Part 2 out of 6
"How'll I know him when I see him?"
"Big feller--grey--broad shoulders."
"Ah!" murmured the other, and smiled as though the picture pleased him.
"I'll hunt him up and ask him if I can camp out in this house of his for
"Well, that's your party."
"Don't you think he'd let me?"
"Maybe; but the house ain't lucky."
"Sure. There's a grave in front of it."
"A grave? Whose?"
"Well, it doesn't worry me. I'll drop over the hill and see Drew."
"Maybe you'd better wait. You'll be passin' him on the road, like as
"He comes over here on Tuesdays once a month; to-morrow he's about due."
"Good. In the meantime I can camp over there by that stream, eh?"
"Don't know of nobody who'd stop you."
"By the way, what brings Drew over here every month?"
"Never asked him. I was brung up not to ask questions."
The stranger accepted this subtle rebuke with such an open, infectious
laugh that the shepherd smiled in the very act of spitting at the stone,
with the result that he missed it by whole inches.
"I'll answer some of the questions you haven't asked, then. My name is
Anthony Bard and I'm out here seeing the mountains and having a bully
time in general with my rod and gun."
The sad eyes regarded him without interest, but Bard swung from his
horse and advanced with outstretched hand.
"I may be about here for a few days and we might as well get acquainted,
eh? I'll promise to lay off the questions."
"Glad to know you, Mr. Logan."
"Same t'you. Don't happen to have no fine-cut about you?"
"So'm I. Ran out an' now all I've got is plug. Kind of hard on the teeth
an' full of molasses."
"I've some pipe tobacco, though, which might do."
He produced a pouch which Logan opened, taking from it a generous pinch.
"Looks kind of like fine-cut--smells kind of like the real thing"--here
he removed the quid from his mouth and introduced the great pinch of
tobacco--"an' I'll be damned if it don't taste a pile the same!"
The misty eyes centred upon Bard and a light grew up in them.
"Maybe you'd put a price on this tobacco, stranger?"
"It's yours," said Bard, "to help you forget all the questions I've
The shepherd acted at once lest the other might change his mind, dumping
the contents of the pouch into the breast pocket of his shirt. Afterward
his gaze sought the dim summits of the Little Brothers, and a sad, great
resolution grew up and hardened the lines of his sallow face.
"You can camp with me if you want--partner."
A cough, hastily summoned, covered Bard's smile.
"Thanks awfully, but I'm used to camping alone--and rather like it that
"Which I'd say, the same goes here," responded the shepherd with
infinite relief, "I ain't got much use for company--away from a bar. But
I could show you a pretty neat spot for a camp, over there by the
"Thanks, but I'll explore for myself."
He swung again into the saddle and trotted whistling down the slope
toward the creek which Logan had pointed out. But once fairly out of
sight in the second-growth forest, he veered sharply to the right,
touched his tough cattle-pony with the spurs, and headed at a racing
pace straight for the old ruined house.
Even from a distance the house appeared unmistakably done for, but not
until he came close at hand could Bard appreciate the full extent of the
ruin. Every individual board appeared to be rotting and crumbling toward
the ground, awaiting the shake of one fierce gust of wind to disappear
in a cloud of mouldy dust. He left his horse with the reins hanging over
its head behind the house and entered by the back door. One step past
the threshold brought him misadventure, for his foot drove straight
through the rotten flooring and his leg disappeared up to the knee.
After that he proceeded more cautiously, following the lines of the
beams on which the boards were nailed, but even these shook and groaned
under his weight. A whimsical fancy made him think of the fabled boat of
Charon which will float a thousand bodiless spirits over the Styx but
which sinks to the water-line with the weight of a single human being.
So he passed forward like one in a fabric of spider-webs almost fearing
to breathe lest the whole house should puff away to shreds before him.
Half the boards, fallen from the ceiling, revealed the bare rafters
above; below there were ragged holes in the flooring. In one place a
limb, torn by lightning or wind from its overhanging tree, had crashed
through the corner of the roof and dropped straight through to the
At last he reached a habitable room in the front of the house. It was a
new shell built inside the old wreck, with four stout corner-posts
supporting cross-beams, which in turn held up the mouldering roof. In
the centre was a rude table and on either side a bunk built against the
wall. Perhaps this was where Drew lived on the occasions of his visits
to the old ranchhouse.
Out of the gloom of the place, Bard stepped with a shrug of the
shoulders, like one who shakes off the spell of a nightmare. He strode
through the doorway and took the slant, warm sun of the afternoon full
in his face.
He found himself in front of the only spot on the entire premises which
showed the slightest care, the mound of a grave under the shelter of two
trees whose branches were interwoven overhead in a sort of impromptu
roof. From the surface of the mound all the weeds and grasses had been
carefully cleared away, and around its edge ran a path covered with
gravel and sand. It was a wellbeaten path with the mark of heels still
comparatively fresh upon it.
The headstone itself bore not a vestige of moss, but time had cracked it
diagonally and the chiselled letters were weathered away. He studied it
with painful care, poring intently over each faint impression. He who
cared for the grave had apparently been troubled only to keep the stone
free from dirt--the lettering he must have known by heart. At length
Bard made out this inscription:
WIFE OF WILLIAM DREW
SHE CHOSE THIS PLACE FOR REST
A BIT OF STALKING
It seemed as if the peaceful afternoons of Logan were ended forever, for
the next day the scene of interruption was repeated under almost
identical circumstances, save that the tree under which the shepherd sat
was a little larger. Larger also was the man who rode over the brow of
the hill to the east. The most durable cattle-pony would have staggered
under the bulk of that rider, and therefore he rode a great,
patient-eyed bay, with shoulders worthy of shoving against a
work-collar; but the neck tapered down small behind a short head, and
the legs, for all their breadth at shoulder and hip, slipped away to
small hoofs, and ankles which sloped sharply to the rear, the sure sign
of the fine saddle-horse.
Yet the strong horse was winded by the burden he bore, a mighty figure,
deep-chested, amply shouldered, an ideal cavalier for the days when
youths rode out in armour-plate to seek adventures and when men of
fifty still lifted the lance to run a "friendly" course or two in the
At sight of him Logan so far bestirred himself as to uncoil his long
legs, rise, and stand with one shoulder propped against the tree.
"Evening, Mr. Drew," he called.
"Hello, Logan. How's everything with you?"
He would have ridden on, but at Logan's reply he checked his horse to a
"Busy. Lots of company lately, Mr. Drew."
"Yes, there's a young feller come along who says he wants to see you.
He's over there by the creek now, fishin' I think. I told him I'd holler
if I seen you, but I guess you wouldn't mind ridin' over that way
Drew brought his horse to a halt.
"What does he want of me?"
"Dunno. Something about wanting to hunt and fish on your streams here."
"Why didn't you tell him he was welcome to do what he liked? Must be an
"Wants to bunk in the old house, too. Seems sort of interested in it."
"That so? What sort of a fellow is he?"
"All right. A bit talky. Green; but he rides damn well, an' he smokes
His hand automatically rose and touched his breast pocket.
"I'll go over to him," said Drew, and swung his horse to the left, but
only to come again to a halt.
He called over his shoulder: "What sort of a looking fellow?"
"Pretty keen--dark," answered Logan, slipping down into his original
position. "Thin face; black eyes."
"Ah, yes," murmured Drew, and started at a trot for the creek.
Once more he imitated the actions of Bard the day before, however, for
no sooner had the trees screened him thoroughly from the eyes of Logan
than he abandoned his direct course for the creek. He swung from the
saddle with an ease surprising in a man of such age and bulk and tossed
the reins over the head of the horse.
Then he commenced a cautious stalking through the woods, silent as an
Indian, stealthy of foot, with eyes that glanced sharply in all
directions. Once a twig snapped under foot, and after that he remained
motionless through a long moment, shrinking against the trunk of a tree
and scanning the forest anxiously in all directions. At length he
ventured out again, grown doubly cautious. In this manner he worked his
way up the course of the stream, always keeping the waters just within
sight but never passing out on the banks, where the walking would have
been tenfold easier. So he came in sight of a figure far off through the
If he had been cautious before, he became now as still as night.
Dropping to hands and knees, or crouching almost as prone, he moved from
the shadow of one tree to the next, now and then venturing a glance to
make sure that he was pursuing the right course, until he manoeuvred to
a point of vantage which commanded a clear view of Bard.
The latter was fishing, with his back to Drew. Again and again he cast
his fly out under an overhanging limb which shadowed a deep pool. The
big grey man set his teeth and waited with the patience of a stalking
beast of prey, or a cat which will sit half the day waiting for the
mouse to show above the opening of its hole.
