Part 1 out of 5
Etext scanned by Mary Starr of Glendale, CA.
A STORY OF THE OUTDOOR WEST
by William MacLeod Raine
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. A DESERT MEETING
2. THE KING OF THE BIG HORN COUNTRY
3. AN INVITATION GIVEN AND ACCEPTED
4. AT THE LAZY D RANCH
5. THE DANCE AT FRASER'S
6. A PARTY CALL
7. THE MAN FROM THE SHOSHONE FASTNESSES
8. IN THE LAZY D HOSPITAL
9. A RESCUE
12. MISTRESS AND MAID
13. THE TWO COUSINS
14. FOR THE WORLD'S CHAMPIONSHIP
15. JUDD MORGAN PASSES
16. HUNTING BIG GAME
17. RUN TO EARTH
18. PLAYING FOR TIME
19. WEST POINT TO THE RESCUE
20. TWO CASES OF DISCIPLINE
21. THE SIGNAL LIGHTS
22. EXIT THE KING
23. JOURNEYS END IN LOVERS' MEETING.
CHAPTER 1. A DESERT MEETING
An automobile shot out from a gash in the hills and slipped
swiftly down to the butte. Here it came to a halt on the white,
dusty road, while its occupant gazed with eager, unsated eyes on
the great panorama that stretched before her. The earth rolled in
waves like a mighty sea to the distant horizon line. From a
wonderful blue sky poured down upon the land a bath of sunbeat.
The air was like wine, pure and strong, and above the desert swam
the rare, untempered light of Wyoming. Surely here was a peace
primeval, a silence unbroken since the birth of creation.
It was all new to her, and wonderfully exhilarating. The infinite
roll of plain, the distant shining mountains, the multitudinous
voices of the desert drowned in a sunlit sea of space--they were
all details of the situation that ministered to a large serenity.
And while she breathed deeply the satisfaction of it, an
exploding rifle echo shattered the stillness. With excited
sputtering came the prompt answer of a fusillade. She was new to
the West; but some instinct stronger than reason told the girl
that here was no playful puncher shooting up the scenery to
ventilate his exuberance. Her imagination conceived something
more deadly; a sinister picture of men pumping lead in a grim,
close-lipped silence; a lusty plainsman, with murder in his
heart, crumpling into a lifeless heap, while the thin
smoke-spiral curled from his hot rifle.
So the girl imagined the scene as she ran swiftly forward through
the pines to the edge of the butte bluff whence she might look
down upon the coulee that nestled against it. Nor had she greatly
erred, for her first sweeping glance showed her the thing she had
In a semicircle, well back from the foot of the butte, half a
dozen men crouched in the cover of the sage-brush and a scattered
group of cottonwoods. They were perhaps fifty yards apart, and
the attention of all of them was focused on a spot directly
beneath her. Even as she looked, in that first swift moment of
apprehension, a spurt of smoke came from one of the rifles and
was flung back from the forked pine at the bottom of the mesa.
She saw him then, kneeling behind his insufficient shelter, a
trapped man making his last stand.
>From where she stood the girl distinguished him very clearly,
and under the field-glasses that she turned on him the details
leaped to life. Tall, strong, slender, with the lean, clean build
of a greyhound, he seemed as wary and alert as a panther. The
broad, soft hat, the scarlet handkerchief loosely knotted about
his throat, the gray shirt, spurs and overalls, proclaimed him a
stockman, just as his dead horse at the entrance to the coulee
told of an accidental meeting in the desert and a hurried run for
That he had no chance was quite plain, but no plainer than the
cool vigilance with which he proposed to make them pay. Even in
the matter of defense he was worse off than they were, but he
knew how to make the most of what he had; knew how to avail
himself of every inch of sagebrush that helped to render him
indistinct to their eyes.
One of the attackers, eager for a clearer shot, exposed himself a
trifle too far in taking aim. Without any loss of time in
sighting, swift as a lightning-flash, the rifle behind the forked
pine spoke. That the bullet reached its mark she saw with a gasp
of dismay. For the man suddenly huddled down and rolled over on
His comrades appeared to take warning by this example. The men at
both ends of the crescent fell back, and for a minute the girl's
heart leaped with the hope that they were about to abandon the
siege. Apparently the man in the scarlet kerchief had no such
expectation. He deserted his position behind the pine and ran
back, crouching low in the brush, to another little clump of
trees closer to the bluff. The reason for this was at first not
apparent to her, but she understood presently when the men who
had fallen back behind the rolling hillocks appeared again well
in to the edge of the bluff. Only by his timely retreat had the
man saved himself from being outflanked.
It was very plain that the attackers meant to take their time to
finish him in perfect safety. He was surrounded on every side by
a cordon of rifles, except where the bare face of the butte hung
down behind him. To attempt to scale it would have been to expose
himself as a mark for every gun to certain death.
It was now that she heard the man who seemed to be directing the
attack call out to another on his right. She was too far to make
out the words, but their effect was clear to her. He pointed to
the brow of the butte above, and a puncher in white woolen chaps
dropped back out of range and swung to the saddle upon one of the
ponies bunched in the rear. He cantered round in a wide circle
and made for the butte. His purpose was obviously to catch their
victim in the unprotected rear, and fire down upon him from
The young woman shouted a warning, but her voice failed to carry.
For a moment she stood with her hands pressed together in
despair, then turned and swiftly scudded to her machine. She
sprang in, swept forward, reached the rim of the mesa, and
plunged down. Never before had she attempted so precarious a
descent in such wild haste. The car fairly leaped into space, and
after it struck swayed dizzily as it shot down. The girl hung on,
her face white and set, the pulse in her temple beating wildly.
She could do nothing, as the machine rocked down, but hope
against many chances that instant destruction might be averted.
Utterly beyond her control, the motor-car thundered down, reached
the foot of the butte, and swept over a little hill in its wild
flight. She rushed by a mounted horseman in the thousandth part
of a second. She was still speeding at a tremendous velocity, but
a second hill reduced this somewhat. She had not yet recovered
control of the machine, but, though her eyes instinctively
followed the white road that flashed past, she again had
photographed on her brain the scene of the turbid tragedy in
which she was intervening.
At the foot of the butte the road circled and dipped into the
coulee. She braced herself for the shock, but, though the wheels
skidded till her heart was in her throat, the automobile, hanging
on the balance of disaster, swept round in safety.
Her horn screamed an instant warning to the trapped man. She
could not see him, and for an instant her heart sank with the
fear that they had killed him. But she saw then that they were
still firing, and she continued her honking invitation as the car
leaped forward into the zone of spitting bullets.
By this time she was recovering control of the motor, and she
dared not let her attention wander, but out of the corner of her
eye she appreciated the situation. Temporarily, out of sheer
amaze at this apparition from the blue, the guns ceased their
sniping. She became aware that a light curly head, crouched low
in the sage-brush, was moving rapidly to meet her at right
angles, and in doing so was approaching directly the line of
fire. She could see him dodging to and fro as he moved forward,
for the rifles were again barking.
She was within two hundred yards of him, still going rapidly, but
not with the same headlong rush as before, when the curly head
disappeared in the sage-brush. It was up again presently, but she
could see that the man came limping, and so uncertainly that
twice he pitched forward to the ground. Incautionsly one of his
assailants ran forward with a shout the second time his head went
down. Crack! The unerring rifle rang out, and the impetuous one
dropped in his tracks.
As she approached, the young woman slowed without stopping, and
as the car swept past Curly Head flung himself in headlong. He
picked himself up from her feet, crept past her to the seat
beyond, and almost instantly whipped his rifle to his shoulder in
prompt defiance of the fire that was now converged on them.
Yet in a few moments the sound died away, for a voice midway in
the crescent had shouted an amazed discovery:
"By God, it's a woman!"
The car skimmed forward over the uneven ground toward the end of
the semicircle, and passed within fifty yards of the second man
from the end, the one she had picked out as the leader of the
party. He was a black, swarthy fellow in plain leather chaps and
blue shirt. As they passed he took a long, steady aim.
"Duck!" shouted the man beside her, and dragged her down on the
seat so that his body covered hers.
A puff of wind fanned the girl's cheek.
"Near thing," her companion said coolly. He looked back at the
swarthy man and laughed softly. "Some day you'll mebbe wish you
had sent your pills straighter, Mr. Judd Morgan."
Yet a few wheel-turns and they had dipped forward out of range
among the great land waves that seemed to stretch before them
forever. The unexpected had happened, and she had achieved a
rescue in the face of the impossible.
"Hurt badly?" the girl inquired briefly, her dark-blue eyes
meeting his as frankly as those of a boy.
