied Len. “He range over with a bunch
near the Laguna Del Sol. They all watered in there, at the Laguna.
Near’s we could tell there must be something in the water in the Laguna
sort of makes the cows in there run to horn, like.”

“Well, I should say so! But still, you can’t make me believe that any
steer less than a four could ever grow horns like that.”

“Oh, yes, they kin,” rejoined this artless child of the range. “My pap
used to drive down to Rockport, on the coast—I’ve helped drive south,
to ship cows on the Plant steamers. I reckon they was going to Cuby. We
had to rope every steer and throw him down and take a ax and chop off
his horns, they was so wide. That was to give more room on the boats.
Some steers didn’t like to have their horns chopped off thataway. Well,
here we got plenty of room for horns anyhow.” He swept an arm over the
field of waving grass reaching on to the blue horizon. “Give me three
years more on this dogy and I promise you he’ll have horns.

“Speaking of horns, Jim,” he resumed; “oncet when we were driving in a
coast drive we turned in a lot of dogies, of course claimin’ a cow was a
cow, an’ nache’l, four years old even if it was only a yearling. Well,
the damn Yankee who was buying our cows he kicked on so many dogies. Of
course, none of us fellers’d ever heard of a thing like that; a buyer
allus taken the run o’ the delivery, head for head. Says he, ‘I ain’t
buyin’ yearlin’s, I’m buyin’ fours.’

“Well, we driv in another dogy right then, one of them Lagunies, an’ he
had horns big as this one here. The damn little fool he put on more airs
than any Uvalde mossy horn about his headworks. It was just like he
said, ‘Look at me! I done riz these here horns in one year, where it
taken you maybe a hunderd.’ Cows was their pride, mister, same as us.
Uh-huh.

“But do you believe me? That damn Yankee wouldn’t take my word that the
horns of them Lagunies gets their growth early sometimes. I says,
‘Mister, I’ll bet you a hunderd dollars that’s a four.’ ‘Well, maybe it
is,’ says he. He scratch his haid. But he couldn’t git over it. When we
come to load in at the boat he says, ‘Well I be damned ef that ain’t the
littlest cow I ever seen fer a four.’ I was sort o’ hot by then, and I
says, ‘Boss, you’re right—that ain’t a four, it’s a yearlin’.’

“Well, then he swung around the other way. Says he, ‘It kain’t noways be
a yearlin’, not with them horns. I bought too many cows not to know that
much. It don’t stand to reason that no yearlin’ can raise no horns
more’n five foot acrost.’ You see, mister, that yearlin’ was carryin’
horns about like this one—one of our Lagunies. O’ course, I don’t say
that all Texas cows has horns like that as yearlin’s; you can see that
fer yore own self right here. Only way we could convince that gentleman
was to show him.”

“Well, that may all be,” said Pattison, nettled. “Anyhow, I always take
my own judgment in cattle, ages and all. I’ve known buyers who couldn’t
tell long twos from threes. I’ve studied cattle.”

“I never did much,” said Len Hersey; “I never had time. But my folks
couldn’t never break me of gamblin’—monte, you know. Sometimes I win a
shirt, and then agin I’d lose one. Right now”—he looked ruefully at his
elbow—“I’d like fer to win one. I’ll gamble that critter’s a yearlin’,
now. I’d hate to take a man’s money on a cinch; but ef you, now, was
feelin’ you’d like to peel off a couple of hunderd against my hawse an’
saddle, an’ what’s left of my shirt, why, I’d hate to rob you—I’d bet
that that’s a yearlin’. I was goin’ to kill it fer beef. We don’t eat
the horns, mister, but them Lagunies is special tender on account of
that something in the water around there.”

“You fool Texans deserve to be trimmed,” said Pattison; “a boy like you
putting your judgment up against that of one of the oldest buyers that
ever saw Kansas City.”

“I know it—I know I’m foolish,” nodded Len Hersey. “I was borned
thataway. I allus hatter be bettin’ on monte er somethin’. Still I’ll
bet thataway on this here yearlin’ ef you insist. Does you?”

“I certainly do, just to teach you a lesson. Here, Mr. Nabours”—he
pulled out his roll of bills once more—“take this couple hundred,
against this man’s horse and saddle. You be the judge. He bets that’s a
yearling. That suit you?” He turned to Len Hersey, who still was holding
the mooted animal on his reata.

“Yes, all right,” humbly replied that youth.

“Throw him, Len,” commanded Nabours; “then we’ll all look him over and
decide.” He was as solemn as his man.

Len sunk a spur and with a leap his pony crossed in front of the quarry,
swept its feet from under it. It was thrown with such violence that one
of its horns was knocked off and lay entirely free on the grass. Jim
Nabours, dismounting, gravely held up the remaining horn, easily
detachable from the normal stubby yearling growth on the dogy’s head. He
looked at Pattison dubiously, none too sure how he would take this range
jest. But the Northern man was a sportsman. He broke into a roar of
laughter, which for hours he renewed whenever the thought again came to
his mind.[1]

“Give him his money, Nabours,” said he. “He’s won it fair and I’ve had a
lesson, and when your boys come to town the treat’s on me. Keep those
horns for me,” he added. “If I don’t sell old Mitch or young Phil Armour
at Kansas City with those horns I’ll eat them both!” Again he went off
into gusty laughter, in which all could join.

“Sho, now,” said Len Hersey. “Now look at that! He must of got his horns
jarred loose, like, in some night run in the timber. I’ve knowed that to
happen.”

“Len,” commanded Nabours, “I don’t want no more of this damned
foolishness. Here’s ten dollars, and that’s enough to buy you a shirt,
and I want to see you do it. He’ll only play the rest at monte or faro
or something,” turning to Pattison.

“No, give it all to him,” the latter rejoined. “It’s his. Let him play
it. I’ve done as much myself when I was younger. And monte’s a cinch
compared to buying and packing and shipping cattle to the East.”

They turned and rode toward town, young in the youth of the open range,
where to-morrow did not yet loom.

-----

[1] The foundation of this anecdote is to be found in Saunder’s _Trail
Drivers of Texas_.



                             CHAPTER XLIII
                                LOU GORE


“COME right on in, you poor child.” When Taisie Lockhart first had
climbed down from the lofty cart seat and approached the front door of
the Drovers’ Cottage, she walked straight into the arms of sturdy Lou
Gore, matron of the first cowman’s hotel of the North and Florence
Nightingale of the frontier. That good soul took the girl to her bosom,
patting her shoulder like a mother. “My!” she exclaimed. “To think at
first I might have took you for a boy!”

When they entered the door she felt her young charge wince, draw back. A
tall young man stood in the office near the door. It seemed to Lou Gore
that these two must somewhere have met, although she scarce heard the
voice of either now as they saluted, acknowledged.

“Why, you knew that gentleman?” she asked later.

“Yes,” said Taisie; “he was once a neighbor of ours down in Texas. He
was with us part way on the trail.”

“Oh-ho! Well, he don’t seem so very neighborly now, up here. He don’t
talk to nobody except Wild Bill. Them two were shooting at a mark over
on the street. My husband says neither of them didn’t miss. My dear,
don’t never have anything to do with a man who is a shooter—take my
advice. Men is bad, and shooters is worst.

“But now you come on in with me, child; I’ve got to take care of you.
Law me, is this all the clothes you got—and this the Fourth of July?”

“Yes”—Taisie turned on her the gaze of her troubled eyes—“it’s all
I’ve got. I am poor—unless we sell the cows. In Texas no one has
anything but cows.”

“Well, you ain’t poor if them’s your cows. You’ll sell ’em all right.
Everybody’s howling for cattle right now.

“But come back into my kitchen, my dear, and I’ll fix you up. Who is
that hollering out in front?”

“Oh, that’s Milly, my black woman,” said Taisie. “She’s out in the cart.
Wait, I’ll go get her.” And presently she returned with Milly, in one
hand carrying her long-barreled weapon.

“Miss Taisie, Ah cross my ha’ht,” said she. “Ah’m sho’ Ah done seen dat
no-’count nigger man o’ mine right down the street. If he ever do come a
leetle bit closter I gwine to blow the lights outen him. Ah sho’ is!”

“Law sakes!” remarked Lou Gore. “How you talk! Set that gun down and
come on and help me get this lady fixed up. If I only had a change of
clothes for her,” she added, finger at lip, dubiously regarding Taisie’s
male apparel. “We don’t fit each other.”

“Change of clothes, ma’am!” exclaimed Milly. “In her trunk out in the
kyart she got all kind of clothes!”

“My mother’s wedding clothes!” Taisie smiled sadly. “I brought them
along because I had no place to leave them. My own are all worn out.”

“Well, that’s all right, my dear. We got to fix you up a little first,
you’re so dusty. I reckon my big dishpan will do. You’d think they’d
have washtubs over at the store, but they haven’t; not one. There ain’t
a bathtub in the whole state of Kansas, and never was. Plenty of
shooting, but mighty little washing.”

She pushed Taisie down into a kitchen chair and tenderly removed her
broad-brimmed hat. Thus was revealed the heavy queue of hair that lay
down the girl’s neck and shoulders.

“Did you ever!” exclaimed Lou Gore. “Lemme cut that string off.” Her
scissors were at her belt; a snip or two, a shake, a running through of
her fingers, and the glorious flood of Anastasie Lockhart’s tresses fell
about her as she sat, a Godiva in a cotton shirt.

“I am going to take off that shirt, my dear,” said Lou Gore, and leaned
Taisie’s head against her own bosom. She caught the garment by the lower
edge and left the girl sitting, tousled, her arms now huddled to her.

“My Lord, my dear,” exclaimed Lou Gore, “you’re a beauty! You don’t
belong here. And wedding clothes? You say you’ve got wedding clothes out
in the cart? You’ll need them. Look at that hair! My dear, how do you
make it curl up on the end that way?”

It was Milly who explained: “It just quoil up on de fur end dat way
nacherl. She got more hair den ary lady in Texas.”

