Part 1 out of 2
The Lure of the Dim Trails by B. M. Bower
Etext prepared by Simon Page, email@example.com
THE LURE OF THE DIM TRAILS
By B. M. Bower
IN SEARCH OF THE WESTERN TONE
"What do you care, anyway?" asked Reeve-Howard philosophically.
"It isn't as if you depended on the work for a living. Why
worry over the fact that a mere pastime fails to be financially
a success. You don't need to write--"
"Neither do you need to slave over those dry-point things,"
Thurston retorted, in none the best humor with his comforter
"You've an income bigger than mine; yet you toil over
Grecian-nosed women with untidy hair as if each one meant a meal
and a bed"
"A meal and a bed--that's good; you must think I live like a
"And I notice you hate like the mischief to fail, even though."
"Only I never have failed," put in Reeve-Howard, with the amused
complacency born of much adulation.
Thurston kicked a foot-rest out of his way. "Well, I have. The
fashion now is for swashbuckling tales with a haze of powder
smoke rising to high heaven. The public taste runs to gore and
more gore, and kidnappings of beautiful maidens-bah!"
"Follow the fashion then--if you must write. Get out of your
pink tea and orchid atmosphere, and take your heroines out West-
-away out, beyond the Mississippi, and let them be kidnapped.
Or New Mexico would do."
"New Mexico is also beyond the Mississippi, I believe," Thurston
"Perhaps it is. What I mean is, write what the public wants,
since you don't relish failure. Why don't you do things about
the plains? It ought to be easy, and you were born out there
somewhere. It should come natural."
"I have," Thurston sighed. "My last rejection states that the
local color is weak and unconvincing. Hang the local color!"
The foot-rest suffered again.
Reeve-Howard was getting into his topcoat languidly, as he did
everything else. "The thing to do, then," he drawled, "is to go
out and study up on it. Get in touch with that country, and
your local color will convince. Personally though, I like those
little society skits you do--"
"Skits!" exploded Thurston. "My last was a four-part serial. I
never did a skit in my life."
"Beg pardon-which is more than you did after accusing my studies
of having untidy hair. Don't look so glum, Phil. Go out and
learn your West; a month or so will put you up to date--and by
Jove! I half envy you the trip."
That is what put the idea into Thurston's head; and as
Thurston's ideas generally bore fruit of one sort or another, he
went out that very day and ordered from his tailor a complete
riding outfit, and because he was a good customer the tailor
consented to rush the work. It seemed to Thurston, looking over
cuts of the very latest styles in riding clothes, that already
he was breathing the atmosphere of the plains.
That night he stayed at home and dreamed, of the West. His
memory, coupled with what he had heard and idealized by his
imagination, conjured dim visions of what he had once known had
known and forgotten; of a land here men and conditions harked
back to the raw foundations of civilization; where wide plains
flecked with sage-brush and ribboned with faint, brown trails,
spread away and away to a far sky-line. For Phil Thurston was
range-born, if not range-bred, His father had chosen always to
live out on the edge of things--out where the trails of men are
dim and far apart-and the silent prairie bequeaths a heritage of
distance-hunger to her sons.
While he brooded grew a keen longing to see again the little
town huddled under the bare, brown hills that shut out the
world; to see the gay-blanketed Indians who stole like painted
shadows about the place, and the broad river always hurrying
away to the sunrise. He had been afraid of the river and of the
bare hills and the Indians. He felt that his mother, also, had
been afraid. He pictured again--and he picture was blurred and
indistinct-the day when strange men had brought his father
mysteriously home; men who were silent save for the shuffling of
their feet, and who carried their big hats awkwardly in their
There had been a day of hushed voices and much weeping and
gloom, and he had been afraid to play. Then they had carried
his father as mysteriously away again, and his mother had hugged
him close and cried bitterly and long. The rest was blank. When
one is only five, the present quickly blurs what is past, and he
wondered that, after all these years, he should feel the grip of
something very like homesickness--and for something more than
half forgotten. But though he did not realize it, in his veins
flowed the adventurous blood of his father, and to it the dim
trails were calling.
In four days he set his face eagerly toward the dun deserts and
the sage-brush gray.
At Chicago a man took the upper berth in Thurston's section, and
settled into the seat with a deep sigh- presumably of
thankfulness. Thurston, with the quick eye of those who write,
observed the whiteness of his ungloved hands, the coppery tan of
cheeks and throat, the clear keenness of his eyes, and the four
dimples in the crown of his soft, gray hat, and recognized him
as a fine specimen of the Western type of farmer, returning home
from the stockman's Mecca. After that he went calmly back to
his magazine and forgot all about him.
Twenty miles out, the stranger leaned forward and tapped him
lightly on the knee. "Say, I hate to interrupt yuh," he began in
a whimsical drawl, evidently characteristic of the man, "but I'd
like to know where it is I've seen yuh before."
Thurston glanced up impersonally, hesitated between annoyance
and a natural desire to, be courteous, and replied that he had
no memory of any previous meeting.
"Mebby not," admitted the other, and searched the face of
Thurston with his keen eyes. It came to Phil that they were
also a bit wistful, but he went unsympathetically back to his
Five miles more and be touched Thurston again, apologetically
yet insistently. "Say," he drawled, "ain't your name Thurston?
I'll bet a carload uh steers it is--Bud Thurston. And your home
range is Fort Benton."
Phil stared and confessed to all but the "Bud."
"That's what me and your dad always called yuh," the man
asserted. "Well, I'll be hanged! But I knew it. I knew I'd run
acrost yuh somewheres. You're the dead image uh your dad, Bill
Thurston. And me and Bill freighted together from Whoop-up to
Benton along in the seventies. Before yuh was born we was chums.
I don't reckon you'd remember me? Hank Graves, that used to
pack yuh around on his back, and fill yuh up on dried prunes--
when dried prunes was worth money? Yuh used to call 'em
'frumes,' and--Why, it was me with your dad when the Indians
pot-shot him at Chimney Rock; and it was me helped your mother
straighten things up so she could pull out, back where she come
from. She never took to the West much. How is she? Dead? Too
bad; she was a mighty fine woman, your mother was.
"Well, I'll-be-hanged! Bud Thurston little, tow-headed Bud that
used to holler for 'frumes' if he seen me coming a mile off.
Doggone your measly hide, where's all them pink apurns yuh used
to wear?" He leaned back and laughed--a silent, inner convulsion
of pure gladness.
Philip Thurston was, generally speaking, a conservative young
man and one slow to make friends; slower still to discard them.
He was astonished to feel a choky sensation in his throat and a
stinging of eyelids, and a leap in his blood. To be thus taken
possession of by a blunt-speaking stranger not at all in his
class; to be addressed as "Bud," and informed that he once
devoured dried prunes; to be told " Doggone your measly hide"
should have affronted him much. Instead, he seemed to be swept
mysteriously back into the primitive past, and to feel akin to
this stranger with the drawl and the keen eyes. It was the
blood of his father coming to its own.
From that hour the two were friends. Hank Graves, in his
whimsical drawl, told Phil things about his father that made his
blood tingle with pride; his father, whom he had almost
forgotten, yet who had lived bravely his life, daring where
other men quailed, going steadfastly upon his way when other men
So, borne swiftly into the West they talked, and the time seemed
short. The train had long since been racing noisily over the
silent prairies spread invitingly with tender green- great,
lonely, inscrutable, luring men with a spell as sure and as
strong as is the spell of the sea.
The train reeled across a trestle that spanned a deep, dry gash
in the earth. In the green bottom huddled a cluster of pygmy
cattle and mounted men; farther down were two white flakes of
tents, like huge snowflakes left unmelted in the green canyon.
"That's the Lazy Eight--my outfit," Graves informed Thurston
with the unconscious pride of possession, pointing a forefinger
as they whirled on. "I've got to get off, next station. Yuh
want to remember, Bud, the Lazy Eight's your home from now on.
We'll make a cow- puncher of yuh in no time; you've got it in
yuh, or yuh wouldn't look so much like your dad. And you can
write stories about us all yuh want--we won't kick. The way
I've got the summer planned out, you'll waller chin-deep in
material; all yuh got to do is foller the Lazy Eight through
till shipping time."
Thurston had not intended learning to be a cow-puncher, or
following the Lazy Eight or any other hieroglyphic through 'till
shipping time--whenever that was.
But facing Hank Graves, he had not the heart to tell him so, or
that he had planned to spend only a month--or six weeks at most-
-in the West, gathering local color and perhaps a plot or two?
and a few types. Thurston was great on types.
The train slowed at a little station with a dismal red section
house in the immediate background and a red- fronted saloon close
beside. "Here we are," cried Graves, "and I ain't sorry; only I
wisht you was going to stop right now. But I'll look for yuh in
three or four days at the outside. So-long, Bud. Remember, the
Lazy Eight's your hang-out."
LOCAL COLOR IN THE RAW
For the rest of the way Thurston watched the green hills slide
by--and the greener hollows--and gave himself up to visions of
Fort Benton; visions of creaking bull-trains crawling slowly,
like giant brown worms, up and down the long hill; of many
high-piled bales of buffalo hides upon the river bank, and
clamorous little steamers churning up against the current; the
Fort Benton that had, for many rushing miles, filled and colored
the speech of Hank Graves and stimulated his childish
But when he reached the place and wandered aimlessly about the
streets, tile vision faded into half-resentful realization that
these things were no more forever. For the bull-trains, a
roundup outfit clattered noisily out of town and disappeared in
an elusive dust-cloud; for the gay-blanketed Indians slipping
like painted shadows from view, stray cow-boys galloped into
town, slid from their saddles and clanked with dragging rowels
into the nearest saloon, or the post-office. Between whiles the
town cuddled luxuriously down in the deep little valley and
slept while the river, undisturbed by pompous steamers, murmured
It was not the Fort Benton he had come far to see, so that on
the second day he went away up the long hill that shut out the
world and, until the east-bound train came from over the
prairies, paced the depot platform impatiently with never a
vision to keep him company.