"No need for an undertaker. I reckon I'll survive, ma'am,"
"Where are you hit?"
"I just got a telegram from my ankle saying there was a cargo of
lead arrived there unexpected," he drawled easily.
"Hurts a good deal, doesn't it?"
"No more than is needful to keep my memory jogged up. It's a sort
of a forget-me-not souvenir. For a good boy; compliments of Mr.
Jim Henson," he explained.
Her dark glance swept him searchingly. She disapproved the
assurance of his manner even while the youth in her applauded his
reckless sufficiency. His gay courage held her unconsenting
admiration even while she resented it. He was a trifle too much
at his ease for one who had just been snatched from dire peril.
Yet even in his insouciance there was something engaging;
something almost of distinction.
"What was the trouble?"
Mirth bubbled in his gray eyes. "I gathered, ma'am, that they
wanted to collect my scalp."
"Do what?" she frowned.
"Bump me off--send me across the divide."
"Oh, I know that. But why?"
He seemed to reproach himself. "Now how could I be so neglectful?
I clean forgot to ask."
"That's ridiculous," was her sharp verdict.
"Yes, ma'am, plumb ridiculous. My only excuse is that they began
scattering lead so sudden I didn't have time to ask many
'Whyfors.' I reckon we'll just have to call it a Wyoming
difference of opinion," he concluded pleasantly.
"Which means, I suppose, that you are not going to tell me."
"I got so much else to tell y'u that's a heap more important," he
laughed. "Y'u see, I'm enjoyin' my first automobile ride. It was
certainly thoughful of y'u to ask me to go riding with y'u, Miss
"So you know my name. May I ask how?" was her astonished
He gave the low laugh that always seemed to suggest a private
source of amusement of his own. "I suspicioned that might be your
name when I say y'u come a-sailin' down from heaven to gather me
up like Enoch."
"Well, ma'am, I happened to drift in to Gimlet Butte two or three
days ago, and while I was up at the depot looking for some
freight a train sashaid in and side tracked a flat car. There was
an automobile on that car addressed to Miss Helen Messiter. Now,
automobiles are awful seldom in this country. I don't seem to
remember having seen one before."
"I see. You're quite a Sherlock Holmes. Do you know anything more
"I know y'u have just fallen heir to the Lazy D. They say y'u are
a schoolmarm, but I don't believe it."
"Well, I am." Then, "Why don't you believe it?" she added.
He surveyed her with his smile audacious, let his amused eyes
wander down from the mobile face with the wild-rose bloom to the
slim young figure so long and supple, then serenely met her
" Y'u don't look it."
" No? Are you the owner of a composite photograph of the teachers
of the country?"
He enjoyed again his private mirth. "I should like right well to
have the pictures of some of them."
She glanced at him sharply, but he was gazing so innocently at
the purple Shoshones in the distance that she could not give him
the snub she thought he needed.
"You are right. My name is Helen Messiter," she said, by way of
stimulating a counter fund of information. For, though she was a
young woman not much given to curiosity, she was aware of an
interest in this spare, broad-shouldered youth who was such an
incarnation of bronzed vigor.
"Glad to meet y'u, Miss Messiter," he responded, and offered his
firm brown hand in Western fashion.
But she observed resentfully that he did not mention his own
name. It was impossible to suppose that he knew no better, and
she was driven to conclude that he was silent of set purpose.
Very well! If he did not want to introduce himself she was not
going to urge it upon him. In a businesslike manner she gave her
attention to eating up the dusty miles.
"Yes, ma'am. I reckon I never was more glad to death to meet a
lady than I was to meet up with y'u," he continued, cheerily.
"Y'u sure looked good to me as y'u come a-foggin' down the road.
I fair had been yearnin' for company but was some discouraged for
fear the invitation had miscarried." He broke off his sardonic
raillery and let his level gaze possess her for a long moment.
"Miss Messiter, I'm certainly under an obligation to y'u I can't
repay. Y'u saved my life," he finished gravely.
"It isn't a personal matter at all," she assured him, with a
touch of impatient hauteur.
"It s a heap personal to me."
In spite of her healthy young resentment she laughed at the way
in which he drawled this out, and with a swift sweep her boyish
eyes took in again his compelling devil-may-care charm. She was a
tenderfoot, but intuition as well as experience taught her that
he was unusual enough to be one of ten thousand. No young Greek
god's head could have risen more superbly above the brick-tanned
column of the neck than this close-cropped curly one. Gray eyes,
deep and unwavering and masterful, looked out of a face as brown
as Wyoming. He was got up with no thought of effect, but the
tigerish litheness, the picturesque competency of him, spake
louder than costuming.
"Aren't you really hurt worse than you pretend? I'm sure your
ankle ought to be attended to as soon as possible."
"Don't tell me you're a lady doctor, ma'am," he burlesqued his
"Can you tell me where the nearest ranch house is?" she asked,
ignoring his diversion.
"The Lazy D is the nearest, I reckon."
"North by east, ma'am."
"Then I'll take the most direct road to it.
"In that case I'll thank y'u for my ride and get out here."
He waved a jaunty hand toward the recent battlefield. "The Lazy D
lies right back of that hill. I expect, mebbe, those wolves might
howl again if we went back."
"Where, then, shall I take you?"
"I hate to trouble y'u to go out of your way.
"I dare say, but I'm going just the same," she told him, dryly.
"If you're right determined " He interrupted himself to point to
the south. "Do y'u see that camel-back peak over there?"
"The one with the sunshine on its lower edge?"
"That's it, Miss Messiter. They call those two humps the Antelope
Peaks. If y'u can drop me somewhere near there I think I'll
manage all right."
"I'm not going to leave you till we reach a house," she informed
him promptly. "You're not fit to walk fifty yards."
"That's right kind of y'u, but I could not think of asking so
much. My friends will find me if y'u leave me where I can work a
"Or your enemies," she cut in.
"I hope not. I'd not likely have the luck to get another
invitation right then to go riding with a friendly young lady."
She gave him direct, cool, black-blue eyes that met and searched
his. "I'm not at all sure she is friendly. I shall want to find
out the cause of the trouble you have just had before I make up
my mind as to that."
"I judge people by their actions. Y'u didn't wait to find out
before bringing the ambulance into action," he laughed.
"I see you do not mean to tell me."
"You're quite a lawyer, ma'am," he evaded.
"I find you a very slippery witness, then."
"Ask anything y'u like and I'll tell you."
"Very well. Who were those men, and why were they trying to kill
"They turned their wolf loose on me because I shot up one of them
"Dear me! Is it your business to go around shooting people?
That's three I happen to know that you have shot. How many more?"
"No more, ma'am--not recently."
"Well, three is quite enough--recently," she mimicked. "You seem
to me a good deal of a desperado."
"Don't say 'Yes, ma'am,' like that, as if it didn't matter in the
least whether you are or not," she ordered.
"Oh!" She broke off with a gesture of impatience at his burlesque
of obedience. "You know what I mean--that you ought to deny it;
ought to be furious at me for suggesting it."
"Of course you ought."
"There's a heap of ways I ain't up to specifications," he
"And who are they--the men that were attacking you?"
There was a gleam of irrepressible humor in the bold eyes. "Your
"They ce'tainly belong to the Lazy D outfit."
"And you say that you shot one of my men yesterday?" He could see
her getting ready for a declaration of war.
"Down by Willow Creek-- Yes, ma'am," he answered, comfortably.
"And why, may I ask?" she flamed
"That's a long story, Miss Messiter. It wouldn't be square for me
to get my version in before your boys. Y'u ask them." He
permitted himself a genial smile, somewhat ironic. "I shouldn't
wonder but what they'll give me a giltedged testimonial as an
unhanged horse thief."
"Isn't there such a thing as law in Wyoming?" the girl demanded.
"Lots of it. Y'u can buy just as good law right here as in
"I wish I knew where to find it."
"Like to put me in the calaboose?"
"In the penitentiary. Yes, sir!" A moment later the question that
was in her thoughts leaped hotly from her lips. "Who are you,
sir, that dare to commit murder and boast of it?"
She had flicked him on the raw at last. Something that was near
to pain rested for a second in his eyes. "Murder is a hard name,
ma'am. And I didn't say he was daid, or any of the three," came
his gentle answer.
"You MEANT to kill them, anyhow."
"Did I?" There was the ghost of a sad smile about his eyes.
"The way you act, a person might think you one of Ned Bannister's
men," she told him, scornfully.
"I expect you're right."
She repented her a little at a charge so unjust. "If you are not
ashamed of your name why are you so loath to part with it?"