Lou Gore stood back and looked at Taisie once more.

“My dear,” said she, “you are a beauty! What’s more, you are good. Give
me a hour or two with you fixed up in woman clothes and I’ll marry you
to any man you’ll point out to me.”

“In her trunk, I done told you,” interrupted Milly, “she got all kind o’
clothes; all silk—pink an’ blue an’ everything. Her maw had the
pertiest clothes in Texas. She brung her clothes out from N’Awlins.
You-all knows quality, ma’am.”

Lou Gore pursed a lip.

“Well, we’ll get the trunk in,” said she. “Now, child, you go into my
room there and lay down until I get the water het. You’re that nervous,
you jump when you see a young man standing around.”

Taisie Lockhart, clinging to Lou Gore’s hand, flung herself upon the
white bed, the flame of her hair all about her shoulders, concealing her
face. She began to sob indeed, utterly unnerved. Lou Gore understood
this to be the fatigue of a thousand miles.

She must have slept. It seemed hours later that she was awakened by what
seemed to be the sound of a door slammed shut. A few moments later came
the sudden sound of a horse galloping. That was Del Williams, passing
out of town.

Lou Gore heard the arrival of the railway train, saw men passing from
the train. When she met Hickok and McMasters at the foot of the stair
they told her what she would see if she went upstairs. But to the sturdy
soul of Lou Gore hysterics were unknown. She did go upstairs, did make a
certain discovery, did perform certain offices for the first man in
Abilene to pass with his boots on. Then, whether in care of Abilene’s
reputation or out of kindness for her sleeping guest, she did not open
the door of Taisie’s room to tell her what had happened. Well, a man was
dead. There would be others. Lou Gore sighed, her great hands wrapped in
her apron.

“Milly,” said she at length to the black woman, whom she found in the
kitchen, “you come help me get supper. It takes an awful lot of fried
mush. And these men keep coming here, though I ain’t got this hotel
really opened yet.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

When the party from the herd jogged into town the first man they met was
McCoyne, and now he had news of his own.

“Wild Bill told me about the little trouble upstairs.” He nodded toward
the Drovers’ Cottage. “One man seems to have left town. I didn’t want
anybody to think we’ve got a tough town here. Fact is we haven’t got any
courthouse or coroner or anything. We’ve got to hold an organization
meeting and get these things fixed up before long. I just got a couple
of men that was standing out near the door to go over and dig a good
grave on the hill yonder; you can see it from here. First grave in
Abilene, July 4, 1867. Well, Mr. Nabours, they buried your man fine;
they fixed up some sort of a box for a coffin. I seen them two carry him
over to the hill all right. I declare, I don’t believe there is a coffin
in this whole town—our storekeepers is that negligent, got that poor a
notion of goods. Now think of my getting so busy, forgetting to have our
merchants order plenty of coffins! I don’t want Abilene to be back of no
town in Kansas. You understand, in the hurry of getting things started,
gentlemen, a man’s liable to overlook a lot of things.”

They informed McCoyne of the sale of the Del Sol herd. He shook each by
the hand effusively.

“Didn’t I tell you”—to Nabours—“didn’t I say you’d find buyers up here
in Abilene? Sold out, the first day you hit town! Sold out at twenty
straight right through! More money than you ever seen before!”

“That ain’t no dream,” said Jim Nabours, taking a chew of tobacco. “Say,
Mr. Pattison, you couldn’t raise some silver money, could you? This
paper money is all right, of course; and if Dan McMasters says so, that
paper on the bank is all right and it goes too. But silver is the only
money that’s money in Texas. I don’t reckon my men would take any other
kind, and I know old Sanchez wouldn’t. You can’t pay no Mexican nothing
but silver.”

“You don’t need very much money,” smiled McMasters. “But, Jim, did you
ever stop to figure how much money you’d have if you got it all in
silver?”

“Why, no, I don’t reckon I ever did.”

“Well, a thousand dollars in silver weighs about sixty-three
pounds—somewhere in there. Now, sixty times sixty is thirty-six
hundred, isn’t it? You’d have pretty near two tons of money. You’d have
to load a cart to get it home. If the Comanches didn’t get it, it’d sink
any wagon you tried to ford.”

“My Lord!” said Jim Nabours. “My good Lord! Look what we escaped, coming
North! Tell me, has Miss Taisie got that much money now?”

“She certainly has if she gets it all in silver,” smiled Pattison. “You
begin to see what banks are good for?”

“By gum!” exclaimed McCoyne, slapping his thigh. “We certainly have got
to have a bank in Abilene, right off! Anyhow, for looks we’ve got to
have a church and a school; but a bank is almost as useful as a livery
barn.”

“I’ll see what can be done about that when I get back to Kansas City,”
said Pattison. “I’d not be surprised to see a million cattle come up the
trail in the next two seasons. Think of the silver it would take to pay
for them!”

“Mister,” said Jim Nabours, in a very genuine mental distress, “how much
silver money would a million cows come to at twenty straight—I mean how
many pounds?”

“So much that pretty soon we’ll have to have banks at both ends of the
Texas trail,” said Pattison quietly. “So much that before long we’ll
have to have railroads north and south instead of trails. So much that
before long there’ll be a dozen towns instead of one handling the cattle
coming North. So much that all this country north and west of here is
going to be settled with people—farms, towns, railroads. Trail makers?
The first trail maker of the world was a cow!”

He dropped his chin for an instant in thought.

“And the men who’ll be in on that,” he added presently, “are the ones
who can see it now and not after a while. My new partner and I can see
it now. We traded quick. I always trade fast or not at all.”

Nabours still remained uneasy.

“I’ve got five thousand paper dollars in my saddle pockets,” said he.
“Where’s Miss Taisie at? I want to pay off the men. They’ll be wanting a
little frolic. Won’t you come along and find her?”

He looked at Dan McMasters keenly, a little sadly. But though McMasters
directed him to the Drovers’ Cottage, he excused himself. For this
reason not even cheery Lou Gore could make Taisie Lockhart smile.

McMasters went after Wild Bill, whom he found, hands in pockets,
watching a faro game.

“I’ve watched your men,” said Hickok, quietly getting McMasters to one
side. “There are three or four of them. They don’t show any signs of
leaving town.”

“The herd men are coming to town to-night,” said McMasters. “If we want
help I can get it.”

The border man stroked his long yellow mustache.

“You and I wouldn’t need any help if we didn’t need any of them alive,”
said he. “I’m going to sit in with you on this, because you can hold up
your end. We can stick around for a while. Of course, your man Rudabaugh
knows you are here. He’s got horses over at the Twin Livery Barn; I know
that much. He may pull his freight any minute. Or he may be laying for a
chance to plug you from around a corner.”

McMasters nodded quietly. Hickok went on: “Well, they didn’t keep your
herd from coming through, did they? What price do you think your cattle
will fetch?”

“They’re already sold,” said Dan McMasters.

He gave the details of the late transaction, including his own
arrangement with Pattison for a northern-ranch venture. Hickok listened
indifferently.

“I’m glad you took my advice,” said he. “That’s all out of my line. I
only keep the peace. Looks like before long there’d be plenty of peace
to keep.

“And that girl in the boy’s clothes is rich, eh? Well, I’m glad, aren’t
you?”

“No one is gladder.”

“Where is she now? She’s vanished. Has she heard of the sale?”

“Not yet. Her foreman has just gone over to tell her. I think Lou Gore
has been taking care of her. No, she doesn’t know yet that she’s rich.”



                              CHAPTER XLIV
                             THE LOST SCRIP


JIM NABOURS, his shirt front bulging, approached the door of the
Drovers’ Cottage, near which he found a man tinkling a steel triangle,
which one day soon would boom a summons thrice a day.

“How are you, sir?” began Nabours. “Can you tell me if Miss Taisie
Lockhart is in here? She come up on that herd with us.”

The husband of Lou Gore indicated the rear of the building. Unannounced,
Nabours pushed on through the rear hall, beyond whose door he heard
sounds of culinary conflict.

“Law, mister, ain’t you in a sort of hurry?” said Lou Gore, a large
spoon in one hand. “This is the kitchen. You go on out.”

“But I want to see my boss,” remonstrated the old foreman. “I’ve got
five thousand dollars in my shirt for her.”

Lou Gore wiped her hands on her apron.

“Well,” said she, “if you’ve got five thousand dollars come on in. I’ll
let you see her if I can.” She approached the bedroom door.

“Jim! Jim!” called a voice he knew very well, a voice full of eagerness
now. The door flung open. Taisie, shrouded in blankets, broke out, her
radiant face framed in its mass of glowing hair. She flung an arm about
the grizzled foreman’s neck. He seemed almost the one friend in all the
world for her. “I’m so glad you’ve come!”

“Miss Taisie,” said Jim Nabours succinctly, “here is five thousand
dollars. I reckon you’d better put on your pants—if you got nothing
else.”

But Taisie sank into a chair, enveloping herself in her blankets. Her
eyes were startled.

“Five thousand dollars?”

“Yes, ma’am. I done sold the cows at twenty straight. There’ll be about
three thousand head. That’s sixty thousand dollars, ma’am. This here,
now, is only part of it. It’ll be in and around sixty thousand. We can
get the rest any time we want. I reckon we done right well for you, Miss
Taisie.”

Taisie Lockhart looked up at him with sudden tears in her eyes, weak in
the reaction from the strain of years.

“I could kiss you, Jim!” said she.

“I wish you wouldn’t, ma’am; not until I get shaved. Yes, ma’am, we done
right well, all things considered. Now, I think you better get about
five thousand worth of more clothes.”

“She’s got all the clothes she needs, she told me,” remarked Lou Gore;
“a whole trunk of clothes out there on the cart. We haven’t had time to
fetch it in yet.”

“Why, shore she has, ma’am! We brung that trunk all the way from Texas.
You can’t ride a cow horse in them kind of clothes, ma’am. So Lord Lovel
he mounted his milk-white steed. Ain’t she pretty, ma’am? Prettier’n any
spotted pup ever was!