For a long time the gaze of Thurston clung fascinated to the
wide prairie land, feeling again the stir in his blood. Then,
when a deep cut shut from him the sight of the wilderness, he
chanced to turn his head, and looked straight into the clear,
blue-gray eyes of a girl across the aisle. Thurston considered
himself immune from blue-gray --or any other-eyes, so that he
permitted himself to regard her calmly and judicially, his mind
reverting to the fact that he would need a heroine to be
kidnapped, and wondering if she would do. She was a Western
girl, he could tell that by the tan and by her various little
departures from the Eastern styles--such as doing her hair low
rather than high. Where he had been used to seeing the hair of
woman piled high and skewered with many pins, hers was brushed
smoothly back-smoothly save for little, irresponsible waves here
and there. Thurston decided that the style was becoming to her.
He wondered if the fellow beside her were her brother; and then
reminded himself sagely that brothers do not, as a rule, devote
their time quite so assiduously to the entertainment of their
sisters. He could not stare at her forever, and so he gave over
his speculations and went back to the prairies.
Another hour, and Thurston was stiffing a yawn when the coaches
bumped sharply together and, with wheels screeching protest as
the brakes clutched them, the train, grinding protest in every
joint, came, with a final heavy jar, to a dead stop. Thurston
thought it was a wreck, until out ahead came the sharp crackling
of rifles. A passenger behind him leaned out of the window and
a bullet shattered the glass above his head; he drew back
Some one hurried through the front vestibule, the door was
pushed unceremoniously open and a man--a giant, he seemed to
Thurston--stopped just inside, glared down the length of the
coach through slits in the black cloth over his face and bawled,
Thurston was so utterly surprised that his hands jerked
themselves involuntarily above his head, though he did not feel
particularly frightened; he was filled with a stupefied sort of
curiosity to know what would come next. The coach, so far as he
could see, seemed filled with uplifted, trembling hands, so that
he did not feel ashamed of his own. The man behind him put up
his hands with the other-- but one of them held a revolver that
barked savagely and unexpectedly close against the car of
Thurston. Thurston ducked. There was an echo from the front,
and the man behind, who risked so much on one shot, lurched into
the aisle, swaying uncertainly between the seats. He of the
mask fired again, viciously, and the other collapsed into a
still, awkwardly huddled heap on the floor. The revolver
dropped from his fingers and struck against Thurston's foot,
making him wince.
Thurston had never before seen death come to a man, and the very
suddenness of it unnerved him. All his faculties were numbed
before that terrible, pitiless form in the door, and the limp,
dead body at his feet in the aisle. He did not even remember
that here was the savage local color he had come far a-seeking.
He quite forgot to improve the opportunity by making mental note
of all the little, convincing details, as was his wont.
Presently he awoke to the realization of certain words spoken
insistently close beside him. He turned his eyes and saw that
the girl, her eyes staring straight before her, her slim, brown
hands uplifted, was yet commanding him imperiously, her voice
holding to that murmuring monotone more discreet than a whisper.
"The gun--drop down--and get it. He can't see to shoot for the
seat in front. Get the gun. Get the gun!" was what she was
Thurston looked at her helplessly, imploringly. In truth, he
had never fired a gun in all his peaceful life.
"The gun--get it--and shoot!" Her eyes moved quickly in a
cautious, side-long glance that commanded impatiently. Her
straight eyebrows drew together imperiously. Then, when he met
her eyes with that same helpless look, she said another word
that hurt. It was " Coward!"
Thurston looked down at the gun, and at the huddled form. A tiny
river of blood was creeping toward him. Already it had reached
his foot, and his shoe was red along the sole. He moved his foot
quickly away from it, and shuddered.
"Coward!" murmured the girl contemptuously again, and a splotch
of anger showed under the tan of her cheek.
Thurston caught his breath and wondered if he could do it; he
looked toward the door and thought how far it was to send a
bullet straight when a man has never, in all his life, fired a
gun. And without looking he could see that horrible, red stream
creeping toward him like some monster in a nightmare. His flesh
crimpled with physical repulsion, but he meant to try; perhaps
he could shoot the man in the mask, so that there would be
another huddled, lifeless Thing on the floor, and another
creeping red stream.
At that instant the tawny-haired young fellow beside the girl
gathered himself for a spring, flung himself headlong before her
and into the aisle; caught the dead man's pistol from the floor
and fired, seemingly with one movement. Then he sprang up, still
firing as fast as the trigger could move. From the door came
answer, shot for shot, and the car was filled with the stifling
odor of burnt powder. A woman screamed hysterically.
Then a puff of cool, prairie breeze came in through the
shattered window behind Thurston, and the smoke-cloud lifted
like a curtain blown upward in the wind. The tawny- haired young
fellow was walking coolly down the aisle, the smoking revolver
pointing like an accusing finger toward the outlaw who lay
stretched upon his face, his fingers twitching.
Outside, rifles were crackling like corn in a giant popper.
Presently it slackened to an occasional shot. A brakeman,
followed by two coatless mail-clerks with Winchesters, ran down
the length of the train calling out that there was no danger.
The thud of their running feet, and the wholesome mingling of
their shouting struck sharply in the silence after the shooting.
One of the men swung up on the steps of the day coach and came
"Hello, Park," he cried to the tawny haired boy. "Got one, did
yuh? That's good. We did, too got him alive. Think uh the
nerve uh that Wagner bunch! to go up against a train in broad
daylight. Made an easy getaway, too, except the feller we
gloomed in the express car. How's this one? Dead?"
"No. I reckon he'll get well enough to stretch a rope; he
killed a man, in here." He motioned toward the huddled figure in
the aisle. They came together, lifted the dead man and carried
him away to the baggage car. A brakeman came with a cloth and
wiped up the red pool, and Thurston pressed his lips tightly
together and turned away his head; he could not remember when
the sight of anything had made him so deathly sick. Once he
glanced slyly at the girl opposite, and saw that she was very
white under her tan, and that the hands in her lap were clasped
tightly and yet shook. But she met his eyes squarely, and
Thurston did not look at her again; he did not like the
expression of her mouth.
News of the holdup had been telegraphed ahead, and all
Shellanne--which was not much of a crowd--gathered at the
station to meet the train and congratulate the heroes. Thurston
alighted almost shamefacedly into the midst of the loud-voiced
commotion. While he was looking uncertainly about him,
wondering where to go and what to do, a voice he knew hailed him
with drawling welcome.
"Hello, Bud. Got back quicker than you expected, didn't yuh?
It's lucky I happened to be in town--yuh can ride out with me.
Say, yuh got quite a bunch uh local color for a story, didn't
yuh? You'll be writing blood-and-thunder for a month on the
strength of this little episode, I reckon." his twinkling eyes
teased, though his face was quite serious, as was his voice.
She of the blue-gray eyes turned and measured Thurston with a
deliberate, leisurely glance, and her mouth still had that
unpleasant expression. Thurston colored guiltily, but Hank
Graves lifted his hat and called her Mona, and asked her if she
wasn't scared stiff, and if she were home to stay. Then he
beckoned to the tawny-haired fellow with his finger, and winked
at Mona--a proceeding which shocked Thurston considerably.
"Mona--here, hold on a minute, can't yuh? Mona, this is a friend
uh mine; Bud Thurston's his name. He's come out to study us up
and round up a hunch uh real Western atmosphere. He's a
story-writer. I used to whack bulls all over the country with
his father. Bud, this is Mona Stevens; she ranges down close to
the Lazy Eight, so the sooner yuh git acquainted, the quicker."
He did not explain what would be the quicker, and Thurston's
embarrassment was only aggravated by the introduction.
Miss Stevens gave him a chilly smile, the kind that is worse
than none at all and turned her back, thinly pretending that she
heard her brother calling her, which she did not. Her brother
was loudly explaining what would have happened if he had been on
that train and had got a whack at the robbers, and his sister
was far from his mind.
Graves slapped the shoulder of the fellow they had called Park.
"You young devil, next time I leave the place for a week--yes,
or overnight--I'll lock yuh up in the blacksmith shop. Have yuh
got to be Mona's special escort, these days?"
"Wish I was," Park retorted, unmoved.
"Different here--yuh ain't much account, as it is. Bud, this
here's my wagon-boss, Park Holloway; one of 'em, that is. I'm
going to turn yuh over to him and let him wise yuh up. Say, you
young bucks ought to get along together pretty smooth. Your
dads run buffalo together before either of yuh was born. Well,
let's be moving--we ain't home yet. Got a war-bag, Bud?"
Late that night Thurston lay upon a home-made bed and listened
to the frogs croaking monotonously in the hollow behind the
house, and to the lone coyote which harped upon the subject of
his wrongs away on a distant hillside, and to the subdued
snoring of Hank Graves in the room beyond. He was trying to
adjust himself to this new condition of things, and the new
condition refused utterly to be measured by his accepted
According to that standard, he should feel repulsed and annoyed
by the familiarity of strangers who persisted in calling him
"Bud" without taking the trouble to find out whether or not he
liked it. And what puzzled Thurston and put him all at sea was
the consciousness that he did like it, and that it struck
familiarly upon his ears as something to which he had been
accustomed in the past.
Also, according to his well-ordered past, he should hate this
raw life and rawer country where could occur such brutal things
as he had that day witnessed. He should dislike a man like Park
Holloway who, having wounded a man unto death, had calmly
dismissed the subject with the regret that his aim had not been
better, so that he could have saved the county the expense of
trying and hanging the fellow. Thurston was amazed to find
that, down in the inner man of him, he admired Park Holloway
exceedingly, and privately resolved to perfect himself in the
use of fire-arms, he who had been wont to deplore the thinly
veneered savagery of men who liked such things.