Apparently there was a bite at length. The pole bent almost double and
the reel played back and forth rapidly as the fisher wore down his
victim. Finally he came close to the edge of the stream, dipped his net
into the water, and jerked it up at once bearing a twisting, shining
trout enwrapped in the meshes. Swinging about as he did so, Drew caught
his first full glimpse of Anthony's face, and knew him for the man who
had ridden the wild horse at Madison Square Garden those weeks before.
Perhaps it was astonishment that moved the big man--surely it could not
have been fear--yet he knelt there behind the sheltering tree
grey-faced, wide, and blank of eye, as a man might look who dreamed and
awoke to see his vision standing before him in full sunlit life. What
his expression became then could not be said, for he buried his face in
his hands and his great body shook with a tremor. If this was not fear
it was something very like.
And very like a man in fear he stole back among the trees as cautiously
as he had made his approach. Resuming his horse he rode straight for
"Couldn't find your young friend," he said, "along the creek."
"Why," said Logan, "I can reach him with a holler from here, I think."
"Never mind; just tell him that he's welcome to do what he pleases on
the place; and he can bunk down at the house if he wants to. I'd like to
know his name, though."
"That's easy. Anthony Bard."
"Ah," said Drew slowly, "Anthony Bard!"
"That's it," nodded Logan, and fixed a curious eye upon the big grey
As if to escape from that inquiring scrutiny, Drew wheeled his horse and
spurred at a sharp gallop up the hill, leaving Logan frowning behind.
"No stay over night," muttered the shepherd. "No fooling about that
damned old shack of a house; what's wrong with Drew?"
He answered himself, for all shepherds are forced by the bitter
loneliness of their work to talk with themselves. "The old boy's
worried. Damned if he isn't! I'll keep an eye on this Bard feller."
And he loosened the revolver in its holster.
He might have been even more concerned had he seen the redoubled speed
with which Drew galloped as soon as the hilltop was between him and
Logan. Straight on he pushed his horse, not exactly like one who fled
but rather more like one too busy with consuming thoughts to pay the
slightest heed to the welfare of his mount. It was a spent horse on
which he trotted late that night up to the big, yawning door of his
"Where's Nash?" he asked of the man who took his horse.
"Playing a game with the boys in the bunk-house, sir."
So past the bunk-house Drew went on his way to his dwelling, knocked,
and threw open the door. Inside, a dozen men, seated at or standing
around a table, looked up.
"On the jump, Nash. I'm in a hurry."
There rose a man of a build much prized in pugilistic circles. In those
same circles he would have been described as a fellow with a fighting
face and a heavy-weight above the hips and a light-weight below--a
handsome fellow, except that his eyes were a little too small and his
lips a trifle too thin. He rose now in the midst of a general groan of
dismay, and scooped in a considerable stack of gold as well as several
bright piles of silver; he was undoubtedly taking the glory of the game
"Is this square?" growled one of the men clenching his fist on the edge
of the table.
The sardonic smile hardened on the lips of Nash as he answered: "Before
you've been here much longer, Pete, you'll find out that about
everything I do is square. Sorry to leave you, boys, before you're
broke, but orders is orders."
"But one more hand first," pleaded Pete.
"You poor fool," snarled Nash, "d'you think I'll take a chance on
keepin' _him_ waiting?"
The last of his winnings passed with a melodious jingling into his
pockets and he went hurriedly out of the bunk-house and up to the main
building. There he found Drew in the room which the rancher used as an
office, and stood at the door hat in hand.
"Come in; sit down," said "_him_." "Been taking the money from the boys
again, Steve? I thought I talked with you about that a month ago?"
"It's this way, Mr. Drew," explained Nash, "with me stayin' away from
the cards is like a horse stayin' off its feed. Besides, I done the
square thing by the lot of those short-horns."
"I showed 'em my hand."
"Told them you were a professional gambler?"
"Sure. I explained they didn't have no chance against me."
"And of course that made them throw every cent they had against you?"
"It can't go on, Nash."
"Look here, Mr. Drew. I told 'em that I wasn't a gambler but just a
The big man could not restrain his smile, though it came like a shadow
of mirth rather than the sunlight.
"After all, they might as well lose it to you as to someone else."
"Sure," grinned Nash, "it keeps it in the family, eh?"
"But one of these days, Steve, crooked cards will be the end of you."
"I'm still pretty fast on the draw," said Steve sullenly.
"All right. That's your business. Now I want you to listen to some of
"Your own line."
"That," said Nash, with a smile of infinite meaning, "sounds like the
dinner bell to me. Let her go, sir!"
THE QUEST BEGINS
"You know the old place on the other side of the range?"
"Like a book. I got pet names for all the trees."
"There's a man there I want."
"No. His name is Bard."
"H-m! Any relation of the old bird that was partners with you back about
the year one?"
"I want Anthony Bard brought here," said. Drew, entirely overlooking the
"Easy. I can make the trip in a buckboard and I'll dump him in the back
"No. He's got to _ride_ here, understand?"
"A dead man," said Nash calmly, "ain't much good on a hoss."
"Listen to me," said Drew, his voice lowering to a sort of musical
thunder, "if you harm a hair of this lad's head I'll-I'll break you in
two with my own hands."
And he made a significant gesture as if he were snapping a twig between
his fingers. Nash moistened his lips, then his square, powerful jaw
"Which the general idea is me doing baby talk and sort of hypnotizing
this Bard feller into coming along?"
"More than that. He's got to be brought here alive, untouched, and
placed in that chair tied so that he can't move hand or foot for ten
minutes while I talk."
"Nice, quiet day you got planned for me, Mr. Drew."
The grey man considered thoughtfully.
"Now and then you've told me of a girl at Eldara--I think her name is
"Right. She begins where the rest of the calico leaves off."
"H-m! that sounds familiar, somehow. Well, Steve, you've said that if
you had a good start you think the girl would marry you."
"I think she might."
"She pretty fond of you?"
"She knows that if I can't have her I'm fast enough to keep everyone
"I see. A process of elimination with you as the eliminator. Rather an
odd courtship, Steve?"
The cowpuncher grew deadly serious.
"You see, I love her. There ain't no way of bucking out of that. So do
nine out of ten of all the boys that've seen her. Which one will she
pick? That's the question we all keep askin', because of all the
contrary, freckle-faced devils with the heart of a man an' the smile of
a woman, Sally has 'em all beat from the drop of the barrier. One feller
has money; another has looks; another has a funny line of talk. But I've
got the fastest gun. So Sally sees she's due for a complete outfit of
black mournin' if she marries another man while I'm alive; an' that
keeps her thinkin'. But if I had the price of a start in the world--why,
maybe she'd take a long look at me."
"Would she call one thousand dollars in cash a start in the world--and
your job as foreman of my place, with twice the salary you have now?"
Steve Nash wiped his forehead.
He said huskily: "A joke along this line don't bring no laugh from me,
"I mean it, Steve. Get Anthony Bard tied hand and foot into this house
so that I can talk to him safely for ten minutes, and you'll have
everything I promise. Perhaps more. But that depends."
The blunt-fingered hand of Nash stole across the table.
"If it's a go, shake, Mr. Drew."
A mighty hand fell in his, and under the pressure he set his teeth.
Afterward he covertly moved his fingers and sighed with relief to see
that no permanent harm had been done.
"Me speakin' personal, Mr. Drew, I'd of give a lot to seen you when you
was ridin' the range. This Bard--he'll be here before sunset to-morrow."
"Don't jump to conclusions, Steve. I've an idea that before you count
your thousand you'll think that you've been underpaid. That's straight."
"This Bard is something of a man?"
"I can say that without stopping to think."
"No. He's a tenderfoot, but he can ride a horse as if he was sewed to
the skin, and I've an idea that he can do other things up to the same
standard. If you can find two or three men who have silent tongues and
strong hands, you'd better take them along. I'll pay their wages, and
big ones. You can name your price."
But Nash was frowning.
"Now and then I talk to the cards a bit, Mr. Drew, and you'll hear
fellers say some pretty rough things about me, but I've never asked for
no odds against any man. I'm not going to start now."
"You're a hard man, Steve, but so am I; and hard men are the kind I take
to. I know that you're the best foreman who ever rode this range and I
know that when you start things you generally finish them. All that I
ask is that you bring Bard to me in this house. The way you do it is
your own problem. Drunk or drugged, I don't care how, but get him here
"Mr. Drew, you can start figurin' what you want to say to him now. I'll
get him here--safe! And then Sally--"
"If money will buy her you'll have me behind you when you bid."