“But say, Miss Taisie,” he went on to the girl who still sat huddled in
her blankets, “I got to tell you all the news. Dan McMasters has throwed
in with the man we sold our cows to. They’re going to start a ranch up
North here. We-all are a-goin’ to drive cows up to their ranch next
year. Dan, he’s a partner in that; he’s going to be plumb rich. I heard
him say he was going to leave Texas, him sher’f and all.

“Far as that goes, if it hadn’t of been for Dan, we maybe wouldn’t have
traded. He bid up for all the light stuff, at the same price the other
man offered for fours—twenty straight through. Now, Dan——”

“For mercy sake, man, how you run on!” broke in Lou Gore. “You go help
this black woman to bring in that trunk from the cart. This is the
Fourth of July, and we may have some sort of dance here if them band
people ain’t too drunk. Go fetch that trunk.”

“Well, all right, all right,” said Jim Nabours. “I was just trying to
tell the boss a few things she’d orter know.”

But in three minutes Jim Nabours was back in the room, gray under his
grime and tan.

“Miss Taisie,” said he dully, “your trunk’s gone! It ain’t in the cart
at all. The scrip in there was worth maybe five times as much as sixty
thousand dollars. Lands’ll go up in Texas now. And here I’ve lost all
the scrip that yore paw give you!

“Miss Taisie, it was all my fault. I never did once think of that trunk
a-tall; I was only thinking of cows.”

“Why, Jim, who could have taken it?”

“I don’t know,” said Jim Nabours. “It’s gone oncet more.”

He stumbled into a chair.

“I reckon I’m too old now. I’ve let you get robbed oncet more.”



                              CHAPTER XLV
                              THE MAN HUNT


THE sun sank gently back of the grasslands encircling Abilene. The
night chill came, the quavering wail of the coyotes crept closer to the
outskirts of the town, the unbelievably brilliant stars came out to
illuminate a many-splendored night. But to these things Abilene paid
little heed. She held festival on her day of triumph.

The fumes of liquor, the reek of packed humanity filled each
insignificant room along Liquor Lane in Abilene. Especially crowded were
the two more ambitious places, where dancing was obtainable in
connection with strong drink. Here the scene was such as might best be
forgotten as a part of the record of the outlands. There were a dozen or
more women, or those who once had been women; and with these, in an
obscenity that should balk any pen, a hundred or two hundred men danced.

A general confusion, many voices arising continuously, passed out of the
open windows and open doors. The stamp of feet, shoutings, senseless
laughter, shrill hysteria of females excited by drink, the coarser basso
of males excited likewise, joined in a curious roar whose sensuous
undertone resembled no other sound or blend of sounds in all the world.
In no corner of the world have the primitive instincts of man found
fuller loosing than in the border capitals of the cow trails.

It was the etiquette—unvarying in Saxon outlands—that he who danced
with a damsel must lead her to the bar after they twain had trod a
measure, else lack in a decent respect for the opinion of mankind. Of
actual sets, of any measured cæsura, there was none. The music was
furnished by rum-soaked men who sat apart on barrels, the same who had
welcomed that morning the first Texas herd ever seen in Abilene. Such as
it was, and supported by fiery stimulant, the concord was continuous,
the floors were always full. Men danced in hats and boots and spurs. The
voice of a submerged set caller droned on: “Dolcie do! Allemand left!
Swing your partner! Lift her high!” It was festival in Abilene.

McMasters and Wild Bill Hickok passed from door to door, the quietest
and soberest men in all the town. There approached them a man in
uniform, a sergeant of the United States Army. He recognized McMasters.

“I’ve been looking for you, sir,” said he. “I am up from the Wichita
Mountains, from Colonel Griswold. I’ve got two ambulances and an escort
of five men for each. I was to offer you any help you required, sir, and
to put the ambulances under your order if any of your people wished to
travel south. The colonel could not come. He sends his compliments and
hopes you are quite well. He thinks it would be much safer for you to
travel south across the Nations under military escort. He hopes the
young lady will occupy one ambulance for her own in case you sell out,
and start south, sir.”

“All right, sergeant,” replied McMasters; “that’s very fine of Colonel
Griswold. The young lady has sold her herd to-day and will be starting
south before long. Where are your ambulances and your men?”

The sergeant grinned, somewhat embarrassed.

“The ambulances are at the Twin Star Barn,” said he. “I put my mules and
horses in there too. I guess my men may be scattered.”

“Stop your drinking,” said Dan McMasters. “You may be needed to-night.
Go get your men together. Be at the Silver Moon half an hour from now.”

“Very good, sir,” said the man, and saluted again. He cast a longing eye
through windows as he passed down the street.

Near the door of the Silver Moon Dance Hall a man pushed by them,
anxious; Nabours, looking around him, not hurrying to the bar.

“Dan!” he exclaimed as he caught sight of McMasters. His granite
agitation, his naïve disregard of all the post, bridged any gap
remaining between them. “Look here! Hell’s to pay!”

“What’s up?” asked McMasters, startled by the look on his face.
“Anything gone wrong with—her?”

“Yes! Miss Taisie’s trunk is gone; it’s been stole out of the cart right
in front of the door. All her scrip was in it—you know what.”

A sudden flush came to Dan McMaster’s face.

“You are rather a fine foreman, aren’t you, Jim?” said he. “Was that the
best you could use that girl?”

“Call me anything you like. I’m a damned old fool. I’ve quit her hire. I
gave her the money and quit her hire right here.”

“Don’t you know that Sim Rudabaugh and some of his gang are in town
right now? They’ve beat us, after all; they’ve got the scrip, even if
they couldn’t stop the herd. Rudabaugh can get his lands now in spite of
you and me. He’ll own all the state of Texas, west of the Double
Mountain Fork. He’ll get what Miss Lockhart’s father left her, her
fortune in lands. We have been making money for him, not her! You let
that thing happen right now, when I have almost got my hand on his
collar!” He spoke with greater bitterness than any man had ever known of
him. At length the indomitable side of his nature took sway again. “But
we’ll comb out the town first. Go get McCoyne.”

They did get McCoyne, and solicited his aid in such general search for
the missing treasure chest as they hurriedly could contrive. It all was
hopeless. No one had seen two men carrying a trunk. The cart was
precisely where it had been left. No vehicle had left town, no train.
The Del Sol treasure trunk simply had disappeared.

The allies, discomfited, met at last in the open street, Hickok having
joined them by this time, and having heard the story.

“Hark!” said the latter, raising a hand.

His keen ears had caught the sound which presently became obvious to
them all—the pounding of hoofs, yelling of riders in concert. Sweeping
over the prairies at top speed, the herdsmen of Del Sol were coming in
to have their share in the Fourth of July celebration. But as they stood
looking to the north there came the sound of a heavy rifle shot, close
at hand. A red streak came from the window near the kitchen of the
Cottage. Two men came running. On general principles Hickok halted them.

“What was that shot?” he demanded.

“That?” panted one of the runners. “That old negro woman. She got scared
and shot through the window.”

But by now Hickok thought he had recognized the speaker as one of the
men he had seen talking with Rudabaugh earlier in the day. The two
fugitives turned into the door of the Silver Moon Dance Hall just before
the Del Sol riders swept up and cast down their bridle reins. All the
overflow population of Abilene seemed to be packed into or on one side
or other of the door of the Silver Moon. Hickok, Nabours, McMasters
pushed in through the crowd hard after the Del Sol men, unkempt, ragged,
wild, troubled with no false modesty as to their own place in the world.
They pushed on up to the bar, Len Hersey leading them.

“Come on, men!” called the high voice of that lusty youth. “I got enough
dinero for one little time, and I’m going to have more. Set ’em up,
mister, and do it quick. You come in here, Sanchez—come on, Sinker!”

Then pushed forward from among them the thin figure of a boy, ragged,
unshorn, his hair through his hat, his lower extremities pushed through
a pair of leather leggings a world too large for him. It was Cinquo’s
first appearance at a public bar, part of his education for his calling.
At his shoulder was the thin figure of a dark man, old, grizzled,
imperturbable—Sanchez, the only Mexican on the Del Sol herd.
Unsmilingly Sanchez drew from under his coat the object which had had a
place on his saddle horn. He set down upon the bar a much bedraggled,
entirely dilapidated gamecock—nothing less than Gallina, whom he had
cherished for a thousand miles. And Gallina now repaid him. He cast a
red eye over the multitude and bade defiance to the world in a long and
lusty crow. A peal of laughter broke from the crowd. Again the voice of
Len Hersey arose.

“This here rooster can lick ary chicken in the state of Kansas, five
hunderd a battle. This here boy and his horse can outrun ary outfit in
this town, ary distance, for five hunderd a race. I can whip ary man in
this here room myself. We’re just from Texas and we’re wild and woolly.
Our steers has longer horns than anybody’s. Del Sol has came to town!”

The not ill-natured rioters crowded about him and his fellows, accosting
him partly in jest and partly in earnest. The Del Sol orator leaned
against the bar and faced them.

“Come on, men!” said Hersey, sweeping a wide arm. “Here goes all the
money I’ve got—couple of hunderd! Say, mister, is our credit good when
that runs out?”

“There ain’t no man’s credit good here when his money runs out,” replied
the barman sullenly. “Take that hen off my bar. Go ask your owner that
dresses in pants why she hasn’t paid off her men earlier.”

A sort of squealing yell arose above the tumult. The boy Cinquo had
wheeled like a flash, his heavy revolver in hand. His sweeping blow
struck the bartender on the top of the head and dropped him motionless
as a log.

“You can’t say her name in no saloon!” shrilled the boy. “That’s no way
to treat us folks from Texas. If there’s any of you-all looking for
trouble you can git it right here!”

“That’s what you can!” cried Len Hersey, touching elbows. The men of Del
Sol edged close together. “Take a drink, Sinker—we’ll owe it to this
house if you haven’t got no money.”

