Part 3 out of 6
He said thoughtfully: "Perhaps to-morrow night--perhaps--"
"It ought to be to-morrow night," she said pointedly, her eyes on Nash.
The latter had pushed his chair back a trifle and sat now with downward
head and his right hand resting lightly on his thigh. Only the place in
which they sat was illumined by the two lamps, and the forward part of
the room, nearer the street, was a seat of shadows, wavering when the
wind stirred the flame in one of the lamps or sent it smoking up the
chimney. Sally and Bard sat with their backs to the door, and Nash half
"Steve," she said, with a sudden low tenseness of voice that sent a
chill up Bard's spinal cord, "Steve, what's wrong?"
"This," answered the cowboy calmly, and whirling in his chair, his gun
flashed and exploded.
They sprang up in time to see the bulky form of Butch Conklin rise out
of the shadows in the front part of the room with outstretched arms,
from one of which a revolver dropped clattering to the floor. Backward
he reeled as though a hand were pulling him from behind, and then
measured his length with a crash on the floor.
Bard, standing erect, quite forgot to touch his weapon, but Sally had
produced a ponderous forty-five with mysterious speed and now crouched
behind a table with the gun poised. Nash, bending low, ran forward to
the fallen man.
"Nicked, but not done for," he called.
"Thank God!" cried Sally, and the two joined Nash about the prostrate
That bullet had had very certain intentions, but by a freak of chance
it had been deflected on the angle of the skull and merely ploughed a
bloody furrow through the mat of hair from forehead to the back of the
skull. He was stunned, but hardly more seriously hurt than if he had
been knocked down by a club.
"I've an idea," said the Easterner calmly, "that I owe my life to you,
"Let that drop," answered the other.
"A quarter of an inch lower," said the girl, who was examining the
wound, "and Butch would have kissed the world good-bye."
Not till then did the full horror of the thing dawn on Bard. The girl
was no more excited than one of her Eastern cousins would have been over
a game of bridge, and the man in the most matter-of-fact manner, was
slipping another cartridge into the cylinder of the revolver, which he
then restored to the holster.
It still seemed incredible that the man could have drawn his gun and
fired it in that flash of time. He recalled his adventure with Butch
earlier that evening and with Sandy Ferguson before; for the first time
he realized what he had done and a cold horror possessed him like the
man who has nerves to walk the tight rope across the chasm and faints
when he looks back on the gorge from the safety of the other side. The
girl took command.
"Steve, run down to the marshal's office; Deputy Glendin is there."
She took the wet cloth and made a deft bandage for the head of Conklin.
With his shaggy hair covered, and all his face sagging with lines of
weariness, the gun-fighter seemed no more than a middle-aged man asleep,
worn out by trouble.
"Is there a doctor?" asked Bard anxiously.
"That ain't a case for a doctor--look here; you're in a blue faint. What
is the matter?"
"I don't know; I'm thinking of that quarter of an inch which would have
meant the difference to poor Conklin."
"'Poor' Conklin? Why, you fish, he was sneakin' in here to try his hand
on you. He found out he couldn't get his gang into town, so he slipped
in by himself. He'll get ten years for this--and a thousand if they hold
him up for the other things he's done."
"I know--and this fellow Nash was as quiet as the strike of a snake. If
he'd been a fraction of a second slower I might be where Conklin is now.
I'll never forget Nash for this."
She said pointedly: "No, he's a bad one to forget; keep an eye on him.
You spoke of a snake--that's how smooth Steve is."
"Remember your own motto, Miss Fortune. He saved my life; therefore I
must trust him."
She answered sullenly: "You're your own boss."
"What's wrong with Nash?"
"Find out for yourself."
"Are all these fellows something other than they seem?"
"What about yourself?"
"How do you mean that?"
"What trail are you on, Bard? Don't look so innocent. Oh, I seen you was
after something a long time ago."
"I am. After excitement, you know."
"Ain't you finding enough?"
"I've got two things ahead of me."
"This trip, and when I come back I think making love to you would be
more exciting than gun-plays."
They regarded each other with bantering smiles.
"A tenderfoot like you make love to me? That would be exciting, all
right, if it wasn't so funny."
"As for the competition," he said serenely, "that would be simply a good
"Hate yourself, don't you, Bard?" she grinned.
"The rest of these boys are all very well, but they don't see that what
you want is the velvet touch."
She was as frankly curious as some boy hearing a new game described.
"You've only been loved in one way. These rough-handed fellows come in
and throw an arm around you and ask you to marry them; isn't that it?
What you really need, is an old, simple, but very effective method."
Though her eyes were shining, she yawned.
"It don't interest me, Bard."
"On the contrary, you're getting quite excited."
"So does a horse before it gets ready to buck."
"Exactly. If I thought it would be easy I wouldn't be tempted."
"Well, if you like fighting you've sure mapped out a nice sizeable
quarrel with me, Bud."
"Good. I'm certainly coming back to Eldara. Now about this method of
"Throwing your cards on the table, eh? What you got, Bard, a royal
"Right again. It's a very simple method but you couldn't beat it."
"Bud, you ain't half old enough to kid me."
"What you need," he persisted calmly, "is someone who would sit down
and simply talk good, plain English to you."
"Let 'er go."
"In the first place I will call attention to your method of dressing."
"Anything wrong with it?"
"I knew you'd be interested."
She slipped into a chair and sat cross-legged in it, her elbows on her
knees and her chin cupped in both her hands.
"Sure I'm interested. If there's a new way fixin' ham-and, serve it
"I would begin," he went on judiciously, "by saying that you dressed in
five minutes in the dark."
"It's generally dark at 5 a.m.," she admitted.
"You look, on the whole, as if you'd fallen into your clothes."
The wounded man stirred and groaned faintly.
She called: "Lie down, Butch; I'm busy. Go on, Bard."
"If you keep a mirror it's a wall decoration--not for personal use."
"Maybe this is an old method, Bard; but around this place it'd be a
quick way of gettin' shot."
"You'd peeve a mule."
"This was only an introduction. The next thing is to sit close beside
you and shift the lamp so that the light would shine on your face; then
take your hand--"
He suited his action to his word.
"Let go my hand, Bard. It's like the rest of me--not a decoration but
"Afraid of me, Sally?"
"Not of a regiment like you."
"Then of my method?"
"Go on; I'm game."
"But this is all there is to it."
"What d'you mean?"
"Just what I say. Having observed that you haven't set off any of your
advantages, I will sit here and look into your face in silence, which is
as much as to say that no matter how you dress you can't spoil a very
excellent figure, Sally. I suppose you've heard that before?"
"Lots of times," she muttered.
"But you wouldn't hear it from me. All I would do would be to sit and
stare and let you imagine what I'm thinking. And you'd begin to see that
in spite of the way you do your hair you can't spoil its colour nor its
He raised his other hand and touched it.
"Like silk, Sally."
He studied her closely, noting the flush which began to touch her
"Part of the game is for you to keep looking me in the eye."
"Well, I'll be--Go on, I'm game."
"Is it hard to sit like this--silently? Do I do it badly?"
"No, you show lots of practice. How many have you tried this method on,
He made a vague gesture and then, smiling: "Millions, Sally, and they
all liked it."
"So do I."
And they laughed together, and grew serious at the same instant.
"All silence--like this?" she queried.
"No; after a while I would say: 'You are beautiful.'"
"You don't get a blue ribbon for that, Bard."
"Not for the words, but the way they're said, which shows I mean them."
She blinked as though to clear her eyes and then met his stare again.
"You know you are beautiful, Sally."
"With a pug nose--freckles--and all that?"
"Just a tip-tilt in the nose, Sally. Why, it's charming. And you have
everything else--young, strong, graceful, clear."
"What d'you mean by that?"
"Clear? Fresh and colourful like the sunset over the desert. Do you
Her eyes went down to consider.
"I s'pose I do."
"With a touch of awe in it, because the silence and the night are
coming, and the stars walk down, one by one--one by one. And the wind is
low, soft, musical, whispering, as you do now--What if this were not a
game of suppose, Sally?"