"When shall I start?"
He rose and passed hastily from the room, leaning forward from the hips
like a man who is making a start in a foot-race.
Straight up the stairs he went to his room, for the foreman lived in the
big house of the rancher. There he took a quantity of equipment from a
closet and flung it on the bed. Over three selections he lingered long.
The first was the cartridge belt, and he tried over several with
conscientious care until he found the one which received the cartridges
with the greatest ease. He could flip them out in the night,
automatically as a pianist fingers the scale in the dark.
Next he examined lariats painfully, inch by inch, as though he were
going out to rope the stanchest steer that ever roamed the range.
Already he knew that those ropes were sound and true throughout, but he
took no chances now. One of the ropes he discarded because one or two
strands in it were, or might be, a trifle frayed. The others he took
alternately and whirled with a broad loop, standing in the centre of the
room. Of the set one was a little more supple, a little more durable, it
seemed. This he selected and coiled swiftly.
Last of all he lingered--and longest--over his revolvers. Six in all, he
set them in a row along the bed and without delay threw out two to begin
with. Then he fingered the others, tried their weight and balance,
slipped cartridges into the cylinders and extracted them again, whirled
the cylinders, examined the minutest parts of the actions.
They were all such guns as an expert would have turned over with shining
eyes, but finally he threw one aside into the discard; the cylinder
revolved just a little too hard. Another was abandoned after much
handling of the remaining three because to the delicate touch of Nash it
seemed that the weight of the barrel was a gram more than in the other
two; but after this selection it seemed that there was no possible
choice between the final two.
So he stood in the centre of the room and went through a series of odd
gymnastics. Each gun in turn he placed in the holster and then jerked it
out, spinning it on the trigger guard around his second finger, while
his left hand shot diagonally across his body and "fanned" the hammer.
Still he could not make his choice, but he would not abandon the effort.
It was an old maxim with him that there is in all the world one gun
which is the best of all and with which even a novice can become a
He tried walking away, whirling as he made his draw, and levelling the
gun on the door-knob. Then without moving his hand, he lowered his head
and squinted down the sights. In each case the bead was drawn to a
centre shot. Last of all he weighed each gun; one seemed a trifle
lighter--the merest shade lighter than the other. This he slipped into
the holster and carried the rest of his apparatus back to the closet
from which he had taken it.
Still the preparation had not ended. Filling his cartridge belt, every
cartridge was subject to a rigid inspection. A full half hour was wasted
in this manner. Wasted, because he rejected not one of the many he
examined. Yet he seemed happier after having made his selection, and
went down the stairs, humming softly.
Out to the barn he went, lantern in hand. This time he made no
comparison of horses but went directly to an ugly-headed roan, long of
leg, vicious of eye, thin-shouldered, and with hips that slanted sharply
down. No one with a knowledge of fine horse-flesh could have looked on
this brute without aversion. It did not have even size in its favour. A
wild, free spirit, perhaps, might be the reason; but the animal stood
with hanging head and pendant lower lip. One eye was closed and the
other only half opened. A blind affection, then, made him go to this
horse first of all.
No, his greeting was to jerk his knee sharply into the ribs of the roan,
which answered with a grunt and swung its head around with bared teeth,
like an angry dog. "Damn your eyes!" roared the hoarse voice of Steve
Nash, "stand still or I'll knock you for a goal!"
The ears of the mustang flattened close to its neck and a devil of hate
came up in its eyes, but it stood quiet, while Nash went about at a
judicious distance and examined all the vital points. The hoofs were
sound, the backbone prominent, but not a high ridge from famine or much
hard riding, and the indomitable hate in the eyes of the mustang seemed
to please the cowpuncher.
It was a struggle to bridle the beast, which was accomplished only by
grinding the points of his knuckles into a tender part of the jowl to
make the locked teeth open.
In saddling, the knee came into play again, rapping the ribs of the
brute repeatedly before the wind, which swelled out the chest to false
proportions, was expelled in a sudden grunt, and the cinch whipped up
taut. After that Nash dodged the flying heels, chose his time, and
vaulted into the saddle.
The mustang trotted quietly out of the barn. Perhaps he had had his fill
of bucking on that treacherous, slippery wooden floor, but once outside
he turned loose the full assortment of the cattle-pony's tricks. It was
only ten minutes, but while it lasted the cursing of Nash was loud and
steady, mixed with the crack of his murderous quirt against the roan's
flanks. The bucking ended as quickly as it had begun, and they started
at a long canter over the trail.
THE FIRST DAY
Mile after mile of the rough trail fell behind him, and still the pony
shambled along at a loose trot or a swinging canter; the steep upgrades
it took at a steady jog and where the slopes pitched sharply down, it
wound among the rocks with a faultless sureness of foot.
Certainly the choice of Nash was well made. An Eastern horse of blood
over a level course could have covered the same distance in half the
time, but it would have broken down after ten miles of that hard trail.
Dawn came while they wound over the crest of the range, and with the sun
in their faces they took the downgrade. It was well into the morning
before Nash reached Logan. He forced from his eye the contempt which all
cattlemen feel for sheepherders.
"I s'pose you're here askin' after Bard?" began Logan without the
"Bard? Who's he?"
Logan considered the other with a sardonic smile.
"Maybe you been ridin' all night jest for fun?"
"If you start usin' your tongue on me, Logan you'll wear out the snapper
on it. I'm on my way to the A Circle Y."
"Listen; I'm all for old man Drew. You know that. Tell me what Bard has
"Never heard the name before. Did he rustle a couple of your sheep?"
Logan went on patiently: "I knew something was wrong when Drew was here
yesterday but I didn't think it was as bad as this."
"What did Drew do yesterday?"
"Came up as usual to potter around the old house, I guess, but when he
heard about Bard bein' here he changed his mind sudden and went home."
"That's damn queer. What sort of a lookin' feller is this Bard?"
"I don't suppose you know, eh?" queried Logan ironically. "I don't
suppose the old man described him before you started, maybe?"
"Logan, you poor old hornless maverick, d'you think I'm on somebody's
trail? Don't you know I've been through with that sort of game for a
hell of a while?"
"When rocks turn into ham and eggs I'll trust you, Steve. I'll tell you
what I done to Bard, anyway. Yesterday, after he found that Drew had
been here and gone he seemed sort of upset; tried to keep it from me,
but I'm too much used to judgin' changes of weather to be fooled by any
tenderfoot that ever used school English. Then he hinted around about
learnin' the way to Eldara, because he knows that town is pretty close
to Drew's place, I guess. I told him; sure I did. He should of gone due
west, but I sent him south. There is a south trail, only it takes about
three days to get to Eldara."
"Maybe you think that interests me. It don't."
Logan overlooked this rejoinder, saying: "Is it his scalp you're after?"
"Your ideas are like nest-eggs, Logan, an' you set over 'em like a hen.
They look like eggs; they feel like eggs; but they don't never hatch.
That's the way with your ideas. They look all right; they sound all
right; but they don't mean nothin'. So-long."
But Logan merely chuckled wisely. He had been long on the range.
As Nash turned his pony and trotted off in the direction of the A
Circle Y ranch, the sheepherder called after him: "What you say cuts
both ways, Steve. This feller Bard looks like a tenderfoot; he sounds
like a tenderfoot; but he ain't a tenderfoot."
Feeling that this parting shot gave him the honours of the meeting, he
turned away whistling with such spirit that one of his dogs,
overhearing, stood still and gazed at his master with his head cocked
wisely to one side.
His eastern course Nash pursued for a mile or more, and then swung sharp
to the south. He was weary, like his horse, and he made no attempt to
start a sudden burst of speed. He let the pony go on at the same
tireless jog, clinging like a bulldog to the trail.
About midday he sighted a small house cuddled into a hollow of the hills
and made toward it. As he dismounted, a tow-headed, spindling boy
lounged out of the doorway and stood with his hands shoved carelessly
into his little overall pockets.
"Hello, young feller."
"What's the chance of bunking here for three or four hours and gettin' a
good feed for the hoss?"
"Never better. Gimme the hoss; I'll put him up in the shed. Feed him
"No, you won't put him up. I'll tend to that."
"Looks like a bad 'un."
"But a sure goer, eh?"
He led the pony to the shed, unsaddled him, and gave him a small feed.
The horse first rolled on the dirt floor and then started methodically
on his fodder. Having made sure that his mount was not "off his feed,"
Nash rolled a cigarette and strolled back to the house with the boy.