The boy reached out his hand, thin, freckled, unwavering, toward the
bottle which stood near. It was his first drink at a bar. Well, he had
to begin.

“You hear me!” again called out Len Hersey. “This kid gits his drink
free right now. We bar any talk against our boss.”

But a tall figure pushed through the crowd directly up to Hersey.

“Look here, my friend,” said Wild Bill Hickok, “I know who you are and
it’s all right, but you’re making too much noise. Just keep quiet now.
Son, you don’t get any drink—it wouldn’t do you any good.”

He reached out and took the glass which Cinquo Centavos had filled for
himself. Whether or not even Wild Bill could have done so much as this
without trouble happily did not come into question. McMasters, Nabours,
now appeared at his side.

“Shut your mouth, Len,” said Nabours. “Somebody’s liable to fill you
full of holes. You know mighty well we’ve got to trail the bulk of the
herd to-morrow over to the Smoky Hill and Junction City. Take a drink or
so, and then keep your hand off the liquor till you get done your work.”

No one seemed to pay any attention to the prone figure of the barkeeper,
who lay on the floor beyond the bar. A sort of hush in the maudlin
manifestations came upon the closely packed assemblage at the sight of
the unmistakable figure of Wild Bill, whose reputation was known over
all the borderlands.

It was in this hush, at this dead center, that there came a sudden flash
and roar from the back of the crowded hall. Dan McMasters, turning to
look over the bar at the fallen man, felt a sudden flick at the collar
of his coat. A bottle on the shelf beyond crashed to bits. A lamp toward
the rear of the hall went out under the concussion.

McMasters wheeled, both weapons in hand, looking out over the surging
mass of men and women. He was just a second later than the future
marshal of Abilene, who had not turned. The tall figure of Hickok
straightened like a flash to his full height. His arm rose high,
pointing a red line of flame. At the rear of the room a man dropped. He
had been shot squarely through the forehead, the bullet passing just
above the heads of the others.

What happened then no man knew. There was a mad rush towards the door.
Women screamed and sought to escape by the windows. A score of guns were
drawn. No man knew where stood his enemy.

Midway of the mad rush in the rear of the room three men came crouching,
crowding, each with a gun in his hand. They endeavored to keep together;
and thus, being recognized as a source of danger, certain of the crowd
pushed away from them, left them more readily visible.

“Let them out!” The command came high and clear. McMasters laid a hand
on Hickok’s arm. “Let them get out on the street!”

He had recognized, as one of the three men, the man he had come so far
to meet—his arch enemy Rudabaugh. But he did not fire.

Hickok stayed his hand. He did not look toward the rear of the room, now
cleared, for he knew his work there was done. He never was known to look
at the effect of any shot he ever made; he always knew. There stood now
at his side a man as dangerous as himself. But the two best pistol men
on all that wild border now dared not shoot, had they so desired, for
the men had shrugged down below the level of the crowd.

“That’s Rudabaugh in front!” called McMasters. “Don’t shoot him! Let him
alone! Let him get out!”

He himself began to edge toward the door, Wild Bill pushing through the
crowd at his elbow. The Del Sol men for the time were jostled back.

It was Rudabaugh who had sought to end at any cost the life of his worst
enemy, Dan McMasters. He had missed, across the room, but now intended
to kill McMasters at short range. But always some other man intervened,
caught down his arm.

He made a sudden last plan—often a deadly one—stepped outside the door
and waited for his man to follow—an old border trick which very often
worked. The shooter would be in the darkness, his target in the light.

But the wily bandit leader had reckoned ill with the men he now was
meeting. Even as he passed over the threshold Hickok suddenly fired over
McMasters’ shoulder. His bullet struck the barrel of Rudabaugh’s
revolver and hurled it from his hand. An instant later the two officers
broke out the door. Rudabaugh, wringing his hand, was stooping for his
revolver, his two companions making off at top speed in the moonlight.

As for the latter, they both fell face forward, shot through the back.
Neither of their two executioners had time to look at them. Both covered
Rudabaugh as he half rose.

“Don’t shoot!” cried McMasters once more. “Leave him to me!”

An instant later and he was locked in grips with the ruffian he had
sought so long to meet in precisely this fashion. Hickok stood back, his
elbows at the door jamb, a revolver in either hand.

“Easy, gentlemen!” said he. “Easy now! Don’t come out! Just stay right
where you are!”

Every man who heard heeded the advice of Wild Bill and set back his
shoulders against the thrust behind him.

The combat on the beaten ground in front of the Silver Moon did not long
endure. McMasters had borne down his man at the first leap. Rudabaugh’s
right hand was still numb from the impact of the ball which had struck
his weapon. Moreover, he was much older than his antagonist, soft with
drink and excess of every imaginable sort, little more than the shell of
a man; whereas his enemy was young, sound, hard and lithe as a panther.
One fought a battle with the result foreordained, the other sought to
postpone the end. McMasters was absolutely merciless when finally he
twisted Rudabaugh’s arm behind him and flung him face down on the
ground.

Handcuffs were unknown in that land. McMasters pushed his knees up under
Rudabaugh’s elbows, gripped his hands together and twisted a silk
handkerchief around them, tying it into a knot.

“Get up!”

He kicked Rudabaugh into obedience, caught him by the collar when he
stood, hated him so bitterly that he was much of the mind to shoot him
even now. But at length his calmness came back to him as Hickok
approached once more, McCoyne also pushing forward.

“Where am I going to keep this man?” demanded McMasters. It was McCoyne
who answered.

“Gentlemen,” said he, “I certainly apologize. I might have known we’d
need a jail, but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to fix up a lot of
things. Give me a day or so, and I’ll show you that Abilene has got the
best jail in Kansas. I’ve been so busy——”

Wild Bill turned back to Len Hersey, who now had got out at the door.

“Go get your rope and help this officer,” said he. “Now go home, all of
you.” He turned toward the crowd. “You’ve had enough to drink and you’ve
got enough Fourth of July for one day.”

He grinned as he turned once more toward McMasters.

“If you should happen to take your friend out of town,” said he, “I
don’t see how I could help myself. There don’t seem to be any courts
here, or any place to hold a prisoner.”

Rudabaugh broke out in blasphemy.

“You damned outlaws, you cutthroats!” he began. “You can’t take me
without any warrant, and you can’t hold me without process of law. I
demand counsel. I’m going to have my trial. Is this America, I want to
know?”

“You said it,” remarked Bill Hickok. “That’s just what it is.”

Now came running the men of the military escort. McMasters addressed the
sergeant.

“Help me get this man over to the livery barn.”

They led Rudabaugh away. He was cursing, struggling, sobbing. Wild Bill
stood looking after them, with no apparent concern. He evinced no
interest in the victims of the night affray. He had known worse scenes
of violence all his life, been in many encounters of greater danger. To
him these matters were much in the day’s work sometimes, always tempered
with the killer’s fatalism, which valued nothing save the fact that he
found himself still alive.

“Well, Joe,” said he, turning to McCoyne, who stood near, “it seems like
the law of habeas corpus hasn’t got quite as far west as the Twin Livery
Barn. If it has I’ll suspend habeas corpus in this town until Captain
McMasters gets his prisoner out of town and headed south.”

[Illustration: _A Paramount Picture._      _North of 36._
 “HANDS OFF, RUDABAUGH!” ROARS BIG JIM.]



                              CHAPTER XLVI
                             FAIR EXCHANGE


ALL day alone, a stranger, almost a prisoner in Lou Gore’s little
room, Taisie Lockhart for once in her life was now almost in a condition
of hysteria. The strain and stress of the long trail journey, the
anxiety of her hazard of fortunes, the relaxation of success—and now
all these scenes and sounds of violence in combination so worked upon
her worn nerves that she no longer was herself. Lou Gore was much put to
it to comfort her, and, indeed, was glad enough to welcome Jim Nabours
and the boy Cinquo, who later in the evening came in to tell the news of
the affair at the Silver Moon. These two paused in the outer room, not
daring to ask once more to see their mistress.

“You tell her, ma’am,” said Jim Nabours. “Tell her we got Rudabaugh safe
and his gang busted wide open—three of them killed. Dan McMasters, he
taken Rudabaugh prisoner hisself in a fair stand-up fight.”

“Well, all right, all right,” responded Lou Gore; “I’ll tell her
anything. Nobody in town has had any supper yet. We can’t have no dance
now. This is the beatingest Fourth of July ever I did see. I declare,
you cowboys give me more trouble than my gamblers.

“I don’t want to be nasty to you,” she went on. “But you’ve got to keep
out of my kitchen. Here, take a couple of keys and go on upstairs and go
to bed. I declare, I am right tired my own self.”

Meekly obedient, although reluctant not to see the mistress of Del Sol
before he slept, Jim Nabours clumsily climbed the stairs, the boy close
at his heels.

“What’s wrong, Mister Jim?” asked Cinquo solicitously. “Ain’t we sold
out all right?”

“Yes,” said his foreman gruffly. “We’ve won out on the cows. But we’ve
lost out on the land. You know that trunk?”

“Shore. I do. It was always getting in the road everywheres.”

“It won’t be no more! It’s gone—lost—stole. It was worth ten times as
much as all our cows. Old Rudabaugh knows where it is, but he ain’t so
apt to tell.”

As he spoke he flung open the door of a room, one of many precisely
alike on either side of the upper hall. But he paused.

“Hello!” said he. “There’s some one in here now, and he’s gone to bed.”

The bed indeed was occupied—occupied by a long and motionless figure, a
pillow slip drawn across his face, the hands folded on the breast.

“I’ll be——” Jim Nabours halted as something caught his eye. He stepped
forward, drew back the face covering.

“Why, it’s Cal Dalhart!” said he. “He’s dead all right—but they done
told me he was buried! McCoyne told me he seen it done hisself!”

The boy came and stared down in awe at the long and motionless figure,
the white face.

“Him and Del, now——”

But Nabours took him by the arm. The two went down the stairs once more
into the office room.