She wrenched herself suddenly away, rising.
"I'm tired of supposing!" she cried.
"Then we'll call it all real. What of that?"
That colour was unmistakably high now; it ran down from her cheeks and
even stained the pure white of the throat where the flap of the shirt
was open. He was excited as a hunter who has tracked some new and
dangerous animal and at last driven it to bay, holding his gun poised,
and not knowing whether or not it will prove vulnerable.
He stepped close, eager, prepared for any wild burst of temper; but she
let him take her hands, let him draw her close, bend back her head; hold
her closer still, till the warmth and softness of her body reached him,
but when his lips came close she said quietly: "Are you a rotter,
He stiffened and the smile went out on his lips. He stepped back.
She repeated: "Are you a rotter?"
He raised the one hand which he still retained and touched it to his
"I am very sorry," said Anthony, "will you forgive me?"
And with her eyes large and grave upon him she answered: "I wonder if I
Butch Conklin looked up, raising his bandaged head slowly, like a white
flag of truce, with a stain of red growing through the cloth. He stared
at the two, raised a hand to his head as though to rub away the dream,
found a pain too real for a dream, and then, like a crab which has grown
almost too old to walk, waddled on hands and knees, slowly, from the
room and melted silently into the dark beyond.
A sharp noise of running feet leaped from the dust of the street and
clattered through the doorway; the two turned. A swarthy man, broad of
shoulder, was the first, and afterward appeared Nash.
"Conklin?" called Deputy Glendin, and swept the room with his startled
glance. "Where's Conklin?"
He was not there; only a red stain remained on the floor to show where
he had lain.
"Where's Conklin?" called Nash.
"I'm afraid," whispered Bard quickly to the girl, "that it was more than
a game of suppose."
He said easily to the other two: "He had enough. His share of trouble
came to-night; I let him go."
"Young feller," growled Glendin, "you ain't been in town a long while,
but I've heard a pile too much about you already. What you mean by
takin' the law into your own hands?"
"Wait," said Nash, his keen eyes on the two, "I guess I understand."
"Let's have it, then."
Still the steady eyes of Nash passed from Sally Fortune to Bard and back
"This feller bein' a tenderfoot, he don't understand our ways; maybe he
thinks the range is a bit freer than it is."
"That's the trouble," answered Glendin, "he thinks too damned much."
"And does quite a pile besides thinkin'," murmured Nash, but too low for
the others to hear it.
He hesitated, and then, as if making up his mind by a great effort:
"There ain't no use blamin' him; better let it drop, Glendin."
"Nothin' else to do, Steve; but it's funny Sally let him do it."
"It is," said Nash with emphasis, "but then women is pretty funny in
lots of ways. Ready to start, Bard?"
"Good-night, Miss Fortune."
"Evenin', boys. We'll be lookin' for you back in Eldara to-morrow night,
And her eyes fixed with meaning on Nash.
"Certainly," answered the other, "my business ought not to take longer
"I'll take him by the shortest cut," said Nash, and the two went out to
They had difficulty in riding the trail side by side, for though the
roan was somewhat rested by the delay at Eldara it was impossible to
keep him up with Bard's prancing piebald, which sidestepped at every
shadow. Yet the tenderfoot never allowed his mount to pass entirely
ahead of the roan, but kept checking him back hard, turning toward Nash
with an apology each time he surged ahead. It might have been merely
that he did not wish to precede the cowpuncher on a trail which he did
not know. It might have been something quite other than this which made
him consistently keep to the rear; Nash felt certain that the second
possibility was the truth.
In that case his work would be doubly hard. From all that he had seen
the man was dangerous--the image of the tame puma returned to him again
and again. He could not see him plainly through the dark of the night,
but he caught the sway of the body and recognized a perfect
horsemanship, not a Western style of riding, but a good one no matter
where it was learned. He rode as if he were sewed to the back of the
horse, and, as old William Drew had suggested, he probably did other
things up to the same standard. It would have been hard to fulfil his
promise to Drew under any circumstances with such a man as this; but
with Bard apparently forewarned and suspicious the thing became almost
Almost, but not entirely so. He set himself calmly to the problem; on
the horn of his saddle the lariat hung loose; if the Easterner should
turn his back for a single instant during all the time they were
together old Drew should not be disappointed, and one thousand cash
would be deposited for the mutual interest of Sally Fortune and himself.
That is to say, if Sally would consent to become interested. To the
silent persuasion of money, however, Nash trusted many things.
The roan jogged sullenly ahead, giving all the strength of his gallant,
ugly body to the work; the piebald mustang pranced like a dancing master
beside and behind with a continual jingling of the tossed bridle.
The masters were to a degree like the horses they rode, for Nash kept
steadily leaning to the front, his bulldog jaw thrusting out; and Bard
was forever shifting in the saddle, settling his hat, humming a tune,
whistling, talking to the piebald, or asking idle questions of the
things they passed, like a boy starting out for a vacation. So they
reached the old house of which Nash had spoken--a mere, shapeless, black
heap huddling through the night.
In the shed to the rear they tied the horses and unsaddled. In the
single room of the shanty, afterward, Nash lighted a candle, which he
produced from his pack, placed it in the centre of the floor, and they
unrolled their blankets on the two bunks which were built against the
wall on either side of the narrow apartment.
Truly it was a crazy shack--such a building as two men, having the
materials at hand, might put together in a single day. It was hardly
based on a foundation, but rather set on the slope side of the hill, and
accordingly had settled down on the lower side toward the door. Not an
old place, but the wind had pried and the rain warped generous cracks
between the boards through which the rising storm whistled and sang and
through which the chill mist of the coming rain cut at them.
Now and then a feeling came to Anthony that the gale might lift the
tottering old shack and roll it on down the hillside to the floor of the
valley, for it rocked and swayed under the breath of the storm. In a way
it was as if the night was giving a loud voice to the silent struggle of
the two men, who continued pleasant, careless with each other.
But when Nash stepped across the room behind Bard, the latter turned and
was busy with the folding of his blankets at the foot of his bunk, his
face toward the cowpuncher and when Bard, slipping off his belt, fumbled
at his holster, Nash was instantly busy with the cleaning of his own
The cattleman, having removed his boots, his hat, and his belt, was
ready for bed, and slipped his legs under the blankets. He stooped and
picked up his lariat, which lay coiled on the floor beside him.
"People gets into foolish habits on the range," he said, thumbing the
strong rope curiously, and so doing, spreading out the noose.
"Yes?" smiled Bard, and he also sat up in his bunk.
"It's like a kid. Give him a new toy and he wants to take it to bed with
him. Ever notice?"
"That's the way with me. When I go to bed nothin' matters with me except
that I have my lariat around. I generally like to have it hangin' on a
nail at the head of my bunk. The fellers always laugh at me, but I can't
help it; makes me feel more at home."
And with that, still smiling at his own folly in a rather shamefaced
way, he turned in the blankets and dropped the big coil of the lariat
over a nail which projected from the boards just over the head of his
bunk. The noose was outermost and could be disengaged from the nail by a
single twist of the cowpuncher's hand as he lay passive in the bunk.
On this noose Bard cast a curious eye. To cityfolk a piece of rope is a
harmless thing with which one may make a trunk secure or on occasion
construct a clothes line on the roof of the apartment building, or in
the kitchen on rainy Mondays.
To a sailor the rope is nothing and everything at once. Give a seaman
even a piece of string and he will amuse himself all evening making
lashings and knots. A piece of rope calls up in his mind the stout lines
which hold the masts steady and the yards true in the gale, the
comfortable cable which moors the ship at the end of the dreary voyage,
and a thousand things between.
To the Westerner a rope is a different thing. It is not so much a useful
material as a weapon. An Italian, fighting man to man, would choose a
knife; a Westerner would take in preference that same harmless piece of
rope. In his hands it takes on life, it gains a strange and sinister
quality. One instant it lies passive, or slowly whirled in a careless
circle--the next its noose darts out like the head of a striking cobra,
the coil falls and fastens, and then it draws tighter and tighter,
remorselessly as a boa constrictor, paralyzing life.