"Y'u didn't ask me my name," he said, a dark flush sweeping his
"I ask it now."
Like the light from a snuffed candle the boyish recklessness had
gone out of his face. His jaws were set like a vise and he looked
hard as hammered steel.
"My name is Bannister," he said, coldly.
"Ned Bannister, the outlaw," she let slip, and was aware of a
strange sinking of the heart.
It seemed to her that something sinister came to the surface in
his handsome face. "I reckon we might as well let it go at that,"
he returned, with bitter briefness.
CHAPTER 2. THE KING OF THE BIG HORN COUNTRY
Two months before this time Helen Messiter had been serenely
teaching a second grade at Kalamazoo, Michigan, notwithstanding
the earnest efforts of several youths of that city to induce her
to retire to domesticity "What's the use of being a schoolmarm?"
had been the burden of their plaint. "Any spinster can teach kids
C-A-T, Cat, but only one in several thousand can be the prettiest
bride in Kalamazoo." None of them, however, had been able to
drive the point sufficiently home, and it is probable that she
would have continued to devote herself to Young America if an
uncle she had never seen had not died without a will and left her
a ranch in Wyoming yclept the Lazy D.
When her lawyer proposed to put the ranch on the market Miss
Helen had a word to say.
"I think not. I'll go out and see it first, anyhow," she said.
"But really, my dear young lady, it isn't at all necessary. Fact
is, I've already had an offer of a hundred thousand dollars for
it. Now, I should judge that a fair price "
"Very likely," his client interrupted, quietly. "But, you see, I
don't care to sell."
"Then what in the world are you going to do with it?"
"But, my dear Miss Messiter, it isn't an automobile or any other
kind of toy. You must remember that it takes a business head and
a great deal of experience to make such an investment pay. I
"My school ends on the fourteenth of June. I'll get a substitute
for the last two months. I shall start for Wyoming on the
eighteenth of April."
The man of law gasped, explained the difficulties again carefully
as to a child, found that he was wasting his breath, and wisely
gave it up.
Miss Messiter had started on the eighteenth of April, as she had
announced. When she reached Gimlet Butte, the nearest railroad
point to the Lazy D, she found a group of curious, weatherbeaten
individuals gathered round a machine foreign to their experience.
It was on a flat car, and the general opinion ran the gamut from
a newfangled sewing machine to a thresher. Into this guessing
contest came its owner with so brisk and businesslike an energy
that inside of two hours she was testing it up and down the wide
street of Gimlet Butte, to the wonder and delight of an audience
to which each one of the eleven saloons of the city had
contributed its admiring quota.
Meanwhile the young woman attended strictly to business. She had
disappeared for half an hour with a suit case into the Elk House;
and when she returned in a short-skirted corduroy suit, leggings
and wide-brimmed gray Stetson hat, all Gimlet Butte took an
absorbing interest in the details of this delightful adventure
that had happened to the town. The population was out _en masse_
to watch her slip down the road on a trial trip.
Presently "Soapy" Sothern, drifting in on his buckskin from the
Hoodoo Peak country, where for private reasons of his own he had
been for the past month a sojourner, reported that he had seen
the prettiest sight in the State climbing under a gasoline bronc
with a monkey-wrench in her hand. Where? Right over the hill on
the edge of town. The immediate stampede for the cow ponies was
averted by a warning chug-chug that sounded down the road,
followed by the appearance of a flashing whir that made the
ponies dance on their hind legs.
"The gasoline bronc lady sure makes a hit with me," announced
"Texas," gravely. "I allow I'll rustle a job with the Lazy D
"She ce'tainly rides herd on that machine like a champeen,"
admitted Soapy. "I reckon I'll drift over to the Lazy D with you
to look after yore remains, Tex, when the lightning hits you."
Miss Messiter swung the automobile round in a swift circle, came
to an abrupt halt in front of the hotel, and alighted without
delay. As she passed in through the half score of admirers she
had won, her dark eyes swept smilingly over assembled Cattleland.
She had already met most of them at the launching of the machine
from the flat car, and had directed their perspiring energies as
they labored to follow her orders. Now she nodded a recognition
with a little ripple of gay laughter.
"I'm delighted to be able to contribute to the entertainment of
Gimlet Butte," she said, as she swept in. For this young woman
was possessed of Western adaptation. It gave her no conscientious
qualms to exchange conversation fraternal with these genial
The Elk House did not rejoice in a private dining room, and
competition strenuous ensued as to who should have the pleasure
of sitting beside the guest of honor. To avoid ill feeling, the
matter was determined by a game of freeze-out, in which Texas and
a mature gentleman named, from his complexion, "Beet" Collins,
were the lucky victors. Texas immediately repaired to the general
store, where he purchased a new scarlet bandanna for the
occasion; also a cake of soap with which to rout the alkali dust
that had filtered into every pore of his hands and face from a
long ride across the desert.
Came supper and Texas simultaneously, the cow-puncher's face
scrubbed to an apple shine. At the last moment Collins defaulted,
his nerve completely gone. Since, however, he was a thrifty soul,
he sold his place to Soapy for ten dollars, and proceeded to
invest the proceeds in an immediate drunk.
During the first ten minutes of supper Miss Messiter did not
appear, and the two guardians who flanked her chair solicitously
were the object of much badinage.
"She got one glimpse of that red haid of Tex and the pore lady's
took to the sage," explained Yorky.
"And him scrubbed so shiny fust time since Christmas before the
big blizzard," sighed Doc Rogers.
"Shucks! She ain't scared of no sawed-off, hammered-down runt
like Texas, No, siree! Miss Messiter's on the absent list 'cause
she's afraid she cayn't resist the blandishments of Soapy. Did
yo' ever hear about Soapy and that Caspar hash slinger?"
"Forget it, Slim," advised Soapy, promptly. He had been engaged
in lofty and oblivious conversation with Texas, but he did not
intend to allow reminiscences to get under way just now.
At this opportune juncture arrived the mistress of the "gasoline
bronc," neatly clad in a simple white lawn with blue trimmings.
She looked like a gleam of sunshine in her fresh, sweet youth;
and not even in her own school room had she ever found herself
the focus of a cleaner, more unstinted admiration. For the
outdoors West takes off its hat reverently to women worthy of
respect, especially when they are young and friendly.
Helen Messiter had come to Wyoming because the call of adventure,
the desire for experience outside of rutted convention, were
stirring her warm-blooded youth. She had seen enough of life
lived in a parlor, and when there came knocking at her door a
chance to know the big, untamed outdoors at first hand she had at
once embraced it like a lover. She was eager for her new life,
and she set out skillfully to make these men tell her what she
wanted to know. To them, of course, it was an old story, and
whatever of romance it held was unconscious. But since she wanted
to talk of the West they were more than ready to please her.
So she listened, and drew them out with adroit questions when it
was necessary. She made them talk of life on the open range, of
rustlers and those who lived outside the law in the upper
Shoshone country, of the deadly war waging between the cattle and
"Are there any sheep near the Lazy D ranch?" she asked, intensely
interested in Soapy's tale of how cattle and sheep could no more
be got to mix than oil and water.
For an instant nobody answered her question; then Soapy replied,
with what seemed elaborate carelessness:
"Ned Bannister runs a bunch of about twelve thousand not more'n
fifteen or twenty miles from your place."
"And you say they are spoiling the range?"
"They're ce'tainly spoiling it for cows."
"But can't something be done? If my cows were there first I don't
see what right he has to bring his sheep there," the girl
The assembled company attended strictly to supper. The girl,
surprised at the stillness, looked round. "Well?"
"Now you're shouting, ma'am! That's what we say," enthused Texas,
spurring to the rescue.
"It doesn't much matter what you say. What do you do?" asked
Helen, impatiently. "Do you lie down and let Mr. Bannister and
his kind drive their sheep over you?"
"Do we, Soapy?" grinned Texas. Yet it seemed to her his smile was
not quite carefree.
"I'm not a cowman myself," explained Soapy to the girl. "Nor do I
run sheep. I--"
"Tell Miss Messiter what yore business is, Soapy," advised Yorky
from the end of the table, with a mouthful of biscuit swelling
Soapy crushed the irrepressible Yorky with a look, but that young
man hit back smilingly.
