Part 4 out of 5
"Now, ain't that like him? Had to run around like a locoed calf
telling all he knowed and more till Burns ropes him in,"
commented the disgusted Missou.
"Trouble with Reddy is he sets his mouth to working and then goes
away and leaves it," mourned Jim Henson.
"I'd hate to feel as sore as Reddy will when the boys get through
playing with him after he gets back to the ranch," Denver
contributed, when he had exhausted his vocabulary.
Meanwhile Reddy, unaware of being a cause of offense, was
cheerfully happy in the unexpected honor that had been thrust
upon him. His will was of putty, molded into the opinion of
whomever he happened at the moment to be with. Just now, with the
ironic eye of Sheriff Burns upon him, he was strong for law
"A feller hadn't ought to be so promiscuous with his hardware.
This here thing of shooting up citizens don't do Wyoming no good
these days. Capital ain't a-going to come in when such goings-on
occur," he sagely opined, unconsciously parroting the sentiment
Burns had just been instilling into him.
"That's right, sir. If that ain't horse sense I don't know any.
You got a head on you, all right," answered the admiring sheriff.
The flattered Reddy pleaded guilty to being wiser than most men.
"Jest because I punch cows ain't any reason why I'm anybody's
fool. I'll show them smart boys at the Lazy D I don't have to
take the dust of any of the bunch when it comes to using my think
"I would," sympathized Burns. You bet they'll all be almighty
jealous when they learn how you was chosen out of the whole
outfit on this job."
All day they rode, and that night camped a few miles from the
Lazy D. Early next morning they hailed a solitary rider as he
passed. The man turned out to be a cowman, with a small ranch not
far from the one owned by Miss Messiter.
"Hello, Henderson! y'u seen anything of Jim McWilliams and
another fellow riding acrost this way?" asked Reddy.
"Nope," answered the cowman promptly. But immediately he modified
his statement to add that he had seen two men riding toward Dry
Creek a couple of hours ago. "They was going kinder slow. Looked
to me sorter like one of them was hurt and the other was helping
him out," he volunteered.
The sheriff looked significantly at one of his men and nodded.
"You didn't recognize the horses, I reckon?"
"Come to think of it, one of the ponies did look like Jim's roan.
What's up, boys? Anything doing?"
"Nothing particular. We want to see Jim, that's all. So long."
What Henderson had guessed was the truth. The continuous hard
riding had been too much for Bannister and his wound had opened
anew. They were at the time only a few miles from a shack on Dry
Creek, where the Lazy D punchers sometimes put up. McWilliams had
attended the wound as best he could, and after a few hours' rest
had headed for the cabin in the hills. They were compelled to
travel very slowly, since the motion kept the sheepman's wound
continually bleeding. But about noon they reached the refuge they
had been seeking and Bannister lay down on the bunk with their
saddle blankets under him. He soon fell asleep, and Mac took
advantage of this to set out on a foraging expedition to a ranch
not far distant. Here he got some bread, bacon, milk and eggs
from a man he could trust and returned to his friend.
It was dark by the time he reached the cabin. He dismounted, and
with his arms full of provisions pushed into the hut.
"Awake, Bann?" he asked in a low voice.
The answer was unexpected. Something heavy struck his chest and
flung him back against the wall. Before he could recover his
balance he was pinioned fast. Four men had hurled themselves upon
"We've got you, Jim. Not a mite o' use resisting," counseled the
"Think I don't savez that? I can take a hint when a whole
Methodist church falls on me. Who are y'u, anyhow?"
"Somebody light a lantern," ordered Burns.
By the dim light it cast Mac made them out, and saw Ned Bannister
gagged and handcuffed on the bed. He knew a moment of surprise
when his eyes fell on Reddy.
"So it was y'u brought them here, Red?" he said quietly.
Contrary to his own expectations, the gentleman named was
embarrassed "The sheriff, he summoned me to serve," was his lame
"And so y'u threw down your friends. Good boy!"
"A man's got to back the law up, ain't he?"
Mac turned his shoulder on him rather pointedly. "There isn't any
need of keeping that gag in my friend's mouth any longer," he
suggested to Burns.
"That's right, too. Take it out, boys. I got to do my duty, but I
don't aim to make any gentleman more uncomfortable than I can
help. I want everything to be pleasant all round."
"I'm right glad to hear that, Burns, because my friend isn't fit
to travel. Y'u can take me back and leave him out here with a
guard," the foreman replied quickly.
"Sorry I can't accommodate you, Jim, but I got to take y'u both
"Those are the orders of the King, are they?"
Burns flushed darkly. "It ain't going to do you any good to talk
that way. You know mighty well this here man with you is
Bannister. I ain't going to take no chances on losing him now
I've got my hand on him."
"Y'u ce'tainly deserve a re-election, and I'll bet y'u get it all
right. Any man so given over to duty, so plumb loaded down to the
hocks with conscience as y'u, will surely come back with a big
majority next November."
"I ain't askin' for YOUR vote, Mac."
"Oh, y'u don't need votes. Just get the King to O. K. your
nomination and y'u'll win in a walk."
"My friend, y'u better mind your own business. Far as I can make
out y'u got troubles enough of your own," retorted the nettled
"Y'u don't need to tell me that, Tom Burns' Y'u ain't a
man--nothing but a stuffed skin worked by a string. When that
miscreant Bannister pulls the string y'u jump. He's jerked it
now, so y'u're taking us back to him. I can prove that coyote
Morgan shot at me first, but that doesn't cut any ice with you."
"What made you light out so sudden, then?" demanded the aggrieved
"Because I knew you. That's a plenty good reason. I'm not asking
anything for myself. All I say is that my friend isn't fit to
travel yet. Let him stay here under a guard till he is."
"He was fit enough to get here. By thunder, he's fit to go back!"
"Y'u've said enough, Mac," broke in Bannister. "It's awfully good
of y'u to speak for me, but I would rather see it out with you to
a finish. I don't want any favors from this yellow dog of my
The "yellow dog" set his teeth and swore vindictively behind
them. He was already imagining an hour when these insolent
prisoners of his would sing another tune.
CHAPTER 18. PLAYING FOR TIME
"They've got 'em. Caught them on Dry Creek, just below Green
Helen Messiter, just finishing her breakfast at the hotel
preparatory to leaving in her machine for the ranch, laid down
her knife and fork and looked with dilated eyes at Denver, who
had broken in with the news.
"Are you sure?" The color had washed from her face and left her
very white, but she fronted the situation quietly without
hysterics or fuss of any kind.
"Yes, ma'am. They're bringing them in now to jail. Watch out and
y'u'll see them pass here in a few minutes. Seems that
Bannister's wound opened up on him and he couldn't go any
farther. Course Mac wouldn't leave him. Sheriff Burns and his
posse dropped in on them and had them covered before Mac could
"You are sure this man--this desperado Bannister--will do nothing
"Not the way I figure it. He'll have the jail watched all day.
But he's got to work the town up to a lynching. I expect the bars
will be free for all to-day. By night the worst part of this town
will be ready for anything. The rest of the citizens are going to
sit down and do nothing just because it is Bannister."
"But it isn't Bannister--not the Bannister they think it is."
He shook his head. "No use, ma'am. I've talked till my throat
aches, but it don't do a mite of good. Nobody believes a word of
what I say. Y'u see, we ain't got any proof."
"Proof! We have enough, God knows! didn't this villain--this
outlaw that calls himself Jack Holloway--attack and try to murder
"That's what we believe, but the report out is that one of us
punchers shot him up for crossing the dead-line."
"Didn't this fellow hold up the ranch and try to take Ned
Bannister away with him?"
"Yes, ma'am. But that doesn't look good to most people. They say
he had his friends come to take him away so y'u wouldn't hold him
and let us boys get him. This cousin business is a fairy tale the
way they size it up. How come this cousin to let him go if he
held up the ranch to put the sick man out of business? No, miss.
This country has made up its mind that your friend is the
original Ned Bannister. My opinion is that nothing on earth can
"I don't want your opinion. I'm going to save him, I tell you;
and you are going to help. Are his friends nothing but a bunch of
quitters?" she cried, with sparkling eyes.
"I didn't know I was such a great friend of his," answered the
"You're a friend of Jim McWilliams, aren't you? Are you going to
sneak away and let these curs hang him?"
Denver flushed. "Y'u're dead right, Miss Helen. I guess I'll see
it out with you. What's the orders?"
"I want you to help me organize a defense. Get all Mac's friends
stirred up to make a fight for him. Bring as many of them in to
see me during the day as you can. If you see any of the rest of
the Lazy D boys send them in to me for instructions. Report
yourself every hour to me. And make sure that at least three of
your friends that you can trust are hanging round the jail all
day so as to be ready in case any attempt is made to storm it
"I'll see to it." Denver hung on his heel a moment before
leaving. "It's only square to tell y'u, Miss Helen, that this
means war here tonight. These streets are going to run with blood
if we try to save them."