Something of all this went through the mind of Bard as he lay watching
the limp noose of the cowboy's lariat, and then he nodded smiling.
"I suppose that seems an odd habit to some men, but I sympathize with
it. I have it myself, in fact. And whenever I'm out in the wilds and
carry a gun I like to have it under my head when I sleep. That's even
queerer than your fancy, isn't it?"
And he slipped his revolver under the blankets at the head of his bunk.
"Yes," said Nash, "that's a queer stunt, because when you're lyin' like
that with your head right over the gun and the blankets in between, it'd
take you a couple of seconds to get it out."
"Not when you're used to it. You'd be surprised to see how quickly a man
can get the gun out from under."
"Yes, and shooting while you're lying on your back is pretty easy, too,
when you've had practice."
"Sure, with a rifle, but not with a revolver."
"Well, do you see that bit of paper in the corner there up on the
The hand of Bard whipped under his head, there was a gleam and whirl of
steel, an explosion, and the bit of paper came fluttering slowly down
from the rafter, like a wounded bird struggling to keep upon the air. A
draft caught the paper just before it landed and whirled it through the
doorless entrance and out into the night.
He was yawning as he restored the gun beneath the blanket, but from the
corner of his eye he saw the hardening of Nash's face, a brief change
which came and went like the passing of a shadow.
"That's something I'll remember," drawled the cowpuncher.
"You ought to," answered the other quickly, "it comes in handy now and
The candle guttered and flickered on the floor midway between the two
bunks, and Bard, glancing to it, was about to move from his bed and
snuff it; but at the thought of so doing it seemed to him as if he could
almost sense with prophetic mind the upward dart of the noose about his
shoulders. He edged a little lower in the blankets.
"Not a bit. How about you?"
"Me? I most generally lie awake a while and gab after I hit the hay.
Makes me sleep better afterward."
"I do the same thing when I've any one who listens to me--or talks to
"Queer how many habits we got the same, eh?"
"It is. But after all, most of us are more alike than we care to
"Yes, there ain't much difference; sometimes the difference ain't as
much as a split-second watch would catch, but it may mean that one
feller passes out and the other goes on."
They lay half facing each other, each with his head pillowed on an arm.
"By Jove! lucky we reached this shelter before the rain came."
"Yep. A couple of hours of this and the rivers will be up--may take up
all day to get back to the ranch if we have to ride up to the ford on
"Then we'll swim 'em."
The other smiled drily.
"Swim the Saverack when she's up? No, lad, we won't do that."
"Then I'll have to work it alone, I suppose. You see, I have that date
in Eldara for tomorrow night."
Nash set his teeth, to choke back the cough. He produced papers and
tobacco, rolled a cigarette with lightning speed, lighted it, and
inhaled a long puff.
"Sure, you ought to keep that date, but maybe Sally would wait till the
"She impressed me, on the whole, as not being of the waiting kind."
"H-m! A little delay does 'em good; gives 'em a chance to think."
"Why, every man has his own way with women, I suppose, but my idea is,
keep them busy--never give them a chance to think. If you do, they
generally waste the chance and forget you altogether."
Another coughing spell overtook Nash and left him frowning down at the
glowing end of his butt.
"She ain't like the rest."
"I wonder?" mused the Easterner.
He had an infinite advantage in this duel of words, for he could watch
from under the shadow of his long, dark lashes the effect of his
speeches on the cowboy, yet never seem to be looking. For he was
wondering whether the enmity of Nash, which he felt as one feels an
unknown eye upon him in the dark, came from their rivalry about the
girl, or from some deeper cause. He was inclined to think that the girl
was the bottom of everything, but he left his mind open on the subject.
And Nash, pondering darkly and silently, measured the strength of the
slender stranger and felt that if he were the club the other was the
knife which made less sound but might prove more deadly. Above all he
was conscious of the Easterner's superiority of language, which might
turn the balance against him in the ear of Sally Fortune. He dropped
the subject of the girl.
"You was huntin' over on the old place on the other side of the range?"
"Pretty fair run of game?"
"I think you said something about Logan?"
"Did I? I've been thinking a good deal about him. He gave me the wrong
tip about the way to Eldara. When I get back to the old place--"
The other smiled unpleasantly and made a gesture as if he were snapping
a twig between his hands.
"I'll break him in two."
The eyes of Nash grew wide with astonishment; he was remembering that
same phrase on the lips of the big, grey man, Drew.
He murmured: "That may give you a little trouble. Logan's a peaceable
chap, but he has his record before he got down as low as sheepherdin'."
"I like trouble--now and then."
"Odd old shack over there."
"Drew's old house?"
"Yes. There's a grave in front of it."
"And there's quite a yarn inside the grave."
The cowpuncher was aware that the other stirred--not much, but as if he
winced from a drop of cold water; he felt that he was close on the trail
of the real reason why the Easterner wished to see Drew.
"A story about Drew's wife?"
"You read the writing on the headstone, eh?"
"'Joan, she chose this place for rest,'" quoted Bard.
"That was all before my time; it was before the time of any others in
these parts, but a few of the grey-beards know a bit about the story and
I've gathered a little of it from Drew, though he ain't much of a
"I'd like to hear it."
Sensitively aware of Bard, as a photographic plate is aware of light on
exposures, the cowpuncher went on with the tale.
And Bard, his glance probing among the shadowy rafters of the room,
seemed to be searching there for the secret on whose trail he rode.
Through the interims the rain crashed and volleyed on the roof above
them; the cold spray whipped down on them through the cracks; the wind
shook and rattled the crazy house; and the drawling voice of Nash went
on and on.
"Them were the days when this was a man's country, which a man could
climb on his hoss with a gun and a rope and touch heaven and hell in one
day's ridin'. Them good old days ain't no more. I've heard the old man
tell about 'em. Now they've got everybody stamped and branded with law
an' order, herded together like cattle, ticketed, done for. That's the
way the range is now. The marshals have us by the throat. In the old
days a sheriff that outlived his term was probably crooked and runnin'
hand in hand with the long-riders."
"Long-riders?" queried Bard.
"Fellers that got tired of workin' and took to ridin' for their livin'.
Mostly they worked in little gangs of five and six. They was called
long-riders, I guess, partly because they was in the saddle all the
time, and partly because they done their jobs so far apart. They'd ride
into Eldara and blow up the safe in the bank one day, for instance, and
five days later they'd be two hundred and fifty miles away stoppin' a
train at Lewis Station.
"They never hung around no one part of the country and that made it hard
as hell to run 'em down--that and because they had the best hosses that
money could buy. They had friends, too, strung out all over--squatters
and the like of that. They'd drop in on these little fellers and pass
'em a couple of twenties and make themselves solid for life. Afterward
they used 'em for stoppin' places.
"They'd pull off a couple of hold-ups, then they'd ride off to one of
these squatter places and lay up for ten days, maybe, drinkin' and
feedin' up themselves and their hosses. That was the only way they was
ever caught. They was killed off by each other, fighting about the
split-up, or something like that.
"But now and then a gang held together long enough to raise so much hell
that they got known from one end of the range to the other. Mostly they
held together because they had a leader who knew how to handle 'em and
who kept 'em under his thumb. That was the way with old Piotto.
"He had five men under him. They was all hell-benders who had ridden the
range alone and had their share of fights and killings, which there
wasn't one of 'em that wouldn't have been good enough to go leader in
any other crew, but they had to knuckle under to old Piotto. He was a
great gunman and he was pretty good in scheming up ways of dodging the
law and picking the best booty. He had these five men, and then he had
his daughter, Joan. She was better'n two ordinary men herself.