"Where's the folks?" he asked.
"Ma's sick, a little, and didn't get up to-day. Pa's down to the corral,
cussing mad. But I can cook you up some chow."
"All right son. I got a dollar here that'll buy you a pretty good store
The boy flushed so red that by contrast his straw coloured hair seemed
"Maybe you want to pay me?" he suggested fiercely. "Maybe you think
we're squatters that run a hotel?"
Recognizing the true Western breed even in this small edition, Nash
"Speakin' man to man, son, I didn't think that, but I thought I'd sort
of feel my way."
"Which I'll say you're lucky you didn't try to feel your way with pa;
not the way he's feelin' now."
In the shack of the house he placed the best chair for Nash and set
about frying ham and making coffee. This with crackers, formed the meal.
He watched Nash eat for a moment of solemn silence and then the foreman
looked up to catch a meditative chuckle from the youngster.
"Let me in on the joke, son."
"Nothin'. I was just thinkin' of pa."
"What's he sore about? Come out short at poker lately?"
"No; he lost a hoss. Ha, ha, ha!"
He explained: "He's lost his only standin' joke, and now the laugh's on
Nash sipped his coffee and waited. On the mountain desert one does not
draw out a narrator with questions.
"There was a feller come along early this mornin' on a lame hoss," the
story began. "He was a sure enough tenderfoot--leastways he looked it
an' he talked it, but he wasn't."
The familiarity of this description made Steve sit up a trifle
"Was he a ringer?"
"Maybe. I dunno. Pa meets him at the door and asks him in. What d'you
think this feller comes back with?"
The boy paused to remember and then with twinkling eyes he mimicked:
"'That's very good of you, sir, but I'll only stop to make a trade with
you--this horse and some cash to boot for a durable mount out of your
corral. The brute has gone lame, you see.'
"Pa waited and scratched his head while these here words sort of sunk
in. Then says very smooth: 'I'll let you take the best hoss I've got,
an' I won't ask much cash to boot.'
"I begin wonderin' what pa was drivin' at, but I didn't say
nothin'--jest held myself together and waited.
"'Look over there to the corral,' says pa, and pointed. 'They's a hoss
that ought to take you wherever you want to go. It's the best hoss I've
"It was the best horse pa ever had, too. It was a piebald pinto called
Jo, after my cousin Josiah, who's jest a plain bad un and raises hell
when there's any excuse. The piebald, he didn't even need an excuse. You
see, he's one of them hosses that likes company. When he leaves the
corral he likes to have another hoss for a runnin' mate and he was jest
as tame as anything. I could ride him; anybody could ride him. But if
you took him outside the bars of the corral without company, first thing
he done was to see if one of the other hosses was comin' out to join
him. When he seen that he was all laid out to make a trip by himself he
jest nacherally started in to raise hell. Which Jo can raise more hell
for his size than any hoss I ever seen.
"He's what you call an eddicated bucker. He don't fool around with no
pauses. He jest starts in and figgers out a situation and then he gets
busy slidin' the gent that's on him off'n the saddle. An' he always used
to win out. In fact, he was known for it all around these parts. He
begun nice and easy, but he worked up like a fiddler playin' a favourite
piece, and the end was the rider lyin' on the ground.
"Whenever the boys around here wanted any excitement they used to come
over and try their hands with Jo. We used to keep a pile of arnica and
stuff like that around to rub them up with and tame down the bruises
after Jo laid 'em cold on the ground. There wasn't never anybody could
ride that hoss when he was started out alone.
"Well, this tenderfoot, he looks over the hoss in the corral and says:
'That's a pretty fine mount, it seems to me. What do you want to boot?'
"'Aw, twenty-five dollars is enough,' says pa.
"'All right,' says the tenderfoot, 'here's the money.'
"And he counts it out in pa's hand.
"He says: 'What a little beauty! It would be a treat to see him work on
a polo field.'
"Pa says: 'It'd'be a treat to see this hoss work anywhere.'
"Then he steps on my foot to make me wipe the grin off'n my face.
"Down goes the tenderfoot and takes his saddle and flops it on the
piebald pinto, and the piebald was jest as nice as milk. Then he leads
him out'n the corral and gets on.
"First the pinto takes a look over his shoulder like he was waiting for
one of his pals among the hosses to come along, but he didn't see none.
Then the circus started. An' b'lieve me, it was some circus. Jo hadn't
had much action for some time, an' he must have used the wait thinkin'
up new ways of raisin' hell.
"There ain't enough words in the Bible to describe what he done. Which
maybe you sort of gather that he had to keep on performin', because the
tenderfoot was still in the saddle. He was. An' he never pulled
leather. No, sir, he never touched the buckin' strap, but jest sat there
with his teeth set and his lips twistin' back--the same smile he had
when he got into the saddle. But pretty soon I s'pose Jo had a chance to
figure out that it didn't do him no particular harm to be alone.
"The minute he seen that he stopped fightin' and started off at a gallop
the way the tenderfoot wanted him to go, which was over there.
"'Damn my eyes!' says pa, an' couldn't do nuthin' but just stand there
repeatin' that with variations because with Jo gone there wouldn't be no
drawin' card to get the boys around the house no more. But you're
lookin' sort of sleepy, stranger?"
"I am," answered Nash.
"Well, if you'd seen that show you wouldn't be thinkin' of sleep. Not
for some time."
"Maybe not, but the point is I didn't see it. D'you mind if I turn in on
that bunk over there?"
"Help yourself," said the boy. "What time d'you want me to wake you up?"
"Never mind; I wake up automatic. S'long, Bud."
He stretched out on the blankets and was instantly asleep.
A TOUCH OF CRIMSON
At the end of three hours he awoke as sharply as though an alarm were
clamouring at his ear. There was no elaborate preparation for renewed
activities. A single yawn and stretch and he was again on his feet.
Since the boy was not in sight he cooked himself an enormous meal,
devoured it, and went out to the mustang.
The roan greeted him with a volley from both heels that narrowly missed
the head of Nash, but the cowpuncher merely smiled tolerantly.
"Feelin' fit agin, eh, damn your soul?" he said genially, and picking up
a bit of board, fallen from the side of the shed, he smote the mustang
mightily along the ribs. The mustang, as if it recognized the touch of
the master, pricked up one ear and side-stepped. The brief rest had
filled it with all the old, vicious energy.
For once more, as soon as they rode clear of the door, there ensued a
furious struggle between man and beast. The man won, as always, and the
roan, dropping both ears flat against its neck, trotted sullenly out
across the hills.
In that monotony of landscape, one mile exactly like the other, no
landmarks to guide him, no trail to follow, however faintly worn, it was
strange to see the cowpuncher strike out through the vast distances of
the mountain-desert with as much confidence as if he were travelling on
a paved street in a city. He had not even a compass to direct him but he
seemed to know his way as surely as the birds know the untracked paths
of the air in the seasons of migration.
Straight on through the afternoon and during the long evening he kept
his course at the same unvarying dog-trot until the flush of the sunset
faded to a stern grey and the purple hills in the distance turned blue
with shadows. Then, catching the glimmer of a light on a hillside, he
turned toward it to put up for the night.
In answer to his call a big man with a lantern came to the door and
raised his light until it shone on a red, bald head and a portly figure.
His welcome was neither hearty nor cold; hospitality is expected in the
mountain-desert. So Nash put up his horse in the shed and came back to
The meal was half over, but two girls immediately set a plate heaped
with fried potatoes and bacon and flanked by a mighty cup of jetblack
coffee on one side and a pile of yellow biscuits on the other. He nodded
to them, grunted by way of expressing thanks, and sat down to eat.
Beside the tall father and the rosy-faced mother, the family consisted
of the two girls, one of them with her hair twisted severely close to
her head, wearing a man's blue cotton shirt with the sleeves rolled up
to a pair of brown elbows. Evidently she was the boy of the family and
to her fell the duty of performing the innumerable chores of the ranch,
for her hands were thick with work and the tips of the fingers blunted.
Also she had that calm, self-satisfied eye which belongs to the
workingman who knows that he has earned his meal.
Her sister monopolized all the beauty and the grace, not that she was
either very pretty or extremely graceful, but she was instinct with the
challenge of femininity like a rare scent. It lingered about her, it
enveloped her ways; it gave a light to her eyes and made her smile
exquisite. Her clothes were not of much finer material than her
sister's, but they were cut to fit, and a bow of crimson ribbon at her
throat was as effective in that environment as the most costly orchids
on an evening gown.