"I'm taking that responsibility," she told him curtly; but a
moment later she added gently: "I have a plan, my friend, that
may stop this outrage yet. But you must do your best for me." She
smiled sadly at him. "You're my foreman, to-day, you know."
"I'm going to do my level best, y'u may tie to that," he told her
"I know you will." And their fingers touched for an instant.
Through a window the girl could see a crowd pouring down the
street toward the hotel. She flew up the stairs and out upon the
second-story piazza that looked down upon the road.
From her point of vantage she easily picked them out--the two
unarmed men riding with their hands tied behind their backs,
encircled by a dozen riders armed to the teeth. Bannister's hat
had apparently fallen off farther down the street, for the man
beside him was dusting it. The wounded prisoner looked about him
without fear, but it was plain he was near the limit of
endurance. He was pale as a sheet, and his fair curls clung
moistly to his damp forehead.
McWilliams caught sight of her first, and she could see him turn
and say a word to his comrade. Bannister looked up, caught sight
of her, and smiled. That smile, so pale and wan, went to her
heart like a knife. But the message of her eyes was hope. They
told the prisoners silently to be of good cheer, that at least
they were not deserted to their fate.
"What is it about--the crowd?" Nora asked of her mistress as the
latter was returning to the head of the stairs.
In as few words as she could Helen told her, repressing sharply
the tears the girl began to shed. "This is not the time to
weep--not yet. We must save them. You can do your part. Mr.
Bannister is wounded. Get a doctor over the telephone and see
that he attends him at the. Don't leave the 'phone until you have
got one to promise to go immediately."
"Yes, miss. Is there anything else?"
"Ask the doctor to call you up from the prison and tell you how
Mr. Bannister is. Make it plain to him that he is to give up his
other practice, if necessary, and is to keep us informed through
the day about his patient's condition. I will be responsible for
Helen herself hurried to the telegraph office at the depot. She
wrote out a long dispatch and handed it to the operator. "Send
this at once please."
He was one of those supercilious young idiots that make the most
of such small power as ever drifts down to them. Taking the
message, he tossed it on the table. "I'll send it when I get
"You'll send it now."
Her steady eyes caught and held his shifting ones. "I say you are
going to send it now--this very minute."
"I guess not. The line's busy," he bluffed.
"If you don't begin sending that message this minute I'll make it
my business to see that you lose your position," she told him
He snatched up the paper from the place where he had tossed it.
"Oh, well, if it's so darned important," he-conceded
She stood quietly above him while he sent the telegram, even
though he contrived to make every moment of her stay an unvoiced
insult. Her wire was to the wife of the Governor of the State.
They had been close friends at school, and the latter had been
urging Helen to pay a visit to Cheyenne. The message she sent was
Battle imminent between outlaws and cattlemen here. Bloodshed
certain to-night. My foreman last night killed in self-defense a
desperado. Bannister's gang, in league with town authorities,
mean to lynch him and one of my other friends after dark this
evening. Sheriff will do nothing. Can your husband send soldiers
immediately? Wire answer.
The operator looked up sullenly after his fingers had finished
the last tap. "Well?"
"Just one thing more," Helen told him. "You understand the rules
of the company about secrecy. Nobody you knows I am sending this
message. If by any chance it should leak out, I shall know
through whom. If you want to hold your position, you will keep
"I know my business," he growled. Nevertheless, she had spoken in
season, for he had had it in his mind to give a tip where he knew
it would be understood to hasten the jail delivery and
When she returned to the hotel? Helen found Missou waiting for
her. She immediately sent him back to the office, and told him to
wait there until the answer was received. "I'll send one of the
boys up to relieve you so that you may come with the telegram as
soon as it arrives. I want the operator watched all day. Oh,
here's Jim Henson! Denver has explained the situation to you, I
presume. I want you to go up to the telegraph office and stay
there all day. Go to lunch with the operator when he goes.
Don't let him talk privately to anybody, not even for a few
seconds. I don't want you to seem to have him under guard before
outsiders, but let him know it very plainly. He is not to mention
a wire I sent or the answer to it--not to anybody, Jim. Is that
"Y'u bet! He's a clam, all right, till the order is
countermanded." And the young man departed with a cheerful grin
that assured Helen she had nothing to fear from official leaks.
Nora, from answering a telephone call, came to report to the
general in charge. "The doctor says that he has looked after Mr.
Bannister, and there is no immediate danger. If he keeps quiet
for a few days he ought to do well. Mr. McWilliams sent a message
by him to say that we aren't to worry about him. He said he
would--would--rope a heap of cows on the Lazy D yet."
Nora, bursting into tears, flung herself into Helen's arms. "They
are going to kill him. I know they are, and--and 'twas only
yesterday, ma'am, I told him not to--to get gay, the poor boy.
When he tried to--to--" She broke down and sobbed.
Her mistress smiled in spite of herself, though she was bitterly
aware that even Nora's grief was only superficially ludicrous.
"We're going to save him, Nora, if we can. There's hope while
there's life. You see, Mac himself is full of courage. HE hasn't
given up. We must keep up our courage, too."
"Yes, ma'am, but this is the first gentleman friend I ever had
hanged, and--" She broke off, sobbing, leaving the rest as a
Helen filled it out aloud. "And you were going to say that you
care more for him than any of the others. Well, you must stop
coquetting and tell him so when we have saved him."
"Yes, ma'am," agreed Nora, very repentant for the moment of the
fact that it was her nature to play with the hearts of those of
the male persuasion. Immediately she added: "He was THAT kind,
Helen, whose own heart was breaking, continued to soothe her.
"Don't say WAS, child. You are to be brave, and not think of him
"Yes, ma'am. He told me he was going to buy cows with the
thousand dollars he won yesterday. I knew he meant--"
"Yes, of course. It's a cowboy's way of saying that he means to
start housekeeping. Have you the telegram, Missou?" For that
young man was standing in the doorway.
He handed her the yellow slip. She ripped open the envelope and
read: Company B en route. Railroad connections uncertain Postpone
crisis long as possible. May reach Gimlet Butte by ten-thirty.
Her first thought was of unspeakable relief. The militia was
going to take a hand. The boys in khaki would come marching down
the street, and everything would be all right. But hard on the
heels of her instinctive gladness trod the sober second thought.
Ten-thirty at best, and perhaps later! Would they wait that long,
or would they do their cowardly work as soon as night fell She
must contrive to delay them till the train drew in. She must play
for those two lives with all her woman's wit; must match the
outlaw's sinister cunning and fool him into delay. She knew he
would come if she sent for him. But how long could she keep him?
As long as he was amused at her agony, as long as his pleasure in
tormenting her was greater than his impatience to be at his
ruffianly work. Oh, if she ever needed all her power it would be
Throughout the day she continued to receive hourly reports from
Denver, who always brought with him four or five honest
cowpunchers from up-country to listen to the strange tale she
unfolded to them. It was, of course, in part, the spell of her
sweet personality, of that shy appeal she made to the manhood in
them; but of those who came, nearly all believed, for the time at
least, and aligned themselves on her side in the struggle that
was impending. Some of these were swayed from their allegiance in
the course of the day, but a few she knew would remain true.
Meanwhile, all through the day, the enemy was busily at work. As
Denver had predicted, free liquor was served to all who would
drink. The town and its guests were started on a grand debauch
that was to end in violence that might shock their sober
intelligence. Everywhere poisoned whispers were being flung
broadcast against the two men waiting in the jail for what the
night would bring forth.
Dusk fell on a town crazed by bad whiskey and evil report. The
deeds of Bannister were hashed and rehashed at every bar, and
nobody related them with more ironic gusto than the man who
called himself Jack Holloway. There were people in town who knew
his real name and character, but of these the majority were
either in alliance with him or dared not voice their knowledge.
Only Miss Messiter and her punchers told the truth, and their
words were blown away like chaff.
From the first moment of darkness Helen had the outlaw leader
dogged by two of her men. Since neither of these were her own
riders this was done without suspicion. At intervals of every
quarter of an hour they reported to her in turn. Bannister was
beginning to drink heavily, and she did not want to cut short his
dissipation by a single minute. Yet she had to make sure of
getting his attention before he went too far.
It was close to nine when she sent him a note, not daring to
delay a minute longer. For the reports of her men were all to the
same effect, that the crisis would not now be long postponed.
Bannister, or Holloway, as he chose to call himself, was at the
bar with his lieutenants in evil when the note reached him. He
read it with a satisfaction he could not conceal. So! He had
brought her already to her knees. Before he was through with her
she should grovel in the dust before him.