“Mister,” said Nabours to the gloomy occupant, handing over his key,
“you’d better give me another room.”

“What’s the matter with the one you’ve got?” demanded the landlord of
the Drovers’ Cottage.

“Somebody in it now,” replied Nabours, “and he’s dead. They told me that
you-all got a couple of men to bury that man that got shot. Is that
right? It was Mr. McCoyne told me that. Where is he?”

Sounds of voices came through the open door. A group of men were talking
excitedly in the moonlight. The landlord summoned in one of
these—McCoyne, ubiquitous and sleepless. To him Nabours repeated his
query.

“Certainly, sir,” replied McCoyne. “I saw the two men carrying the
coffin between them. I saw them bury him as plain as I ever saw anything
in all my life! Of course, I wasn’t right out there with them. I been so
busy——”

“Well, he ain’t buried now,” said Jim Nabours. “Cal Dalhart’s up there,
upstairs.”

“Don’t that beat anything you ever heard!” exclaimed McCoyne. “It seems
like everything goes wrong unless a man does it his own self, don’t it
now?”

“You come along with me,” said Nabours, moved by a sudden thought of his
own. “You get two men—new ones. I believe them two folks that buried
Cal Dalhart is both dead theirselfs. Bring a couple of shovels. Hurry
up!”

                 *        *        *        *        *

A little group of men departed in the moonlight on a certain gruesome
errand. It was Jim Nabours himself who began at the loose dirt of the
mound at whose head there had been erected a little headboard: “C.
Dalhart, of Texas. Died July 4, 1867. May he rest in peace.”

“He couldn’t never rest in peace thisaway,” said Jim Nabours a half hour
later. His shovel struck something hard.

“Here, lend us a hand,” said he. “Sinker, get hold the other handle of
this trunk. It’s heavy. Huh! It’s got a half million acres of Texas land
into it!”

“And we’ve got Sim Rudabaugh over in the livery stable,” he added after
a time thoughtfully, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. “This
ain’t no bad day’s work a-tall. You people go on back and bring Cal over
here and we’ll bury him right. A fair exchange ain’t no robbery.”



                             CHAPTER XLVII
                       THE COURT OF THE COMANCHES


FOUR days later the transient population of Abilene began to scatter.
No one knew when another herd would come, if ever. The great Del Sol
herd now was split up, a portion coming into the yards to try for an
Eastern market, a greater portion driven east to the crude packing plant
at Junction City. The remainder, under Len Hersey and a half dozen of
the best men of the Del Sol herd, was driven north to the new range on
the Smoky Hill. All the details of Abilene’s first transaction in cows
now were closed. The bill of sale, the record of the tally, the passing
of the final bank draft—all details soon to become familiar in the
northern-range towns—now were completed. The Del Sol horse band was
sold north. Remained only the two carts, each with its double yoke of
oxen, and two horses each for eight of the hands who had concluded to
return to Texas. The two Army ambulances offered transport for the
remainder of those who had come north in the saddle. Taisie’s horse,
Blancocito, was left to trot alongside, unsaddled.

Lou Gore kissed Taisie Lockhart for the last time, tears in the eyes of
both; then wiped her hands and eyes upon her apron and turned back to
build up her reputation as the biggest-hearted woman on the Plains. What
friend she was to the wild men of the trail, countless wounded,
crippled, ill and helpless cowmen learned in the years to come; years of
swift changes on the upper range. A good soul, a strong heart of the
frontier, she left a beloved and covetable memory.

The ambulances, each drawn by four sleek mules, stood in the street
waiting, flanked by stalwart troopers. In the foremost vehicle, on a
middle seat, hidden from view, sat Sim Rudabaugh, and gyves were on his
wrists. Thongs of rawhide, right and left, bound his hands to the seat
ends. Other thongs fastened his ankles and passed back under the seat to
a cross pole. In the seat behind sat Dan McMasters and the boy Cinquo,
both armed. Rudabaugh could never have escaped. The ruthless trail
bandit, who never took a prisoner, himself was a prisoner at last. To
all his sobbings, his expostulations, his execrations and his questions,
no one made any answer. Of friends he had none in all the world. He was
at the end of the trail of the transgressor.

This ambulance, of course, must drive faster than the others, which
would hold back with the Del Sol carts. In the second ambulance, well
escorted, Taisie was to ride with her foreman, Nabours. In this was
stowed a certain trunk covered with rawhide.

But as this little cavalcade stood halted in midstreet of the cloudless
morning, most of the remaining men of Abilene came clamoring for the
privilege of one more farewell to the Texas girl. Taisie leaned forward
to greet them as they came, herself beautiful as the dawn, in spite of
the new droop at the corners of her mouth.

Dan McMasters had said his own good-bys briefly, coldly—the coldest man
in all the world, she thought. He never once had met her for a moment
alone. Of that swift brief fire of two earlier times only ashes
remained, unblown of any gust of passion.

McCoyne flitted from one vehicle to the other, excitedly making his
adieus.

“Come back again!” said he. “We’ll be waiting for you next year. Tell
every ranch in Texas to send up their herds. You’ll see Abilene with a
jail and a church and a school and a graveyard the next time you come. I
have been so busy——”

Came among the very last a woman of the Silver Moon, young in years but
weary and old at this hour of the morning. Timidly she reached out her
hand through the curtains of the ambulance and Taisie took it.

“Good-by,” said the girl; “good-by, my dear. You’re the first woman ever
came to Abilene. Don’t come back again,”—and so departed to the Silver
Moon, herself once a woman, and seeing Taisie’s eyes following the tall
young man.

Pattison, the Northern stockman, spent some time in final conversation
with Mr. Dan McMasters.

“Believe me, son,” said he, with a final farewell, “when you marry and
settle down with me up here I’ll make you richer than you ever dreamed
of being. Go back home and put up a herd of stockers for next spring.
Tell the Texas drovers to come along. There’s going to be money in cows
now.”

McMasters reached out and took his hand.

“I’ll be back next season with a herd,” said he. “So long!”

Among all these others also came Wild Bill Hickok, future town marshal
of Abilene. By odd chance, partly due to his own shyness, he had never
in all these days met Taisie Lockhart. He did not mean to intrude now,
but inadvertently peered in at the curtains of her ambulance. She saw
him push back the curtain, reached out her hand, smiling. He took it,
held it, stood awed at her very beauty, pondering for a time sadly, her
hand in his, in one of the fits of melancholy which came to him at
times. As he knew his life of the past, so he read all his future.

“You remind me of Agnes,” said he simply. “That’s my wife. She’s back
home. Be good. Good-by.”

With McMasters he spoke at first hardly so much even as that. They shook
hands, each looking into the eyes of the other.

“Good luck!” said Hickok. “Don’t say I didn’t help you with the habeas
corpus. If you run into any one down below kill this man first.”

He nodded at Rudabaugh. The latter broke out blasphemously once more.
But the blue eye of the man who had killed the last of the Rudabaugh
gang of border thieves paid him not even a contemptuous attention. He
turned away.

Now came the parting crack of a whip on the air of the morning, rumble
of wheels on the streets of Abilene, already growing dustier. Abilene,
center of revolutionary changes soon to be, lay behind them presently.
The Del Sol folk were homeward bound.

                 *        *        *        *        *

On the long journey to the South, after the first hour, the leading
ambulance vehicle never again was sighted. From day to day, from camp to
camp, at one river crossing after another, the slower travelers found
proof of attempts to make their progress as safe and easy as possible.
There were rafts and boats, each left on the north bank of the stream.
Fords were marked out with poles. What with the passing of Jesse
Chisholm’s wagon trail to the Arbuckle Mountains, and the additional
care of McMasters and the Army men, the passage southward, thus well
equipped, was child’s play compared with the long and dangerous journey
northbound with the herd. The lead ambulance easily did forty and fifty
miles a day, the ox carts twelve, fifteen, sometimes twenty.

Again and again Taisie Lockhart felt growing upon her her sense of
indebtedness to a man with whom she could never come to terms. One thing
seemed certain—they now had parted company forever. He was leaving
Texas, going North to live. Bitterly the girl resolved that all material
obligations between them, at least, should one day be discharged, though
it should take her last dollar.

Not once on all the long journey did McMasters ever accost his prisoner.
Cold as a tourmaline, his green-gray eyes looked Rudabaugh straight in
the face when occasion came. But that was all. At night the prisoner had
chance to sleep, no chance to escape. If McMasters himself caught a
continuous hour or two of sleep, the boy Cinquo took his place, his
weapon across his knee. Men fed Rudabaugh with no more ceremony than had
he been a captive animal.

Thus, on one morning, two days’ march south of the Washita, McMasters
and his men raised the rough highlands of Medicine Bluff Creek, where
sat Camp Wichita which not long thereafter was to be known as Fort Sill,
thanks to the earlier and long-forgotten efforts of that great soldier
of the West, R. B. Marcy, captain of the Fifth Infantry; the first
explorer for the Army in those parts, and a wise man in Indian matters
in his day. He had predicted the savage campaign of two years later, of
Sheridan, Custer, which proved needful to chastise the upper tribesmen,
of Black Kettle, on the Washita.

As to the reservation which later was to hold the Comanches, subsequent
to the series of tribal defeats wrought by Custer along the Washita,
nothing was consummated until the following year. The main body of the
Quahrada Comanches—those who had the Staked Plains as their hunting
grounds—had traveled on back home. But here in the Wichita Mountains
sturdy Sandy Griswold still held old Yellow Hand and his select band of
warriors, waiting for word from north of the Arkansas. He had told
Yellow Hand to wait until his young men came. Then they could go back
home. And Yellow Hand himself was the first to announce the coming of
men from the north.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The welcome between McMasters and Griswold was brief. The latter looked
inside the ambulance.

“You’ve got your man!” said he grimly. “How about the others?”

“They resisted arrest, sir,” replied Dan McMasters. “I had the help of
Wild Bill Hickok at Abilene. I have kept my word and brought in
Rudabaugh for you. Here’s your man.”