"Soapy, he sells soap, ma'am. He's a sorter city salesman, I
"I should never have guessed it. Mr. Sothern does not LOOK like a
salesman," said the girl, with a glance at his shrewd, hard,
"Yes, ma'am, he's a first-class seller of soap, is Mr. Sothern,"
chuckled the cow-puncher, kicking his friends gayly under the
"You can see I never sold HIM any, Miss Messiter," came back
All this was Greek to the young lady from Kalamazoo. How was she
to know that Mr. Sothern had vended his soap in small cubes on
street corners, and that he wrapped bank notes of various
denominations in the bars, which same were retailed to eager
customers for the small sum of fifty cents, after a guarantee
that the soap was good? His customers rarely patronized him
twice; and frequently they used bad language because the soap
wrapping was not as valuable as they had expected. This was
manifestly unfair, for Mr. Sothern, who made no claims to
philanthropy, often warned them that the soap should be bought on
its merits, and not with an eye single to the premium that might
or might not accompany the package.
"I started to tell you, ma'am, when that infant interrupted, that
the cowmen don't aim to quit business yet a while. They've drawn
a dead-line, Miss Messiter,"
"Yes, ma'am, beyond which no sheep herder is to run his bunch."
"And if he does?" the girl asked, open eyed.
" He don't do it twict, ma'am. Why don't you pass the fritters to
Miss Messiter, Slim?"
"And about this Bannister Who is he?"
Her innocent question seemed to ring a bell for silence; seemed
to carry with it some hidden portent that stopped idle
conversation as a striking clock that marks the hour of an
The smile that had been gay grew grim, and men forgot the subject
of their light, casual talk. It was Sothern that answered her,
and she observed that his voice was grave, his face studiously
"Mr. Bannister, ma'am, is a sheepman."
"So I understood, but " Her eyes traveled swiftly round the
table, and appraised the sudden sense of responsibility that had
fallen on these reckless, careless frontiersmen. "I am wondering
what else he is. Really, he seems to be the bogey man of Gimlet
There was another instant silence, and again it was Soapy that
lifted it. "I expaict you'll like Wyoming, Miss Messiter;
leastways I hope you will. There's a right smart of country
here." His gaze went out of the open door to the vast sea of
space that swam in the fine sunset light. "Yes, most folks that
ain't plumb spoilt with city ways likes it."
"Sure she'll like it. Y'u want to get a good, easy-riding hawss,
Miss Messiter," advised Slim.
"And a rifle," added Texas, promptly.
It occurred to her that they were all working together to drift
the conversation back to a safe topic. She followed the lead
given her, but she made up her mind to know what it was about her
neighbor, Mr. Bannister, the sheep herder, that needed to be
handled with such wariness and circumspection of speech.
Her chance came half an hour later, when she stood talking to the
landlady on the hotel porch in the mellow twilight that seemed to
rest on the land like a moonlit aura. For the moment they were
"What is it about this man Bannister that makes men afraid to
speak of him?" she demanded, with swift impulse.
Her landlady's startled eyes went alertly round to see that they
were alone. "Hush, child! You mustn't speak of him like that,"
warned the older woman.
"Why mustn't I? That's what I want to know."
"Is isn't healthy."
"What do you mean?"
Again that anxious look flashed round in the dusk. "The Bannister
outfit is the worst in the land. Ned Bannister is king of the
whole Big Horn country and beyond that to the Tetons."
"And you mean to tell me that everybody is afraid of him--that
men like Mr. Sothern dare not say their soul is their own?" the
newcomer asked, contemptuously.
"Not so loud, child. He has spies everywhere That's the trouble.
You don't know who is in with him. He's got the whole region
"Is he so bad?"
"He is a devil. Last year he and his hell riders swept down on
Topaz and killed two bartenders just to see them kick, Ned
Bannister said. Folks allow they knew too much."
"But the law--the Government? Haven't you a sheriff and
"Bannister has. He elects the sheriff in this county."
"Aren't there more honest people here than villains?"
"Ten times as many, but the trouble is that the honest folks
can't trust each other. You see, if one of them made a mistake
and confided in the wrong man--well, some fine day he would go
riding herd and would not turn up at night. Next week, or next
month, maybe, one of his partners might find a pile of bones in
"Have you ever seen this Bannister?"
"You MUST speak lower when you talk of him, Miss Messiter," the
woman insisted. "Yes, I saw him once; at least I think I did.
Mighty few folks know for sure that they have seen him. He is a
mystery, and he travels under many names and disguises."
"When was it you think you saw him?"
"Two years ago at Ayr. The bank was looted that night and robbed
of thirty thousand dollars. They roused the cashier from his bed
and made him give the combination. He didn't want to, and Ned
Bannister"--her voice sank to a tremulous whisper--"put red-hot
running-irons between his fingers till he weakened. It was a
moonlight night--much such a night as this--and after it was done
I peeped through the blind of my room and saw them ride away. He
rode in front of them and sang like an angel--did it out of
daredeviltry to mock the people of the town that hadn't nerve
enough to shoot him. You see, he knew that nobody would dare hurt
him 'count of the revenge of his men."
"What was he like?" the mistress of the Lazy D asked, strangely
awed at this recital of transcendent villainy."
"'Course he was masked, and I didn't see his face. But I'd know
him anywhere. He's a long, slim fellow, built like a mountain
lion. You couldn't look at him and ever forget him. He's one of
these graceful, easy men that go so fur with fool women; one of
the kind that half shuts his dark, devil eyes and masters them
without seeming to try."
"So he's a woman killer, too, is he? Any more outstanding
inconsistencies in this versatile Jesse James?"
"He's plumb crazy about music, they say. Has a piano and plays
Grigg and Chopping, and all that classical kind of music. He went
clear down to Denver last year to hear Mrs. Shoeman sing."
Helen smiled, guessing at Schumann-Heink as the singer in
question, and Grieg and Chopin as the composers named. Her
interest was incredibly aroused. She had expected the West and
its products to exhilarate her, but she had not looked to find so
finished a Mephisto among its vaunted "bad men." He was probably
overrated; considered a wonder because his accomplishments
outstepped those of the range. But Helen Messiter had quite
determined on one thing. She was going to meet this redoubtable
villain and make up her mind for herself. Already, before she had
been in Wyoming six hours, this emancipated young woman had
decided on that.
CHAPTER 3. AN INVITATION GIVEN AND ACCEPTED
And already she had met him. Not only met him, but saved him from
the just vengeance about to fall upon him. She had not yet seen
her own ranch, had not spoken to a single one of her employees,
for it had been a part of her plan to drop in unexpected and
examine the situation before her foreman had a chance to put his
best foot forward. So she had started alone from Gimlet Butte
that morning in her machine, and had come almost in sight of the
Lazy D ranch houses when the battle in the coulee invited her to
take a hand.
She had acted on generous impulse, and the unforeseen result had
been to save this desperado from justice. But the worst of it was
that she could not find it in her heart to regret it. Granted
that he was a villain, double-dyed and beyond hope, yet he was
the home of such courage, such virility, that her unconsenting
admiration went out in spite of herself. He was, at any rate, a
MAN, square-jawed, resolute, implacable. In the sinuous trail of
his life might lie arson, robbery, murder, but he still held to
that dynamic spark of self-respect that is akin to the divine.
Nor was it possible to believe that those unblinking gray eyes,
with the capability of a latent sadness of despair in them,
expressed a soul entirely without nobility. He had a certain
gallant ease, a certain attractive candor, that did not consist
with villainy unadulterated.
It was characteristic even of her impulsiveness that Helen
Messiter curbed the swift condemnation that leaped to her lips
when she knew that the man sitting beside her was the notorious
bandit of the Shoshone fastnesses. She was not in the least
afraid. A sure instinct told her he was not the kind of a man of
whom a woman need have fear so long as her own anchor held fast.
In good time she meant to let him have her unvarnished opinion of
him, but she did not mean it to be an unconsidered one. Wherefore
she drove the machine forward toward the camelbacked peak he had
indicated, her eyes straight before her, a frown corrugating her
For him, having made his dramatic announcement, he seemed content
for the present with silence. He leaned back in the car and
appreciated her with a coolness that just missed impudence.
Certainly her appearance proclaimed her very much worth while. To
dwell on the long lines of her supple young body, the exquisite
throat and chin curve, was a pleasure with a thrill to it. As a
physical creation, a mere innocent young animal, he thought her
perfect; attuned to a fine harmony of grace and color. But it was
the animating vitality of her, the lightness of motion, the fire
and sparkle of expression that gave her the captivating charm she
They were two miles nearer the camel-backed peak before he broke
"Beats a bronco for getting over the ground. Think I'll have to
get one," he mused aloud.
"With the money you took from the Ayr bank?" she flashed.
"I might drive off some of your cows and sell them," he
countered, promptly. "About how much will they hold me up for a
machine like this?"
"This is only a runabout. You can get one for twelve or fourteen
hundred dollars of anybody's money."