"I'll be back in a few minutes. Do nothing till I return," he
ordered, and went jingling away to the Elk House.
The young woman's anxiety was pitiable, but she repressed it
sternly when she went to meet the man she feared; and never had
it been more in evidence than in this hour of her greatest
torture. Blithely she came forward to meet him, eye challenging
eye gayly. No hint of her anguish escaped into her manner. He
read there only coquetry, the eternal sex conflict, the winsome
defiance of a woman hitherto the virgin mistress of all assaults
upon her heart's citadel. It was the last thing he had expected
to see, but it was infinitely more piquant, more intoxicating,
than desperation. She seemed to give the lie to his impression of
her love for his cousin; and that, too, delighted his pride.
"You will sit down?"
Carelessly, almost indolently, she put the question, her raised
eyebrows indicating a chair with perfunctory hospitality. He had
not meant to sit, had expected only to gloat a few minutes over
her despair; but this situation called for more deliberation. He
had yet to establish the mastery his vanity demanded. Therefore
he took a chair.
"This is ce'tainly an unexpected honor. Did y'u send for me to
explain some more about that sufficient understanding between
us?" he sneered.
It was a great relief to her to see that, though he had been
drinking, as she had heard, he was entirely master of himself.
Her efforts might still be directed to Philip sober.
"I sent for you to congratulate you," she answered, with a smile.
"You are a bigger man than I thought. You have done what you said
you would do, and I presume you can very shortly go out of
He radiated vanity, seemed to visibly expand "Do y'u go in when I
go out?" he asked brutally.
She laughed lightly. "Hardly. But it does seem as if I'm unlucky
in my foremen. They all seem to have engagements across the
"I'll get y u another."
"Thank you. I was going to ask as much of you. Can you suggest
"I'm a right good cattle man myself."
"And--can you stay with me a reasonable time?"
He laughed. "I have no engagements across the Styx, ma'am."
"My other foremen thought they were permanent fixtures here,
"We're all liable to mistakes."
"Even you, I suppose."
"I'll sign a lease to give y'u possession of my skill for as long
as y'u like."
She settled herself comfortably back in an easy chair, as
alluring a picture of buoyant, radiant youth as he had seen in
many a day. "But the terms. I am afraid I can't offer you as much
as you make at your present occupation."
"I could keep that up as a side-line."
"So you could. But if you use my time for your own profit, you
ought to pay me a royalty on your intake."
His eyes lit with laughter. "I reckon that can be arranged. Any
percentage you think fair It will all be in the family, anyway."
"I think that is one of the things about which we don't agree,"
she made answer softly, flashing him the proper look of inviting
disdain from under her silken lashes.
He leaned forward, elbow on the chair-arm and chin in hand.
"We'll agree about it one of these days."
"Think so?" she returned airily.
"I don't think. I know."
Just an eyebeat her gaze met his, with that hint of shy
questioning, of puzzled doubt that showed a growing interest. "I
wonder," she murmured, and recovered herself little laugh.
How she hated her task, and him! She was a singularly honest
woman, but she must play the siren; must allure this scoundrel to
forgetfulness, with a hurried and yet elude the very familiarity
her manner invited. She knew her part, the heartless enticing
coquette, compounded half of passion and half of selfishness. It
was a hateful thing to do, this sacrifice of her personal
reticence, of the individual abstraction in which she wrapped
herself as a cloak, in order to hint at a possibility of some
intimacy of feeling between them. She shrank from it with a
repugnance hardly to be overcome, but she held herself with an
iron will and consummate art to the role she had undertaken. Two
lives hung on her success. She must not forget that. She would
not let herself forget that--and one of them that of the man she
So, bravely she played her part, repelling always with a hint of
invitation, denying with the promise in her fascinated eyes of
ultimate surrender to his ardor. In the zest of the pursuit the
minutes slipped away unnoticed. Never had a woman seemed to him
more subtly elusive, and never had he felt more sure of himself.
Her charm grew on him, stirred his pulses to a faster beat. For
it was his favorite sport, and this warm, supple young creature,
who was to be the victim of his bow and arrow, showed herself
worthy of his mettle.
The clock downstairs struck the half-hour, and Bannister,
reminded of what lay before him outside, made a move to go. Her
alert eyes had been expecting it, and she forestalled him by a
change of tactics. Moved apparently by impulse, she seated
herself on the piano-stool, swept the keys for an instant with
her fingers, and plunged into the brilliant "Carmen" overture.
Susceptible as this man was to the influence of music, he could
not fail to be arrested by so perfect an interpretation of his
mood. He stood rooted, was carried back again in imagination to a
great artiste's rendering of that story of fierce passion and
aching desire so brilliantly enacted under the white sunbeat of a
country of cloudless skies. Imperceptibly she drifted into other
parts of the opera. Was it the wild, gypsy seductiveness of
_Carmen_ that he felt, or, rather, this American girl's
allurement? From "Love will like a birdling fly" she slipped into
the exquisitely graceful snatches of song with which _Carmen_
answers the officer's questions. Their rare buoyancy marched with
his mood, and from them she carried him into the song "Over the
hill," that is so perfect and romantic an expression of the
How long she could have held him she will never know, for at that
inopportune time came blundering one of his men into the room
with a call for his presence to take charge of the situation
"What do y'u want, Bostwick?" he demanded, with curt
The man whispered in his ear.
"Can't wait any longer, can't they?" snapped his chief. "Y'u tell
them they'll wait till I give the word. Understand?"
He almost flung the man out of the room, but Helen noticed that
she had lost him. His interest was perfunctory, and, though he
remained a little time longer, it was to establish his authority
with the men rather than to listen to her. Twice he looked at his
watch within five minutes.
He rose to go. "There is a little piece of business I have to put
through. So I'll have to ask y'u to excuse me. I have had a
delightful hour, and I hate to go." He smiled, and quoted with
"The hours I spent with thee, dear heart, Are as a string of
pearls to me; I count them over, every one apart, My rosary! My
"Dear me! One certainly lives and learns. How could I have
guessed that, with your reputation, you could afford to indulge
in a rosary?" she mocked.
"Good night." He offered his hand.
"Don't go yet," she coaxed.
He shook his head. "Duty, y'u know."
"Stay only a little longer. Just ten minutes more."
His vanity purred, so softly she stroked it. "Can't. Wish I
could. Y'u hear how noisy things are getting. I've got to take
She stood close, looking up at him with a face of seductive
"Don't go yet. Please!"
The triumph of victory mounted to his head. "I'll come back when
I've done what I've got to do."
"No, no. Stay a little longer just a little."
"Not a minute, sweetheart."
He bent to kiss her, and a little clenched fist struck his face.
"Don't you dare!" she cried.
The outraged woman in her, curbed all evening with an iron bit,
escaped from control. Delightedly he laughed. The hot spirit in
her pleased him mightily. He took her little hands and held them
in one of his while he smiled down at her. "I guess that kiss
will keep, my girl, till I come back."
"My God! Are you going to kill your own cousin?"
All her terror, all her detestation and hatred of him, looked
haggardly out of her unmasked face. His narrowed eyes searched
her heart, and his countenance grew every second more sinister,
"Y'u have been fooling me all evening, then?"
"Yes, and hating you every minute of the time."
"Y'u dared?" His face was black with rage.
"You would like to kill me. Why don't you?"
"Because I know a better revenge. I'm going out to take it now.
After your lover is dead, I'll come back and make love to y'u
again," he sneered.
"Never!" She stood before him like a queen in her lissom, brave,
defiant youth. "And as for your cousin, you may kill him, but you
can't destroy his contempt for you. He will die despising you for
a coward and a scoundrel."
It was true, and he knew it. In his heart he cursed her, while he
vainly sought some weapon that would strike home through her
"Y'u love him. I'll remember that when I see him kick," he
"I make you a present of the information. I love him, and I
despise you. Nothing can change those facts," she retorted
"Mebbe, but some day y'u'll crawl on your knees to beg my pardon
for having told me so."
"There is your overweening vanity again," she commented.
"I'm going to break y'u, my beauty, so that y'u'll come running
when I snap my fingers."
"And in the meantime I'll go hang your lover." He bowed
ironically, swung on his jingling heel, and strode out of the
She stood there listening to his dying footfalls, then covered
her face with her hands, as if to press back the dreadful vision
her mind conjured.
CHAPTER 19. WEST POINT TO THE RESCUE
It was understood that the sheriff should make a perfunctory
defense against the mob in order to "square" him with the voters
at the election soon to be held. But the word had been quietly
passed that the bullets of the prison guards would be fired over
the heads of the attackers. This assurance lent an added
braggadocio to the Dutch courage of the lynchers. Many of them
who would otherwise have hung back distinguished themselves by
the enthusiasm which they displayed.