She was armed in pride this night, talking only to her mother, and then
in monosyllables alone. At first it occurred to Steve that his coming
had made her self-conscious, but he soon discovered that her pride was
directed at the third man at the table. She at least maintained a
pretence of eating, but he made not even a sham, sitting miserably, his
mouth hard set, his eyes shadowed by a tremendous frown. At length he
shoved back his chair with such violence that the table trembled.
"Well," he rumbled, "I guess this lets me out. S'long."
And he strode heavily from the room; a moment later his cursing came
back to them as he rode into the night.
"Takes it kind of hard, don't he?" said the father.
And the mother murmured: "Poor Ralph!"
"So you went an' done it?" said the mannish girl to her sister.
"What of it?" snapped the other.
"He's too good for you, that's what of it."
"Girls!" exclaimed the mother anxiously. "Remember we got a guest!"
"Oh," said she of the strong brown arms, "I guess we can't tell him
nothin'; I guess he had eyes to be seein' what's happened." She turned
calmly to Steve.
"Lizzie turned down Ralph Boardman--poor feller!"
"Sue!" cried the other girl.
"Well, after you done it, are you ashamed to have it talked about? You
make me sore, I'll tell a man!"
"That's enough, Sue," growled the father.
"We ain't goin' to have no more show about this. I've had my supper
spoiled by it already."
"I say it's a rotten shame," broke out Sue, and she repeated, "Ralph's
too good for her. All because of a city dude--a tenderfoot!"
In the extremity of her scorn her voice drawled in a harsh murmur.
"Then take him yourself, if you can get him!" cried Lizzie. "I'm sure I
don't want him!"
Their eyes blazed at each other across the table, and Lizzie, having
scored an unexpected point, struck again.
"I think you've always had a sort of hankerin' after Ralph--oh, I've
seen your eyes rollin' at him."
The other girl coloured hotly through her tan.
"If I was fond of him I wouldn't be ashamed to let him know, you can
tell the world that. And I wouldn't keep him trottin' about like a
little pet dog till I got tired of him and give him up for the sake of a
greenhorn who"--her voice lowered to a spiteful hiss--"kissed you the
first time he even seen you!"
In vain Lizzie fought for her control; her lip trembled and her voice
"I hate you, Sue!"
"Sue, ain't you ashamed of yourself?" pleaded the mother.
"No, I ain't! Think of it; here's Ralph been sweet on Liz for two years
an' now she gives him the go-by for a skinny, affected dude like that
feller that was here. And he's forgot you already, Liz, the minute he
stopped laughing at you for bein' so easy."
"Ma, are you goin' to let Sue talk like this--right before a stranger?"
"Sue, you shut up!" commanded the father.
"I don't see nobody that can make me," she said, surly as a grown boy.
"I can't make any more of a fool out of Liz than that tenderfoot made
"Did he," asked Steve, "ride a piebald mustang?"
"D'you know him?" breathed Lizzie, forgetting the tears of shame which
had been gathering in her eyes.
"Nope. Jest heard a little about him along the road."
"What's his name?"
Then she coloured, even before Sue could say spitefully: "Didn't he even
have to tell you his name before he kissed you?"
"He did! His name is--Tony!"
"Tony!"--in deep disgust. "Well, he's dark enough to be a dago! Maybe
he's a foreign count, or something, Liz, and he'll take you back to live
in some castle or other."
But the girl queried, in spite of this badinage: "Do you know his name?"
"His name," said Nash, thinking that it could do no harm to betray as
much as this, "is Anthony Bard, I think."
"And you don't know him?"
"All I know is that the feller who used to own that piebald mustang is
pretty mad and cusses every time he thinks of him."
"He didn't steal the hoss?"
This with more bated breath than if the question had been: "He didn't
kill a man?" for indeed horse-stealing was the greater crime.
Even Nash would not make such an accusation directly, and therefore he
fell back on an innuendo almost as deadly.
"I dunno," he said non-committally, and shrugged his shoulders.
With all his soul he was concentrating on the picture of the man who
conquered a fighting horse and flirted successfully with a pretty girl
the same day; each time riding on swiftly from his conquest. The clues
on this trail were surely thick enough, but they were of such a nature
that the pleasant mind of Steve grew more and more thoughtful.
In fact, so thoughtful had Nash become, that he slept with extraordinary
lightness that night and was up at the first hint of day. Sue appeared
on the scene just in time to witness the last act of the usual drama of
bucking on the part of the roan, before it settled down to the
mechanical dog-trot with which it would wear out the ceaseless miles of
the mountain-desert all day and far into the night, if need be.
Nash now swung more to the right, cutting across the hills, for he
presumed that by this time the tenderfoot must have gotten his bearings
and would head straight for Eldara. It was a stiff two day journey, now,
the whole first day's riding having been a worse than useless detour; so
the bulldog jaw set harder and harder, and the keen eyes squinted as if
to look into the dim future.
Once each day, about noon, when the heat made even the desert and the
men of the desert drowsy, he allowed his imagination to roam freely,
counting the thousand dollars over and over again, and tasting again the
joys of a double salary. Yet even his hardy imagination rarely rose to
the height of Sally Fortune. That hour of dreaming, however, made the
day of labour almost pleasant.
This time, in the very middle of his dream, he reached the cross-roads
saloon and general merchandise store of Flanders; so he banished his
visions with a compelling shrug of the shoulders and rode for it at a
gallop, a hot dryness growing in his throat at every stride. Quick
service he was sure to get, for there were not more than half a dozen
cattle-ponies standing in front of the little building with its rickety
walls guiltless of paint save for the one great sign inscribed with
He swung from the saddle, tossed the reins over the head of the mustang,
made a stride forward--and then checked himself with a soft curse and
reached for his gun.
For the door of the bar dashed open and down the steps rushed a tall man
with light yellow moustache, so long that it literally blew on either
side over his shoulders as he ran; in either hand he carried a
revolver---a two-gun man, fleeing, perhaps, from another murder.
For Nash recognized in him a character notorious through a thousand
miles of the range, Sandy Ferguson, nicknamed by the colour of that
famous moustache, which was envied and dreaded so far and so wide. It
was not fear that made Nash halt, for otherwise he would have finished
the motion and whipped out his gun; but at least it was something
closely akin to fear.
For that matter, there were unmistakable signs in Sandy himself of what
would have been called arrant terror in any other man. His face was so
bloodless that the pallor showed even through the leathery tan; one eye
stared wildly, the other being sheltered under a clumsy patch which
could not quite conceal the ugly bruise beneath. Under his great
moustache his lips were as puffed and swollen as the lips of a negro.
Staggering in his haste, he whirled a few paces from the house and
turned, his guns levelled. At the same moment the door opened and the
perspiring figure of little fat Flanders appeared. Scorn and anger
rather than hate or any bloodlust appeared in his face. His right arm,
hanging loosely at his side, held a revolver, and he seemed to have the
greatest unconcern for the levelled weapons of the gunman.
He made a gesture with that armed hand, and Sandy winced as though a
whiplash had flicked him.
"Steady up, damn your eyes!" bellowed Flanders, "and put them guns away.
Put 'em up; hear me?"
To the mortal astonishment of Nash, Sandy obeyed, keeping the while a
fascinated eye upon the little Dutchman.
"Now climb your hoss and beat it, and if I ever find you in reach again,
I'll send my kid out to rope you and give you a hoss-whippin'."
The gun fighter lost no time. A single leap carried him into his saddle
and he was off over the sand with a sharp rattle of the beating hoofs.
"Well," breathed Nash, "I'll be hanged."
"Sure you will," suggested Flanders, at once changing his frown for a
smile of somewhat professional good nature, as one who greeted an old
customer, "sure you will unless you come in an' have a drink on the
house. I want something myself to forget what I been doin'. I feel like
Steve, deeply meditative, strode into the room.
"Partner," he said gravely to Flanders, "I've always prided myself on
having eyes a little better than the next one, but just now I guess I
must of been seein' double. Seemed to me that that was Sandy Ferguson
that you hot-footed out of that door--or has Sandy got a double?"
"Nope," said the bartender, wiping the last of the perspiration from his
forehead, "that's Sandy, all right."
"Then gimme a big drink. I need it."
The bottle spun expertly across the bar, and the glasses tinkled after.