"Of yours?" he laughed.
"I haven't that much with me. If you'll come over and hold up the
ranch perhaps we might raise it among us," she jeered.
His mirth was genuine. "But right now I couldn't get more than
how much off y'u?"
"Sixty-three dollars is all I have with me, and I couldn't give
you more--NOT EVEN IF YOU PUT RED HOT IRONS BETWEEN MY FINGERS."
She gave it to him straight, her blue eyes fixed steadily on him.
Yet she was not prepared for the effect of her words. The last
thing she had expected was to see the blood wash out of his
bronzed face, to see his sensitive nostrils twitch with pain. He
made her feel as if she had insulted him, as if she had been
needlessly cruel. And because of it she hardened her heart. Why
should she spare him the mention of it? He had not hesitated at
the shameless deed itself. Why should she shrink before that
wounded look that leaped to his fine eyes in that flash of time
before he hardened them to steel?
"You did it--didn't you?" she demanded.
"That's what they say." His gaze met her defiantly.
"And it is true, isn't it?"
"Oh, anything is true of a man that herds sheep," he returned,
"If that is true it would not be possible for you to understand
how much I despise you."
"Thank you," he retorted, ironically.
"I don't understand at all. I don't see how you can be the man
they say you are. Before I met you it was easy to understand. But
somehow--I don't know--you don't LOOK like a villain." She found
herself strangely voicing the deep hope of her heart. It was
surely impossible to look at him and believe him guilty of the
things of which, he was accused. And yet he offered no denial,
suggested no defense.
Her troubled eyes went over his thin, sunbaked face with its
touch, of bitterness, and she did not find it possible to dismiss
the subject without giving him a chance to set himself right.
"You can't be as bad as they say. You are not, are you?" she
"What do y'u think?" he responded, coolly.
She flushed angrily at what she accepted as his insolence. "A man
of any decency would have jumped at the chance to explain."
"But if there is nothing to explain?"
"You are then guilty."
Their eyes met, and neither of them quailed.
"If I pleaded not guilty would y'u believe me?"
She hesitated. "I don't know. How could I when it is known by
everybody? And yet--"
He smiled. "Why should I trouble y'u, then, with explanations? I
reckon we'll let it go at guilty."
"Is that all you can say for yourself?"
He seemed to hang in doubt an instant, then shook his head and
refused the opening.
"I expect if we changed the subject I could say a good deal for
y'u," he drawled. "I never saw anything pluckier than the way y'u
flew down from the mesa and conducted the cutting-out expedition.
Y'u sure drilled through your punchers like a streak of
"I didn't know who you were," she explained, proudly.
"Would it have made any difference if y'u had?"
Again the angry flush touched her cheeks. "Not a bit. I would
have saved you in order to have you properly hanged later," she
cut back promptly.
He shook his head gayly. "I'm ce'tainly going to disappoint y'u
some. Your enterprising punchers may collect me yet, but not
alive, I reckon."
"I'll give them strict orders to bring you in alive."
"Did you ever want the moon when y'u was a little kid?" he asked.
"We'll see, Mr. Outlaw Bannister."
He laughed softly, in the quiet, indolent fashion that would have
been pleasant if it had not been at her. "It's right kind of you
to take so much interest in me. I'd most be willing to oblige by
letting your boys rope me to renew this acquaintance, ma'am."
Then, "I get out here Miss Messiter, he added.
She stopped on the instant. Plainly she could not get rid of him
too soon. "Haven't you forgot one thing?" she asked, ironically.
"Yes, ma'am. To thank you proper for what y'u did for me." He
limped gingerly down from the car and stood with his hand on one
of the tires. "I have been trying to think how to say it right;
but I guess I'll have to give it up. All is that if I ever get a
chance to even the score--"
She waved his thanks aside impatiently "I didn't mean that. You
have forgotten to take my purse.
His gravity was broken on the instant, and his laughter was
certainly delightfully fresh. "I clean forgot, but I expect I'll
drop over to the ranch for it some day."
"We'll try to make to make you welcome, Mr. Bannister."
"Don't put yourself out at all. I'll take pot-luck when I come."
"How many of you may we expect?" she asked, defiantly.
"Oh, I allow to come alone."
"You'll very likely forget."
"No, ma'am, I don't know so many ladies that I'm liable to such
"I have heard a different story. But if you do remember to come,
and will let us know when you expect to honor the Lazy D, I'll
have messengers sent to meet you."
He perfectly understood her to mean leaden ones, and the humorous
gleam in his eye sparkled in appreciation of her spirit. "I don't
want all that fuss made over me. I reckon I'll drop in
unexpected," he said.
She nodded curtly. "Good-bye. Hope your ankle won't trouble you
"Thank y'u, ma'am. I reckon it won't. Good-bye, Miss Messiter."
Out of the tail of her eye she saw him bowing like an Italian
opera singer, as impudently insouciant, as gracefully graceless
as any stage villain in her memory. Once again she saw him, when
her machine swept round a curve and she could look back without
seeming to do so, limping across through the sage brush toward a
little hillock near the road. And as she looked the bare, curly
head was inclined toward her in another low, mocking bow. He was
certainly the gallantest vagabond unhanged.
CHAPTER 4. AT THE LAZY D RANCH
Helen Messiter was a young woman very much alive, which implies
that she was given to emotions; and as her machine skimmed over
the ground to the Lazy D she had them to spare. For from the
first this young man had taken her eye, and it had come upon her
with a distinct shock that he was the notorious scoundrel who was
terrorizing the countryside. She told herself almost passionately
that she would never have believed it if he had not said so
himself. She knew quite well that the coldness that had clutched
her heart when he gave his name had had nothing to do with fear.
There had been chagrin, disappointment, but nothing in the least
like the terror she might have expected. The simple truth was
that he had seemed so much a man that it had hurt her to find him
also a wild beast.
Deep in her heart she resented the conviction forced upon her.
Reckless he undoubtedly was, at odds with the law surely, but it
was hard to admit that attractive personality to be the mask of
fiendish cruelty and sinister malice. And yet--the facts spoke
for themselves. He had not even attempted a denial. Still there
was a mystery about him, else how was it possible for two so
distinct personalities to dwell together in the same body.
She hated him with all her lusty young will; not only for what he
was, but also for what she had been disappointed in not finding
him after her first instinctive liking. Yet it was with an odd
little thrill that she ran down again into the coulee where her
prosaic life had found its first real adventure. He might be all
they said, but nothing could wipe out the facts that she had
offered her life to save his, and that he had lent her his body
as a living shield for one exhilarating moment of danger.
As she reached the hill summit beyond the coulee, Helen Messiter
was aware that a rider in ungainly chaps of white wool was
rapidly approaching. He dipped down into the next depression
without seeing her; and when they came face to face at the top of
the rise the result was instantaneous. His pony did an animated
two-step not on the programme. It took one glance at the
diabolical machine, and went up on its hind legs, preliminary to
giving an elaborate exhibition of pitching. The rider indulged in
vivid profanity and plied his quirt vigorously. But the bronco,
with the fear of this unknown evil on its soul, varied its
bucking so effectively that the puncher astride its hurricane
deck was forced, in the language of his kind, to "take the dust."
His red head sailed through the air and landed in the white sand
at the girl's feet. For a moment he sat in the road and gazed
with chagrin after the vanishing heels of his mount. Then his
wrathful eyes came round to the owner of the machine that had
caused the eruption. His mouth had opened to give adequate
expression to his feelings, when he discovered anew the forgotten
fact that he was dealing with a woman. His jaw hung open for an
instant in amaze; and when he remembered the unedited vocabulary
he had turned loose on the world a flood of purple swept his
She wanted to laugh, but wisely refrained. "I'm very sorry," was
what she said.
He stared in silence as he slowly picked himself from the ground.
His red hair rose like the quills of a porcupine above a face
that had the appearance of being unfinished. Neither nose nor
mouth nor chin seemed to be quite definite enough.
She choked down her gayety and offered renewed apologies.
"I was going for a doc," he explained, by way of opening his
share of the conversation.
"Then perhaps you had better jump in with me and ride back to the
Lazy D. I suppose that's where you came from?"
He scratched his vivid head helplessly. "Yes, ma'am."
"Then jump in."
"I was going to Bear Creek, ma'am," he added dubiously.
"How far is it?"
"'Bout twenty-five miles, and then some."
"You don't expect to walk, do you?"
"No; I allowed--"
"I'll take you back to the ranch, where you can get another
"I reckon, ma'am, I'd ruther walk."
"I ain't used to them gas wagons."
"It's quite safe. There is nothing to be afraid of."