After much speculation he decided that Mona Stevens would not do
for a kidnapped heroine. He could not seem to "see" her in such
a position, and, besides, he told himself that such a type of
girl did not attract him at all. She had called him a coward-
-and why? simply because he, straight from the trammels of
civilization, had not been prepared to meet the situation thrust
upon him-which she had thrust upon him. She had demanded of him
something he had not the power to accomplish, and she had called
him a coward. And in his heart Thurston knew that it was
unjust, and that he was not a coward.
Thurston, dressed immaculately in riding clothes of the latest
English cut, went airily down the stairs and discovered that he
was not early, as he had imagined. Seven o'clock, he had told
himself proudly, was not bad for a beginner; and he had smiled
in anticipation of Hank Graves' surprise which was fortunate,
since he would otherwise have been cheated of smiling at all.
For Hank Graves, he learned from the cook, had eaten breakfast
at five and had left the ranch more than an hour before; the
men also were scattered to their work.
Properly humbled in spirit, he sat down to the kitchen table and
ate his belated breakfast, while the cook kneaded bread at the
other end of the same table and eyed Thurston with frank
amusement. Thurston had never before been conscious of feeling
ill at ease in the presence of a servant, and hurried through
the meal so that he could escape into the clear sunshine,
feeling a bit foolish in the unaccustomed bagginess of his
riding breeches and the snugness of his leggings; for he had
never taken to outdoor sports, except as an onlooker from the
shade of a grand stand or piazza.
While he was debating the wisdom of writing a detailed
description of yesterday's tragedy while it was still fresh in
his mind and stowing it away for future "color," Park Holloway
rode into the yard and on to the stables. He nodded at Thurston
and grinned without apparent cause, as the cook had done.
Thurston followed him to the corral and watched him pull the
saddle off his horse, and throw it carelessly to one side. It
looked cumbersome, that saddle; quite unlike the ones he had
inspected in the New York shops. He grasped the horn, lifted
upon it and said, "Jove!"
"Heavy, ain't it?" Park laughed, and slipped the bridle down
over the ears of his horse and dismissed him with a slap on the
rump. "Don't yuh like the looks of it?" he added indulgently.
Thurston, engaged in wondering what all those little strings
were for, felt the indulgence and straightened. "How should I
know?" he retorted. "Anyone can see that my ignorance is
absolute. I expect you to laugh at me, Mr. Holloway."
"Call me Park," said he of the tawny hair, and leaned against
the fence looking extremely boyish and utterly incapable of
walking calmly down upon a barking revolver and shooting as he
went. "You're bound to learn all about saddles and what they're
made for," he went on. "So long as yuh don't get swell-headed
the first time yuh stick on a horse that side-steps a little, or
back down from a few hard knocks, you'll be all right."
Thurston had not intended getting out and actually living the
life he had come to observe, but something got in his nerves and
his blood and bred an impulse to which he yielded without
reserve. "Park, see here," he said eagerly. "Graves said he'd
turn me over to you, so you could--er-- teach me wisdom. It's
deuced rough on you, but I hope you won't refuse to be bothered
with me. I want to learn-- everything. And I want you to find
fault like the mischief, and--er--knock me into shape, if it's
possible." He was very modest over his ignorance, and his voice
Park studied him gravely. "Bud," he said at last, "you'll do.
You're greener right now than a blue-joint meadow in June, but
yuh got the right stuff in yuh, and it's a go with me. You come
along with us after that trail-herd, and you'll get knocked into
shape fast enough. Smoke?"
Thurston shook his head. "Not those."
"I dunno I'm afraid yuh can't be the real thing unless yuh fan
your lungs with cigarette smoke regular." The twinkle belied
him, though. "Say, where did you pick them bloomers?"
"They were made in New York." Thurston smiled in sickly fashion.
He had all along been uncomfortably aware of the sharp contrast
between his own modish attire and the somewhat disreputable
leathern chaps of his host's foreman.
"Well," commented Park, "you told me to find fault like the
mischief, and I'm going to call your bluff. This here's
Montana, recollect, and I raise the long howl over them
habiliments. The best thing you can do is pace along to the
house and discard before the boys get sight of yuh. They'd queer
yuh with the whole outfit, sure. Uh course," he went on
soothingly when he saw the resentment in Thurston's eyes, "I
expect they're real stylish--back East-- but the boys ain't
educated to stand for anything like that; they'd likely tell yuh
they set like the hide on the hind legs of an elephant--which is
a fact. I hate to say it, Kid, but they sure do look like the
"So would you, in New York," Thurston flung back at him.
"Why, sure. But this ain't New York; this here's the Lazy Eight
corral, and I'm doing yuh a favor. You wouldn't like to have
the boys shooting holes through the slack, would yuh? You amble
right along and get some pants on--and when you've wised up some
you'll thank me a lot. I'm going on a little jaunt down the
creek, before dinner, and you might go along; you'll need to get
hardened to the saddle anyway, before we start for Billings, or
you'll do most uh riding on the mess-wagon."
Thurston, albeit in resentful mood, went meekly and did as he
was commanded to do; and no man save Park and the cook ever
glimpsed those smart riding clothes of English cut.
"Now yuh look a heap more human," was the way Park signified his
approval of the change. "Here's a little horse that's easy to
ride and dead gentle if yuh don't spur him in the neck, which
you ain't liable to do at present; and Hank says you can have
this saddle for keeps. Hank used to ride it, but he out-growed
it and got one longer in the seat. When we start for Billings to
trail up them cattle, of course you'll get a string of your own
"A string? I'm afraid I don't quite understand."
"Yuh don't savvy riding a string? A string, m'son, is ten or a
dozen saddle-horses that yuh ride turn about, and nobody else
has got any right to top one; every fellow has got his own
string, yuh see."
Thurston eyed his horse distrustfully. "I think," he ventured,
"one will be enough for me. I'll scarcely need a dozen." The
truth was that he thought Park was laughing at him.
Park slid sidewise in the saddle and proceeded to roll another
cigarette. "I'd be willing to bet that by fall you'll have a
good-sized string rode down to a whisper. You wait; wait till
it gets in your blood. Why, I'd die if you took me off the
range. Wait till yuh set out in the dark, on your horse, and
count the stars and watch the big dipper swing around towards
morning, and listen to the cattle breathing close by--sleeping
while you ride around 'em playing guardian angel over their
dreams. Wait till yuh get up at daybreak and are in the saddle
with the pink uh sunrise, and know you'll sleep fifteen or
twenty miles from there that night; and yuh lay down at night
with the smell of new grass in your nostrils where your bed had
"Why, Bud, if you're a man, you'll be plumb spoiled for your
little old East." Then he swung back his feet and the horses
broke into a lope which jarred the unaccustomed frame of
Thurston mightily, though he kept the pace doggedly.
"I've got to go down to the Stevens place," Park informed him.
"You met Mona yesterday--it was her come down on the train with
me, yuh remember." Thurston did remember very distinctly. "Hank
says yuh compose stories. Is that right?"
Thurston's mind came back from wondering how Mona Stevens' mouth
looked when she was pleased with one, and he nodded.
"Well, there's a lot in this country that ain't ever been wrote
about, I guess; at least if it was I never read it, and I read
considerable. But the trouble is, them that know ain't in the
writing business, and them that write don't know. The way I've
figured it, they set back East somewhere and write it like they
think maybe it is; and it's a hell of a job they make of it."
Thurston, remembering the time when he, too, "set back East" and
wrote it like he thought maybe it was, blushed guiltily. He was
thankful that his stories of the West had, without exception,
been rejected as of little worth. He shuddered to think of one
of them falling into the hands of Park Holloway.
"I came out to learn, and I want to learn it thoroughly," he
said, in the face of much physical discomfort. Just then the
horses slowed for a climb, and he breathed thanks. "In the
first place," he began again when he had readjusted himself
carefully in the saddle, "I wish you'd tell me just where you
are going with the wagons, and what you mean by trailing a
"Why, I thought I said we were going to Billings," Park
answered, surprised. "What we're going to do when we get there
is to receive a shipment of cattle young steer that's coming up
from the Panhandle which is a part uh Texas. And we trail 'em up
here and turn 'em loose this side the river. After that we'll
start the calf roundup. The Lazy Eight runs two wagons, yuh
know. I run one, and Deacon Smith runs the other; we work
together, though, most of the time. It makes quite a crew,
twenty-five or thirty men."
"I didn't know," said Thurston dubiously, "that you ever shipped
cattle into this country. I supposed you shipped them out. Is
Mr. Graves buying some?"
"Hank? I guess yes! six thousand head uh yearlings and two
year-olds, this spring; some seasons it's more. We get in young
stock every year and turn 'em loose on the range till they're
ready to ship. It's cheaper than raising calves, yuh know.
When yuh get to Billings, Bud, you'll see some cattle! Why, our
bunch alone will make seven trains, and that ain't a
commencement. Cattle's cheap down South, this year, and seems
like everybody's buying. Hank didn't buy as much as some,
because he runs quite a bunch uh cows; we'll brand six or seven
thousand calves this spring. Hank sure knows how to rake in the
Thurston agreed as politely as he could for the jolting. They
had again struck the level and seven miles, at Park's usual
pace, was heartbreaking to a man not accustomed to the saddle.
Thurston had written, just before leaving home, a musical bit of
verse born of his luring dreams, about "the joy of speeding
fleetly where the grassland meets the sky," and he was gritting
his teeth now over the idiotic lines.
When they reached the ranch and Mona's mother came to the door
and invited them in, he declined almost rudely, for he had a
feeling that once out of the saddle he would have difficulty in
getting into it again. Besides, Mona was not at home, according
to her mother.
So they did not tarry, and Thurston reached the Lazy Eight
alive, but with the glamour quite gone from his West. If he had
not been the son of his father, he would have taken the first
train which pointed its nose to the East, and he would never
again have essayed the writing of Western stories or musical
verse which sung the joys of galloping blithely off to the
sky-line. He had just been galloping off to a sky-line that was
always just before and he had not been blithe; nor did the
memory of it charm. Of a truth, the very thought of things
Western made him swear mild, city-bred oaths.