"Funny about him, all right," nodded Flanders, "but then it's happened
the same way with others I could tell about. As long as he was winnin'
Sandy was the king of any roost. The minute he lost a fight he wasn't
worth so many pounds of salt pork. Take a hoss; a fine hoss is often
jest the same. Long as it wins nothin' can touch some of them blooded
boys. But let 'em go under the wire second, maybe jest because they's
packing twenty pounds too much weight, and they're never any good any
more. Any second-rater can lick 'em. I lost five hundred iron boys on a
hoss that laid down like that."
"All of which means," suggested Nash, "that Sandy has been licked?"
"Licked? No, he ain't been licked, but he's been plumb annihilated,
washed off the map, cleaned out, faded, rubbed into the dirt; if there
was some stronger way of puttin' it, I would. Only last night, at that,
but now look at him. A girl that never seen a man before could tell that
he wasn't any more dangerous now than if he was made of putty; but if
the fool keeps packin' them guns he's sure to get into trouble."
He raised his glass.
"So here's to the man that Sandy was and ain't no more."
They drank solemnly.
"Maybe you took the fall out of him yourself, Flanders?"
"Nope. I ain't no fighter, Steve. You know that. The feller that downed
Sandy was--a tenderfoot. Yep, a greenhorn."
"Ah-h-h," drawled Nash softly, "I thought so."
"Anyway, let's hear the story. Another drink--on me, Flanders."
"It was like this. Along about evening of yesterday Sandy was in here
with a couple of other boys. He was pretty well lighted--the glow was
circulatin' promiscuous, in fact--when in comes a feller about your
height, Steve, but lighter. Goodlookin', thin face, big dark eyes like a
girl. He carried the signs of a long ride on him. Well, sir, he walks up
to the bar and says: 'Can you make me a very sour lemonade, Mr.
"I grabbed the edge of the bar and hung tight.
"'A which?' says I.
"'Lemonade, if you please.'
"I rolled an eye at Sandy, who was standin' there with his jaw falling,
and then I got busy with lemons and the squeezer, but pretty soon
Ferguson walks up to the stranger.
"'Are you English?' he asks.
"I knew by his tone what was comin', so I slid the gun I keep behind the
bar closer and got prepared for a lot of damaged crockery.
"'I?' says the tenderfoot. 'Why, no. What makes you ask?'
"'Your damned funny way of talkin',' says Sandy.
"'Oh,' says the greenhorn, nodding as if he was thinkin' this over and
discovering a little truth in it. 'I suppose the way I talk is a little
"'A little rotten,' says Sandy. 'Did I hear you askin' for a lemonade?'
"'Would I seem to be askin' too many questions,' says Sandy, terrible
polite, 'if I inquires if bar whisky ain't good enough for you?'
"The tenderfoot, he stands there jest as easy as you an' me stand here
now, and he laughed.
"He says: 'The bar whisky I've tasted around this country is not very
good for any one, unless, perhaps, after a snake has bitten you. Then it
works on the principle of poison fight poison, eh?'
"Sandy says after a minute: 'I'm the most quietest, gentle, innercent
cowpuncher that ever rode the range, but I'd tell a man that it riles me
to hear good bar whisky insulted like this. Look at me! Do I look as if
whisky ain't good for a man?'
"'Why,' says the tenderfoot, 'you look sort of funny to me.'
"He said it as easy as if he was passin' the morning with Ferguson, but
I seen that it was the last straw with Sandy. He hefted out both guns
and trained 'em on the greenhorn.
"I yelled: 'Sandy, for God's sake, don't be killin' a tenderfoot!'
"'If whisky will kill him he's goin' to die,' says Sandy. 'Flanders,
pour out a drink of rye for this gent.'
"I did it, though my hand was shaking a lot, and the chap takes the
glass and raises it polite, and looks at the colour of it. I thought he
was goin' to drink, and starts wipin' the sweat off'n my forehead.
"But this chap, he sets down the glass and smiles over to Sandy.
"'Listen,' he says, still grinnin', 'in the old days I suppose this
would have been a pretty bluff, but it won't work with me now. You want
me to drink this glass of very bad whisky, but I'm sure that you don't
want it badly enough to shoot me.
"'There are many reasons. In the old days a man shot down another and
then rode off on his horse and was forgotten, but in these days the
telegraph is faster than any horse that was ever foaled. They'd be sure
to get you, sir, though you might dodge them for a while. And I believe
that for a crime such as you threaten, they have recently installed a
little electric chair which is a perfectly good inducer of sleep--in
fact, it is better than a cradle. Taking these things all into
consideration, I take it for granted that you are bluffing, my friend,
and one of my favourite occupations is calling a bluff. You look
dangerous, but I've an idea that you are as yellow as your moustache.'
"Sandy, he sort of swelled up all over like a poisoned dog.
"He says: 'I begin to see your style. You want a clean man-handlin',
which suits me uncommon well.'
"With that, he lays down his guns, soft and careful, and puts up his
fists, and goes for the other gent.
"He makes his pass, which should have sent the other gent into kingdom
come. But it didn't. No, sir, the tenderfoot, he seemed to evaporate. He
wasn't there when the fist of Ferguson come along. Ferguson, he checked
up short and wheeled around and charged again like a bull. And he missed
again. And so they kept on playin' a sort of a game of tag over the
place, the stranger jest side-steppin' like a prize-fighter, the
prettiest you ever seen, and not developin' when Sandy started on one of
"At last one of Sandy's fists grazed him on the shoulder and sort of
peeved him, it looked like. He ducks under Sandy's next punch, steps in,
and wallops Sandy over the eye--that punch didn't travel more'n six
inches. But it slammed Sandy down in a corner like he's been shot.
"He was too surprised to be much hurt, though, and drags himself up to
his feet, makin' a pass at his pocket at the same time. Then he came
again, silent and thinkin' of blood, I s'pose, with a knife in his hand.
"This time the tenderfoot didn't wait. He went in with a sort of hitch
step, like a dancer. Ferguson's knife carved the air beside the
tenderfoot's head, and then the skinny boy jerked up his right and his
left--one, two--into Sandy's mouth. Down he goes again--slumps down as
if all the bones in his body was busted--right down on his face. The
other feller grabs his shoulder and jerks him over on his back.
"He stands lookin' down at him for a moment, and then he says, sort of
thoughtful: 'He isn't badly hurt, but I suppose I shouldn't have hit him
"Can you beat that, Steve? You can't!
"When Sandy come to he got up to his feet, wobbling--seen his guns--went
over and scooped 'em up, with the eye of the tenderfoot on him all the
time--scooped 'em up--stood with 'em all poised--and so he backed out
through the door. It wasn't any pretty thing to see. The tenderfoot, he
turned to the bar again.
"'If you don't mind,' he says, 'I think I'll switch my order and take
that whisky instead. I seem to need it.'
"'Son!' says I, 'there ain't nothin' in the house you can't have for the
askin'. Try some of this!'
"And I pulled out a bottle of my private stock--you know the stuff; I've
had it twenty-five years, and it was ten years old when I got it. That
ain't as much of a lie as it sounds.
"He takes a glass of it and sips it, sort of suspicious, like a wolf
scentin' the wind for an elk in winter. Then his face lighted up like a
lantern had been flashed on it. You'd of thought that he was lookin' his
long-lost brother in the eye from the way he smiled at me. He holds the
glass up and lets the light come through it, showin' the little traces
and bubbles of oil.
"'May I know your name?' he says.
"It made me feel like Rockerbilt, hearin' him say that, in _that_
"'Me,' says I, 'I'm Flanders.'
"'It's an honour to know you, Mr. Flanders,' he says. 'My name is
"We shook hands, and his grip was three fourths man, I'll tell the
"'Good liquor,' says he, 'is like a fine lady. Only a gentleman can
appreciate it. I drink to you, sir.'
"So that's how Sandy Ferguson went under the sod. To-day? Well, I
couldn't let Ferguson stand in a barroom where a gentleman had been,
THE DARKNESS IN ELDARA
Even the stout roan grew weary during the third day, and when they
topped the last rise of hills, and looked down to darker shadows in
Eldara in the black heart of the hollow, the mustang stood with hanging
head, and one ear flopped forward. Cruel indeed had been the pace which
Nash maintained, yet they had never been able to overhaul the flying
piebald of Anthony Bard.
As they trotted down the slope, Nash looked to his equipment, handled
his revolver, felt the strands of the lariat, and resting only his toes
in the stirrups, eased all his muscles to make sure that they were
uncramped from the long journey. He was fit; there was no doubt of that.
Coming down the main street--for Eldara boasted no fewer than three
thoroughfares--the first houses which Nash passed showed no lights. As
far as he could see, the blinds were all drawn; not even the glimmer of
a candle showed, and the voices which he heard were muffled and low.