Reluctantly he got in beside her, as happy as a calf in a
"Are you the lady that sashaid off with Ned Bannister?" he asked
presently, after he had had time to smother successively some of
his fear, wonder and delight at their smooth, swift progress.
"The boys allow you hadn't oughter have done it." Then, to place
the responsibility properly on shoulders broader than his own, he
added: "That's what Judd says."
"And who is Judd?"
"Judd, he's the foreman of the Lazy D."
Below them appeared the corrals and houses of a ranch nestling in
a little valley flanked by hills.
"This yere's the Lazy D," announced the youth, with pride, and in
the spirit of friendliness suggested a caution. "Judd, he's some
peppery. You wanter smooth him down some, seeing as he's riled up
A flicker of steel came into the blue eyes. "Indeed! Well, here
"If it ain't Reddy, AND the lady with the flying machine,"
murmured a freckled youth named McWilliams, emerging from the
bunkhouse with a pan of water which had been used to bathe the
wound of one of the punctured combatants.
"What's that?" snapped a voice from within; and immediately its
owner appeared in the doorway and bored with narrowed black eyes
the young woman in the machine.
"Who are you?" he demanded, brusquely.
"Your target," she answered, quietly. "Would you like to take
another shot at me?"
The freckled lad broke out into a gurgle of laughter, at which
the black, swarthy man beside him wheeled round in a rage. "What
you cacklin' at, Mac?" he demanded, in a low voice.
"Oh, the things I notice," returned that youth jauntily, meeting
the other's anger without the flicker of an eyelid.
"It ain't healthy to be so noticin'," insinuated the other.
"Y'u don't say," came the prompt, sarcastic retort. "If you're
such a darned good judge of health, y'u better be attending to
some of your patients." He jerked a casual thumb over his
shoulder toward the bunks on which lay the wounded men.
"I shouldn't wonder but what there might be another patient for
me to attend to," snarled the foreman.
"That so? Well, turn your wolf loose when y'u get to feelin' real
devilish," jeered the undismayed one, strolling forward to assist
Miss Messiter to alight.
The mistress of the Lazy D had been aware of the byplay, but she
had caught neither the words nor their import. She took the
offered brown hand smilingly, for here again she looked into the
frank eyes of the West, unafraid and steady. She judged him not
more than twenty-two, but the school where he had learned of life
had held open and strenuous session every day since he could
"Glad to meet y'u, ma'am," he assured her, in the current phrase
of the semi-arid lands.
"I'm sure I am glad to meet YOU," she answered, heartily. "Can
you tell me where is the foreman of the Lazy D?"
He introduced with a smile the swarthy man in the doorway. "This
is him ma'am--Mr. Judd Morgan."
Now it happened that Mr. Judd Morgan was simmering with
"All I've got to say is that you had no business mixing up in
that shootin' affair back there. Perhaps you don't know that the
man you saved is Ned Bannister, the outlaw," was his surly
"Oh, yes, I know that."
"Then what d'ye mean--Who are you, anyway?" His insolent eyes
coasted malevolently over her.
"Helen Messiter is my name."
It was ludicrous to see the change that came over the man. He had
been prepared to bully her; and with a word she had pricked the
bubble of his arrogance. He swallowed his anger and got a
mechanical smile in working order.
"Glad to see you here, Miss Messiter," he said, his sinister gaze
attempting to meet hers frankly "I been looking for you every
"But y'u managed to surprise him, after all ma'am," chuckled Mac.
"Where's yo' hawss, Reddy?" inquired a tall young man, who had
appeared silently in the doorway of the bunkhouse.
Reddy pinked violently. "I had an accident, Denver," he
explained. "This lady yere she--"
"Scooped y'u right off yore hawss. Y'u don't say," sympathized
Mac so breathlessly that even Reddy joined in the chorus of
laughter that went up at his expense.
The young woman thought to make it easy for him, and suggested an
"His horse isn't used to automobiles, and so when it met this
"I got off," interposed Reddy hastily, displaying a complexion
like a boiled beet.
"He got off," Mac explained gravely to the increasing audience.
Denver nodded with an imperturbable face. "He got off."
Mac introduced Miss Messiter to such of her employees as were on
hand. " Shake hands with Miss Messiter, Missou," was the formula,
the name alone varying to suit the embarrassed gentlemen in
leathers. Each of them in turn presented a huge hand, in which
her little one disappeared for the time, and was sawed up and
down in the air like a pump-handle. Yet if she was amused she did
not show it; and her pleasure at meeting the simple, elemental
products of the plains outweighed a great deal her sense of the
"How are your patients getting along?" she presently asked of her
"I reckon all right. I sent Reddy for a doc, but--"
"He got off," murmured Mac pensively.
"I'll go rope another hawss," put in the man who had got off.
"Get a jump on you, then. Miss Messiter, would you like to look
over the place?"
"Not now. I want to see the men that were hurt. Perhaps I can
help them. Once I took a few weeks in nursing."
"Bully for you, ma'am," whooped Mac. "I've a notion those boys
are sufferin' for a woman to put the diamond-hitch on them
"Bring that suit-case in," she commanded Denver, in the gentlest
voice he had ever heard, after she had made a hasty inspection of
the first wounded man.
From the suit-case she took a little leather medicine-case, the
kind that can be bought already prepared for use. It held among
other things a roll of medicated cotton, some antiseptic tablets,
and a little steel instrument for probing.
"Some warm water, please; and have some boiling on the range,"
were her next commands.
Mac flew to execute them.
It was a pleasure to see her work, so deftly the skillful hands
accomplished what her brain told them. In admiring awe the
punchers stood awkwardly around while she washed and dressed the
hurts. Two of the bullets had gone through the fleshy part of the
arm and left clean wounds. In the case of the third man she had
to probe for the lead, but fortunately found it with little
difficulty. Meanwhile she soothed the victim with gentle womanly
"I know it hurts a good deal. Just a minute and I'll be through."
His hands clutched tightly the edges of his bunk. "That's all
right, doc. You attend to roping that pill and I'll endure the
A long sigh of relief went up from the assembled cowboys when she
drew the bullet out.
The sinewy hands fastened on the wooden bunk relaxed suddenly.
"'Frisco's daid," gasped the cook, who bore the title of Wun Hop
for no reason except that he was an Irishman in a place formerly
held by a Chinese.
"He has only fainted," she said quietly, and continued with the
When it was all over, the big, tanned men gathered at the
entrance to the calf corral and expanded in admiration of their
"She's a pure for fair. She grades up any old way yuh take her to
the best corn-fed article on the market," pronounced Denver, with
"I got to ride the boundary," sighed Missou. "I kinder hate to go
"Here, too," acquiesced another. "I got a round-up on Wind Creek
to cut out them two-year-olds. If 'twas my say-so, I'd order Mac
on that job."
"Right kind of y'u. Seems to me"--Mac's sarcastic eye trailed
around to include all those who had been singing her
praises--"the new queen of this hacienda won't have no trouble at
all picking a prince consort when she gets round to it. Here's
Wun Hop, not what y'u might call anxious, but ce'tainly willing.
Then Denver's some in the turtle-dove business, according to that
hash-slinger in Cheyenne. Missou might be induced to accept if it
was offered him proper; and I allow Jim ain't turned the color of
Redtop's hair jest for instance. I don't want to leave out
'Frisco and the other boys carrying Bannister's pills--"
"Nor McWilliams. I'd admire to include him," murmured Denver.
That sunburned, nonchalant youth laughed musically. "Sure thing.
I'd hate to be left out. The only difference is--"
His roving eye circled blandly round. "I stand about one show in
a million. Y'u roughnecks are dead ones already."
With which cold comfort he sauntered away to join Miss Messiter
and the foreman, who now appeared together at the door of the
ranchhouse, prepared to make a tour of the buildings and the
"Isn't there a woman on the place?" she was asking Morgan.
"No'm, there ain't. Henderson's daughter would come and stay with
y'u a while I reckon."
"Please send for her at once, then, and ask her to come to-day."
"All right. I'll send one of the boys right away."
"How did y'u leave 'Frisco, ma'am?" asked Mac, by way of
including himself easily.
"He's resting quietly. Unless blood-poisoning sets in they ought
all to do well."
"It's right lucky for them y'u happened along. This is the hawss
corral, ma'am," explained the young man just as Morgan opened his
thin lips to tell her.
Judd contrived to get rid of him promptly. "Slap on a saddle,
Mac, and run up the remuda so Miss Messiter can see the hawsses
for herself," he ordered.
"Mebbe she'd rather ride down and look at the bunch," suggested
the capable McWilliams.