“Get out, you!” He spoke to Rudabaugh the first time, and cut his bands.

The prisoner climbed stiffly down and looked about him. He faced a row
of Army tents, a few rough huts. A clump of Indian tepees stood not far
distant. A strong shudder came across the body of Sim Rudabaugh. His
face went white in sudden premonition.

The Comanches were waiting for the man who had killed their women.

“Oh, my God!” moaned the prisoner, now really contrite. “Oh, my God,
have mercy!” Even then he knew.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Griswold called for his interpreter, ordered the Comanches to come
before his tent. They sat in council, the pipe passed. The beady eyes of
the Comanches were fixed on the prisoner, but they sat in silent dignity
until the proper time. At length Griswold arose, addressing Yellow Hand
and pointing to Rudabaugh, whom he kept standing, his hands again bound.

“Tell him,” said Griswold, nodding to his interpreter, and speaking to
Yellow Hand, “this is the man who shot down your women when they were
bathing over there by the Arbuckle Hills. You Quahradas, of the Staked
Plains, were visiting here. You had not harmed this man. He was not at
war with you. You had not harmed him. He killed your women. He did not
seek out your warriors.

“I said to you that I would bring this man back to you for you to try.
You can punish him as you like. I give him to you. You do not know this
man. You only know that the men who wear a yellow stripe on their
leggings never have lied to you. This is the man who killed your women.
I say it.”

He raised his hand as Yellow Hand started forward, his face convulsed.

“But I have your promise also, Yellow Hand. You shall not lie to me.
When I give him to you in place of your two women you must do as you
have promised.

“Will you now go back to your people and tell them to sit down? Will you
tell them to leave the war trail on the Staked Plains, to leave our
white towns and ranches alone, and the cattle they drive north?

“Will you come here, all of you, and join the northern Comanches and
your brothers the Kiowas and sit down forever, here on your land, where
the buffalo are many and the deer are running in the thickets as many as
the leaves on the trees? Here the sun is warm, the grass is good, the
water is sweet and cool.

“Will you do all these things, Yellow Hand? Are you done fighting with
the white man? I promise you that next year, and the year after, the
white soldiers will take the winter trail against the villages of the
Cheyennes and their friends. No matter how cold it is, no matter how
deep the snow is, our men will find their village and wipe them out. You
Indians must stop stealing horses and cattle and killing our men on the
ranches.

“Will you Quahradas, who are wise men, make your peace first and save
your women and your children? If I give you this man will you open the
trails for the cows that want to go north? Will you come in here and sit
down? Promise me that, Yellow Hand! Speak only the truth to me! I know
how to punish men who lie.”

The face of the old savage still worked with rage; his eyes still were
riveted on the miscreant who stood bound before him, tragic pledge for
the future safety of the Trail. But now Yellow Hand knew himself to be
the leader of his people. He rose with his arms folded.

“I speak the truth, now, here, even as the chief of the white men speaks
it,” said he. “You have done as you have said you would do. Give us that
man that you said you would give us. We will do with him as your people
would do with us. We will try him in our way. I will talk with my men.
We will punish him in our way. Then when we have done that we will wrap
our robes about us. We will come in here and sit down in this land,
which we know is good.

“I can see that the white people are too many. They are making roads
across the grass. Some day the buffalo will be gone. Over their trails
will walk these new cattle—have we not seen them come? I can hear their
hoofs coming, as many as the wind can count among the trees. It is done.
I have said all I want to say.”

“Rudabaugh,” said Griswold, turning to him at length, with no pity in
his eye, “get ready to die. God may have no mercy on your soul. You’ve
shown none—not once in all your life. Take what you’ve earned!”

Rudabaugh broke out with denunciation of the utter illegality of all
this.

“I know it,” said Griswold. “But this court carries no records. No one
will ever know.”

He pushed forward the man, who now so trembled he scarce could stand.
The sinewy fingers of Yellow Hand gripped his shoulder like eagle
talons. A warrior caught him on the opposite side. He was dragged away,
fighting, to the door of the largest lodge.

For an hour there came through the distance only the sound of savage
singing. At length the white men, sitting solemnly awake in their own
encampment, saw a group of the Comanches come out from the lodge and
start toward a little thicket which lay perhaps a hundred yards or so
away. They dragged with them something which scarce stood erect, held
back with palsied feet.

“My God, Mister Dan,” broke out the voice of a boy all too young for
such a scene, but taking one more lesson in border ways, “what are they
goin’ to do to him now?”

                 *        *        *        *        *

But the savage justice of the tribesmen was done in such fashion as only
these fiends of the lower border could have devised. No pen should
specify as to this.

For a time, for five minutes perhaps, or more, there came from the
thicket shrieks of a man in torture, such sounds as left these hardened
men unable to look one another in the face, though not one of them
wavered in his own savage decision. Now it was too late. The word of the
white men had been given.

No smoke, no sign of fire arose above the top of the little thicket.
There was no sound but that of the shrieking victim. The Comanches had
devised some new way of punishment.

Yellow Hand came back after a long time, a smile contorting his great
mouth.

“Him run little way,” said he, wiping his hands on his leggings. “No
skin on him—he can’t run far.”

And for reason of that which had gone on in yonder thicket by the little
stream—by reason of what one time was found flung across the bush tops
there—that bloody stream came to be called the Rawhide.

The Comanche reservation, thus purchased, later established, was close
to that spot. Far to the west, above Doan’s Crossing, over the high
country where soon a dozen trails were to blend—seeking Ellsworth,
Newton, Wichita, Dodge, Great Bend, Ogalalla, all the Army posts and all
the empty upper range—the Comanches fought no more.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The day of the northbound hegira of the cows had come. The immortal
gods, trickling through their fingers grasses of grama, mesquite,
redtop, buffalo, bluestem, watched a new land spring lustily into being.
It was born of blood. But it was born of South and North, which never
again were to know war one with the other. Both shared in sending old
customs to a new land. A new language came to it. New industries grew in
it. More rapidly than any tract of all our country or of any country
ever was settled, the Great West of America became great and strong
indeed. It wrote its story—whose beginnings almost have faded now—on
the pages of the world’s history; or more splendidly still, on the lips
of a country’s envying tradition of Homeric deeds.



                             CHAPTER XLVIII
                          THE GREAT LODESTONE


IT WAS morning of an autumn day on the old rancho of Laguna de Sol.
Although flowers lacked, the leaves of the live oaks held their
perennial course unchanged, the heavy pendants of the Spanish moss
aiding them against the rays of a sun still ardent. The air was almost
without movement, too richly languorous for any exercise—sweet, rich,
mellow and golden as honey, breath of a world caring for neither past
nor future.

The surface of the placid fields where grain had been now seemed as
though covered by a moving carpet of gray and gold—countless field
larks, come to this gentle region for their wintering. In the great
lagoon beyond the live-oak groves countless wild fowl, also from north
of thirty-six, had come below the edge of winter for their annual
vacation. The cattle lay contented in the sun, horses stood dozing, free
of care. Del Sol never had seemed more beautiful or shown more rapport
with the mere facts of life.

Anastasie Lockhart, mistress of Del Sol, was in her dooryard, looking
after morning-glory seed for the coming year. These and other climbing
things had well-nigh taken possession of the big house during her
absence north the past summer. There had been no hand to give the old
place any ministrations, and in the fecund Southwest the fight of
civilization against an eager Nature, claiming its own, is a continuous
one. Years of poverty, which had meant also years of negligence, now
obliged youth and inexperience to begin in a weak way the task of
restoration. Del Sol had lacked the strong and resourceful hand of its
founder.

Not that courage and resourcefulness lacked for the present owner of Del
Sol—nor, indeed, that material means now lacked, after the
astonishingly successful venture of the northern drive. And the steady
ruin into which the place had advanced had been due more than anything
else to an actual lack of material resources.

Anastasie Lockhart had been poor. But now she was not poor. The venture
north had brought her in touch with the Aladdin lamp. Now she could hold
up her head and look all the world in the face. Now she could pay her
debts and be once more a Lockhart of the Lockharts, worthy when on her
knees to look her departed father’s shade calmly in the face and to
declare his faith kept with all the world.

This very morning Anastasie Lockhart had paid her men their wages for
the month; indeed, but just now she had come from the cook-house door;
where not so long before she had stood, haltingly confessing to them
that she could not pay her laborers their hire. It was different to-day.

Not all the old Del Sol men now were at their table, for some had taken
service north, perhaps never again to set foot on Texas soil, and others
had not yet drifted home from seeing the world. Buck, the cook, still
was there; and it appeared that both he and Milly had agreed to forget
the past of Milly’s missing husband. Milly agreeing that she had “taken
up with Buck,” believing him to be the moral superior of the missing
Jim. The place of Del Williams was vacant, nor was Len Hersey’s light
garrulity now audible. No heirs of Cal Dalhart had been found.

There were new men on Del Sol, new horses and new cows. Old Jim Nabours,
when he swung into saddle that morning, had at his side only one man of
the old Del Sol clan—the boy Cinquo Centavos, now resplendent in the
full regalia of the range and much more the man for his adventurings in
far lands. Both these had stood at Blancocito’s head to assist their
mistress in mounting when she rode back to the big house.

So now Taisie Lockhart was pretty much alone as she pottered about the
galleries of the old house, searching for morning-glory seeds, putting
them into her cupped left hand. She was in riding habit now, her male
attire discarded, and a sidesaddle fretted Blancocito; not the old
saddle of low horn and double cinch, which he had yielded only after a
long and bitter fight against the new substitute.

What a change since that other morning of the spring, half a year ago,
when she had returned from the cook-house door! Could this unsmiling
young lady, tall and dignified, well clad, be the same Taisie Lockhart
of that other day? On which day had she been rich, on which day poor? A
world intervened between the two. Anastasie Lockhart, a new little droop
at the corner of her mouth, knew that were it possible she would give
this day for that other—that day when she was poor. That was when first
she saw a tall young man ride in at her gate, whom she had never seen
again since their cold parting in the street of Abilene.