Bannister himself generaled the affair, detailing squads to
batter down the outer door, to guard every side of the prison,
and to overpower the sheriff's guard. That official, according to
programme, appeared at a window and made a little speech,
declaring his intention of performing his duty at whatever cost.
He was hooted down with jeers and laughter, and immediately the
The yells of the attackers mingled with the sound of the
axe-blows and the report of revolvers from inside the building.
Among those nearest to the door being battered down were Denver
and the few men he had with him. His plan offered merely a
forlorn hope. It was that in the first scramble to get in after
the way was opened he and his friends might push up the stairs in
the van, and hold the corridor for as long as they could against
the furious mob.
It took less than a quarter of an hour to batter down the door,
and among the first of those who sprang across the threshold were
Denver, Missou, Frisco and their allies. While others stopped to
overpower the struggling deputies according to the arranged
farce, they hurried upstairs and discovered the cell in which
their friends were fastened.
Frisco passed a revolver through the grating to McWilliams, and
another to Bannister. "Haven't got the keys, so I can't let y'u
out, old hoss," he told the foreman. "But mebbe y'u won't feel so
lonesome with these little toys to play with."
Meanwhile Denver, a young giant of seventy-six inches, held the
head of the stairs, with four stalwart plainsmen back of him. The
rush of many feet came up pell-mell, and he flung the leaders
back on those behind.
"Hold on there. This isn't a free-lunch counter. Don't you see
we're crowded up here already?"
"What's eating you ? Whyfor, can't we come?" growled one of the
foremost nursing an injured nose.
"I've just explained to you, son, that it's crowded. Folks are
prevalent enough up here right now. Send up that bunch of keys
and we'll bring your meat to you fast enough."
"What's that? What's that?" The outlaw chief pushed his way
through the dense mob at the door and reached the stairway.
"He won't let us up," growled one of them.
"Who won't?" demanded Bannister sharply, and at once came leaping
up the stairs.
"Nothing doing," drawled Frisco, and tossed him over the railing
on to the heads of his followers below.
They carried Bannister into the open air, for his head had struck
the newel-post in his descent. This gave the defense a few
"They're going to come a-shooting next time," remarked Denver.
"Just as soon as he comes back from bye-low land you'll see
"Y'u bet," agreed Missou. We'll last about three minutes when the
The scream of an engine pierced the night.
Denver's face lit. "Make it five minutes, Missou, and Mac is
safe. At least, I'm hoping so awful hard. Miss Helen wired for
the militia from Sheridan this nothing. Chances are they're on
that train. I couldn't tell you earlier because she made me
promise not to. She was afraid it might leak out and get things
started sooner. "
Weak but furious, the miscreant from the Shoshones returned to
the attack. "Break in the back door and sneak up behind on those
fellows. We'll have the men we want inside of fifteen minutes,"
he promised the mob.
"We'll rush them from both sides, and show those guys on the
landing whether they can stop us," added Bostwick.
Suddenly some one raised the cry, "The soldiers!" Bannister
looked up the street and swore a vicious oath. Swinging down the
road at double time came a company of militia in khaki. He was
mad with baffled fury, but he made good his retreat at once and
disappeared promptly into the nearest dark alley.
The mob scattered by universal impulse; disintegrated so promptly
that within five minutes the soldiers held the ground alone, save
for the officials of the prison and Denver's little band.
A boyish lieutenant lately out of the Point, and just come in to
a lieutenancy in the militia, was in command. "In time?" he asked
anxiously, for this was his first independent expedition.
"Y'u bet," chuckled Denver. "We're right glad to see you, and
I'll bet those boys in the cage ain't regretting your arrival
any. Fifteen minutes later and you would have been in time to
hold the funeral services, I reckon."
"Where is Miss Messiter?" asked the young officer.
"She's at the Elk House, colonel. I expect some of us better
drift over there and tell her it's all right. She's the gamest
little woman that ever crossed the Wyoming line. Hadn't been for
her these boys would have been across the divide hours ago. She's
a plumb thoroughbred. Wouldn't give up an inch. All day she has
generaled this thing; played a mighty weak hand for a heap more
than it was worth. Sand? Seh: she's grit clear through, if
anybody asks you." And Denver told the story of the day, making
much of her unflinching courage and nothing of her men's
readiness to back whatever steps she decided upon.
It was ten minutes past eleven when a smooth young, apple-cheeked
lad in khaki presented himself before Helen Messiter with a bow
never invented outside of West Point.
"I am Lieutenant Beecher. Governor Raleigh presents his
compliments by me, Miss Messiter, and is very glad to be able to
put at your service such forces as are needed to quiet the town."
"You were in time?" she breathed.
"With about five minutes to spare. I am having the prisoners
brought here for the night if you do not object. In the morning I
shall investigate the affair, and take such steps as are
necessary. In the meantime you may rest assured that there will
be no further disturbance."
"Thank you I am sure that with you in command everything will now
be all right, and I am quite of your opinion that the prisoners
had better stay here for the night. One of them is wounded, and
ought to be given the best attention. But, of course, you will
see to that, lieutenant."
The young man blushed. This was the right kind of appreciation.
He wished his old classmates at the Point could hear how
implicitly this sweet girl relied on him.
"Certainly. And now, Miss Messiter, if there is nothing you wish,
I shall retire for the night. You may sleep with perfect
"I am sure I may, lieutenant." She gave him a broadside of
trusting eyes full of admiration. "But perhaps you would like me
to see my foreman first, just to relieve my mind. And, as you
were about to say, his friend might be brought in, too, since
they are together."
The young man promptly assented, though he had not been aware
that he was about to say anything of the kind.
They came in together, Bannister supported by McWilliams's arm.
The eyes of both mistress and maid brimmed over with tears when
they saw them. Helen dragged forward a chair for the sheepman,
and he sank into it. From its depths he looked up with his rare,
"I've heard about it," he told her, in a low voice. "I've heard
how y'u fought for my life all day. There's nothing I can say. I
owed y'u everything already twice, and now I owe it all over
again. Give me a lifetime and I couldn't get even."
Helen's swift glance swept over Nora and the foreman. They were
in a dark alcove, oblivious of anybody else. Also they were in
each other's arms frankly. For some reason wine flowed into the
cream of Helen's cheeks.
"Do you have to 'get even'? Among friends is that necessary?" she
"I hope not. If it is, I'm sure bankrupt Even my thanks seem to
stay at home. If y'u hadn't done so much for me, perhaps I could
tell y'u how much y'u had done But I have no words to say it."
"Then don't," she advised.
"Y'u're the best friend a man ever had. That's all I can say."
"It's enough, since you mean it, even though it isn't true," she
Their eyes met, fastened for an instant, and by common consent
As it chanced they were close to the window, their shadows
reflected on the blind. A man, slipping past in the street on
horseback, stopped at sight of that lighted window, with the
moving shadows, in an uncontrollable white fury. He slid from the
saddle, threw the reins over the horse's head to the ground, and
slipped his revolver from its holster and back to make sure that
he could draw it easily. Then he passed springily across the road
to the hotel and up the stairs. He trod lightly, stealthily, and
by his very wariness defeated his purpose of eluding observation.
For a pair of keen eyes from the hotel office glimpsed the figure
stealing past so noiselessly, and promptly followed up the
"Hope I don't intrude at this happy family gathering."
Helen, who had been pouring a glass of cordial for the spent and
wounded sheepman, put the glass down on the table and turned at
sound of the silken, sinister voice. After one glance at the
vindictive face, from the cold eyes of which hate seemed to
smolder, she took an instinctive step toward her lover. The cold
wave that drenched her heart accompanied an assurance that the
man in the doorway meant trouble.
His sleek smile arrested her. He was standing with his feet
apart, his hands clasped lightly behind his back, as natty and as
well groomed as was his wont.
"Ah, make the most of what ye yet may spend,
Before ye, too, into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and--sans
he misquoted, with a sneer; and immediately interrupted his irony
to give way to one of his sudden blind rages.
With incredible swiftness his right hand moved forward and up,
catching revolver from scabbard as it rose. But by a fraction of
a second his purpose had been anticipated. A closed fist shot
forward to the salient jaw in time to fling the bullets into the
ceiling. An arm encircled the outlaw's neck, and flung him
backward down the stairs. The railing broke his fall, and on it
his body slid downward, the weapon falling from his hand. He
pulled himself together at the foot of the stairs, crouched for
an upward rush, but changed his mind instantly. The young officer
who had flung him down had him covered with his own six-shooter.