He choked back his awe of the cook and asked him, quite humbly,
what was good to take the soreness from one's muscles; afterward
he had crept painfully up the stairs, clasping to his bosom a
beer bottle filled with pungent, home-made liniment which the
cook had gravely declared "out uh sight for saddle-galls."
Hank Graves, when he heard the story, with artistic touches from
the cook, slapped his thigh and laughed one of his soundless
chuckles. "The son-of-a-gun! He's the right stuff. Never
whined, eh? I knew it. He's his dad over again, from the ground
up." And loved him the better.
Thurston tucked the bulb of his camera down beside the bellows
and closed the box with a snap. "I wonder what old Reeve would
say to that view," he mused aloud.
"Oh, a fellow back in New York. Jove! he'd throw up his
dry-point heads and take to oils and landscapes if he could see
The "this" was a panoramic view of the town and surrounding
valley of Billings. The day was sunlit and still, and far
objects stood up with sharp outlines in the clear atmosphere.
Here and there the white tents of waiting trail-outfits
splotched the bright green of the prairie. Horsemen galloped to
and from the town at top speed, and a long, grimy red stock
train had just snorted out on a siding by the stockyards where
the bellowing of thirsty cattle came faintly like the roar of
pounding surf in the distance.
Thurston--quite a different Thurston from the trim, pale young
man who had followed the lure of the West two weeks before--drew
a long breath and looked out over the hurrying waters of the
Yellowstone. It was good to be alive and young, and to live the
tented life of the plains; it was good even to be "speeding
fleetly where the grassland meets the sky "--for two weeks in the
saddle had changed considerably his view-point. He turned again
to the dust and roar of the stockyards a mile or so away.
"Perhaps," he remarked hopefully, "the next train will be ours."
Strange how soon a man may identify himself with new conditions
and new aims. He had come West to look upon the life from the
outside, and now his chief thought was of the coming steers,
which he referred to unblushingly as "our cattle." Such is the
spell of the range.
"Let's ride on over, Bud," Park proposed. "That's likely the
Circle Bar shipment. Their bunch comes from the same place ours
does, and I want to see how they stack up."
Thurston agreed and went to saddle up. He had mastered the art
of saddling and could, on lucky days and when he was in what he
called "form," rope the horse he wanted; to say nothing of the
times when his loop settled unexpectedly over the wrong victim.
Park Holloway, for instance, who once got it neatly under his
chin, much to his disgust and the astonishment of Thurston.
"I'm going to take my Kodak," said he. "I like to watch them
unload, and I can get some good pictures, with this sunlight."
"When you've hollered 'em up and down the chutes as many times
as I have," Park told him, "yuh won't need no pictures to help
yuh remember what it's like."
It was an old story with Park, and Thurston's enthusiasm struck
him as a bit funny. He perched upon a corner of the fence out
of the way, and smoked cigarettes while he watched the cattle
and shouted pleasantries to the men who prodded and swore and
gesticulated at the wild-eyed huddle in the pens. Soon his turn
would come, but just now he was content to look on and take his
"For the life of me," cried Thurston, sidling gingerly over to
him, "I can't see where they all come from. For two days these
yards have never been empty. The country will soon be one vast
"Two days--huh! this thing'll go on for weeks, m'son. And after
all is over, you'll wonder where the dickens they all went to.
Montana is some bigger than you realize, I guess. And next fall,
when shipping starts, you'll think you're seeing raw porterhouse
steaks for the whole world. Let's drift out uh this dust;
you'll have time to get a carload uh pictures before our bunch
As a matter of fact, it was two weeks before the Lazy Eight
consignment arrived. Thurston haunted the stockyards with his
Kodak, but after the first two or three days he took no
pictures. For every day was but a repetition of those that had
gone before: a great, grimy engine shunting cars back and forth
on the siding; an endless stream of weary, young cattle flowing
down the steep chutes into the pens, from the pens to the
branding chutes, where they were burned deep with the mark of
their new owners; then out through the great gate, crowding,
pushing, wild to flee from restraint, yet held in and guided by
mounted cowboys; out upon the green prairie where they could
feast once more upon sweet grasses and drink their fill from the
river of clear, mountain water; out upon the weary march of the
trail, on and on for long days until some boundary which their
drivers hailed with joy was passed, and they were free at last
to roam at will over the wind-brushed range land; to lie down in
some cool, sweet-scented swale and chew their cuds in peace.
Two weeks, and then came a telegram for Park. In the reading of
it he shuffled off his attitude of boyish irresponsibility and
became in a breath the cool, business-like leader of men.
Holding the envelope still in his hand he sought out Thurston,
who was practicing with a rope. As Park approached him he
whirled the noose and cast it neatly over the peak of the
"Good shot," Park encouraged, "but I'd advise yuh to take
another target. You'll have the tent down over Scotty's ears,
and then you'll think yuh stirred up a mess uh hornets.
"Say, Bud, our cattle are coming, and I'm going to be short uh
men. If you'd like a job I'll take yuh on, and take chances on
licking yuh into shape. Maybe the wages won't appeal to yuh,
but I'm willing to throw in heaps uh valuable experience that
won't cost yuh a cent." He lowered an eyelid toward the
cook-tent, although no one was visible.
Thurston studied the matter while he coiled his rope, and no
longer. Secretly he had wanted all along to be a part of the
life instead of an onlooker. "I'll take the job, Park--if you
think I can hold it down." The speech would doubtless have
astonished Reeve-Howard in more ways than one; but Reeve-Howard
was already a part of the past in Thurston's mind. He was for
living the present.
"Well," Park retorted, "it'll be your own funeral if yuh get
fired. Better stake yourself to a pair uh chaps; you'll need
'em on the trip."
"Also a large, rainbow-hued silk handkerchief if I want to look
the part," Thurston bantered.
"If yuh don't want your darned neck blistered, yuh mean," Park
flung over his shoulders. "Your wages and schooling start in
to-morrow at sunup."
It was early in the morning when the first train arrived,
hungry, thirsty, tired, bawling a general protest against fate
and man's mode of travel. Thurston, with a long pole in his
hand, stood on the narrow plank near the top of a chute wall and
prodded vaguely at an endless, moving incline of backs.
Incidentally he took his cue from his neighbors, and shouted
till his voice was a croak-though he could not see that he
accomplished anything either by his prodding or his shouting.
Below him surged the sea of hide and horns which was barely
suggestive of the animals as individuals. Out in the corrals
the dust-cloud hung low, just as it had hovered every day for
more than two weeks; just as it would hover every day for two
weeks longer. Across the yards near the big, outer gate Deacon
Smith's crew was already beginning to brand. The first train
was barely unloaded when the second trailed in and out on the
siding; and so the third came also. Then came a lull, for the
consignment had been split in two and the second section was
several hours behind the first.
Thurston rode out to camp, aching with the strain and ravenously
hungry, after toiling with his muscles for the first time in his
life; for his had been days of physical ease. He had yet to
learn the art of working so that every movement counted
something accomplished, as did the others; besides, he had been
in constant fear of losing his hold on the fence and plunging
headlong amongst the trampling hoofs below, a fate that he
shuddered to contemplate. He did not, however, mention that
fear, or his muscle ache, to any man; he might be green, but he
was not the man to whine.
When he went back into the dust and roar, Park ordered him
curtly to tend the branding fire, since both crews would brand
that afternoon and get the corrals cleared for the next
shipment. Thurston thanked Park mentally; tending branding-fire
sounded very much like child's play.
Soon the gray dust-cloud took on a shade of blue in places where
the smoke from the fires cut through; a new tang smote the
nostrils: the rank odor of burning hair and searing hides; a new
note crept into the clamoring roar: the low-keyed blat of pain
Thurston turned away his head from the sight and the smell, and
piled on wood until Park stopped him with. "Say, Bud, we ain't
celebrating any election! It ain't a bonfire we want, it's heat;
just keep her going and save wood all yuh can." After an hour
of fire-tending Thurston decided that there were things more
wearisome than "hollering 'em down the chutes." His eyes were
smarting intolerably with smoke and heat, and the smell of the
branding was not nice; but through the long afternoon he stuck
to the work, shrewdly guessing that the others were not having
any fun either. Park and "the Deacon" worked as hard as any,
branding the steers as they were squeezed, one by one, fast in
the little branding chutes. The setting sun shone redly through
the smoke before Thurston was free to kick the half-burnt sticks
apart and pour water upon them as directed by Park.
"Think yuh earned your little old dollar and thirty three cents,
Bud?" Park asked him. And Thurston smiled a tired, sooty smile
that seemed all teeth.
"I hope so; at any rate, I have a deep, inner knowledge of the
joys of branding cattle."
"Wait 'till yuh burn Lazy Eights on wriggling, blatting calves
for two or three hours at a stretch before yuh talk about the
joys uh branding." Park rubbed eloquently his aching biceps.
At dusk Thurston crept into his blankets, feeling that he would
like the night to be at least thirty six hours long. He was
just settling into a luxurious, leather-upholstered dream chair
preparatory to telling Reeve-Howard his Western experiences when
Park's voice bellowed into the tent:
"Roll out, boys--we got a train pulling in!"
There was hurried dressing in the dark of the bed-tent, hasty
mounting, and a hastier ride through the cool night air. There
were long hours at the chutes, prodding down at a wavering line
of moving shadows, while the "big dipper" hung bright in the sky
and lighted lanterns bobbed back and forth along the train
waving signals to one another. At intervals Park's voice cut
crisply through the turmoil, giving orders to men whom he could
The east was lightening to a pale yellow when the men climbed at
last into their saddles and galloped out to camp for a hurried
breakfast. Thurston had been comforting his aching body with
the promise of rest and sleep; but three thousand cattle were
milling impatiently in the stockyards, so presently he found
himself fanning a sickly little blaze with his hat while he
endeavored to keep the smoke from his tired eyes. Of a truth,
Reeve-Howard would have stared mightily at sight of him.