"Three years that gang held together and got rich--fair rich. They made
it so fast they couldn't even gamble the stuff away. About a thousand
times, I guess posses went out after Piotto, but they never came back
with a trace of 'em; they never got within shootin' distance. Finally
Piotto got so confident that he started raidin' ranches and carryin' off
members of well-off ranchers to hold for ransom. That was the easiest
way of makin' money; it was also pretty damned dangerous.
"One time they held up a stage and picked off of it two kids who was
comin' out from the East to try their hands in the cattle business. They
was young, they looked like gentlemen, they was dressed nifty, and they
packed big rolls. So wise old Piotto took 'em off into the hills and
held 'em till their folks back East could wire out the money to save
'em. That was easy money for Piotto, but that was the beginnin' of the
end for him; because while they was waitin', them two kids seen Joan and
seen her good.
"I been telling you she was better'n two common men. She was. Which
means she was equal to about ten ordinary girls. There's still a legend
about how beautiful Joan Piotto was--tall and straight and big black
eyes and terrible handy with her gun. She could ride anything that
walked and she didn't know what fear meant.
"These two kids seen her. One of 'em was William Drew; one of 'em was
He turned to Anthony and saw that the latter was stern of face. He had
surely scored his point.
"Same name as yours, eh?" he asked, to explain his turning.
"It's a common enough name," murmured Bard.
"Well, them two had come out to be partners, and there they was, fallin'
in love with the same girl. So when they got free they put their heads
together--bein' uncommon wise kids--and figured it out this way. Neither
of 'em had a chance workin' alone to get Joan way from her father's
gang, but workin' together they might have a ghost of a show. So they
decided to stay on the trail of Piotto till they got Joan. Then they'd
give her a choice between the two of 'em and the one that lost would
simply back off the boards.
"They done what they agreed. For six months they stuck on the trail of
old Piotto and never got in hailin' distance of him. Then they come on
the gang while they were restin' up in the house of a squatter.
"That was a pretty night. Drew and Bard went through that gang. It
sounds like a nice fairy-story, all right, but I know old fellers who'll
swear it's true. They killed three of the men with their guns; they
knifed another one, an' they killed Riley with their bare hands. It
wasn't no pretty sight to see--the inside of that house. And last of all
they got Piotto, fightin' like an old wildcat, into a corner with his
daughter; and William Drew, he took Piotto into his arms and busted his
back. That don't sound possible, but when you see Drew you'll know how
it was done.
"The girl, she'd been knocked cold before this happened. So while Bard
and Drew sat together bindin' up each other's wounds--because they was
shot pretty near to pieces--they talked it over and they seen pretty
clear that the girl would never marry the man that had killed her
father. Of course, old Bill Drew, he'd done the killing, but that wasn't
any reason why he had to take the blame.
"They made up their minds that right there and then with the dead men
lyin' all around 'em, they'd match coins to see which one would take the
blame of havin' killed Piotto--meanin' that the other one would get the
girl--if he could.
"And Bard lost. So he had to take the credit of havin' killed old
Piotto. I'd of give something to have seen the two of 'em sittin'
there--oozin' blood--after that marchin' was decided. Because they tell
me that Bard was as big as Drew and looked pretty much the same.
"Then Bard, he asked Drew to let him have one chance at the girl,
lettin' her know first what he'd done, but jest trustin' to his power of
talk. Which, of course, didn't give him no show. While he was makin'
love to the girl she outs with a knife and tries to stick him--nice,
pleasant sort she must have been--and Drew, he had to pry the two of 'em
"That made the girl look sort of kind on Drew and she swore that sooner
or later she'd have the blood of Bard for what he'd done--either have it
herself or else send someone after him to the end of the world. She was
a wild one, all right.
"She was so wild that Drew, after they got married, took her over on the
far side of the range and built that old house that's rottin' there
now. Bard, he left the range and wasn't never seen again, far as I
It was clear to Anthony, bitterly clear. His father had had a grim scene
in parting with Drew and had placed the continent between them. And in
the Eastern states he had met that black-eyed girl, his mother, and
loved her because she was so much like the wild daughter of Piotto. The
girl Joan in dying had probably extracted from Drew a promise that he
would kill Bard, and that promise he had lived to fulfil.
"So Joan died?" he queried.
"Yep, and was buried under them two trees in front of the house. I don't
think she lived long after they was married, but about that nobody
knows. They was clear off by themselves and there isn't any one can tell
about their life after they was married. All we know is that Drew didn't
get over her dyin'. He ain't over it yet, and goes out to the old place
every month or so to potter around the grave and keep the grass and the
weeds off of it and clean the head-stone."
The candle guttered wildly on the floor. It had burnt almost to the wood
and now the remnant of the wick stood in a little sprawling pool of
grease white at the outer edges.
Bard yawned, and patted idly the blanket where it touched on the shape
of the revolver beneath. In another moment that candle would gutter out
and they would be left in darkness.
He said: "That's the best yarn I've heard in a good many days; it's
enough to make any one sleepy--so here goes."
And he turned deliberately on his side.
Nash, his eyes staring with incredulity, sat up slowly among his
blankets and his hand stole up toward the noose of the lariat. A light
snore reached him, hardly a snore so much as the heavy intake of breath
of a very weary, sleeping man; yet the hand of Nash froze on the lariat.
"By God," he whispered faintly to himself, "he ain't asleep!"
And the candle flared wildly, leaped, and shook out.
THE SWIMMING OF THE SAVERACK
Over the face of Nash the darkness passed like a cold hand and a colder
sense of failure touched his heart; but men who have ridden the range
have one great power surpassing all others--the power of patience. As
soundlessly as he had pushed himself up the moment before, he now
slipped down in the blankets and resigned himself to sleep.
He knew that he would wake at the first hint of grey light and trusted
that after the long ride of the day before his companion would still be
fast asleep. That half light would be enough for his work; but when he
roused while the room was still scarcely more visible than if it were
filled with a grey fog, he found Bard already up and pulling on his
"How'd you sleep?" he growled, following the example of the tenderfoot.
"Not very well," said the other cheerily. "You see, that story of yours
was so vivid in my mind that I stayed awake about all night, I guess,
thinking it over."
"I knew it," murmured Nash to himself. "He was awake all the time. And
If that thrown noose of the lariat had settled over the head and
shoulders of the sham sleeper it would have made no difference whether
he waked or slept--in the end he would have sat before William Drew tied
hand and foot. If that noose had not settled? The picture of the little
piece of paper fluttering to the floor came back with a strange
vividness to the mind of Nash, and he had to shrug his shoulders to
shake the thought away.
They were in the saddle a very few moments after they awoke and started
out, breakfastless. The rain long ago had ceased, and there was only the
solemn silence of the brown hills around them--silence, and a faint,
crinkling sound as if the thirsty soil still drank. It had been a heavy
fall of rain, they could see, for whenever they passed a bare spot where
no grass grew, it was crossed by a thick tracery of the rivulets which
had washed down the slopes during the night.
Soon they reached a little creek whose current, barely knee deep, foamed
up around the shoulders of the horses and set them staggering.
"The Saverack will be hell," said Nash, "and we'd better cut straight
for the ford."
"How long will it take?"
"Add about three hours to the trip."
"Can't do it; remember that little date back in Eldara to-night."
"Then look for yourself and make up your mind for yourself," said Nash
drily, for they topped a hill, and below them saw a mighty yellow flood
pouring down the valley. It went leaping and shouting as if it rejoiced
in some destruction it had worked and was still working, and the muddy
torrent was threaded with many a ridge of white and swirling with
"The Saverack," said Nash. "Now what d'you think about fording it?"
"If we can't ford it, we can swim it," declared Bard. "Look at that
tree-trunk. If that will float I will float, and if I can float I can
swim, and if I can swim I'll reach the other bank of that little creek.
Won't we, boy?"
And he slapped the proud neck of the mustang.
"Swim it?" said Nash incredulously. "Does that date mean as much as that
"It isn't the date; it's the promise I gave," answered the other,
watching the current with a cool eye, "besides, when I was a youngster
I used to do things like this for the sport of it."
They rode down to the edge of the stream.