He could hear footsteps running toward him, and he knew that in a
few seconds he would be in the hands of the soldiers. Plunging
out of the doorway, the desperado vaulted to the saddle and drove
his spurs home. For a minute hoofs pounded on the hard, white
road. Then the night swallowed him and the echo of his
"That was Bannister of the Shoshones and the Tetons," the girl's
white lips pronounced to Lieutenant Beecher.
"And I let him get away from me," the disappointed lad groaned.
"Why, I had him right in my hands. I could have throttled him as
easy. But how was I to know he would have nerve enough to come
rushing into a hotel full of soldiers hunting him?"
"Y'u have a very persistent cousin, Mr. Bannister," said
McWilliams, coming forward from the alcove with shining eyes.
"And I must say he's game. Did y'u ever hear the like? Come
butting in here as cool as if he hadn't a thing to do but sing
out orders like he was in his own home. He was that easy."
"It seems to me that a little of the praise is due Lieutenant
Beecher. If he hadn't dealt so competently with the situation
murder would have been done. Did you learn your boxing at the
Academy, Lieutenant?" Helen asked, trying to treat the situation
lightly in spite of her hammering heart.
"I was the champion middleweight of our class," Beecher could not
help saying boyishly, with another of his blushes.
"I can easily believe it," returned Helen.
"I wish y'u would teach me how to double up a man so prompt and
immediate," said the admiring foreman.
"I expect I'm under particular obligations to that straight right
to the chin, Lieutenant," chimed in the sheepman. "The fact is
that I don't seem to be able to get out anything except thanks
these days. I ought to send my cousin a letter thanking him for
giving me a chance to owe so much kindness to so many people."
"Your cousin?" repeated the uncomprehending officer.
"This desperado, Bannister, is my cousin," answered the sheepman
"But if he was your cousin, why should he want--to kill you?"
"That's a long story, Lieutenant. Will y'u hear it now?"
"If you feel strong enough to tell it."
"Oh, I'm strong enough." He glanced at Helen. "Perhaps we had
better not tire Miss Messiter with it. If y'u'll come to my
"I should like, above all things, to hear it again," interrupted
that young woman promptly.
For the man she loved had just come back to her from the brink of
the grave and she was still reluctant to let him out of her
So Ned Bannister told his story once more, and out of the alcove
came the happy foreman and Nora to listen to the tale. While he
told it his sweetheart's contented eyes were on him. The
excitement of the night burnt pleasantly in her veins, for out of
the nettle danger she had plucked safety for her sheepman.
CHAPTER 20. TWO CASES OF DISCIPLINE
The Fourth of July celebration at Gimlet Butte had been a thing
of the past for four days and the Lazy D had fallen back into the
routine of ranch life. The riders were discussing supper and the
continued absence of Reddy when that young man drew back the flap
and joined them.
He stood near the doorway and grinned with embarrassed guilt at
the assembled company.
"I reckon I got too much Fourth of July at Gimlet Butte, boys.
That's how come I to be onpunctual getting back."
There was a long silence, during which those at the table looked
at him with an expressionless gravity that did not seem to veil
an unduly warm welcome.
"Hello, Mac! Hello, boys! I just got back," he further
Without comment the Lazy D resumed supper. Apparently it had not
missed Reddy or noticed his return. Casual conversation was
picked up cheerfully. The return of the prodigal was quite
"Then that blamed cow gits its back up and makes a bee-line for
Rogers. The old man hikes for his pony and--"
"Seems good to git my legs under the old table again,"
interrupted Reddy with cheerful unease.
"--loses by about half a second," continued Missou. "If Doc
hadn't roped its hind laig--"
"Have some cigars, boys. I brought a box back with me." Reddy
tossed a handful on the table, where they continued to lie
"--there's no telling what would have happened. As 'twas the old
man got off with a--"
"Y'u bet, they're good cigars all right," broke in the
The interrupted anecdote went on to a finish and the men trooped
out and left the prodigal alone with his hash. When that young
man reached the bunkhouse Frisco was indulging in a reminiscence.
Reddy got only the last of it, but that did not contribute to his
"Yep! When I was working on the Silver Dollar. Must a-been three
years ago, I reckon, when Jerry Miller got that chapping."
"Threw down the outfit in a row they had with the Lafferty crowd,
didn't he?" asked Denver.
Mac got up, glanced round, and reached for his hat. "I reckon
I'll have to be going," he said, and forthright departed.
Reddy reached for HIS hat and rose. "I got to go and have a talk
with Mac," he explained.
Denver got to the door first and his big frame filled it.
"Don't hurry, Reddy. It ain't polite to rush away right after
dinner. Besides, Mac will be here all day. He ain't starting for
"Y'u're gittin' blamed particular. Mac he went right out."
"But Mac didn't have a most particular engagement with the boys.
There's a difference."
"Why, I ain't got--" Reddy paused and looked around helplessly.
"Gents, I move y'u that it be the horse sense of the Lazy D that
our friend Mr. Reddy Reeves be given gratis one chapping
immediately if not sooner. The reason for which same being that
he played a lowdown trick on the outfit whose bread he was
"Oh, quit your foolin', boys," besought the victim anxiously.
"And that Denver, being some able-bodied and having a good reach,
be requested to deliver same to the gent needing it," concluded
Reddy backed in alarm to the wall. "Y'u boys don't want to get
gay with me. Y'u can't monkey with--"
Motion carried unanimously.
Just as Reddy whipped out his revolver Denver's long leg shot out
and his foot caught the wrist behind the weapon. When Reddy next
took cognizance of his surroundings he was serving as a mattress
for the anatomy of three stalwart riders. He was gently deposited
face down on his bunk with a one-hundred-eighty-pound live peg at
the end of each arm and leg.
"All ready, Denver," announced Frisco from the end of the left
Denver selected a pair of plain leather chaps with care and
proceeded to business. What he had to do he did with energy. It
is safe to say that at least one of those present can still
vividly remember this and testify to his thoroughness.
Mac drifted in after the disciplining. As foreman it was fitting
that he should be discreetly ignorant of what had occurred, but
he could not help saying:
"That y'u I heard singing, Reddy? Seems to me y'u had ought to
take that voice into grand opera. The way y'u straddle them high
notes is a caution for fair. What was it y'u was singing? Sounded
like 'Would I were far from here, love.'"
"Y'u go to hell," choked Reddy, rushing past him from the
McWilliams looked round innocently. "I judge some of y'u boys
must a-been teasing Reddy from his manner. Seemed like he didn't
want to sit down and talk."
"I shouldn't wonder but he'll hold his conversations standing for
a day or two," returned Missou gravely.
At the end of the laugh that greeted this Mac replied:
Well, y'u boys want to be gentle with him." "He's so plumb tender
now that I reckon he'll get along without any more treatment in
that line from us," drawled Frisco.
Mac departed laughing. He had an engagement that recurred daily
in the dusk of the evening, and he was always careful to be on
time. The other party to the engagement met him at the kitchen
door and fell with him into the trail that led to Lee Ming's
"What made you late?" she asked.
"I'm not late, honey. I seem late because you're so anxious," he
"I'm not," protested Nora indignantly. "If you think you're the
only man on the place, Jim McWilliams "
"Sho! Hold your hawsses a minute, Nora, darling. A spinster like
"You think you're awful funny--writing in my autograph album that
a spinster's best friend is her powder box. I like Mr. Halliday's
ways better. He's a perfect gentleman."
"I ain't got a word to say against Denver, even if he did write
in your book,
"'Sugar is sweet, The sky is blue, Grass is green And so are
I reckon, being a perfect gentleman, he meant--"
"You know very well you wrote that in yourself and pretended it
was Mr. Halliday, signing his name and everything. It wasn't a
bit nice of you."
"Now do I look like a forger?" he wanted to know with innocence
on his cherubic face.
"Anyway you know it was mean. Mr. Halliday wouldn't do such a
thing. You take your arm down and keep it where it belongs, Mr.
"That ain't my name, Nora, darling, and I'd like to know where my
arm belongs if it isn't round the prettiest girl in Wyoming.
What's the use of being engaged if--"
"I'm not sure I'm going to stay engaged to you," announced the
young woman coolly, walking at the opposite edge of the path from
"Now that ain't any way to talk "
"You needn't lecture me. I'm not your wife and I don't think I'm
going to be," cut in Nora, whose temper was ruffled on account of
having had to wait for him as well as for other reasons.
"Y'u surely wouldn't make me sue y'u for breach of promise, would
y'u?" he demanded, with a burlesque of anxiety that was the final
Nora turned on her heel and headed for the house.
"Now don't y'u get mad at me, honey. I was only joking," he
explained as he pursued her.
"You think you can laugh at me all you please. I'll show you that
you can't," she informed him icily.
"Sho! I wasn't laughing at y'u. What tickled me--"
"I'm not interested in your amusement, Mr. McWilliams."