Once Park, passing by, smiled down upon him grimly. "Here's
where yuh get the real thing in local color," he taunted, but
Thurston was too busy to answer. The stress of living had
dimmed his eye for the picturesque.
That night, one Philip Thurston slept as sleeps the dead. But he
awoke with the others and thanked the Lord there were no more
cattle to unload and brand.
When he went out on day-herd that afternoon he fancied that he
was getting into the midst of things and taking his place with
the veterans. He would have been filled with resentment had he
suspected the truth: that Park carefully eased those first days
of his novitiate. That was why none of the night-guarding fell
to him until they had left Billings many miles behind them.
The third night he was detailed to stand with Bob MacGregor on
the middle guard, which lasts from eleven o'clock until two.
The outfit had camped near the head of a long, shallow basin
that had a creek running through; down the winding banks of it
lay the white-tented camps of seven other trail-herds, the
cattle making great brown blotches against the green at sundown.
Thurston hoped they would all be there in the morning when the
sun came up, so that he could get a picture.
"Aw, they'll be miles away by then," Bob assured him
unfeelingly. "By the signs, you can take snap-shots by
lightning in another hour. Got your slicker, Bud?"
Thurston said he hadn't, and Bob shook his head prophetically.
"You'll sure wish yuh had it before yuh hit camp again; when yuh
get wise, you'll ride with your slicker behind the cantle, rain
or shine. They'll need singing to, to-night."
Thurston prudently kept silent, since he knew nothing whatever
about it, and Bob gave him minute directions about riding his
rounds, and how to turn a stray animal back into the herd
without disturbing the others.
The man they relieved met them silently and rode away to camp.
Off to the right an animal coughed, and a black shape moved out
from the shadows.
Bob swung towards it, and the shape melted again into the
splotch of shade which was the sleeping herd. He motioned to the
left. "Yuh can go that way; and yuh want to sing something, or
whistle, so they'll know what yuh are." His tone was subdued, as
it had not been before. He seemed to drift away into the
darkness, and soon his voice rose, away across the herd,
singing. As he drew nearer Thurston caught the words, at first
disjointed and indistinct, then plainer as they met. It was a
song he had never heard before, because its first popularity had
swept far below his social plane.
"She's o-only a bird in a gil-ded cage,
A beautiful sight to see-e-e;
You may think she seems ha-a-aappy and free from ca-a-re.."
The singer passed on and away, and only the high notes floated
across to Thurston, who whistled softly under his breath while
he listened. Then, as they neared again on the second round,
the words came pensively:
"Her beauty was so-o-o1d
For an old man's go-o-old, She's a bird in a gilded ca-a-age."
Thurston rode slowly like one in a dream, and the lure of the
range-land was strong upon him. The deep breathing of three
thousand sleeping cattle; the strong, animal odor; the black
night which grew each moment blacker, and the rhythmic ebb and
flow of the clear, untrained voice of a cowboy singing to his
charge. If he could put it into words; if he could but picture
the broody stillness, with frogs cr-ekk, er-ekking along the
reedy creek-bank and a coyote yapping weirdly upon a distant
hilltop! From the southwest came mutterings half-defiant and
ominous. A breeze whispered something to the grasses as it
crept away down the valley.
"I stood in a church-yard just at ee-eve,
While the sunset adorned the west."
It was Bob, drawing close out of the night. "You're doing fine,
Kid; keep her a-going," he commended, in an undertone as he
passed, and Thurston moistened his unaccustomed lips and began
industriously whistling "The Heart Bowed Down," and from that
jumped to Faust. Fifteen minutes exhausted his memory of the
whistleable parts, and he was not given to tiresome repetitions.
He stopped for a moment, and Bob's voice chanted admonishingly
from somewhere, "Keep her a-go-o-ing, Bud, old boy!" So
Thurston took breath and began on "The Holy City," and came near
laughing at the incongruity of the song; only he remembered that
he must not frighten the cattle, and checked the impulse.
"Say," Bob began when he came near enough, "do yuh know the
words uh that piece? It's a peach; I wisht you'd sing it." He
rode on, still humming the woes of the lady who married for
Thurston obeyed while the high-piled thunder-heads rumbled deep
accompaniment, like the resonant lower tones of a bass viol.
"Last night I lay a-sleeping, there came a dream so fair;
I stood in old Jerusalem, beside the temple there."
A steer stepped restlessly out of the herd, and Thurston's
horse, trained to the work, of his own accord turned him gently
"I heard the children singing; and ever as they sang,
Me thought the voice of angels from heaven in answer rang."
From the west the thunder boomed, drowning the words in its
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing."
"Hit her up a little faster, Bud, or we'll lose some. They're
getting on their feet with that thunder."
Sunfish, in answer to Thurston's touch on the reins, quickened
to a trot. The joggling was not conducive to the best vocal
expression, but the singer persevered:
"Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna to your King!"
Flash! the lightning cut through the storm-clouds, and Bob, who
had contented himself with a subdued whistling while he
listened, took up the refrain:
It was as if a battery of heavy field pieces boomed overhead.
The entire herd was on its feet and stood close-huddled, their
tails to the coming storm. Now the horses were loping steadily
in their endless circling--a pace they could hold for hours if
need be. For one blinding instant Thurston saw far down the
valley; then the black curtain dropped as suddenly as it had
"Keep a-hollering, Bud!" came the command, and after it Bob's
voice trilled high above the thunder-growl:
"Hosanna in the high-est.
Hosanna to your King!"
A strange thrill of excitement came to Thurston. It was all new
to him; for his life had been sheltered from the rages of
nature. He had never before been out under the night sky when
it was threatening as now. He flinched when came an
ear-splitting crash that once again lifted the black curtain and
showed him, white-lighted, the plain. In the dark that followed
came a rhythmic thud of hoofs far up the creek, and the rattle
of living castanets. Sunfish threw up his head and listened,
"There's a bunch a-running," called Bob from across the
frightened herd. "If they hit us, give Sunfish his head, he's
been there before--and keep on the outside!"
Thurston yelled "All right!" but the pounding roar of the
stampede drowned his voice. A whirlwind of frenzied steers bore
down upon him--twenty-five hundred Panhandle two-year-olds,
though he did not know it then. his mind was all a daze, with
one sentence zigzagging through it like the lightning over his
head, "Give Sunfish his head, and keep on the outside!'
That was what saved him, for he had the sense to obey. After a
few minutes of breathless racing, with a roar as of breakers in
his ears and the crackle of clashing horns and the gleaming of
rolling eyeballs close upon his horse's heels, he found himself
washed high and dry, as it were, while the tumult swept by.
Presently he was galloping along behind and wondering dully how
he got there, though perhaps Sunfish knew well enough.
In his story of the West--the one that had failed to be
convincing--he had in his ignorance described a stampede, and it
had not been in the least like this one. He blushed at the
memory, and wondered if he should ever again feel qualified to
write of these things.
Great drops of rain pounded him on the back as he rode-- chill
drops, that went to the skin. He thought of his new
canary-colored slicker in the bed-tent, and before he knew it
swore just as any of the other men would have done under similar
provocation; it was the first real, able-bodied oath he had ever
uttered. He was becoming assimilated with the raw conditions of
He heard a man's voice calling to him, and distinguished the dim
shape of a rider close by. He shouted that password of the
"What outfit is this?" the man cried again.
"The Lazy Eight!" snapped Thurston, sure that the other had come
with the stampede. Then, feeling the anger of temporary
authority, "What in hell are you up to, letting your cattle
run?" If Park could have heard him say that for Reeve-Howard!
Down the long length of the valley they swept, gathering to
themselves other herds and other riders as incensed as were
themselves. It is not pretty work, nor amusing, to gallop madly
in the wake of a stampede at night, keeping up the stragglers
and taking the chance of a broken neck with the rain to make
Bob MacGregor sought Thurston with much shouting, and having
found him they rode side by side. And always the thunder boomed
overhead, and by the lightning flashes they glimpsed the
turbulent sea of cattle fleeing, they knew not where or why,
with blind fear crowding their heels.
The noise of it roused the camps as they thundered by; men rose
up, peered out from bed-tents as the stampede swept past, cursed
the delay it would probably make, hoped none of the boys got
hurt, and thanked the Lord the tents were pitched close to the
creek and out of the track of the maddened herds.
Then they went back to bed to wait philosophically for daylight.
When Sunfish, between flashes, stumbled into a shallow washout,
and sent Thurston sailing unbeautifully over his head, Bob
pulled up and slid off his horse in a hurry.
"Yuh hurt, Bud?" he cried anxiously, bending over him. For
Thurston, from the very frankness of his verdant ignorance, had
won for himself the indulgent protectiveness of the whole
outfit; not a man but watched unobtrusively over his welfare--
and Bob MacGregor went farther and loved him whole-heartedly.
His voice, when he spoke, was unequivocally frightened.
Thurston sat up and wiped a handful of mud off his face; if it
had not been so dark Bob would have shouted at the spectacle.
"I'm 'kinda sorter shuck up like,"' he quoted ruefully. "And my
nose is skinned, thank you. Where's that devil of a horse?"
Bob stood over him and grinned. "My, I'm surprised at yuh, Bud!
What would your Sunday-school teacher say if she heard yuh?
Anyway, yuh ain't got any call to cuss Sunfish; he ain't to
blame. He's used to fellows that can ride."
"Shut up!" Thurston commanded inelegantly. "I'd like to see you
ride a horse when he's upside down!"
"Aw, come on," urged Bob, giving up the argument. "We'll be
plumb lost from the herd if we don't hustle."
They got into their saddles again and went on, riding by sound
and the rare glimpses the lightning gave them as it flared
through the storm away to the east.
"Wet?" Bob sung out sympathetically from the streaming shelter
of his slicker. Thurston, wriggling away from his soaked
clothing, grunted a sarcastic negative.