"How about it, Nash, will you take the chance with me?"
And the other, looking down: "Try the current, I'll stay here on the
shore and if it gets too strong for you I'll throw out a rope, eh? But
if you can make it, I'll follow suit."
The other cast a somewhat wistful eye of doubt upon the cowpuncher.
"How far is it to the ford?" he asked.
"About eight miles," answered Nash, doubling the distance on the spot.
"Eight miles?" repeated the other ruefully. "Too far. Then here goes,
Still never turning his back on the cowpuncher, who was now uncoiling
his lariat and preparing it for a cast, Bard edged the piebald into the
current. He felt the mustang stagger as the water came knee-deep, and he
checked the horse, casting his eye from shore to shore and summing up
If it had been simply water against which he had to contend, he would
not have hesitated, but here and there along the course sharp pointed
rocks and broad-backed boulders loomed, and now and then, with a mighty
splashing and crashing one of these was overbalanced by the force of the
current and rolled another step toward the far-off sea.
That rush of water would carry him far downstream and the chances were
hardly more than even that he would not strike against one of these
murderous obstructions about which the current foamed.
An impulse made him turn and wave a hand to Nash.
He shouted: "Give me luck?"
"Luck?" roared the cowboy, and his voice came as if faint with distance
over the thunder of the stream.
He touched the piebald with the spurs, and the gallant little horse
floundered forward, lost footing and struck into water beyond its depth.
At the same instant Bard swung clear of the saddle and let his body
trail out behind, holding with his left hand to the tail of the
struggling horse and kicking to aid the progress.
Immersed to the chin, and sometimes covered by a more violent wave, the
sound of the river grew at once strangely dim, but he felt the force of
the current tugging at him like a thousand invisible hands. He began to
wish that he had taken off his boots before entering, for they weighted
his feet so that it made him leg-weary to kick. Nevertheless he trusted
in the brave heart of the mustang. There was no wavering in the wild
horse. Only his head showed over the water, but the ears were pricking
straight and high, and it never once swerved back toward the nearer
Their progress at first was good, but as they neared the central portion
of the water they were swept many yards downstream for one that they
made in a transverse direction. Twice they missed projecting rocks by
the narrowest margin, and then something like an exceedingly thin and
exceedingly strong arm caught Anthony around the shoulders. It tugged
back, stopped all their forward progress, and let them sweep rapidly
down the stream and back toward the shore.
Turning his head he caught a glimpse of Nash sitting calmly in his
saddle, holding the rope in both hands--and laughing. The next instant
he saw no more, for the current placed a taller rock between him and the
bank. On that rock the line of the lariat caught, hooking the swimmers
sharply in toward the bank. He would have cut the rope, but it would be
almost impossible to get out a knife and open a blade with his teeth,
still clinging to the tail of the swimming horse with one hand. He
reached down through the water, pulled out the colt, and with an effort
swung himself about. Close at hand he could not reach the rope, and
therefore he fired not directly at the rope itself, but at the edge of
the rock around which the lariat bent at a sharp angle. The splash of
that bullet from the strong face of the rock sliced the rope like a
knife. It snapped free, and the brave little mustang straightened out
again for the far shore.
An instant more Bard swam with the revolver poised above the water, but
he caught no glimpse of Nash; so he restored it with some difficulty to
the holster, and gave all his attention and strength to helping the
horse through the water, swimming with one hand and kicking vigorously
with his feet.
Perhaps they would not have made it, for now through exhaustion the ears
of the mustang were drooping back. He shouted, and at the faint sound of
his cheer the piebald pricked a single weary ear. He shouted again, and
this time not for encouragement, but from exultation; a swerving current
had caught them and was bearing them swiftly toward the desired bank.
It failed them when they were almost touching bottom and swung sharply
out toward the centre again, but the mustang, as though it realized
that this was the last chance, fought furiously. Anthony gave the rest
of his strength, and they edged through, inch by inch, and horse and man
staggered up the bank and stood trembling with fatigue.
Glancing back, he saw Nash in the act of throwing his lariat to the
ground, wild with anger, and before he could understand the meaning of
this burst of temper over a mere spoiled lariat, the gun whipped from
the side of the cowboy, exploded, and the little piebald, with ears
pricked sharply forward as though in vague curiosity, crumpled to the
ground. The suddenness of it took all power of action from Bard for the
instant. He stood staring stupidly down at the dying horse and then
whirled, gun in hand, frantic with anger and grief.
Nash was galloping furiously up the far bank of the Saverack, already
safely out of range, and speeding toward the ford.
When the cattleman felt the rope snap back to his hand he could not
realize at first just what had happened. The crack of the gun had been
no louder than the snapping of a twig in that storming of the river, and
the only explanation he could find was that the rope had struck some
superlatively sharp edge of the rock and been sawed in two. But
examining the cut end he found it severed as cleanly as if a knife had
slashed across it, and then it was he knew and threw the lariat to the
When he saw Bard scramble up the opposite bank he knew that his game was
lost and all the tables reversed, for the Easterner was a full two hours
closer to the home of Drew than he was, with the necessary detour up to
the ford. The Easterner might be delayed by the unknown country for a
time, but not very long. He was sure to meet someone who would point the
way. It was then that Nash drew his gun and shot down the piebald
The next instant he was racing straight up the river toward the ford.
The roan was not spared this day, for there were many chances that Bard
might secure a fresh mount to speed him on the way to the Drew ranch,
and now it was all important that the big grey man be warned; for there
was a danger in that meeting, as Nash was beginning to feel.
By noon he reached the house and went straight to the owner, a desperate
figure, spattered with mud to the eyes, a three days' growth of whiskers
blackening his face, and that face gaunt with the long, hard riding. He
found the imperturbable Drew deep in a book in his office. While he was
drawing breath, the rancher examined him with a faint smile.
"I thought this would be the end of it," he announced.
"The devil and all hell plays on the side of Bard," answered the
foreman. "I had him safe--almost tied hand and foot. He got away."
"Shot the rope in two."
The other placed a book-mark, closed the volume, and looked up with the
"Try again," he said quietly. "Take half a dozen men with you, surprise
him in the night----"
"Surprise a wolf," growled Nash. "It's just the same."
The shaggy eyebrows stirred.
"How far is he away?"
"Two or three miles--maybe half a dozen--I don't know. He'll be here
The big man changed colour and gripped the edge of the desk. Nash had
never dreamed that it would be possible to so stir him.
"Nash--you infernal fool! Did you let him know where you were taking
"No. He was already on the way here."
Once more Drew winced. He rose now and strode across the room and back;
from the wall the heavy echo of his footfall came sharply back. And he
paused in front of Nash, looming above his foreman like some primitive
monster, or as the Grecian heroes loomed above the rank and file at the
siege of Troy. He was like a relic of some earlier period when bigger
men were needed for a greater physical labour.
"What does he want?"
"I don't know. Says he wants to ask for the right of hunting on your
old place on the other side of the range. Which I'd tell a man it's jest
a lie. He knows he can hunt there if he wants to."
"Does he know me?"
"Just your name."
"Did he ask many questions about me?"
"Wanted to know what you looked like."
"And you told him?"
"A lot of things. Said you were big and grey. And I told him that story
about you and John Bard."
Drew slumped into a chair and ground the knuckles of his right hand
across his forehead. The white marks remained as he looked up again.
"What was that?"
"Why, how you happened to marry Joan Piotto and how Bard left the
"That was all?"
"Is there any more, sir?"
The other stared into the distance, overlooking the question.
"Tell me what you've found out about him."
"I been after him these three days. Logan tipped him wrong, and he
started the south trail for Eldara. I got on his trail three times and
couldn't catch him till we hit Eldara."
"I thought your roan was the most durable horse on the range, Steve.
You've often told me so."
"But you couldn't catch--Bard?"
"He was on a faster horse than mine--for a while."
"Well? Isn't he now?'
"I killed the horse."
"You showed your hand, then? He knows you were sent after him?"