Some thought, some sound unrecognized, something in the air—she knew
not what—caused Taisie’s cupped hand to cease accumulating
morning-glory seeds, the fingers of the other to halt arrested in the
air. She turned. That same rider now was entering her gate.

The face of the mistress of Del Sol went pale. She dropped her
morning-glory seeds.

The rider, tall, slender, very straight, very easy in saddle, came on in
directly through the gate, which a darky boy had opened for him. But he
did not this morning, as upon that other morning, ride to the cook-house
yard. Upon the contrary, at the same steady gentle and unbroken trot, he
rode up, unfaltering, unagitated, to the gallery of Del Sol. His hat in
hand, he dismounted not a dozen paces from where stood Anastasie, dumb
and motionless, pale, even in the Texan sun.

He also, for the time, was dumb. He came straight up to her without
speaking. She noticed certain things, intimately shrewd, her memory
holding every detail of the man whom for months she had known she loved
in spite of every endeavor.

He was scrupulously neat, now, as he had always been. His clothing was
new and good. His collar and his cuffs were white—pure white, in good
linen. Once—she vaguely remembered it now—he had not worn white; had
explained to her some reason for the dull red of his linen.

And there was another change, she was sure of this—he was unarmed! The
heavy weapons no longer swung at his belt, nor even showed in his saddle
holsters. For the first time since she had known him she saw him
weaponless.

He seemed another man, for some reason, she could not tell what. The
same imperturbable calm, the same level gaze of the eye, the same
inscrutable mask of countenance were his, and still he seemed to retain
his habit of casting the burden of speech upon others than himself; but
there was about him something different. Sometimes we feel some such
indefinable change in a man who has suffered a great sickness or met
with some great reverse.

“I wish you good morning, Mr. McMasters,” said Anastasie, half irritated
at the length of his silence, though never had his eyes wavered from her
face. He had wanted to speak, but his lifelong reticence glued his lips.

He made no immediate reply, disdainful as usual of the irrelevant, the
inconsequent. At length he drew from his inner pocket a folded bit of
paper.

“I have come to bring you this, Miss Lockhart,” said he, and gave it
her.

She looked at it, recognized it, and colored deeply.

“It was my wish that you should have it,” said she.

“No, I cannot.”

“And why not? It is only right and fair that I should pay my debts, the
same as any other person. My father paid his. I sent you the draft as I
was bound to do. I wanted to pay you—especially wanted to pay you.” Her
color heightened.

“Why?”

“Why? To square my obligations to you. They were enough. If I had known
before I started what a load of debt you had put on me, there would
never have been a Del Sol cow driven north. I’d have died, starved,
rather than have been under any such obligation to you! I’d have choked
if I’d known I was eating your bread!”

“And you think you have paid all your debt now with this?”

She twisted the paper of the bank draft in her fingers, unconsciously
dropped it on the ground.

“No,” said she, honest always; “there are some things that one can’t
pay. There are some things that can’t be paid. But I sent you the draft,
guessing at the total because I could never get a statement from the men
fairly covering the advances you made us without my knowledge. We did
eat your bread. Without you and your supplies—your horses, your
everything—without your care and help all the way over the trail, we
couldn’t have started and couldn’t have got through. Ah”—bitterly—“we
couldn’t even have sold so well at the end of the trail. That’s all
true. It’s the cruelest truth that ever was offered me.”

“You didn’t want to be helped, not even by your neighbor?”

“Not in that way; not after all—after everything—after some things had
come out as they did.”

“You mean, after your own fault had found you out, don’t you? Isn’t that
the cruelest part of it?”

His words were merciless, yet his voice was kind, gentle, beyond compare
with any voice she had heard in all her life.

“Yes!” she broke out. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. But you have had no
mercy; you show none now. Did you come here this morning to make me say
that?”

“Yes,” said Dan McMasters; “that is why I did come. I knew that sometime
you’d want to tell me that. I knew that before I went away from you,
you’d want to be Lockhart enough to admit to a McMasters that no
McMasters ever born could be the dishonorable man you thought I was. You
sent me out of your camp with a brand on me that I never would have
taken if I hadn’t loved you the first minute I saw you—and if I hadn’t
known that some day you’d want to tell me you were wrong.”

Anastasie Lockhart spread out her hands.

“Haven’t I? I have repented it every night and every day since then. But
of what use? You are not one who can forgive. You only want to shame and
humiliate me, you can’t forgive. You wouldn’t let me, wouldn’t believe
me, wouldn’t forgive me. You say you can’t change.”

“Are you so sure?” His voice spoke as though in answer to some question
of his own. “Which of us can be sure of anything? Who knows about these
things?”

He pulled himself together, trying not to let his emotions go, to hold
to safe things.

“Do you think my father or yours would let us be anything but
neighbors?” he began. “Did not those two gentlemen fight all their lives
together, for their principles, for their state? They were friends, even
after the war, even in the war. If you had a brother, do you suppose my
sister could make any payment to him for things like this? Those men
were Texans.”

“You did nothing for me, then,” said Anastasie Lockhart, trying to be
furious. “You did not think of me; you thought of Texas. You thought of
everything but me!”

“Anastasie,” said he quietly, “that isn’t right. I have thought of
nothing else but you since I met you. Love—why, you can’t measure what
love will do!”

“Love, sir?”

But now his words rushed.

“Neighbor and neighbor—yes. Gonzales and Caldwell—yes. Lockhart and
McMasters—yes. The big trail opening up, the whole country opening
up—yes. The Indians giving way before the white men—yes. A new day
coming into all this country—why yes! I can see all those things, and
so can you. But why? What actuated it all? It seems to me it must have
been love—love of man and woman. I know it was my love for you that
drove me. There are things we can’t ever measure. I couldn’t explain
what I mean—no. And, of course I know,” he added, “I’d have no right to
if I could.”

Anastasie Lockhart stood looking at him, wide-eyed. Surely—she knew it
now with a sudden gasp of apprehension—her instinct had been right. She
had loved in him something other than the cold dominancy of his nature.
Now she knew that he was not the coldest man in all the world, but a man
of tempestuous heats, with storm and stress about him. For the first
time she saw his fingers tremble as he half reached out a hand, withdrew
it.

Neither could he now speak, except with effort. It seemed that, after
all, they were come to the parting of the roads.

“So you wanted my signature to come back to you under the words ‘In full
to date.’ Is it in full to date? Well, we’ll part the better friends for
my having come here. And you thought I could not forgive!”

“Yes!” the girl broke out at last. “I thought you were the hardest,
coldest, cruelest man in all the world. I have seen only the savage side
of you.”

His face changed, grew suddenly sad; upon it came the melancholy
occasionally so notable on the face of another man of like trade, whom
he had met not long before in the North.

“I don’t think you can quite understand everything in the world all at
once, my dear,” said he. “I was set apart from men, because I had taken
on work to do. Home and the love of woman could not be for me. I was
nothing more than a priest—high priest of law and justice. My hands had
to be red. I knew I could never come to you feeling that it was right.”

His face was gray, he undertook to smile, bitterly.

“I was a killer!” he exclaimed. “I became that out of duty to my family
and my state. I knew what it meant—knew well enough. I couldn’t offer
you a hand red as mine. I thought a time surely would come when you’d
have a horror come over you, thinking of what I’d done. But I had to go
on with my work until it was done. I studied it. I shot away a thousand
pounds of lead, I used kegs of powder, in practice. And I studied
concentration. That was the only way I could be safe. Of course, I can’t
make you understand that. But I was playing in a game where I did not
dare lose. My life was up all the time and more than my life.”

Now he was turning away.

“You are going?” said she.

“Yes. The last of the open gang of thieves and outlaws is dead to-day.
The roads are open. The state can breathe. The great conspiracy is
ended. We’ve done our work. For those who are to benefit by it, what
difference if we do pass unknown and forgotten? Your father’s murderer
is dead. We did what we had to do. That was what I did—I did that
first, before I dared to think of beginning my own life for myself.
But——” And now he drew himself up.

She knew that he wanted to indicate to her something. Her eyes rested on
the whiteness of his linen. He saw the look.

“Yes,” said he, looking at his hands, “I’ve turned over a leaf. I have
thrown away my guns. Never while I live will I put them on again, either
here or in the North. I am no longer a hired killer. From where the sun
stands now I am done with that. I am McMasters, citizen, not officer.”

He had found his bridle reins, but did not go, could not go.

“You were talking about forgiveness,” said he, at length, with
difficulty. “Forgive you? Why, I have never done anything but that! Of
course, since I am going away, I ought to forget you; but I never shall.
All you have to do about me is to forget me. There are better men.”

The girl flared out at him with some sudden impulse which got beyond her
control.

“You come here to preach to me? Is that the way to do? Oh, you ride into
my place and you make me tear out my heart with shame and humiliation
and show it to you. And then you ride away again and say good-by and
tell me to forget! Why did you come here at all? Couldn’t you have
mailed back my draft?”

He hesitated. His hand dropped to his side. Suddenly he held out to her
a little object which so, by accident, he had touched; something which
had been in the side pocket of his coat. In appearance it was a fragment
of dark red rock, broken irregularly. But Taisie’s eyes noticed that to
it clung another object—a horse-shoe steel, such as the riders of the
outlands were used to carry with a bit of flint so they might be safe
for fire in any exigency. Without plan, these two objects now served Dan
McMasters for the thing which he had not been able to put into speech.

“Anastasie,” said he, “look at this! It’s nothing—only a bit of ore I
picked up near the Wichitas when I came through. But see, it’s magnetic.
Look how steel clings to it! You hardly can draw them apart; it will
pull to it every little piece of metal. It can’t help itself; they can’t
help themselves.

“Taisie, what’s inside of it? I don’t know. What is that force that we
can’t see? I don’t know. I don’t know anything. You ask me questions
that I can’t answer. All I know is that the magnet and the steel come
together—here, you see. And yet you ask me why am I here now? I don’t
know. It’s the same reason that made me leave Rudabaugh alive in his
camp and ride after you.