"What's the use of flying out about a little thing like that?
Honest, I don't even know what you're mad at me for," the
perplexed foreman averred.
"I'm not mad at you, as you call it. I'm simply disgusted."
And with a final "Good night" flung haughtily over her shoulder
Miss Nora Darling disappeared into the house.
Mac took off his hat and gazed at the door that had been closed
in his face. He scratched his puzzled poll in vain.
"I ce'tainly got mine good and straight just like Reddy got his.
But what in time was it all about? And me thinkin' I was a
graduate in the study of the ladies. I reckon I never did get
jarred up so. It's plumb discouraging."
If he could have caught a glimpse of Nora at that moment, lying
on her bed and crying as if her heart would break, Mac might have
found the situation less hopeless.
CHAPTER 21. THE SIGNAL LIGHTS
In a little hill-rift about a mile back of the Lazy D Ranch was a
deserted miner's cabin.
The hut sat on the edge of a bluff that commanded a view of the
buildings below, while at the same time the pines that surrounded
it screened the shack from any casual observation. A thin curl of
smoke was rising from the mud chimney, and inside the cabin two
men lounged before the open fire.
"It's his move, and he is going to make it soon. Every night I
look for him to drop down on the ranch. His hate's kind of
volcanic, Mr. Ned Bannister's is, and it's bound to bubble over
mighty sudden one of these days," said the younger of the two,
rising and stretching himself.
"It did bubble over some when he drove two thousand of my sheep
over the bluff and killed the whole outfit," suggested the
namesake of the man mentioned.
"Yes, I reckon that's some irritating," agreed McWilliams. "But
if I know him, he isn't going to be content with sheep so long as
he can take it out of a real live man."
"Or woman," suggested the sheepman.
"Or woman," agreed the other. "Especially when he thinks he can
cut y'u deeper by striking at her. If he doesn't raid the Lazy D
one of these nights, I'm a blamed poor prophet."
Bannister nodded agreement. "He's near the end of his rope. He
could see that if he were blind. When we captured Bostwick and
they got a confession out of him, that started the landslide
against him. It began to be noised abroad that the government was
going to wipe him out. Folks began to lose their terror of him,
and after that his whole outfit began to want to turn State's
evidence. He isn't sure of one of them now; can't tell when he
will be shot in the back by one of his own scoundrels for that
two thousand dollars reward."
The foreman strolled negligently to the door. His eyes drifted
indolently down into the valley, and immediately sparkled with
"The signal's out, Bann," he exclaimed. "It's in your window."
The sheepman leaped to his feet and strode to the door. Down in
the valley a light was gleaming in a window. Even while he looked
another light appeared in a second window.
"She wants us both," cried the foreman, running to the little
corral back of the house.
He presently reappeared with two horses, both saddled, and they
took the downward trail at once.
"If Miss Helen can keep him in play till we arrive," murmured Mac
"She can if he gives her a chance, and I think he will. There's a
kind of cat instinct in him to play with his prey."
"Yes, but he missed his kill last time by letting her fool him.
That's what I'm afraid of' that he won't wait."
They had reached lower ground now, and could put their ponies at
a pounding gallop that ate up the trail fast. As they approached
the houses, both men drew rein and looked carefully to their
weapons. Then they slid from the saddles and slipped noiselessly
What the foreman had said was exactly true. Helen Messiter did
want them both, and she wanted them very much indeed.
After supper she had been dreamily playing over to herself one of
Chopin's waltzes, when she became aware, by some instinct, that
she was not alone in the room. There had been no least sound, no
slightest stir to betray an alien presence. Yet that some one was
in the room she knew, and by some subtle sixth sense could even
put a name to the intruder.
Without turning she called over her shoulder: "Shall I finish the
waltz?" No faintest tremor in the clear, sweet voice betrayed the
"Y'u're a cool hand, my friend," came his ready answer. "But I
think we'll dispense with the music. I had enough last time to
serve me for twice."
She laughed as she swung on the stool, with that musical scorn
which both allured and maddened. "I did rather do you that time,"
"This is the return match. You won then. I win now," he told her,
with a look that chilled.
"Indeed! But isn't that rather discounting the future?"
"Only the immediate future. Y'u're mine, my beauty, and I mean to
take y'u with me."
Just a disdainful sweep of her eyes she gave him as she rose from
the piano-stool and rearranged the lamps. "You mean so much that
never comes to pass, Mr. Bannister. The road to the nether
regions is paved with good intentions, we are given to
understand. Not that yours can by any stretch of imagination be
called 'good intentions.'"
"Contrariwise, then, perhaps the road to heaven may be paved with
evil intentions. Since y'u travel the road with me, wherever it
may lead, it were but gallant to hope so."
He took three sharp steps toward her and stood looking down in
her face, her sweet slenderness so close to him that the perfume
mounted to his brain. Surely no maiden had ever been more
desirable than this one, who held him in such contemptuous
estimation that only her steady eyes moved at his approach. These
held to his and defied him, while she stood leaning motionless
against the table with such strong and supple grace. She knew
what he meant to do, hated him for it, and would not give him the
satisfaction of flying an inch from him or struggling with him.
"Your eyes are pools of splendor. That's right. Make them flash
fire. I love to see such spirit, since it offers a more enticing
pleasure in breaking," he told her, with an admiration half
ironic but wholly genuine. "Pools of splendor, my beauty!
Therefore I salute them."
At the touch of his lips upon her eyelids a shiver ran through
her, but still she made no movement, was cold to him as marble.
"You coward!" she said softly, with an infinite contempt.
"Your lips," he continued to catalogue, "are ripe as fresh flesh
of Southern fruit. No cupid ever possessed so adorable a mouth. A
worshiper of Eros I, as now I prove."
This time it was the mouth he kissed, the while her unconquered
spirit looked out of the brave eyes, and fain would have murdered
him. In turn he kissed her cold cheeks, the tip of one of her
little ears, the small, clenched fist with which she longed to
"Are you quite through?"
"For the present, and now, having put the seal of my ownership on
her more obvious charms, I'll take my bride home."
"I would die first."
"Nay, you'll die later, Madam Bannister, but not for many years,
I hope," he told her, with a theatrical bow.
"Do you think me so weak a thing as your words imply?"
"Rather so strong that the glory of overcoming y'u fills me with
joy. Believe me, madam, though your master I am not less your
slave," he mocked.
"You are neither my master nor my slave, but a thing I detest,"
she said, in a low voice that carried extraordinary intensity.
"And obey," he added, suavely. "Come, madam, to horse, for our
"I tell you I shall not go."
"Then, in faith, we'll re-enact a modern edition of 'The Taming
of the Shrew.' Y'u'll find me, sweet, as apt at the part as old
Petruchio." He paced complacently up the room and back, and
"And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him, speak; 'tis charity to show."
"Would you take me against my will?"
"Y'u have said it. What's your will to me? What I want I take.
And I sure want my beautiful shrew." His half-shuttered eyes
gloated on her as he rattled off a couple more lines from the
play he had mentioned.
"Kate, like the hazel-twig,
Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels."
She let a swift glance travel anxiously to the door. "You are in
a very poetical mood to-day."
"As befits a bridegroom, my own." He stepped lightly to the
window and tapped twice on the pane. "A signal to bring the
horses round. If y'u have any preparations to make, any trousseau
to prepare, y'u better set that girl of yours to work."
"I have no preparations to make."
"Coming to me simply as y'u are? Good! We'll lead the simple
Nora, as it chanced, knocked and entered at his moment. The sight
of her vivid good looks truck him for the first time. At sight of
him she stopped, gazing with parted lips, a double row of pearls
He turned swiftly to the mistress. "Y'u ought not to be alone
there among so many men. It wouldn't be proper. We'll take the
girl along with us."
"Where?" Nora's parted lips emitted.
"To Arden, my dear." He interrupted himself to look at his watch.
"I wonder why that fellow doesn't come with the horses. They
should pass this window.
Bannister, standing jauntily with his feet astride as he looked
out of the window, heard someone enter the room. "Did y'u bring
round the horses?" he snapped, without looking round.
"NO, WE ALLOWED THEY WOULDN'T BE NEEDED."
At sound of the slow drawl the outlaw wheeled like a flash, his
hand traveling to the hilt of the revolver that hung on his hip.
But he was too late. Already two revolvers covered him, and he
knew that both his cousin and McWilliams were dead shots. He
flashed one venomous look at the mistress of the ranch.
"Y'u fooled me again. That lamp business was a signal, and I was
too thick-haided to see it. My compliments to y'u, Miss Messiter."
"Y'u are under arrest," announced his cousin.
"Y'u don't say." His voice was full of sarcastic admiration. "And
you done it with your little gun! My, what a wonder y'u are!"