The cattle were drifting now before the storm which had settled
to a monotonous downpour. The riders--two or three men for
every herd that had joined in the panic--circled, a veritable
picket line without the password. There would be no relief ride
out to them that night, and they knew it and settled to the long
wait for morning.
Thurston took up his station next to Bob; rode until he met the
next man, and then retraced his steps till he faced Bob again;
rode until the world seemed unreal and far away, with nothing
left but the night and the riding back and forth on his beat,
and the rain that oozed through Ms clothes and trickled
uncomfortably down inside his collar. He lost all count of time,
and was startled when at last came gray dawn.
As the light grew brighter his eyes widened and forgot their
sleep-hunger; he had not thought it would be like this. He was
riding part way across one end of a herd larger than his
imagination had ever pictured; three thousand cattle had seemed
to him a multitude--yet here were more than twenty thousand,
wet, draggled, their backs humped miserably from the rain which
but a half hour since had ceased. He was still gazing and
wondering when Park rode up to him.
"Lord! Bud, you're a sight! Did the bunch walk over yuh?" he
"No, only Sunfish," snapped Thurston crossly. Time was when
Philip Thurston would not have answered any man abruptly,
however great the provocation. He was only lately getting down
to the real, elemental man of him; to the son of Bill Thurston,
bull-whacker, prospector, follower of dim trails. He rode
silently back to camp with Bob, ate his breakfast, got into dry
clothes and went out and tied his slicker deliberately and
securely behind the cantle of his saddle, though the sun was
shining straight into his eyes and the sky fairly twinkled, it
was so clean of clouds.
Bob watched him with eyes that laughed. "My, you're an
ambitious son-of-a-gun," he chuckled. "And you've got the
slicker question settled in your mind, I see; yuh learn easy; it
takes two or three soakings to learn some folks."
"We've got to go back and help with the herd, haven't we?"
Thurston asked. "The horses are all out."
"Yep. They'll stay out, too, till noon, m'son. We hike to bed,
if anybody should ask yuh."
So it was not till after dinner that he rode back to the great
herd--with his Kodak in his pocket--to find the cattle split up
into several bunches. The riders at once went to work
separating the different brands. He was too green a hand to do
anything but help hold the "cut," and that was so much like
ordinary herd-ing that his interest flagged. He wanted, more
than anything, to ride into the bunch and single out a Lazy
Eight steer, skillfully hazing him down the slope to the cut, as
he saw the others do.
Bob told him it was the biggest mix-up he had ever seen, and Bob
had ridden the range in every State where beef grows wild. He
was in the thickest of the huddle, was Bob, working as if he did
not know the meaning of fatigue. Thurston, watching him thread
his way in and out of the restless, milling herd, only to
reappear unexpectedly at the edge with a steer just before the
nose of his horse, rush it out from among the others--wheeling,
darting this way and that, as it tried to dodge back, and always
coming off victor, wondered if he could ever learn to do it.
Being in pessimistic mood, he told himself that he would
probably always remain a greenhorn, to be borne with and coached
and given boy's work to do; all because he had been cheated of
his legacy of the dim trails and forced to grow up in a city,
hedged about all his life by artificial conditions, his
conscience wedded to convention.
THE BIG DIVIDE
The long drive was nearly over. Even Thurston's eyes brightened
when he saw, away upon the sky-line, the hills that squatted
behind the home ranch of the Lazy Eight. The past month had been
one of rapid living under new conditions, and at sight of them
it seemed only a few days since he had first glimpsed that
broken line of hills and the bachelor household in the coulee
As the travel-weary herd swung down the long hill into the
valley of the Milk River, stepping out briskly as they sighted
the cool water in the near distance, the past month dropped away
from Thurston, and what had gone just before came back fresh as
the happenings of the morning. There was the Stevens ranch, a
scant half mile away from where the tents already gleamed on
their last camp of the long trail; the smoke from the cook-tent
telling of savory meats and puddings, the bare thought of which
made one hurry his horse.
His eyes dwelt longest, however, upon the Stevens house half
hidden among the giant cottonwoods, and he wondered if Mona
would still smile at him with that unpleasant uplift at the
corner of her red mouth. He would take care that she did not
get the chance to smile at him in any fashion, he told himself
He wondered if those train-robbers had been captured, and if the
one Park wounded was still alive. He shivered when he thought
of the dead man in the aisle, and hoped he would never witness
another death; involuntarily he glanced down at his right
stirrup, half expecting to see his boot red with human blood.
It was not nice to remember that scene, and he gave his shoulders
an impatient hitch and tried to think of something else.
Mindful of his vow, he had bought a gun in Billings, but he had
not yet learned to hit anything he aimed at; for firearms are
hushed in roundup camps, except when dire necessity breeds a law
of its own. Range cattle do not take kindly to the popping of
pistols. So Thurston's revolver was yet unstained with powder
grime, and was packed away inside his bed. He was promising his
pride that he would go up on the hill, back of the Lazy Eight
corrals, and shoot until even Mona Stevens must respect his
marksmanship, when Park galloped back to him--"The world has
moved some while we was gone," he announced in the tone of one
who has news to tell and enjoys thoroughly the telling. "Yuh
mind the fellow I laid out in the hold-up? He got all right
again, and they stuck him in jail along with another one old
Lauman, the sheriff, glommed a week ago. Well, they didn't do a
thing last night but knock a deputy in the head, annex his gun,
swipe a Winchester and a box uh shells out uh the office and hit
the high places. Old Lauman is hot on their trail, but he ain't
met up with 'em yet, that anybody's heard. When he does,
there'll sure be something doing! They say the deputy's about all
in; they smashed his skull with a big iron poker."
"I wish I could handle a gun," Thurston said between his teeth.
"I'd go after them myself. I wish I'd been left to grow up out
here where I belong. I'm all West but the training--and I never
knew it till a month ago! I ought to ride and rope and shoot
with the best of you, and I can't do a thing. All I know is
books. I can criticize an opera and a new play, and I'm
considered something of an authority on clothes, but I can't
"Aw, go easy," Park laughed at him. "What if yuh can't do the
double-roll? Riding and shooting and roping's all right--we
couldn't very well get along without them accomplishments. But
that's all they are; just accomplishments. We know a man when
we see him, and it don't matter whether he can ride a bronk
straight up, or don't know which way a saddle sets on a horse.
If he's a man he gets as square a deal as we can give him."
Park reached for his cigarette book. "And as for hunting
outlaws," he finished, "we've got old Lauman paid to do that.
And he's dead onto his job, you bet; when he goes out after a
man he comes pretty near getting him, m'son. But I sure do wish
I'd killed that jasper while I was about it; it would have saved
Lauman a lot uh hard riding."
Thurston could scarcely explain to Park that his desire to hunt
train-robbers was born of a half-defiant wish to vindicate to
Mona Stevens his courage, and so he said nothing at all. He
wondered if Park had heard her whisper, that day, and knew how
he had failed to obey her commands; and if he had heard her call
him a coward. He had often wondered that, but Park had a way of
keeping things to himself, and Thurston could never quite bring
himself to open the subject boldly. At any rate, if Park had
heard, he hoped that he understood how it was and did not
secretly despise him for it. Women, he told himself bitterly,
are never quite just.
After the four o'clock supper he and Bob MacGregor went up the
valley to relieve the men on herd. There was one nice thing
about Park as a foreman: he tried to pair off his crew according
to their congeniality. That was why Thurston usually stood
guard with Bob, whom he liked better than any of the
others-always excepting Park himself.
"I brought my gun along," Bob told him apologetically when they
were left to themselves. "It's a habit I've got when I know
there's bad men rampaging around the country. The boys kinda
gave me the laugh when they seen me haul it out uh my war bag,
but I just told 'em to go to thunder."
"Do you think those--"
"Naw. Uh course not. I just pack it on general principles,
same as an old woman packs her umbrella."
"Say, this is dead easy! The bunch is pretty well broke, ain't
it? I'm sure glad to see old Milk River again; this here
trailing cattle gets plumb monotonous." He got down and settled
his back comfortably against a rock. Below them spread the
herd, feeding quietly. "Yes, sir, this is sure a snap," he
repeated, after he had made himself a smoke. "They's only two
ways a bunch could drift if they wanted to which they don't-up
the river, or down. This hill's a little too steep for 'em to
tackle unless they was crowded hard. Good feed here, too.
"Too bad yuh don't smoke, Bud. There's nothing like a good,
smooth rock to your back and a cigarette in your face, on a
nice, lazy day like this. It's the only kind uh day- herding I
got any use for."
"I'll take the rock to my back, if you'll just slide along and
make room," Thurston laughed. "I don't hanker for a cigarette,
but I do wish I had my Kodak."
"Aw, t'ell with your Kodak!" Bob snorted. "Can't yuh carry this
layout in your head? I've got a picture gallery in mine that I
wouldn't trade for a farm; I don't need no Kodak in mine,
thankye. You just let this here view soak into your system,
Bud, where yuh can't lose it."
Thurston did. Long after he could close his eyes and see it in
every detail; the long, green slope with hundreds of cattle
loitering in the rank grass-growth; the winding sweep of the
river and the green, rolling hills beyond; and Bob leaning
against the rock beside him, smoking luxuriously with
half-closed eyes, while their horses dozed with drooping heads a
"Say, Bud," Bob's voice drawled sleepily, "I wisht you'd sing
that Jerusalem song. I want to learn the words to it; I'm plumb
stuck on that piece. It's different from the general run uh
songs, don't yuh think? ost of 'em's about your old home that
yuh left in boyhood's happy days, and go back to find your girl
dead and sleeping in a little church-yard or else it's your
mother; or your girl marries the other man and you get it handed
to yuh right along--and they make a fellow kinda sick to his
stomach when he's got to sing 'em two or three hours at a
stretch on night- guard, just because he's plumb ignorant of
anything better. This here Jerusalem one sounds kinda grand,
and--the cattle seems to like it, too, for a change."