He thought of plague or some other disaster which might have overtaken
the little village and wiped out nine tenths of the populace in a day.
Only such a thing could account for silence in Eldara. There should have
been bursts and roars of laughter here and there, and now and then a
harsh stream of cursing. There should have been clatter of kitchen tins;
there should have been neighing of horses; there should have been the
quiver and tingle of children's voices at play in the dusty streets. But
there was none of this. The silence was as thick and oppressive as the
unbroken dark of the night. Even Butler's saloon was closed!
This, however, was something which he would not believe, no matter what
testimony his eyes gave him. He rode up to a shuttered window and kicked
it with his heel.
Only the echoes of that racket replied to him from the interior of the
place. He swore, somewhat touched with awe, and kicked again.
A faint voice called: "Who's there?"
"Steve Nash. What the devil's happened to Eldara?"
The boards of the shutter stirred, opened, so that the man within could
"Is it Steve, honest?"
"Damn it, Butler, don't you know my voice? What's turned Eldara into a
"Cemetery's right. 'Butch' Conklin and his gang are going to raid the
And Nash whistled long and low.
"But why the devil don't the boys get together if they know Butch is
coming with his gunmen?"
"That's what they've done. Every able-bodied man in town is out in the
hills trying to surprise Conklin's gang before they hit town with their
Butler was a one-legged man, so Nash kept back the question which
naturally formed in his mind.
"How do they know Conklin is coming? Who gave the tip?"
"What? Has he been in town?"
"Right. Came in roaring drunk."
"Why'd they let him get away again?"
"Because the sheriff's a bonehead and because our marshal is solid
ivory. That's why."
"Butch came in drunk, as I was saying, which he generally is, but he
wasn't giving no trouble at all, and nobody felt particular called on to
cross him and ask questions. He was real sociable, in fact, and that's
how the mess was started."
"Go on. I don't get your drift."
"Everybody was treatin' Butch like he was the king of the earth and not
passin' out any backtalk, all except one tenderfoot----"
But here a stream of tremendous profanity burst from Nash. It rose, it
rushed on, it seemed an exhaustless vocabulary built up by long practice
on mustangs and cattle.
At length: "Is that damned fool in Eldara?"
"D'you know him?"
"No. Anyway, go on. What happened?"
"I was sayin' that Butch was feelin' pretty sociable. It went all right
in the bars. He was in here and didn't do nothin' wrong. Even paid for
all the drinks for everybody in the house, which nobody could ask more
even from a white man. But then Butch got hungry and went up the street
to Sally Fortune's place."
A snarl came from Nash.
"Did they let that swine go in there?"
"Who'd stop him? Would you?"
"I'd try my damnedest."
"Anyway, in he went and got the centre table and called for ten dollars'
worth of bacon and eggs--which there hasn't been an egg in Eldara this
week. Sally, she told him, not being afraid even of Butch. He got pretty
sore at that and said that it was a frame-up and everyone was ag'in'
him. But finally he allowed that if she'd sit down to the table and keep
him company he'd manage to make out on whatever her cook had ready to
"And Sally done it?" groaned Nash.
"Sure; it was like a dare--and you know Sally. She'd risk her whole
place any time for the sake of a bet."
"I know it, but don't rub it in."
"She fetched out a steak and served Butch as if he'd been a king and
then sat down beside him and started kiddin' him along, with all the
gang of us sittin' or standin' around and laughin' fit to bust, but not
loud for fear Butch would get annoyed.
"Then two things come in together and spoiled the prettiest little party
that was ever started in Eldara. First was that player piano which Sally
got shipped in and paid God-knows-how-much for; the second was this
greenhorn I was tellin' you about."
"Go on," said Nash, the little snarl coming back in his voice. "Tell me
how the tenderfoot walked up and kicked Butch out of the place."
"Somebody been tellin' you?"
"No; I just been readin' the mind of Eldara."
"It was a nice play, though. This Bard--we found out later that was his
name--walks in, takes a table, and not being served none too quick, he
walks over and slips a nickel in the slot of the piano. Out she starts
with a piece of rippin' ragtime--you know how loud it plays? Butch, he
kept on talkin' for a minute, but couldn't hear himself think. Finally
he bellers: 'Who turned that damned tin-pan loose?'
"This Bard walks up and bows. He says: 'Sir, I came here to find food,
and since I can't get service, I'll take music as a substitute.'
"Them was the words he used, Steve, honest to God. Used them to Butch!
"Well, Conklin was too flabbergasted to budge, and Bard, he leaned over
and says to Sally: 'This floor is fairly smooth. Suppose you and I dance
till I get a chance to eat?'
"We didn't know whether to laugh or to cheer, but most of us compromised
by keeping an eye on Butch's gun.
"Sally says, 'Sure I'll dance,' and gets up.
"'Wait!' hollers Butch; 'are you leavin' me for this wall-eyed galoot?'
"There ain't nothin' Sally loves more'n a fight--we all know that. But
this time I guess she took pity on the poor tenderfoot, or maybe she
jest didn't want to get her floor all messed up.
"'Keep your hat on, Butch,' she says, 'all I want to do is to give him
some motherly advice.'
"'If you're acting that part,' says Bard, calm as you please, 'I've got
to tell mother that she's been keeping some pretty bad company.'
"'Some what?' bellers Butch, not believin' his ears.
"And young Bard, he steps around the girl and stands over Butch.
"'Bad company is what I said,' he repeats, 'but maybe I can be
"'Easy,' says Butch, and reaches for his gun.
"We all dived for the door, but me being held up on account of my
missing leg, I was slow an' couldn't help seein' what happened. Butch
was fast, but the young feller was faster. He had Butch by the wrist
before the gun came clear--just gave a little twist--and there he stood
with the gun in his hand pointin' into Butch's face, and Butch sittin'
there like a feller in a trance or wakin' up out of a bad dream.
"Then he gets up, slow and dignified, though he had enough liquor in him
to float a ship.
"'I been mobbed,' he says, 'it's easy to see that. I come here peaceful
and quiet, and here I been mobbed. But I'm comin' back, boys, and I
ain't comin' alone.'
"There was our chance to get him, while he was walking out of that place
without a gun, but somehow nobody moved for him. He didn't look none too
easy, even without his shootin' irons. Out he goes into the night, and
we stood around starin' at each other. Everybody was upset, except Sally
"He says: 'Miss Fortune, this is our dance, I think.'
"'Excuse me,' says Sally, 'I almost forgot about it.'
"And they started to dance to the piano, waltzin' around among the
tables; the rest of us lit out for home because we knew that Butch would
be on his way with his gang before we got very far under cover. But hey,
Steve, where you goin'?"
"I'm going to get in on that dance," called Nash, and was gone at a
racing gallop down the street.
He found no dance in progress, however, but in the otherwise empty
eating place, which Sally owned and ran with her two capable hands and
the assistance of a cook, sat Sally herself dining at the same table
with the tenderfoot, the flirt, the horse-breaker, the tamer of
Nash stood in the shadow of the doorway watching that lean, handsome
face with the suggestion of mockery in the eyes and the trace of
sternness around the thin lips. Not a formidable figure by any means,
but since his experiences of the past few days, Nash was grown extremely
What he finally thought he caught in this most unusual tenderfoot was a
certain alertness of a more or less hair-trigger variety. Even now as he
sat at ease at the table, one elbow resting lightly upon it, apparently
enwrapped in the converse of Sally Fortune, Nash had a consciousness
that the other might be on his feet and in the most distant part of the
room within a second.
What he noted in the second instant of his observation was that Sally
was not at all loath to waste her time on the stranger. She was eating
with a truly formidable conventionality of manner, and a certain grace
with which she raised the ponderous coffee cup, made of crockery
guaranteed to resist all falls, struck awe through the heart of the
cowpuncher. She was bent on another conquest, beyond all doubt, and that
she would not make it never entered the thoughts of Nash. He set his
face to banish a natural scowl and advanced with a good-natured smile
into the room.
"Hello!" he called.
"It's old Steve!" sang out Sally, and whirling from her chair, she
advanced almost at a run to meet him, caught him by both hands, and led
him to a table next to that at which she had been sitting.
It was as gracefully done as if she had been welcoming a brother, but
Nash, knowing Sally, understood perfectly that it was only a play to
impress the eye of Bard. Nevertheless he was forced to accept it in good
"My old pal, Steve Nash," said Sally, "and this is Mr. Anthony Bard."