"Take your hand from the butt of that gun. Y'u better relieve him
of it, Mac. He's got such a restless disposition he might commit
suicide by reaching for it."
"What do y'u think you're going to do with me now y'u have got
me, Cousin Ned?"
"We're going to turn y'u over to the United States Government."
"Guess again. I have a thing, or two to say to that."
"You're going to Gimlet Butte with us, alive or dead."
The outlaw intentionally misunderstood. "If I've got to take y'u,
then we'll say y'u go dead rather than alive."
"He was going to take Nora and me with him," Helen explained to
Instantly the man swung round on her. "But now I've changed my
mind, ma'am. I'm going to take my cousin with me instead of y'u
Helen caught his meaning first, and flashed it whitely to her
lover. It dawned on him more slowly.
"I see y'u remember, Miss Messiter," he continued, with a cruel,
silken laugh. "He gave me his parole to go with me whenever I
said the word. I'm saying it now." He sat down astride a chair,
put his chin on the back cross-bar, and grinned malevolently from
one to another.
"What's come over this happy family? It don't look so joyous all
of a sudden. Y'u don't need to worry, ma'am, I'll send him back
to y'u all right--alive or dead. With his shield or on it, y'u
know. Ha! ha!"
"You will not go with him?" It was wrung from Helen as a low cry,
and struck her lover's heart.
"I must," he answered. "I gave him my word, y'u remember."
"But why keep it? You know what he is, how absolutely devoid of
"That is not quite the question, is it?" he smiled.
"Would he keep his word to you?"
"Not if a lie would do as well. But that isn't the point,
"It's quixotic--foolish--worse than that--ridiculous," she
"Perhaps, but the fact remains that I am pledged."
"'I could not love thee, dear, so much
Loved I not honor more,'"
murmured the villain in the chair, apparently to the ceiling.
"Dear Ned, he always was the soul of honor. I'll have those lines
carved on his tombstone."
"You see! He is already bragging that he means to kill you," said
"I shall go armed," the sheepman answered.
"Yes, but he will take you into the mountain fastnesses, where
the men that serve him will do his bidding. What is one man among
"Two men, ma'am," corrected the foreman.
"What's that?" The outlaw broke off the snatch of opera he was
singing to slew his head round at McWilliams.
"I said two. Any objections, seh?"
"Yes. That wasn't in the contract."
"We're giving y'u surplusage, that's all. Y'u wanted one of us,
and y'u get two. We don't charge anything for the extra weight,"
"Oh, Mac, will you go with him?" cried Helen, with shining eyes.
"Those are my present intentions, Miss Helen," laughed her
Whereat Nora emerged from the background and flung herself on
him. "Y'u can't go, Jim! I won't have you go!" she cried.
The young man blushed a beautiful pink, and accepted gladly this
overt evidence of a reconciliation. "It's all right, honey. Don't
y'u think two big, grown-up men are good to handle that scalawag?
Sho! Don't y'u worry."
"Miss Nora can come, too, if she likes," suggested he of the
Shoshones. "Looks like we would have quite a party. Won't y'u
join us, too, Miss Messiter, according to the original plan?" he
said, extending an ironical invitation.
"I think we had better cut it down to me alone. We'll not burden
your hospitality, sir," said the sheepman.
"No, sir, I'm in on this. Whyfor can't I go?" demanded Jim.
Bannister, the outlaw, eyed him unpleasantly. "Y'u certainly can
so far as I am concerned. I owe y'u one, too, Mr. McWilliams.
Only if y'u come of your own free will, as y'u are surely welcome
to do, don't holler if y'u're not so welcome to leave whenever
y'u take a notion."
"I'll try and look out for that. It's settled, then, that we ride
together. When do y'u want to start?"
"We can't go any sooner than right now. I hate to take these
young men from y'u, lady. but, as I said, I'll send them back in
good shape. Adios, senorita. Don't forget to whom y'u belong." He
swaggered to the door and turned, leaning against the jamb with
one hand again it. "I expect y'u can say those lovey-dov
good-byes without my help. I'm going into the yard. If y'u want
to y'u can plug me in the back through the window," he suggested,
with a sneer.
"As y'u would us under similar circumstances," retorted his
"Be with y'u in five minutes," said the foreman.
"Don't hurry. It's a long good-bye y'u're saying," returned his
Nora and the young man who belonged to her followed him from the
room, leaving Bannister and his hostess alone.
"Shall I ever see you again?" Helen murmured.
"I think so," the sheepman answered. "The truth is that this
opportunity falls pat. Jim and have been wanting to meet those
men who are under my cousin's influence and have a talk with
them. There is no question but that the gang is disintegrating,
and I believe that if we offer to mediate between its members and
the Government something might be done to stop the outrages that
have been terrorizing this country. My cousin can't be reached,
but I believe the rest of them, or, at least a part, can be
induced either to surrender or to flee the country. Anyhow, we
want to try it."
"But the danger?" she breathed.
"Is less than y'u think. Their leader has not anywhere nearly the
absolute power he had a few months ago. They would hardly dare do
violence to a peace envoy."
"Your cousin would. I don't believe he has any scruples."
"We shall keep an eye on him. Both of us will not sleep at the
same time. Y'u may depend on me to bring your foreman safely back
to y'u," he smiled.
"Oh, my foreman!"
"And your foreman's friend," he added. "I have the best of
reasons for wanting to return alive. I think y'u know them. They
have to do with y'u, Miss Helen."
It had come at last, but, womanlike, she evaded the issue her
heart had sought. "Yes, I know. You think it would not be fair to
throw away your life in this foolish manner after I have saved it
for you--how many times was it you said?" The blue eyes lifted
with deceptive frankness to the gray ones.
"No, that isn't my reason. I have a better one than that. I love
y'u, girl, more than anything in this world."
"And so you try to prove it to me by running into a trap set for
you to take your life. That's a selfish kind of love, isn't it?
Or it would be if I loved you."
"Do y'u love me, Helen?"
"Why should I tell you, since you don't love me enough to give up
this quixotic madness?"
"Don't y'u see, dear, I can't give it up?"
"I see you won't. You care more for your pride than for me."
"No, it isn't that. I've got to go. It isn't that I want to leave
y'u, God knows. But I've given my word, and I must keep it. Do
y'u want me to be a quitter, and y'u so game yourself? Do y'u
want it to go all over this cattle country that I gave my word
and took it back because I lost my nerve?"
"The boy that takes a dare isn't a hero, is he! There's a higher
courage that refuses to be drawn into such foolishness, that
doesn't give way to the jeers of the empty headed."
"I don't think that is a parallel case. I'm sorry, we can't see
this alike, but I've got to go ahead the way that seems to me
"You're going to leave me, then, to go with that man?"
"Yes, if that's the way y'u have to put it." He looked at her
sorrowfully, and added gently: "I thought you would see it. I
thought sure you would."
But she could not bear that he should leave her so, and she cried
out after him. "Oh, I see it. I know you must go; but I can't
bear it." Her head buried itself in his coat. "It isn't right--it
isn't a--a square deal that you should go away now, the very
minute you belong to me."
A happy smile shone in his eyes. "I belong to you, do I? That's
good hearing, girl o' mine." His arm went round her and he
stroked the black head softly. "I'll not be gone long, dear.
Don't y'u worry about me. I'll be back with y'u soon; just as
soon as I have finished this piece of work I have to do."
"But if you should get--if anything should happen to you?"
"Nothing is going to happen to me. There is a special providence
looks after lovers, y'u know."
"Be careful, Ned, of yourself. For my sake, dear."
"I'll dry my socks every time I get my feet wet for fear of
taking cold," he laughed.
"But you will, won't you?"
"I'll be very careful, Helen," he promised more gravely.
Even then she could hardly let him go, clinging to him with a
reluctance to separate that was a new experience to her
independent, vigorous youth. In the end he unloosened her arm,
kissed her once, and hurried out of the room. In the hallway he
met McWilliams, also hurryin out from a tearful farewell on the
part of Nora.
Bannister, the outlaw, already mounted, was waiting for them.
"Y'u did get through at last, he drawled insolently. "Well, if
y'u'll kindly give orders to your seven-foot dwarf to point the
Winchester another way I'll collect my men an we'll be moving."
For, though the outlaw had left his men in command of the ranch
when he went into the house, he found the situation reversed on
his return. With the arrival of reinforcements, in the persons of
McWilliams and his friend, it had been the turn of the raiders to
turn over their weapons.
"All right, Denver," nodded the foreman.
The outlaw chief whistled for his men, and with their guests they
rode into the silent, desert night.