"The composer would feel flattered if he heard that," Thurston
laughed. He wanted to be left alone to day-dream and watch the
clouds trail lazily across to meet the hills; and there was an
embryonic poem forming, phrase by phrase, in his mind. But he
couldn't refuse Bob anything, so he sat a bit straighter and
cleared his throat. He sang well--well enough indeed to be
sought after at informal affairs among his set at home. When he
came to the refrain Bob took his cigarette from between his lips
and held it in his fingers while he joined his voice lustily to
Lift up your gates and sing
Hosanna in the high-est.
Hosanna to your King!"
The near cattle lifted their heads to stare stupidly a moment,
then moved a few steps slowly, nosing for the sweetest
grass-tufts. The horses shifted their weight, resting one leg
with the hoof barely touching the earth, twitched their ears at
the flies and slept again.
"And then me thought my dream was changed,
The streets no longer rang,
Hushed were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang--"
Tamale lifted his head and gazed inquiringly up the hill; but
Bob was not observant of signs just then. He was Striving with
his recreant memory for the words that came after:
"The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and still,
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill."
Tamale stirred restlessly with head uplifted and ears pointed
straight before up the steep bluff. Old Ironsides, Thurston's
mount, was not the sort to worry about anything but his feed,
and paid no attention. Bob turned and glanced the way Tamale
was looking; saw nothing, and settled down again on the small of
"He sees a badger or something," he Said. "Go on, Bud, with the
Lift up your gates and sing."
"Lift up your hands damn quick!" mimicked a voice just behind.
"If yuh ain't got anything to do but lay in the shade of a rock
and yawp, we'll borrow your cayuses. You ain't needin' 'em, by
They squirmed around until they could stare into two black
gun-barrels--and then their hands went up; their faces held a
particularly foolish expression that must have been amusing to
the men behind the guns.
One of the gun-barrels lowered and a hand reached out and
quietly took possession of Tamale's reins; the owner of the hand
got calmly into Bob's saddle. Bob gritted his teeth. It was
evident their movements had been planned minutely in advance,
for, once settled to his liking, the fellow tested the stirrups
to make sure they were the right length, and raising his gun
pointed it at the two in a business-like manner that left no
doubt of his meaning. Whereupon the man behind them came forward
and appropriated Old Ironsides to his own use.
"Too bad we had to interrupt Sunday-school," he remarked
ironically. "You can go ahead with the meetin' now--the
collection has been took up." He laughed without any real mirth
in his voice and gathered up the reins. "If yuh want our
horses, they're up on the bench. I don't reckon they'll ever
turn another cow, but such as they are you're quite welcome.
Better set still, boys, till we get out uh sight; one of us'll
keep an eye peeled for yuh. So long, and much obliged." They
turned and rode warily down the slope.
"Now, wouldn't that jar yuh?" asked Bob in deep disgust His
hands dropped to his sides; in another second he was up and
shooting savagely. "Get behind the rock, Bud," he commanded.
Just then a rifle cracked, and Bob toppled drunkenly and went
limply to the grass.
"My God!" cried Thurston, and didn't know that he spoke. He
snatched up Bob's revolver and fired shot after shot at the
galloping figures. Not one seemed to do any good; the first
shot hit a two-year-old square in the ribs. After that there
were no cattle within rifle range
One of the outlaws stopped, took deliberate aim with the stolen
Winchester and fired, meaning to kill; but he miscalculated the
range a bit and Thurston crumpled down with a bullet in his
thigh. The revolver was empty now and fell smoking at his feet.
So he lay and cursed impotently while he watched the marauders
ride out of sight up the valley.
When the rank timber-growth hid their flying figures he crawled
over to where Bob lay and tried to lift him.
"Art you hurt?" was the idiotic question he asked.
Bob opened his eyes and waited a breath, as if to steady his
thought. "Did I get one, Bud?"
"I'm afraid not," Thurston confessed, and immediately after
wished that he had lied and said yes. "Are you hurt?" he
"Who, me?" Bob's eyes wavered in their directness. "Don't yuh
bother none about me," evasively.
"But you've got to tell me. You--they--" He choked over the
"Well--I guess they got me, all right. But don't let that worry
yuh; it don't me." He tried to speak carelessly and
convincingly, but it was a miserable failure. He did not want
to die, did Bob, however much he might try to hide the fact.
Thurston was not in the least imposed upon. He turned away his
head, pretending to look after the outlaws, and set his teeth
together tight. He did not want to act a fool. All at once he
grew dizzy and sick, and lay down heavily till the faintness
Bob tried to lift himself to his elbow; failing that, he put out
a hand and laid it on Thurston's shoulder. "Did they-- get you-
-too?" he queried anxiously.
"The damn coyotes!"
"It's nothing; just a leg put out of business," Thurston hurried
to assure him. "Where are you hurt, Bob?"
"Aw, I ain't any X-ray," Bob retorted weakly but gamely.
"Somewheres inside uh me. It went in my side but the Lord knows
where it wound up. It hurts, like the devil." He lay quiet a
minute. "I wish--do yuh feel--like finishing-- that song, Bud?"
Thurston gulped down a lump that was making his throat ache.
When he answered, his voice was very gentle:
"I'll try a verse, old man."
"The last one--we'd just come to the last. It's most like
church. I--I never went--much on religion, Bud; but when a
fellow's--going out over the Big Divide."
"You're not!" Thurston contradicted fiercely, as if that could
make it different. He thought he could not bear those jerky
"All right--Bud. We won't fight over it. Go ahead. The last
Thurston eased his leg to a better position, drew himself up
till his shoulders rested against the rock and began, with an
occasional, odd break in his voice:
"I saw the holy city
Beside the tideless Sea;
The light of God was on its street
The gates were open wide.
And all who would might enter
And no one was denied."
"Wonder if that there--applies--to bone-headed-- cowpunchers,"
Bob muttered drowsily. "'And all--who would--" Thurston
glanced quickly at his face; caught his breath sharply at what
he saw there written, and dropped his head upon his arms.
And so Park and his men, hurrying to the sound of the shooting,
found them in the shadow of the rock.
AT THE STEVENS PLACE
When the excitement of the outrage had been pushed aside by the
insistent routine of everyday living, Thurston found himself
thrust from the fascination of range life and into the monotony
of invalidism, and he was anything but resigned. To be sure, he
was well cared for at the Stevens ranch, where Park and the boys
had taken him that day, and Mrs. Stevens mothered him as he
could not remember being mothered before.
Hank Graves rode over nearly every day to sit beside the bed and
curse the Wagner gang back to their great-great-grandfathers and
down to more than the third generation yet unborn, and to tell
him the news. On the second visit he started to give him the
details of Bob's funeral; but Thurston would not listen, and
told him so plainly.
"All right then, Bud, I won't talk about it. But we sure done
the right thing by the boy; had the best preacher in Shellanne
out, and flowers till further notice: a cross uh carnations, and
the boys sent up to Minot and had a spur made uh--oh, well, all
right; I'll shut up about it, I know how yuh feel, Bud; it broke
us all up to have him go that way. He sure was a white boy, if
ever there was one, and--ahem!"
"I'd give a thousand dollars, hard coin, to get my hands on them
Wagners. It would uh been all off with them, sure, if the boys
had run acrost 'em. I'd uh let 'em stay out and hunt a while
longer, only old Lauman'll get 'em, all right, and we're late as
it is with the calf roundup. Lauman'll run 'em down--and by the
Lord! I'll hire Bowman myself and ship him out from Helena to
help prosecute 'em. They're dead men if he takes the case
against 'em, Bud, and I'll get him, sure--and to hell with the
cost of it! They'll swing for what they done to you and Bob, if
it takes every hoof I own."
Thurston told him he hoped they would be caught and--yes, hanged;
though he had never before advocated capital punishment.
But when he thought of Bob, the care-naught, whole-souled fellow.
He tried not to think of him, for thinking unmanned him. He had
the softest of hearts where his friends were concerned, and
there were times when he felt that he could with relish
officiate at the Wagners' execution.
He fought against remembrance of that day; and for sake of
diversion he took to studying a large, pastel portrait of Mona
which hung against the wall opposite his bed. It was rather
badly; done, and at first, when he saw it, he laughed at the
thought that even the great, still plains of the range land
cannot protect one against the ubiquitous picture agent. In the
parlor, he supposed there would be crayon pictures of
grandmothers and aunts-further evidence of the agent's glibness.
He was glad that it was Mona who smiled down at him instead of a
grand-mother or an aunt. For Mona did smile, and in spite of
the cheap crudity the smile was roguish, with little dimply
creases at the corners of the mouth, and not at all unpleasant.
If the girl would only look like that in real life, he told
himself, a fellow would probably get to liking her. He supposed
she thought him a greater coward than ever now, just because he
hadn't got killed. If he had, he would be a hero now, like Bob.
Well, Bob was a hero; the way he had jumped up and begun
shooting required courage of the suicidal sort. He had stood up
and shot, a1so and had succeeded only in being ridiculous; he
hoped nobody had told Mona about his hitting that steer. When
he could walk again he would learn to shoot, so that the range
stock wouldn't suffer from his marksmanship.
After a week of seeing only Mrs. Stevens or sympathetic men
acquaintances, he began to wonder why Mona stayed so
persistently away. Then one morning she came in to take his
breakfast things out. She did not, however, stay a second
longer than was absolutely necessary, and she was perfectly
composed and said good morning in her most impersonal tone. At
least Thurston hoped she had no tone more impersonal than that.