"No, he thinks it's because of a woman."
"Is he tangling himself up with some girl?" frowned the rancher.
"He's cutting in on me with Sally Fortune--damn his heart!"
And Nash paled visibly, even through whiskers and mud. The other almost
"So soon, Nash?"
"With hosses and women, he don't lose no time."
"What's he done?"
"The first trace I caught of him was at a shack of an old ranchhouse
where he'd traded his lame hoss in. They gave him the wildest mustang
they had--a hoss that was saddle-shy and that hadn't never been ridden.
He busted that hoss in--a little piebald mustang, tougher 'n iron--and
that was why I didn't catch him till we hit Eldara."
The smile was growing more palpable on the face of Drew, and he nodded
for the story to continue.
"Then I come to a house which was all busted up because Bard had come
along and flirted with the girl, and she's got too proud for the feller
she was engaged to--begun thinkin' of millionaires right away, I s'pose.
"Next I tracked him to Flanders's saloon, where he'd showed up Sandy
Ferguson the day before and licked him bad. I seen Ferguson. It was sure
"Ferguson? The gun-fighter? The two-gun man?"
"Ah-h-h!" drawled the big man.
The colour was back in his face. He seemed to be enjoying the recountal
"Then I hit Eldara and found all the lights out."
"Because of Bard?"
"H-m! He'd had a run-in with Butch Conklin, and Butch threatened to come
back with all his gang and wipe Eldara off the map. He stuck around and
while he was waitin' for Butch and his gang, he started flirtin' with
The name seemed to stick in his throat and he had to bring it out with a
grimace. "So now you want his blood, Nash?"
"I'll have it," said the cowpuncher quietly, "I've got gambler's luck.
In the end I'm sure to win."
"You're not going to win here, Nash."
"No?" queried the younger man, with a dangerous intonation.
"No. I know the blood behind that chap. You won't win here. Blood will
He smote his great fist on the desk-top and his laugh was a thunder
which reverberated through the room.
"Blood will out? The blood of John Bard?" asked Nash.
"Who said John Bard?"
He grew grey again, the flush dying swiftly. He started to his feet and
repeated in a great voice, sweeping the room with a wild glance: "Who
said John Bard?"
"I thought maybe this was his son," answered Nash.
"You're a fool! Does he look like John Bard? No, there's only one person
in the world he looks like."
He strode again up and down the room, repeating in a deep monotone:
Coming to a sharp halt he said: "I don't want the rest of your story.
The point is that the boy will be here within--an hour--two hours. We've
got work to do before that time."
"Listen to me," answered the foreman, "don't let him get inside this
house. I'd rather take part of hell into a house of mine. Besides, if he
"He's coming here, but he's not going to see either of us--my mind is
made up--neither of us until I have him helpless."
THE COMEDY SETTING
"Dead, you mean," broke in Nash, "because otherwise he'll never be
"I tell you, Nash," said the other solemnly, "I can make him helpless
with one minute of talk. My problem is to keep that wild devil harmless
while he listens to me talk. Another thing--if he ever sees me, nothing
_but_ death will stop him from coming at my throat."
"Speakin' personal," said the other coldly, "I never take no chances on
fellers that might come at my throat."
"I know; you're for the quick draw and the quick finish. But I'd rather
die myself than have a hair of his head hurt. I mean that!"
Nash, his thoughts spinning, stood staring blankly.
"I give up tryin' to figure it out; but if he's comin' here and you want
to keep him safe I'd better take a fresh hoss and get twenty miles away
"You'll do nothing of the kind; you'll stay here with me."
"And face him without a gun?" asked the other incredulously.
"Leave gun talk out of this. I think one of the boys looks a little like
me. Lawlor--isn't that his name?"
"Him? Yes; a little bit like you--but he's got his thickness through the
stomach and not through the chest."
"Never mind. He's big, and he's grey. Send for him, and get the rest of
the boys in here. They're around now for noon. Get _every_ one.
Understand? And make it fast."
In ten minutes they came to the office in a troop--rough men, smooth
men, little and big, fat and thin, but good cattlemen, every one.
"Boys," said Drew, "a tenderfoot is coming to the ranch to-day. I'm
going to play a few jokes on him. First of all, I want you to know that
until the stranger leaves the house, Lawlor is going to take my place.
He is going to be Drew. Understand?"
"Lawlor?" broke out several of them, and turned in surprise to a big,
cheerful man--grey, plump, with monstrous white whiskers.
"Because he looks a bit like me. First, you'll have to crop those
He clutched at the threatened whiskers with both hands.
"Crop 'em? Chief, you ain't maybe runnin' me a bit?"
"Not a bit," said Drew, smiling faintly. "I'll make it worth your
"It took me thirty years to raise them whiskers," said the cattleman,
stern with rebuke. "D'you think I could be _hired_ to give 'em up? It's
like givin' up some of myself."
"Let them go, then. You can play the part, whiskers and all. The rest of
you remember that Lawlor is the boss."
"And brand that deep," growled Lawlor, looking about with a frown.
He had already stepped into his part; the others laughed loudly.
"Steady there!" called Drew. "Lawlor starts as boss right now. Cut out
the laughing. I'll tell the rest of you what you're to do later on. In
the meantime just step out and I'll have a talk with Lawlor on his part.
We haven't much time to get ready. But remember--if one of you grins
when Lawlor gives an order--I'm done with that man--that's all."
They filed out of the room, looking serious, and Drew concentrated on
Lawlor. "This sounds like a joke," he began, "but there's something
serious about it. If you carry it through safely, there's a hundred in
it for you. If you fall down, why, you fall out of an easy place on this
The big cattleman wiped a growing perspiration from his forehead and
considered his boss with plaintive eyes.
"This tenderfoot who's coming is green to the range, but he's a hard
man; a fine horseman, a sure shot, and a natural fighter. More than
that, he's coming here looking for trouble; and he'll expect to get the
trouble from you."
Lawlor brushed his moustache anxiously.
"Let someone else take the job--that's all. A hundred ain't to be picked
up every week, but I'll do without it. In my day I've done my share of
brawlin' around, but I'm too stiff in the joints to make a fast draw and
getaway now. Let Nash take this job. He's gun-fighter enough to handle
this bad-man for you."
"No," said Drew, "not even Nash can handle this one."
"Then"--with a mighty and explosive emphasis--"there ain't no possible
use of me lingering around the job. S'-long."
"Wait. This young chap isn't going to murder you. I'll tell you this
much. The man he wants is I; but he knows my face, not my name. He's
been on the trail of that face for some time, and now he's tracking it
to the right house; but when he sees you and hears you called Drew,
he'll be thrown off again."
The other nodded gloomily.
"I'm by way of a lightning rod. This tenderfoot with the hard hand, he
strikes and I sort of conduct the shock away from anything that'll burn,
Drew overlooked the comment.
"There are certain things about me you will have to know." And he
explained carefully the story which Nash had told to Bard.
"This Bard," asked the cautious Lawlor, "is he any relation of old John
"Even if he were, it wouldn't make your position dangerous. The man he
wants is I. He knows my face--not my name. Until he sees me he'll be
perfectly reasonable, unless he's crossed. You must seem frank and above
board. If you tell more lies than are necessary he may get suspicious,
and if he grows suspicious the game is up and will have to be finished
with a gun play. Remember that. He'll want to know about Nash. Tell him
that Nash is a bad one and that you've fixed him; he mustn't expect to
find Nash here."
Lawlor rubbed his hands, like one coming from the cold outdoors to a
"I'm beginning to see light. Lemme at this Bard. I'm going to get enough
fun out of this to keep me laughin' the rest of my life."
"Good; but keep that laugh up your sleeve. If he asks questions you'll
have some solemn things to say."
"Chief, when the time comes, there's going to be about a gallon of tears
in my eyes."
So Drew left him to complete the other arrangements. If Bard reached the
house he must be requested to stay, and if he stayed he must be fed and
entertained. The difficulty in the way of this was that the servants in
the big ranchhouse were two Chinese boys. They could never be trusted to
help in the deception, so Drew summoned two of his men, "Shorty" Kilrain
and "Calamity" Ben.