CHAPTER 22. EXIT THE "KING"
They bedded that night under the great vault-roof where twinkle a
There were three of the outlaw's men with him, and both
Mcwilliams and his friend noticed that they slept a little apart
from their chief. There were other indications among the rustlers
of a camp divided against itself. Bannister's orders to them he
contrived to make an insult, and their obedience was as surly as
possible compatible with safety. For all of the men knew that he
would not hesitate to shoot them down in one of his violent rages
should they anger him sufficiently.
Throughout the night there was no time that at least two men were
not awake in the camp. The foreman and the sheepman took turns
keeping vigil; and on the other side of the fire sat one of the
rustlers in silent watchfulness. To the man opposite him each of
the sentinels were outposts of the enemy, but they fraternized
after the manner of army sentries, exchanging tobacco and
occasional casual conversation.
The foreman took the first turn, and opposite him sat a one-eyed
old scoundrel who had rustle calves from big outfits ever since
Wyoming was a territory and long before. Chalkeye Dave, he was
called, and sometimes merely Chalkeye. What his real name was no
man knew. Nor was his past a subject for conversation in his
presence. It was known that he had been in the Nevada
penitentiary, and that he had killed a man in Arizona, but these
details of an active life were rarely resurrected. For Chalkeye
was deadly on the shoot, and was ready for it at the drop of the
hat, though he had his good points too. One of these was a
remarkable fondness for another member of the party, a mere lad,
called by his companions Hughie. Generally surly and morose, to
such a degree that even his chief was careful to humor him as a
rule, when with Hughie all the softer elements of his character
came to the surface. In his rough way he was ever humorous and
Jim McWilliams found him neither, however. He declined to engage
in conversation, accepted a proffer of tobacco with a silent,
hostile grunt and relapsed into a long silence that lasted till
his shift was ended.
"Hate to have y'u leave, old man. Y'u're so darned good company
I'll ce'tainly pine for you," the foreman suggested, with
sarcasm, when the old man rolled up in his blankets preparatory
to falling asleep immediately.
Chalkeye's successor was a blatant youth much impressed with his
own importance. He was both foul-mouthed and foul-minded, so that
Jim was constrained to interrupt his evil boastings by pretending
to fall asleep.
It was nearly two o'clock when the foreman aroused his friend to
take his turn. Shortly after this the lad Hughie relieved the
bragging, would-be bad man.
Hughie was a flaxen-haired, rather good-looking boy of nineteen.
In his small, wistful face was not a line of wickedness, though
it was plain that he was weak. He seemed so unfit for the life he
was leading that the sheepman's interest was aroused. For on the
frontier it takes a strong, competent miscreant to be a bad man
and survive. Ineffectives and weaklings are quickly weeded out to
their graves or the penitentiaries.
The boy was manifestly under great fear of his chief, but the
curly haired young Hermes who kept watch with him had a very
winning smile and a charming manner when he cared to exert it.
Almost in spite of himself the youngster was led to talk. It
seemed that he had but lately joined the Teton-Shoshones outfit
of desperadoes, and between the lines Bannister easily read that
his cousin's masterful compulsion had coerced the young fellow.
All he wanted was an opportunity to withdraw in safety, but he
knew he could never do this so long as the "King" was alive and
Under the star-roof in the chill, breaking day Ned Bannister
talked to him long and gently. It was easy to bring the boy to
tears, but it was harder thing to stiffen a will that was of
putty and to hearten a soul in mortal fear. But he set himself
with all the power in him to combat the influence of his cousin
over this boy; and before the camp stirred to life again he knew
that he had measurably succeeded.
They ate breakfast in the gray dawn under the stars, and after
they had finished their coffee and bacon horses were saddled and
the trail taken up again. It led in and out among the foot-hills
slopping upward gradually toward the first long blue line of the
Shoshones that stretched before them in the distance. Their
nooning was at running stream called Smith's Creek, and by
nightfall the party was well up in the higher foot hills.
In the course of the day and the second night both the sheepman
and his friend made attempt to establish a more cordial
relationship with Chalkeye, but so far as any apparent results
went their efforts were vain. He refused grimly to meet their
overtures half way, even though it was plain from his manner that
a break between him and his chief could not long be avoided.
All day by crooked trails they pushed forward, and as the party
advanced into the mountains the gloom of the mournful pines and
frowning peaks invaded its spirits. Suspicion and distrust went
with it, camped at night by the rushing mountain stream, lay down
to sleep in the shadows at every man's shoulder. For each man
looked with an ominous eye on his neighbor, watchful of every
sudden move, of every careless word that might convey a sudden
Along a narrow rock-rim trail far above a steep canon, whose
walls shot precipitously down, they were riding in single file,
when the outlaw chief pushed his horse forward between the road
wall and his cousin's bronco. The sheepman immediately fell back.
"I reckon this trail isn't wide enough for two--unless y'u take
the outside," he explained quietly.
The outlaw, who had been drinking steadily ever since leaving the
Lazy D, laughed his low, sinister cackle. "Afraid of me, are y'u?
Afraid I'll push y'u off?"
"Not when I'm inside and you don't have chance."
"'Twas a place about like this I drove for thousand of your sheep
over last week. With sheep worth what they are I'm afraid it must
have cost y'u quite a bit. Not that y'u'll miss it where you are
going," he hastened to add.
"It was very like you to revenge yourself on dumb animals."
"Think so?" The "King's" black gaze rested on him. "Y'u'll sing a
different song soon Mr. Bannister. It's humans I'll drive next
time and don't y'u forget it."
"If you get the chance," amended his cousin gently.
"I'll get the chance. I'm not worrying about that. And about
those sheep--any man that hasn't got more sense than to run sheep
in a cow country ought to lose them for his pig-headedness.
"Those sheep were on the right side of the dead-line. You had to
cross it to reach them." Their owner's steady eyes challenged a
"Is that so? Now how do y'u know that? We didn't leave the herder
alive to explain that to y'u, did we?"
"You admit murdering him?" "To y'u, dear cousin. Y'u see, I have
a hunch that maybe y'u'll go join your herder right soon. Y'u'll
not do much talking."
The sheepman fell back. "I think I'll ride alone."
Rage flared in the other's eye. "Too good for me, are y'u, my
mealy-mouthed cousin? Y'u always thought yourself better than me.
When y'u were a boy you used to go sneaking to that old
hypocrite, your grandfather--"
"You have said enough," interrupted the other sternly. "I'll not
hear another word. Keep your foul tongue off him."
Their eyes silently measured strength.
"Y'u'll not hear a word!" sneered the chief of the rustlers.
"What will y'u do, dear cousin?
"Stand up and fight like a man and settle this thing once for
Still their steely eyes crossed as with the thrust of rapiers.
The challenged man crouched tensely with a mighty longing for the
test, but he had planned a more elaborate revenge and a surer one
than this. Reluctantly he shook his head.
"Why should I? Y'u're mine. We're four to two, and soon we'll be
a dozen to two. I'd like a heap to oblige y'u, but I reckon I
can't afford to just now. Y'u will have to wait a little for that
bumping off that's coming to y'u."
"In that event I'll trouble you not to inflict your society on me
any more than is necessary
"That's all right, too. If y'u think I enjoy your conversation
y'u have got another guess coming."
So by mutual consent the sheepman fell in behind the blatant
youth who had wearied McWilliams so and rode in silence.
It was again getting close to nightfall. The slant sun was
throwing its rays on less and less of the trail. They could see
the shadows grow and the coolness of night sift into the air.
They were pushing on to pass the rim of a great valley basin that
lay like a saucer in the mountains in order that they might camp
in the valley by a stream all of them knew. Dusk was beginning to
fall when they at last reached the saucer edge and only the
opposite peaks were still tipped with the sun rays. This, too,
disappeared before they had descended far, and the gloom of the
great mountains that girt the valley was on all their spirits,
even McWilliams being affected by it.
They were tired with travel, and the long night watches did not
improve tempers already overstrained with the expectation of a
crisis too long dragged out. Rain fell during the night, and
continued gently in a misty drizzle after day broke. It was a
situation and an atmosphere ripe for tragedy, and it fell on them
like a clap of thunder out of a sodden sky.
Hughie was cook for the day, and he came chill and stiff-fingered
to his task. Summer as it was, there lay a thin coating of ice
round the edges of the stream, for they had camped in an altitude
of about nine thousand feet. The "King" had wakened in a vile
humor. He had a splitting headache, as was natural under the
circumstances and he had not left in his bottle a single drink to
tide him over it. He came cursing to the struggling fire, which
was making only fitful headway against the rain which beat down
"Why didn't y'u build your fire on the side of the tree?" he
growled at Hughie.
Now, Hughie was a tenderfoot, and in his knowledge of outdoor
life he was still an infant. "I didn't know--" he was beginning,
when his master cut him short with a furious tongue lashing out
of all proportion to the offense.