He decided that she had really beautiful eyes and hair; after
she had gone he looked up at the picture, told himself that it
did not begin to do her justice, and sighed a bit. He was very
dull, and even her companionship, he thought, would be pleasant
if only she would come down off her pedestal and be humanly
When he wrote a story about a fellow being laid up in the same
house with a girl--a girl with big, blue-gray eyes and ripply
brown hair--he would have the girl treat the fellow at least
decently. She would read poetry to him and bring him flowers,
and do ever so many nice things that would make him hate to get
well. He decided that he would write just that kind of story;
he would idealize it, of course, and have the fellow in love
with the girl; you have to, in stories. In real life it doesn't
necessarily follow that, because a fellow admires a girl's hair
and eyes, and wants to be on friendly terms, he is in love with
her. For example, he emphatically was not in love with Mona
Stevens. He only wanted her to be decently civil and to stop
holding a foolish grudge against him for not standing up and
letting himself be shot full of holes because she commanded it.
In the afternoons, Mrs. Stevens would sit beside him and knit
things and talk to him in a pleasantly garrulous fashion, and he
would lie and listen to her--and to Mona, singing somewhere.
Mona sang very well, he thought; he wondered if she had ever had
any training. Also, he wished he dared ask her not to sing that
song about "She's only a bird in a gilded cage." It brought back
too vividly the nights when he and Bob stood guard under the
And then one day he hobbled out into the dining-room and ate
dinner with the family. Since he sat opposite Mona she was
obliged to look at him occasionally, whether she would or no.
Thurston had a strain of obstinacy in his nature, and when he
decided that Mona should not only look at him, but should talk
to him as well, he set himself diligently to attain that end.
He was not the man to sit down supinely and let a girl calmly
ignore him; so Mona presently found herself talking to him with
some degree of cordiality; and what is more to the point,
listening to him when he talked. It is probable that Thurston
never had tried so hard in his life to win a girl's attention.
It was while he was still hobbling with a cane and taxing his
imagination daily to invent excuses for remaining, that Lauman,
the sheriff, rode up to the door with a deputy and asked shelter
for themselves and the two Wagners, who glowered sullenly down
from their weary horses. When they had been safely disposed in
Thurston's bedroom, with one of the ranch hands detailed to
guard them, Lauman and his man gave themselves up to the joy of
a good meal. Their own cooking, they said, got mighty tame
especially when they hadn't much to cook and dared not have a
They had come upon the outlaws by mere accident, and it is hard
telling which was the most surprised. But Lauman was, perhaps,
the quickest man with a gun in Valley County, else he would not
have been serving his fourth term as sheriff. He got the drop
and kept it while his deputy did the rest. It had been a hard
chase, he said, and a long one if you counted time instead of
miles. But he had them now, harmless as rattlers with their
fangs fresh drawn. He wanted to get them to Glasgow before
people got to hear of their capture; he thought they wouldn't be
any too safe if the boys knew he had them.
If he had known that the Lazy Eight roundup had just pulled in
to the home ranch that afternoon, and that Dick Farney, one of
the Stevens men, had slipped out to the corral and saddled his
swiftest horse, it is quite possible that Lauman would not have
lingered so long over his supper, or drank his third cup of
coffee--with real cream in it--with so great a relish. And if
he had known that the Circle Bar boys were camped just three
miles away within hailing distance of the Lazy Eight trail, he
would doubtless have postponed his after-supper smoke.
He was sitting, revolver in hand, watching the Wagners give a
practical demonstration of the extent of their appetites, when
Thurston limped in from the porch, his eyes darker than usual.
"There are a lot of riders coming, Mr. Lauman," he announced
quietly. "It sounds like a whole roundup. I thought you ought
The prisoners went white, and put down knife and fork. If they
had never feared before, plainly they were afraid then.
Lauman's face did not in the least change. "Put the hand-cuffs
on, Waller," he said. "If you've got a room that ain't easy to
get at from the outside, Mrs. Stevens, I guess I'll have to ask
yuh for the use of it."
Mrs. Stevens had lived long in Valley County, and had learned
how to meet emergencies. "Put 'em right down cellar," she
invited briskly. "There's just the trap-door into it, and the
windows ain't big enough for a cat to go through. Mona, get a
candle for Mr. Lauman." She turned to hurry the girl, and
found Mona at her elbow with a light.
"That's the kind uh woman I like to have around," Lauman
chuckled. "Come on, boys; hustle down there if yuh want to see
Trembling, all their dare-devil courage sapped from them by the
menace of Thurston's words, they stumbled down the steep stairs,
and the darkness swallowed them. Lauman beckoned to his deputy.
"You go with 'em, Waller," he ordered. "If anybody but me
offers to lift this trap, shoot. Don't yuh take any chances.
Blow out that candle soon as you're located."
It was then that fifty riders clattered into the yard and up to
the front door, grouping in a way that left no exit unseen.
Thurston, standing in the doorway, knew them almost to a man.
Lazy Eight boys, they were; men who night after night had spread
their blankets under the tent-roof with him and with Bob
MacGregor; Bob, who lay silently out on the hill back of the
home ranch-house, waiting for the last, great round-up. They
glanced at him in mute greeting and dismounted without a word.
With them mingled the Circle Bar boys, as silent and grim as
their fellows. Lauman came up and peered into the dusk; Thurston
observed that he carried his Winchester unobtrusively in one
"Why, hello, boys," he greeted cheerfully. But for the rifle
you never would have guessed he knew their errand.
"Hello, Lauman," answered Park, matching him for cheerfulness.
"We rode over to hang them Wagners." Lauman grinned. "I hate to
disappoint yuh, Park, but I've kinda set my heart on doing that
little job myself. I'm the one that caught 'em, and if you'd
followed my trail the last month you'd say I earned the
"Maybe so," Park admitted pleasantly, "but we've got a little
personal matter to settle up with those jaspers. Bob MacGregor
was one of us, yuh remember."
"I'll hang 'em just as dead as you can," Lauman argued.
"But yuh won't do it so quick," Park lashed back. "They're
spoiling the air every breath they draw. We want 'em, and I
guess that pretty near settles it."
"Not by a damn sight it don't! I've never had a man took away
from me yet, boys, and I've been your sheriff a good many years.
You hike right back to camp; yuh can't have 'em."
Thurston could scarcely realize the deadliness of their purpose.
He knew them for kind-hearted, laughter-loving young fellows,
who would give their last dollar to a friend. He could not
believe that they would resort to violence now. Besides, this
was not his idea of a mob; he had fancied they would howl
threats and wave bludgeons, as they did in stories. Mobs always
"howled and seethed with passion" at one's doors; they did not
stand about and talk quietly as though the subject was trivial
and did not greatly concern them.
But the men were pressing closer, and their very calmness, had
he known it, was ominous. Lauman shifted his rifle ready for
"Boys, look here," he began more gravely, "I can't say I blame
yuh, looking at it from your view-point. If you'd caught these
men when yuh was out hunting 'em, you could uh strung 'em up--
and I'd likely uh had business somewhere else about that time.
But yuh didn't catch 'em; yuh give up the chase and left 'em to
me. And yuh got to remember that I'm the one that brought 'em
in. They're in my care. I'm sworn to protect 'em and turn 'em
over to the law--and it ain't a question uh whether they deserve
it or not. That's what I'm paid for, and I expect to go right
ahead according to orders and hang 'em by law. You can't have
'em--unless yuh lay me out first, and I don't reckon any of yuh
would go that far."
"There's never been a man hung by law in this county yet," a
voice cried angrily and impatiently.
"That ain't saying there never will be," Lauman flung back.
"Don't yuh worry, they'll get all that's coming to them, all
"How about the time yuh had 'em in your rotten old jail, and let
'em get out and run loose around the country, killing off white
men?" drawled another-a Circle-Bar man.
A hand--the hand of him who had stood guard over the Wagners in
the bedroom during supper--reached out through the doorway and
caught his rifle arm. Taken unawares from behind, he whirled
and then went down under the weight of men used to "wrassling"
calves. Even old Lauman was no match for them, and presently he
found himself stretched upon the porch with three Lazy Eight
boys sitting on his person; which, being inclined to portliness,
he found very uncomfortable.
Moved by an impulse he had no name for, Thurston snatched the
sheriff's revolver from its scabbard. As the heap squirmed
pantingly upon the porch he stepped into the doorway to avoid
being tripped, which was the wisest move he could have made, for
it put him in the shadow--and there were men of the Circle Bar
whose trigger-finger would not have hesitated, just then, had he
been in plain sight and had they known his purpose.
"Just hold on there, boys," he called, and they could see the
glimmer of the gun-barrel. Those of the Lazy Eight laughed at
"Aw, put it down, Bud," Park admonished. "That's too dangerous
a toy for you to be playing with--and yuh know damn well yuh
can't hit anything."
"I killed a steer once," Thurston reminded him meekly, whereat
the laugh hushed; for they remembered.
"I know I can't shoot straight," he went on frankly, "but you're
taking that much the greater chance. If I have to, I'll cut
loose--and there's no telling where the bullets may strike."
"That's right," Park admitted. "Stand still, boys; he's more
dangerous than a gun that isn't loaded. What d'yuh want,
"I want to talk to you for about five minutes. I've got a game
leg, so that I can neither run nor fight, but I hope you'll
listen to me. The Wagners can't get away--they're locked up,
with a deputy standing over them with a gun; and on top of that
they're handcuffed. They're as helpless, boys, as two trapped
coyotes." He looked down over the crowd, which shifted
uneasily; no one spoke.
"That's what struck me most," he continued. "You know what I
thought of Bob, don't you? And I didn't thank them for boring a
hole in my leg; it wasn't any kindness of theirs that it didn't
land higher--they weren't shooting at me for fun. And I'd have
killed them both with a clear conscience, if I could. I tried
hard enough. But it was different then; out in the open, where
a man had an even break. I don't believe if I had shot as
straight as I wanted to that I'd ever have felt a moment's
compunction. But now, when they're disarmed and shackled and
altogether helpless, I couldn't walk up to them deliberately and
kill them could you?
"It could be done, and done easily. You have Lauman where he
can't do anything, and I'm not of much account in a fight; so
you've really only one deputy sheriff and two women to get the
best of. You could drag these men out and hang them in the
cottonwoods, and they couldn't raise a hand to defend
themselves. We could do it easily--but when it was done and the