As it chanced, she did prefer to ride down the pasture and look
over the place from on horseback. She was in love with her ranch
already. Its spacious distances, the thousands of cattle and the
horses, these picturesque retainers who served her even to the
shedding of an enemy's blood; they all struck an answering echo
in her gallant young heart that nothing in Kalamazoo had been
able to stir. She bubbled over with enthusiasm, the while Morgan
covertly sneered and McWilliams warmed to the untamed youth in
"What about this man Bannister?" she flung out suddenly, after
they had cantered back to the house when the remuda had been
Her abrupt question brought again the short, tense silence she
had become used to expect.
"He runs sheep about twenty or thirty miles southwest of here,"
explained McWilliams, in a carefully casual tone.
"So everybody tells me, but it seems to me he spills a good deal
of lead on my men," she answered impatiently. "What's the
"Last week he crossed the dead-line with a bunch of five thousand
"Who draws this dead-line?"
"The cattlemen got together and drew it. Your uncle was one of
those that marked it off, ma'am."
"And Bannister crossed it?"
"Yes, ma'am. Yesterday 'Frisco come on him and one of his herders
with a big bunch of them less than fifteen miles from here. He
didn't know it was Bannister, and took a pot-shot at him. 'Course
Bannister came back at him, and he got Frisco in the laig."
"Didn't know it was Bannister? What difference WOULD that make?"
she said impatiently.
Mac laughed. "What difference would it make, Judd?"
Morgan scowled, and the young man answered his own question. "We
don't any of us go out of our way more'n a mile to cross
Bannister's trail," he drawled.
"Do you wear this for an ornament? Are you upholstered with
hardware to catch the eyes of some girl?" she asked, touching
with the end of her whip the revolver in the holster strapped to
His serene, gay smile flashed at her. "Are y'u ordering me to go
out and get Ned Bannister's scalp?"
"No, I am not," she explained promptly. "What I am trying to
discover is why you all seem to be afraid of one man. He is only
a man, isn't he?"
A veil of ice seemed to fall over the boyish face and leave it
chiseled marble. His unspeaking eyes rested on the swarthy
foreman as he answered:
"I don't know what he is, ma'am. He may be one man, or he may be
a hundred. What's more, I ain't particularly suffering to find
out. Fact is, I haven't lost any Bannisters."
The girl became aware that her foreman was looking at her with a
wary silent vigilance sinister in its intensity.
"In short, you're like the rest of the people in this section.
"Now y'u're shoutin', Miss Messiter. I sure am when it comes to
shootin' off my mouth about Bannister."
"And you, Mr. Morgan?"
It struck her that the young puncher waited with a curious
interest for the answer of the foreman.
"Did it look like I was afraid this mawnin', ma'am?" he asked,
with narrowed eyes.
"No, you all seemed brave enough then, when you had him eight to
"I wasn't there," hastily put in McWilliams. "I don't go gunning
for my man without giving him a show."
"I do," retorted Morgan cruelly. "I'd go if we was fifty to one.
We'd 'a' got him, too, if it hadn't been for Miss Messiter. 'Twas
a chance we ain't likely to get again for a year."
"It wasn't your fault you didn't kill him, Mr. Morgan," she said,
looking hard at him. "You may be interested to know that your
last shot missed him only about six inches, and me about four."
"I didn't know who you were," he sullenly defended.
"I see. You only shoot at women when you don't know who they
are." She turned her back on him pointedly and addressed herself
to McWilliams. "You can tell the men working on this ranch that I
won't have any more such attacks on this man Bannister. I don't
care what or who he is. I don't propose to have him murdered by
my employees. Let the law take him and hang him. Do you hear?"
"I ce'tainly do, and the boys will get the word straight," he
"I take it since yuh are giving your orders through Mac, yuh
don't need me any longer for your foreman," bullied Morgan.
"You take it right, sir," came her crisp reply. "McWilliams will
be my foreman from to-day."
The man's face, malignant and wolfish, suddenly lost its mask.
That she would so promptly call his bluff was the last thing he
had expected. "That's all right. I reckon yuh think yuh know your
own business, but I'll put it to yuh straight. Long as yuh live
you'll be sorry for this."
And with that he wheeled away.
She turned to her new foreman and found him less radiant than she
could have desired. "I'm right sorry y'u did that. I'm afraid
y'u'll make trouble for yourself," he said quietly.
"I don't know myself just why." He hesitated before adding: "They
say him and Bannister is thicker than they'd ought to be. It's a
cinch that he's in cahoots somehow with that Shoshone bunch of
"But--why, that's ridiculous. Only this morning he was trying to
kill Bannister himself."
"That's what I don't just savvy. There's a whole lot about that
business I don't get next to. I guess Bannister is at the head of
them. Everybody seems agreed about that. But the whole thing is a
tangle of contradiction to me. I've milled it over a heap in my
"What are some of the contradictions?"
"Well, here's one right off the bat, as we used to say back in
the States. Bannister is a great musician, they claim; fine
singer, and all that. Now I happen to know he can't sing any more
than a bellowing yearling."
"How do you know?" she asked, her eyes shining with interest.
"Because I heard him try it. 'Twas one day last summer when I was
out cutting trail of a bunch of strays down by Dead Cow Creek.
The day was hot, and I lay down behind a cottonwood and dropped
off to sleep. When I awakened it didn't take me longer'n an hour
to discover what had woke me. Somebody on the other side of the
creek was trying to sing. It was ce'tainly the limit. Pretty soon
he come out of the brush and I seen it was Bannister."
"You're sure it was Bannister?"
"If seeing is believing, I'm sure."
"And was his singing really so bad?"
"I'd hate ever to hear worse."
"Was he singing when you saw him?"
"No, he'd just quit. He caught sight of my pony grazing, and
hunted cover real prompt."
"Then it might have been another man singing in the thicket."
"It might, but it wasn't. Y'u see, I'd followed him through the
bush by his song, and he showed up the moment I expected him."
"Still there might have been another man there singing."
"One chance in a million," he conceded.
A sudden hope flamed up like tow in her heart. Perhaps, after
all, Ned Bannister was not the leader of the outlaws. Perhaps
somebody else was masquerading in his name, using Bannister's
unpopularity as a shield to cover his iniquities. Still, this was
an unlikely hypothesis, she had to admit. For why should he allow
his good name to be dragged in the dust without any effort to
save it? On a sudden impulse the girl confided her doubt to
"You don't suppose there can be any mistake, do you? Somehow I
can't think him as bad as they say. He looks awfully reckless,
but one feels one could trust his face."
"Same here," agreed the new foreman. "First off when I saw him my
think was, 'I'd like to have that man backing my play when I'm
sitting in the game with Old Man Hard Luck reaching out for my
"You don't think faces lie, do you?"
"I've seen them that did, but, gen'rally speaking, tongues are a
heap likelier to get tangled with the truth. But I reckon there
ain't any doubt about Bannister. He's known over all this Western
The young woman sighed. "I'm afraid you're right."
CHAPTER 5. THE DANCE AT FRASER'S
"Heard tell yet of the dance over to Fraser's?"
He was a young man of a brick red countenance and he wore loosely
round his neck the best polka dot silk handkerchief that could be
bought in Gimlet Butte, also such gala attire as was usually
reserved only for events of importance. Sitting his horse
carelessly in the plainsman's indolent fashion, he asked his
question of McWilliams in front of the Lazy D bunkhouse.
"Nope. When does the shindig come off?"
"Friday night. Big thing. Y'u want to be there. All y'u lads."
"Mebbe some of us will ride over."
He of the polka dot kerchief did not appear quite satisfied. His
glance wandered toward the house, as it had been doing
occasionally since the moment of his arrival.
"Y'u bet this dance is ace high, Mac. Fancy costumes and masks.
Y'u can rent the costumes over to Slauson's for three per. Texas,
he's going to call the dances. Music from Gimlet Butte. Y'u want
to get it tucked away in your thinker that this dance ain't on
the order of culls. No, sirree, it's cornfed."
"Glad to hear of it. I'll cipher out somehow to be there, Slim."
Slim's glance took in the ranchhouse again. He had ridden
twenty-three miles out of his way to catch a glimpse of the newly
arrived mistress of the Lazy D, the report of whose good looks
and adventures had traveled hand in hand through many canons even
to the heart of the Tetons. It had been on Skunk Creek that he
had heard of her three days before, and now he had come to verify
the tongue of rumor, to see her quite casually, of course, and do
his own appraising. It began to look as if he were going to have
to ride off without a glimpse of her.