Calamity had no other name than Ben, as far as any one on the range had
ever been able to learn. His nickname was derived from the most dolorous
face between Eldara and Twin Rivers. Two pale-blue eyes, set close
together, stared out with an endless and wistful pathos; a long nose
dropped below them, and his mouth curled down at the sides. He was
hopelessly round-shouldered from much and careless riding, and in
attempting to straighten he only succeeded in throwing back his head, so
that his lean neck generally was in a V-shape with the Adam's apple as
the apex of the wedge.
Shorty Kilrain received his early education at sea and learned there a
general handiness which stood him in stead when he came to the
mountain-desert. There was nothing which Shorty could not do with his
hands, from making a knot to throwing a knife, and he was equally ready
to oblige with either accomplishment. Drew proposed that he take charge
of the kitchen with Calamity Ben as an assistant. Shorty glowered on the
"Me!" he said. "Me go into the galley to wait on a blasted tenderfoot?"
"After he leaves you'll have a month off with full pay and some over,
"Don't want the month off."
Drew considered him thoughtfully, following the precept of Walpole that
every man has his price.
"What _do_ you want, Shorty?"
The ex-sailor scratched his head and then rolled his eyes up with a
dawning smile, as one who sees a vision of ultimate bliss.
"Let one of the other boys catch my hoss out of the corral every morning
and saddle him for me for a month."
"It's a bargain. What'll you do with that time?"
"Sit on the fence and roll a cigarette like a blasted gentleman and damn
the eyes of the feller that's catchin' my hoss."
"And me," said Calamity Ben, "what do I get?"
"You get orders," answered Kilrain, "from me."
Calamity regarded him, uncertain whether or not to fight out the point,
but apparently decided that the effort was not worth while.
"There ain't going to be no luck come out of this," he said darkly.
"Before this tenderfoot gets out of the house, we're all going to wish
he was in hell."
But with the stage set and the curtain ready to rise on the farce, the
audience did not arrive until the shadow of the evening blotted the
windows of the office where big Lawlor waited impatiently, rehearsing
his part; but when the lamp had been lighted, as though that were a
signal for which the tenderfoot had waited, came a knock at the door of
the room, and then it was jerked open and the head of one of the
cowpunchers was inserted.
The head disappeared; the door slammed. Lawlor stretched both arms wide,
shifted his belt, loosened his gun in the holster for the fiftieth time,
and exhaled a long breath. Once more the door jerked open, and this time
it was the head and sullen face of Nash, enlivened now by a peculiarly
As the door closed the grim realization came to Lawlor that he could
not face the tenderfoot--his staring eyes and his pallor would betray
him even if the jerking of his hands did not. He swung about in the
comfortable chair, seized a book and whisking it open bowed his head to
read. All that he saw was a dance of irregular black lines: voices
sounded through the hall outside.
"Sure, he'll see you," Calamity Ben was saying. "And if you want to put
up for the night there ain't nobody more hospital than the Chief. Right
in here, son."
The door yawned. He could not see, for his back was resolutely toward it
and he was gripping the cover of the book hard to steady his hands; but
he felt a breath of colder air from the outer hall; he felt above all a
new presence peering in upon him, like a winter-starved lynx that might
flatten its round face against the window and peer in at the lazy warmth
and comfort of the humans around the hearth inside. Some such feeling
sent a chill through Lawlor's blood.
"Hello!" called Calamity Ben.
"Humph!" grunted Lawlor.
"Got a visitor, Mr. Drew."
"Bring him in."
And Lawlor cleared his throat.
"All right, here he is."
The door closed, and Lawlor snapped the book shut.
"Drew!" said a low voice.
The cowpuncher turned in his chair. He had intended to rise, but at the
sound of that controlled menace he knew that his legs were too weak to
answer that purpose. What he saw was a slender fellow, who stood with
his head somewhat lowered while his eyes peered down from under
contracted brows, as though the light were hurting them. His feet were
braced apart and his hands dropped lightly on his hips--the very picture
of a man ready to spring into action.
Under the great brush of his moustache, Lawlor set his teeth, but he was
instantly at ease; for if the sight of the stranger shook him to the
very centre, the other was even more obviously shocked by what he saw.
The hands dropped limp from his hips and dangled idly at his sides; his
body straightened almost with a jerk, as though he had been struck
violently, and now, instead of that searching look, he was blinking down
at his host. Lawlor rose and extended a broad hand and an even broader
smile; he was proud of the strength which had suddenly returned to his
"H'ware ye, stranger? Sure glad to see you."
The other accepted the proffered hand automatically, like one moving in
"Are you Drew?"
He still held the hand as if he were fearful of the vision escaping
without that sensible bondage.
"William Drew is right. Sit down. Make yourself to home."
"Thanks!" breathed the other and as if that breath expelled with it all
his strength he slumped into a chair and sat with a fascinated eye glued
to his host.
Lawlor had time to mark now the signs of long and severe travelling
which the other bore, streaks of mud that disfigured him from heel to
shoulder; and his face was somewhat drawn like a man who has gone to
"William Drew!" he repeated, more to himself than to Lawlor, and the
latter formed a silent prayer of gratitude that he was _not_ William
"I'm forgetting myself," went on the tenderfoot, with a ghost of a
smile. "My name is Bard--Anthony Bard."
His glance narrowed again, and this time Lawlor, remembering his part,
pretended to start with surprise.
"Yes. Anthony Bard."
"Glad to know you. You ain't by any chance related to a John Bard?"
"Had a partner once by that name. Good old John Bard!"
He shook his head, as though overcome by recollections.
"I've heard something about you and your partner, Mr. Drew."
"In fact, it seems to be a rather unusual story."
"Well, it ain't common. John Bard! I'll tell the world there was a man."
"Yes, he was."
"He must have been," answered Anthony, "from all that I've heard of him.
I'm interested in what I scrape together about him. You see, he carries
the same name."
"That's nacheral. How long since you ate?"
"The hell! Starved?"
"It's near chow-time. Will you eat now or wait for the reg'lar spread?"
"I think I can wait, thank you."
"A little drink right now to help you along, eh?" He strode over and
opened the door. "Hey! Shorty!"
For answer there came only the wail of an old pirate song.
"Oh, my name's Sam'l Hall--Sam'l Hall;
My name's Sam'l Hall--Sam'l Hall.
My name is Sam'l Hall,
And I hate you one an' all,
You're a gang of muckers all--
Damn your eyes!"
"Listen!" said Lawlor, turning to his guest with a deprecating wave of
the hand. "A cook what sings! Which in the old days I wouldn't have had
a bum like that around my place, but there ain't no choosin' now."
The voice from the kitchen rolled out louder:
"I killed a man, they said, so they said;
I killed a man, they said, so they said.
I killed a man they said,
For I hit 'im on the head,
And I left him there for dead--
Damn your eyes!"
"Hey! Shorty Kilrain!" bellowed the aggravated host.
He turned to Bard.
"What'd you do with a bum like that for a cook?"
"Pay him wages and keep him around to sing songs. I like this one.
"They put me in the quad--in the quad;
They put me in the quad--in the quad.
They put me in the quad,
They chained me to a rod,
And they left me there, by God--
Damn your eyes!"
"Kilrain, come here and make it fast or I'll damn your eyes!"
He explained to Bard: "Got to be hard with these fellers or you never
get nowhere with 'em."
"Yo ho!" answered the voice of the singer, and approached booming:
"The parson he did come, he did come;
The parson he did come--did come.
The parson he did come,
He looked almighty glum,
He talked of kingdom come--.
Damn your eyes!"
Shorty loomed in the doorway and caught his hand to his forehead in a
nautical salute. He had one bad eye, and now it squinted as villainously
as if he were the real _Sam'l Hall_.
"Righto sir. What'll you have, mate?"