“Didn’t I tell you there are things we can’t weigh or measure? There’s
something behind the world we can’t any of us find out! Why did I come?
I don’t know.”

He tossed the little bit of rock and the clinging steel upon the ground
beside the twisted fragment of Anastasie Lockhart’s draft, “In full to
date.” His eyes were softened. The lines of chin and jaw seemed new to
her.

“I have been trying to reason things out,” said he at last, in a new,
strange, shaken voice she never yet had heard. “I am trying now to
reason out why I don’t get on up and ride on away. We’ve said good-by.
I’ve reasoned that you couldn’t love me. Am I right or wrong?”

Anastasie Lockhart slowly raised her face, her serious, grave eyes
looking straight into his.

“You were wrong!” said she. “You have used me like a man. I was a
woman.”

He stepped toward her, in the open sunlight where any might have seen,
caught her face between his two hands and looked into her eyes with his
own new eyes.

“You don’t mean we could both begin again? You don’t mean you could
forget what I have been? You don’t mean I could ever be good enough for
you? You don’t mean you could ever learn to love me in spite of what I
was, for sake of what I am going to try to be? Tell me—answer me now,
for I don’t think I can endure this.”

His two hands had fallen on her shoulders, straightened her up, held her
at arm’s length for just an instant. The innate bravery of the girl
aided her to look straight into his eyes in turn.

“You know,” she said, smiling slowly. “You must know now.”

The tension of the fingers on her shoulders lessened. His voice came
almost in a whisper.

“I do know! Why, there is a new world, after all! We are the very first.
There is no past.”

“Dan!” said she, after a long time. “Dan!”

Her fingers were twisting softly around his wrist, crumpling the white
linen that they found there. Her eyes followed her fingers, not daring
to look up. Her fingers were warm. He caught her chin in both his hands,
though still her fingers clung.

“Taisie,” said he, “what fools we’ve been! Ah, what a blind fool I was!
Forgive me!”

“Why, Dan!” she murmured.

Her head fell forward upon his shoulder, drowsily, although it was
morning, and though the sun shone all around them, brilliantly,
blindingly.

                                THE END



             _There’s More to Follow!_

                 More stories of the sort you like;
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                         EMERSON HOUGH’S NOVELS
  May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list.

=THE COVERED WAGON=

An epic story of the Great West from which the famous picture was made.

=THE WAY OF A MAN=

A colorful romance of the pioneer West before the Civil War.

=THE SAGEBRUSHER=

An Eastern girl answers a matrimonial ad. and goes out West in the hills
of Montana to find her mate.

=THE WAY OUT=

A romance of the feud district of the Cumberland country.

=THE BROKEN GATE=

A story of broken social conventions and of a woman’s determination to
put the past behind her.

=THE WAY TO THE WEST=

Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Kit Carson figure in this story of the
opening of the West.

=HEART’S DESIRE=

The story of what happens when the railroad came to a little settlement
in the far West.

=THE PURCHASE PRICE=

A story of Kentucky during the days after the American Revolution.

                 GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



                        NOVELS OF FRONTIER LIFE
                         WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
  May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list.

                     =BIG-TOWN ROUND-UP, THE=
                     =BRAND BLOTTERS=
                     =BUCKY O’CONNOR=
                     =CROOKED TRAILS AND STRAIGHT=
                     =DAUGHTER OF THE DONS, A=
                     =GUNSIGHT PASS=
                     =HIGHGRADER, THE=
                     =MAN FOUR-SQUARE, A=
                     =MAN-SIZE=
                     =MAVERICKS=
                     =OH, YOU TEX!=
                     =PIRATE OF PANAMA, THE=
                     =RIDGWAY OF MONTANA=
                     =SHERIFF’S SON, THE=
                     =STEVE YEAGER=
                     =TANGLED TRAILS=
                     =TEXAS RANGER, A=
                     =VISION SPLENDID, THE=
                     =WYOMING=
                     =YUKON TRAIL, THE=

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                = B O O T H   T A R K I N G T O N ’ S =
                            = N O V E L S =
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=SEVENTEEN.= Illustrated by Arthur William Brown.

No one but the creator of Penrod could have portrayed the immortal young
people of this story. Its humor is irresistible and reminiscent of the
time when the reader was Seventeen.

=PENROD.= Illustrated by Gordon Grant.

This is a picture of a boy’s heart, full of the lovable, humorous,
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=PENROD AND SAM.= Illustrated by Worth Brehm.

Like “Penrod” and “Seventeen,” this book contains some remarkable phases
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that have ever been written.

=THE TURMOIL.= Illustrated by C. E. Chambers.

Bibbs Sheridan is a dreamy, imaginative youth, who revolts against his
father’s plans for him to be a servitor of big business. The love of a
fine girl turns Bibb’s life from failure to success.

=THE GENTLEMAN FROM INDIANA.= Frontispiece.

A story of love and politics,—more especially a picture of a country
editor’s life in Indiana, but the charm of the book lies in the love
interest.

=THE FLIRT.= Illustrated by Clarence F. Underwood.

The “Flirt,” the younger of two sisters, breaks one girl’s engagement,
drives one man to suicide, causes the murder of another, leads another
to lose his fortune, and in the end marries a stupid and unpromising
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  _Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction_
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                      =TO THE LAST MAN=
                      =THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER=
                      =THE MAN OF THE FOREST=
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                      =WILDFIRE=
                      =THE BORDER LEGION=
                      =THE RAINBOW TRAIL=
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                      =RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE=
                      =THE LIGHT OF WESTERN STARS=
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                      =THE LONE STAR RANGER=
                      =DESERT GOLD=
                      =BETTY ZANE=

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                    =KEN WARD IN THE JUNGLE=
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                        =AND OTHER BASEBALL STORIES=

              GROSSET & DUNLAP,    PUBLISHERS,    NEW YORK



            = P E T E R   B .   K Y N E ’ S   N O V E L S =
  May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list.

=THE PRIDE OF PALOMAR=

When two strong men clash and the under-dog has Irish blood in his
veins—there’s a tale that Kyne can tell! And “the girl” is also very
much in evidence.

=KINDRED OF THE DUST=

Donald McKay, son of Hector McKay, millionaire lumber king, falls in
love with “Nan of the Sawdust Pile,” a charming girl who has been
ostracized by her townsfolk.

=THE VALLEY OF THE GIANTS=

The fight of the Cardigans, father and son, to hold the Valley of the
Giants against treachery. The reader finishes with a sense of having
lived with big men and women in a big country.

=CAPPY RICKS=

The story of old Cappy Ricks and of Matt Peasley, the boy he tried to
break because he knew the acid test was good for his soul.

=WEBSTER: MAN’S MAN=

In a little Jim Crow Republic in Central America, a man and a woman,
hailing from the “States,” met up with a revolution and for a while
adventures and excitement came so thick and fast that their love affair
had to wait for a lull in the game.

=CAPTAIN SCRAGGS=

This sea yarn recounts the adventures of three rapscallion sea-faring
men—a Captain Scraggs, owner of the green vegetable freighter Maggie,
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=THE LONG CHANCE=

A story fresh from the heart of the West, of San Pasqual, a sun-baked
desert town, of Harley P. Hennage, the best gambler, the best and worst
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                        JACKSON GREGORY’S NOVELS
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=THE EVERLASTING WHISPER=

The story of a strong man’s struggle against savage nature and humanity,
and of a beautiful girl’s regeneration from a spoiled child of wealth
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=DESERT VALLEY=

A college professor sets out with his daughter to find gold. They meet a
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=MAN TO MAN=

Encircled with enemies, distrusted, Steve defends his rights. How he won
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=THE BELLS OF SAN JUAN=

Dr. Virginia Page is forced to go with the sheriff on a night journey
into the strongholds of a lawless band. Thrills and excitement sweep the
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=JUDITH OF BLUE LAKE RANCH=

Judith Sanford part owner of a cattle ranch realizes she is being robbed
by her foreman. How, with the help of Bud Lee, she checkmates Trevor’s
scheme makes fascinating reading.

=THE SHORT CUT=

Wayne is suspected of killing his brother after a violent quarrel.
Financial complications, villains, a horse-race and beautiful Wanda, all
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=THE JOYOUS TROUBLE MAKER=

A reporter sets up housekeeping close to Beatrice’s Ranch much to her
chagrin. There is “another man” who complicates matters, but all turns
out as it should in this tale of romance and adventure.

=SIX FEET FOUR=

Beatrice Waverly is robbed of $5,000 and suspicion fastens upon Buck
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here is a real story of the Great Far West.

=WOLF BREED=

No Luck Drennan had grown hard through loss of faith in men he had
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whose clever fencing wins the admiration and love of the “Lone Wolf.”

              GROSSET & DUNLAP,    PUBLISHERS,    NEW YORK



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                          STORIES OF ADVENTURE
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                     =THE COUNTRY BEYOND=
                     =THE FLAMING FOREST=
                     =THE VALLEY OF SILENT MEN=
                     =THE RIVER’S END=
                     =THE GOLDEN SNARE=
                     =NOMADS OF THE NORTH=
                     =KAZAN=
                     =BAREE, SON OF KAZAN=
                     =THE COURAGE OF CAPTAIN PLUM=
                     =THE DANGER TRAIL=
                     =THE HUNTED WOMAN=
                     =THE FLOWER OF THE NORTH=
                     =THE GRIZZLY KING=
                     =ISOBEL=
                     =THE WOLF HUNTERS=
                     =THE GOLD HUNTERS=
                     =THE COURAGE OF MARGE O’DOONE=
                     =BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY=

  _Ask for Complete free list of G. & D. Popular Copyrighted Fiction_
                 GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK



                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES

Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected.

Inconsistencies in punctuation have been maintained.

Some illustrations were moved to facilitate page layout.

A List of Illustrations was created.

[The end of _North of 36_ by Emerson Hough]





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