Just the faintest accent fell on the "Mr.," but it made Steve wince. He
rose and shook hands gravely with the tenderfoot.
"I stopped at Butler's place down the street," he said, "and been
hearin' a pile about a little play you made a while ago. It was about
time for somebody to call old Butch's bluff."
"Bluff?" cried Sally indignantly.
"Bluff?" queried Bard, with a slight raising of the eyebrows.
"Sure--bluff. Butch wasn't any more dangerous than a cat with trimmed
claws. But I guess you seen that?"
He settled down easily in his chair just as Sally resumed her place
"Steve," she said, with a quiet venom, "that bluff of his has been as
good as four-of-a-kind with you for a long time. I never seen you make
any play at Butch."
He returned amiably: "Like to sit here and have a nice social chat,
Sally, but I got to be gettin' back to the ranch, and in the meantime,
I'm sure hungry."
At the reminder of business a green light came in the fine blue eyes of
Sally. They were her only really fine features, for the nose tilted an
engaging trifle, the mouth was a little too generous, the chin so strong
that it gave, in moments of passivity, an air of sternness to her face.
That sternness was exaggerated as she rose, keeping her glare fixed upon
Nash; a thing impossible for him to bear, so he lowered his eyes and
engaged in rolling a cigarette. She turned back toward Bard.
"Sorry I got to go--before I finished eating--but business is business."
"And sometimes," suggested Bard, "a bore."
It was an excellent opening for a quarrel, but Nash was remembering
religiously a certain thousand dollars, and also a gesture of William
Drew when he seemed to be breaking an imaginary twig. So he merely
lighted his cigarette and seemed to have heard nothing.
"The whole town," he remarked casually, "seems scared stiff by this
Butch; but of course he ain't comin' back to-night."
"I suppose," said the tenderfoot, after a cold pause, "that he will
But the coldness reacted like the most genial warmth upon Nash. He had
chosen a part detestable to him but necessary to his business. He must
be a "gabber" for the nonce, a free talker, a chatterer, who would cover
up all pauses.
"Kind of strange to ride into a dark town like this," he began, "but I
could tell you a story about--"
"Oh, Steve," called the voice of Sally from the kitchen.
He rose and nodded to Bard.
"'Scuse me, I'll be back in a minute."
"Thanks," answered the other, with a somewhat grim emphasis.
In the kitchen Sally spoke without prelude. "What deviltry are you up to
"Me?" he repeated with eyes widened by innocence. "What d'you mean,
"Don't four-flush me, Steve."
"Is eating in your place deviltry?"
"Am I blind?" she answered hotly. "Have I got spring-halt, maybe? You're
too polite, Steve; I can always tell when you're on the way to a little
bell of your own making, by the way you get sort of kind and warmed up.
What is it now?"
"Kiss me, Sally, and I'll tell you why I came to town."
She said with a touch of colour: "I'll see you--" and then changing
quickly, she slipped inside his ready arms with a smile and tilted up
"Now what is it, Steve?"
"This," he answered.
"What d'you mean?"
"You know me, Sally. I've worn out the other ways of raising hell, so I
thought I'd start a little by coming to Eldara to kiss you."
Her open hand cracked sharply twice on his lean face and she was out of
his arms. He followed, laughing, but she armed herself with a red-hot
frying pan and defied him.
"You ain't even a good sport, Steve. I'm done with you! Kiss you?"
He said calmly: "I see the hell is startin', all right."
But she changed at once, and smiled up to him.
"I can't stay mad at you, Steve. I s'pose it's because of your nerve. I
want you to do something for me."
"Is that a way to take it! I've asked you a favour, Steve."
He said suspiciously: "It's got something to do with the tenderfoot in
the room out there?"
It was a palpable hit, for she coloured sharply. Then she took the bull
by the horns.
"What if it is?"
"Sally, d'you mean to say you've fallen for that cheap line of lingo he
"Steve, don't try to kid me."
"Why, you know who he is, don't you?"
"Sure; Anthony Bard."
"And do you know who Anthony Bard is?"
"Well?" she asked with some anxiety.
"Well, if you don't know you can find out. That's what the last girl
She wavered, and then blinked her eyes as if she were resolved to shut
out the truth.
"I asked you to do me a favour, Steve."
"And I will. You know that."
"I want you to see that Bard gets safe out of this town."
"Sure. Nothing I'd rather do."
She tilted her head a little to one side and regarded him wistfully.
"Are you double-crossin' me, Steve?"
"Why d'you suspect me? Haven't I said I'd do it?"
"But you said it too easy."
The gentleness died in her face. She said sternly: "If you do
double-cross me, you'll find I'm about as hard as any man on the range.
Their hands met. After all, he did not guarantee what would happen to
the tenderfoot after they were clear of the town. But perhaps this was a
distinction a little too fine for the downright mind of the girl. A sea
of troubles besieged the mind of Nash.
And to let that sea subside he wandered back to the eating room and
found the tenderfoot finishing his coffee. The latter kept an eye of
frank suspicion upon him. So the silence held for a brooding moment,
until Bard asked: "D'you know the way to the ranch of William Drew?"
It was a puzzler to Nash. Was not that his job, to go out and bring the
man to Drew's place? Here he was already on the way. He remembered just
in time that the manner of bringing was decidedly qualified.
He said aloud: "The way? Sure; I work on Drew's place."
"You don't happen to be going back that way to-night?"
"Not all the way; part of it."
"Mind if I went along?"
"Nobody to keep you from it," said the cowpuncher without enthusiasm.
"By the way, what sort of a man is Drew?"
"Don't you know him?"
"No. The reason I want to see him is because I want to get the right to
do some--er--fishing and hunting on a place of his on the other side of
"The place with the old house on it; the place Logan is?"
"Exactly. Also I wish to see Logan again. I've got several little things
I'd like to have him explain."
"H-m!" grunted Nash without apparent interest.
"He's a big feller; big and grey."
"Ah-h-h," said the other, and drew in his breath, as though he were
It seemed to Nash that he had never seen such an unpleasant smile.
"You'll get what you want out of Drew. He's generous."
"I hope so," nodded the other, with far-off eyes. "I've got a lot to ask
He reminded Nash of some big puma cub warming itself at a hearth like a
common tabby cat, a tame puma thrusting out its claws and turning its
yellow eyes up to its owner--tame, but with infinite possibilities of
danger. For the information which Nash had given seemed to remove all
his distrust of the moment before and he became instantly genial,
pleasant. In fact, he voiced this sentiment with a disarming frankness
"Perhaps I've seemed to be carrying a chip on my shoulder, Mr. Nash. You
see, I'm not long in the West, and the people I've met seem to be ready
to fight first and ask questions afterward. So I've caught the habit, I
"Which a habit like that ain't uncommon. The graveyards are full of
fellers that had that habit and they're going to be fuller still of the
Here Sally entered, carrying the meal of the cowpuncher, arranged it,
and then sat on the edge of Bard's table, turning from one to the other
as a bird on a spray of leaves turns from sunlight to shadow and cannot
make a choice.
"Bard," stated Nash, "is going out to the ranch with me to-night."
"Long ride for to-night, isn't it?"
"Yes, but we'll bunk on the way and finish up early in the morning."
"Then you'll have a chance to teach him Western manners on the way,
"Manners?" queried the Easterner, smiling up to the girl.
She turned, caught him beneath the chin with one hand, tilting his face,
and raised the lessoning forefinger of the other while she stared down
at him with a half frown and a half smile like a schoolteacher about to
discipline a recalcitrant boy.
"Western manners," she said, "mean first not to doubt a man till he
tries to double-cross you, and not to trust him till he saves your life;
to keep your gun inside the leather till you're backed up against the
wall, and then to start shootin' as soon as the muzzle is past the
holster. Then the thing to remember is that the fast shootin' is fine,
but sure shootin' is a lot better. D'you get me?"
"That's a fine sermon," smiled Bard, "but you're too young to make a
convincing preacher, Miss Fortune."
"Misfortune," said the girl quickly, "don't have to be old to do a lot
She sat back and regarded him with something of a frown and with folded
He said with a sudden earnestness: "You seem to take it for granted that
I'm due for a lot of trouble."
But she shook her head gloomily.
"I know what you're due for; I can see it in your eyes; I can hear it in
your way of talkin'. If you was to ride the range with a sheriff on one
side of you and a marshal on the other you couldn't help fallin' into
"As a fortune-teller," remarked Nash, "you'd make a good undertaker,
"Shut up, Steve. I've seen this bird in action and I know what I'm
talking about. When you coming back this way, Bard?"