"Don't mate me, you igner'nt sweepin' of the South Sea, but trot up some
The ex-sailor shifted his quid so that it stuck far out in the opposite
cheek with such violence of pressure that a little spot of white
appeared through the tan of the skin. He regarded Lawlor for a silent
moment with bodeful eyes.
"What the hell are you lookin' at?" roared the other. "On your way!"
The features of Kilrain twitched spasmodically.
Another salute, and he was off, his voice coming back less and less
"So up the rope I'll go, I will go;
So up the rope I'll go--I'll go.
So up the rope I'll go
With the crowd all down below
Yelling, 'Sam, I told you so!'
Damn their eyes!"
HAIR LIKE THE SUNSHINE
"Well," grumbled Lawlor, settling back comfortably into his chair, "one
of these days I'm goin' to clean out my whole gang and put in a new one.
They maybe won't be any better but they can't be any wuss."
Nevertheless, he did not seem in the least downhearted, but apparently
had some difficulty in restraining his broad grin.
The voice of the grim cook returned:
"I'll see Nelly in the crowd, in the crowd;
I'll see Nelly in the crowd, in the crowd;
I'll see Nelly in the crowd,
And I'll holler to her loud:
'Hey, Nelly, ain't you proud--
Damn your eyes?'"
"I ask you," cried Lawlor, with freshly risen wrath, "is that any way to
go around talkin' about women?"
"Not talking. He's singing," answered Bard. "Let him alone."
The thunder of their burly Ganymede's singing rose and echoed about
"And this shall be my knell, be my knell;
And this shall be my knell--my knell.
And this shall be my knell:
'Sam, I hope you go to hell,
Sam, I hope you sizzle well--
Damn your eyes!'"
Shorty Kilrain appeared in the doorway, his mouth wide on the last,
long, wailing note.
"Shorty," said Lawlor, with a sort of hopeless sadness, "ain't you never
been educated to sing no better songs than that?"
"Why, you old, grey-headed--" began Shorty, and then stopped short and
hitched his trousers violently.
Lawlor pushed the bottle of whisky and glass toward Bard.
"Help yourself." And to Kilrain, who was leaving the room: "Come back
"Well?" snarled the sailor, half turning at the door.
"While I'm runnin' this here ranch you're goin' to have manners, see?"
"If manners was like your whiskers," said the unabashed Shorty, "it'd
take me nigh onto thirty years to get 'em."
And he winked at Bard for sympathy.
Lawlor smashed his fist on the table.
"What I say is, are you running this ranch or am I?"
"Well?" growled Kilrain.
"If you was a kid you'd have your mouth washed out with soap."
The eyes of Shorty bulged.
"It ought to be done now, but there ain't no one I'd give such dirty
work to. What you're going to do is stand right here and show us you
know how to sing a decent song in a decent way. That there song of yours
didn't leave nothin' sacred untouched, from parsons and jails to women
and the gallows. Stand over there and sing."
The eyes of the sailor filmed over with cold hate.
"Was I hired to punch cattle," he said, "or make a blasted, roarin' fool
out of myself?"
"You was hired," answered Lawlor softly, as he filled his glass to the
brim with the old rye whisky, "to be a cook, and you're the rottenest
hash-slinger that ever served cold dough for biscuits; a blasted,
roarin' fool you've already made out of yourself by singin' that song. I
want another one to get the sound of that out of my ears. Tune up!"
Thoughts of murder, ill-concealed, whitened the face of the sailor.
"Some day--" he began hoarsely, and then stopped. For a vision came to
him of blithe mornings when he should sit on the top of the corral fence
rolling a cigarette, while some other puncher went into the herd and
roped and saddled his horse.
"D'you mean this--Drew?" he asked, with an odd emphasis.
"D'you think I'm talking for fun?"
"What'll I sing?" he asked in a voice which was reduced to a faint
whisper by rage.
"I dunno," mused Lawlor, "but maybe it ought to lie between 'Alice, Ben
Bolt,' and 'Annie Laurie.' What d'you choose, partner?"
He turned to Bard.
"'Alice, Ben Bolt,' by all means. I don't think he could manage the
"Start!" commanded Lawlor.
The sailor closed his eyes, tilted back his head, twisted his face to a
hideous grimace, and then opening his shapeless mouth emitted a
tremendous wail which took shape in the following words:
"Oh, don't you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,
Sweet Alice, with hair like the sunshine--"
"Shut up!" roared Lawlor.
It required a moment for Shorty to unkink the congested muscles of his
"What the hell's the matter now?" he inquired.
"Whoever heard of 'hair like the sunshine'? There ain't no such thing
possible. 'Hair so brown,' that's what the song says. Shorty, we got
more feelin' for our ears than to let you go on singin' an' showin' your
ignerance. G'wan back to the kitchen!"
Kilrain drew a long breath, regarded Lawlor again with that considerate,
expectant eye, and then turned on his heel and strode from the room.
Back to Bard came fragments of tremendous cursing of an epic breadth and
a world-wide inclusiveness.
"Got to do things like this once in a while to keep 'em under my thumb,"
Lawlor explained genially.
With all his might Bard was struggling to reconcile this big-handed
vulgarian with his mental picture of the man who could write for an
epitaph: "Here sleeps Joan, the wife of William Drew. She chose this
place for rest." But the two ideas were not inclusive.
He said aloud: "Aren't you afraid that that black-eyed fellow will run a
knife between your ribs one of these dark nights?"
"Who? My ribs?" exclaimed Lawlor, nevertheless stirring somewhat
uneasily in his chair. "Nope, they know that I'm William Drew. They may
be hard, but they know I'm harder."
"Oh," drawled the other, and his eyes held with uncomfortable steadiness
on the rosy face of Lawlor. "I understand."
To cover his confusion Lawlor seized his glass.
"Here's to you--drinkin' deep."
And he tossed off the mighty potion. Bard had poured only a few drops
into his glass; he had too much sympathy for his empty stomach to do
more. His host leaned back, coughing, with tears of pleasure in his
"Damn me!" he breathed reverently. "I ain't touched stuff like this in
"Is this a new stock?" inquired Bard, apparently puzzled.
"This?" said Lawlor, recalling his position with a start. "Sure it is;
brand new. Yep, stuff ain't been in more'n five days. Smooth, ain't it?
Medicine, that's what I call it; a gentleman's drink--goes down like
Observing a rather quizzical light in the eyes of Bard, he felt that he
had probably been making a few missteps, and being warmed greatly at the
heart by the whisky, he launched forth in a new phase of the
"THE CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON"
"Speakin' of hard cattlemen," he said, "I could maybe tell you a few
"No doubt of it," smiled Anthony. "I presume it would take a _very_ hard
man to handle this crowd."
"Fairly hard," nodded the redoubtable Lawlor, "but they ain't nothin' to
the men that used to ride the range in the old days."
"Nope. One of them men--why, he'd eat a dozen like Kilrain and think
nothin' of it. Them was the sort I learned to ride the range with."
"I've heard something about a fight which you and John Bard had against
the Piotto gang. Care to tell me anything of it?"
Lawlor lolled easily back in his chair and balanced a second large drink
between thumb and forefinger.
"There ain't no harm in talk, son; sure I'll tell you about it. What
d'you want to know?"
"The way Bard fought--the way you both fought."
He closed his eyes like one who strives to recollect; he was, in fact,
carefully recalling the skeleton of facts which Drew had told him
earlier in the day.
"Six months, me and Bard had been trailin' Piotto, damn his old soul!
Bard--he'd of quit cold a couple of times, but I kept him at it."
"John Bard would have quit?" asked Anthony softly.
"Sure. He was a big man, was Bard, but he didn't have none too much
"Go on," nodded Anthony.
"Six months, I say, we was ridin' day and night and wearin' out a hoss
about every week of that time. Then we got jest a hint from a bartender
that maybe the Piottos was nearby in that section.
"It didn't need no more than a hint for us to get busy on the trail. We
hit a circle through the mountains--it was over near Twin Rivers where