He nodded toward the house, turning a shade more purple than his
native choleric hue. "Y'u want to bring your boss with y'u, Mac.
We been hearing a right smart lot about her and the boys would
admire to have her present. It's going to be strictly according
to Hoyle--no rough-house plays go, y'understand."
"I'll speak to her about it." Mac's deep amusement did not reach
the surface. He was quite well aware that Slim was playing for
time and that he was too bashful to plump out the desire that was
in him. "Great the way cows are jumpin', ain't it?"
"Sure. Well, I'll be movin' along to Slauson's. I just drapped in
on my way. Thought mebbe y'u hadn't heard tell of the dance."
"Much obliged. Was it for old man Slauson y'u dug up all them
togs, Slim? He'll ce'tainly admire to see y'u in that silk
tablecloth y'u got round your neck."
Slim's purple deepened again. "Y'u go to grass, Mac. I don't aim
to ask y'u to be my valley yet awhile."
"C'rect. I was just wondering do all the Triangle Bar boys ride
the range so handsome?"
"Don't y'u worry about the Triangle Bar boys," advised the
embarrassed Slim, gathering up his bridle reins.
With one more reluctant glance in the direction of the house he
rode away. When he reached the corral he looked back again. His
gaze showed him the boyish foreman doubled up with laughter; also
the sweep of a white skirt descending from the piazza.
"Now, ain't that hoodooed luck?" the aggrieved rider of the
Triangle Bar outfit demanded of himself, "I made my getaway about
three shakes too soon, by gum!"
Her foreman was in the throes of mirth when Helen Messiter
"Include me in the joke," she suggested.
"Oh, I was just thinkin'," he explained inadequately.
"Does it always take you that way?"
"About these boys that drop in so frequent on business these
days. Funny how fond they're getting of the Lazy D. There was
that stock detective happened in yesterday to show how anxious he
was about your cows. Then the two Willow Creek riders that wanted
a job punching for y'u, not to mention mention the Shoshone miner
and the storekeeper from Gimlet Butte and Soapy Sothern and--"
"Still I don't quite see the joke."
"It ain't any joke with them. Serious business, ma'am."
"What happened to start you on this line?"
"The lad riding down the road on that piebald pinto. He come
twenty miles out of his way, plumb dressed for a wedding, all to
give me an invite to a dance at Fraser's. Y'u would call that
real thoughtful of him, I expect."
She gayly sparkled. "A real ranch dance--the kind you have been
telling me about. Are Ida and I invited?"
"Invited? Slim hinted at a lynching if I came without y'u."
She laughed softly, merry eyes flashing swiftly at him. "How
gallant you Westerners are, even though you do turn it into
His young laugh echoed hers. "Burlesque nothing. My life wouldn't
be worth a thing if I went alone. Honest, I wouldn't dare."
"Since the ranch can't afford to lose its foreman Ida and I will
go along," she promised. "That is, if it is considered proper
"Proper. Good gracious, ma'am! Every lady for thirty miles round
will be there, from six months old to eighty odd years. It
wouldn't be PROPER to stay at home."
The foreman drove her to Fraser's in a surrey with Ida Henderson
and one of the Lazy D punchers on the back seat. The drive was
over twenty-five miles, but in that silent starry night every
mile was a delight. Part of the way led through a beautiful
canon, along the rocky mountain road of which the young man
guided the rig with unerring skill. Beyond the gorge the country
debouched into a grassy park that fell away from their feet for
miles. It was in this basin that the Fraser ranch lay.
The strains of the fiddle and the thumping of feet could be heard
as they drove up. Already the rooms seemed to be pretty well
filled, as Helen noticed when they entered. Three sets were on
the floor for a quadrille and the house shook with the energy of
the dancers. On benches against the walls were seated the
spectators, and on one of them stood Texas calling the dance.
"Alemane left. Right hand t'yer pardner and grand right and left.
Ev-v-rybody swing," chanted the caller.
A dozen rough young fellows were clustered near the front door,
apparently afraid to venture farther lest their escape be cut
off. Through these McWilliams pushed a way for his charges, the
cowboys falling back respectfully at once when they discovered
the presence of Miss Messiter.
In the bedroom where she left her wraps the mistress of the Lazy
D found a dozen or more infants and several of their mothers. In
the kitchen were still other women and babies, some of the former
very old and of the latter very young. A few of the babies were
asleep, but most of them were still very much alive to this scene
of unwonted hilarity in their young lives.
As soon as she emerged into the general publicity of the dancing
room her foreman pounced upon Helen and led her to a place in the
head set that was making up. The floor was rough, the music jerky
and uncertain, the quadrilling an exhibition of joyous and
awkward abandon; but its picturesque lack of convention appealed
to the girl from Michigan. It rather startled her to be swung so
vigorously, but a glance about the room showed that these
humorous-eyed Westerners were merely living up to the duty of the
hour as they understood it.
At the close of the quadrille Helen found herself being
introduced to "Mr. Robins," alias Slim, who drew one of his feet
back in an embarrassed bow.
"I enjoy to meet y'u, ma'am," he assured her, and supplemented
this with a request for the next dance, after which he fell into
silence that was painful in its intensity.
Nearly all the dances were squares, as few of those present
understood the intricacies of the waltz and two-step. Hence it
happened that the proficient McWilliams secured three round
dances with his mistress.
It was during the lunch of sandwiches, cake and coffee that Helen
perceived an addition to the company. The affair had been
advertised a costume ball, but most of those present had
construed this very liberally. She herself, to be sure, had come
as Mary Queen of Scots, Mac was arrayed in the scarlet tunic and
tight-fitting breeches of the Northwest Mounted Police, and
perhaps eight or ten others had made some attempt at representing
some one other than they were. She now saw another, apparently a
new arrival, standing in the doorway negligently. A glance told
her that he was made up for a road agent and that his revolvers
and mask were a part of the necessary costuming.
Slowly his gaze circled the room and came round to her. His eyes
were hard as diamonds and as flashing, so that the impact of
their meeting looks seemed to shock her physically. He was a tall
man, swarthy of hue, and he carried himself with a light ease
that looked silken strong. Something in the bearing was familiar
yet not quite familiar either. It seemed to suggest a resemblance
to somebody she knew. And in the next thought she knew that the
somebody was Ned Bannister.
The man spoke to Fraser, just then passing with a cup of coffee,
and Helen saw the two men approach. The stranger was coming to be
"Shake hands with Mr. Holloway, Miss Messiter. He's from up in
the hill country and he rode to our frolic. Y'u've got three
guesses to figure out what he's made up as."
"One will be quite enough, I think," she answered coldly.
Fraser departed on his destination with the coffee and the
newcomer sat down on the bench beside her.
"One's enough, is it?" he drawled smilingly.
"Quite, but I'm surprised so few came in costume. Why didn't you?
But I suppose you had your reasons."
"Didn't I? I'm supposed to be a bad man from the hills."
She swept him casually with an indifferent glance. "And isn't
that what you are in real life?"
His sharp scrutiny chiseled into her. "What's that?"
"You won't mind if I forget and call you Mr. Bannister instead of
She thought his counterfeit astonishment perfect.
"So I'm Ned Bannister, am I?"
Their eyes clashed.
She felt sure of it, and yet there was a lurking doubt. For there
was in his manner something indescribably more sinister than she
had felt in him on that occasion when she had saved his life.
Then a debonair recklessness had been the outstanding note, but
now there was something ribald and wicked in him.
"Since y'u put it as a question, common politeness demands an
answer. Ned Bannister is my name."
"You are the terror of this country?"
"I shan't be a terror to y'u, ma'am, if I can help it," he
"But you are the man they call the king?"
"I have that honor."
At the sharp scorn of her accent he laughed.
"Do you mean that you are proud of your villainy?" she demanded.
"Y'u've ce'tainly got the teacher habit of asking questions," he
replied with a laugh that was a sneer.
A shadow fell across them and a voice said quietly, "She didn't
wait to ask any when she saved your life down in the coulee back
of the Lazy D."
The shadow was Jim McWilliams's, and its owner looked down at the
man beside the girl with steady, hostile eyes.
"Is this your put in, sir?" the other flashed back.
"Yes, seh, it is. The boys don't quite like seeing your hardware
so prominent at a social gathering. In this community guns don't
come into the house at a ranch dance. I'm a committee to mention
the subject and to collect your thirty-eights if y'u agree with
"And if I don't agree with you?"
"There's all outdoors ready to receive y'u, seh. It would be a
pity to stay in the one spot where your welcome's wore thin."
"Still I may choose to stay."
"Ce'tainly, but if y'u decide that way y'u better step out on the