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^ ** 





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•^ . - 

N.YM. Rt!8rAl>f» tJW^AiatST^ 



jrohnny Nelson 

Johnny Nelson 

Haw a ane-iime pupil of Hopahng Cos sidy of 

the famous Bar'20 ranch in the Pecos 

Valley performed an act of knight* 

errantry and what came of it 


Aalkor o£ ^Hbpalong CaMidr,** 'The Orphan,'' '^Bu-IOfl 
''Back Peters, Ra n rh^ n un^** E tc « 


bf affaogeiiieot with A. C McQufg ft Go. 


A. C McCXURG k Ca 


Published May, 1920 

C^Pfrighid in GriMi BriUum 

HOW fUi, 



^ ; 




I A Rolling Stone « i 

II Bit by Bit 6 

III An Objcctioa 25 

IV WiA His Shadow Before Him 38 

V A Lesson in Medical Ediics 54 

VI InfonnatioA Wanted 59 

VII Hunting With the Hounds 70 

VIII AMan'saMan 85 

IX Rolling Faster 99 

X Freight for Highbank 107 

XI 'The Tinkling of the Camel's Bell" 130 

XII "Coming Events '' 148 

XIII Highbank Makes a Discovery 164 

XIV Enough Is SuflEident 173 

XV A Diplomatic Mission 182 

XVI A Neigjiborly Call 207 

XVII News All Axound 217 

XVIII Whom the Gods Would Destroy 231 

"Give Eternal Rest " 251 

Plans and Preparations 261 

The Message 279 

XXn The Ultimatum 293 

XXin Range Activities 307 

XXIV Oi the Trail 326 

SdU a-Rollin* 345 




THE horse stopped suddenly and her rider came 
to his senses with a jerk, his hand streaking to 
a six-gun, while he muttered a profane inquiry at 
he swiftly scrutinized his surroundings. Had it been 
any horse but Pepper he would have directed his sus- 
picions at it, but he knew the animal too well to do it 
that injustice. . The valley before and below him was 
heavily grassed, and throughout its entire length wan- 
dered a small stream. Grazing cattle were scattered 
along it, and riding up the farther slope were three 
men, who appeared to be peaceful and innocent of 
wrong intent These his eyes swept past, and they 
passed a small cluster of bowlders down on the slope 
below him, but instantly returned to them, a puzzled 
look appearing upon his face. In that nest of rocks 
a woman lay prone, peering at the distant horsemen, 
and she slowly brought a rifle to her shoulder, cuddling 
its stock against her cheek. What he did not see, and 
could not, at that angle, was the menacing head of a 
rattlesnake not twenty feet from her, the instinctive 
fear of which put a chill in her heart and urged her 
to shoot it, even at the risk of being heard by the men 
the was watching. Johnny Nelson unconsciously esti> 



mated the range and shook his head. He could do it 
with his Sharp's single^shot, a rifle of great power ; but 
he had yet to see any repeater that could. Knowing 
the futility of a shot, he coughed loudly, and had the 
satisfaction of seeing a flurry below him, and a rifle 
muzzle at the same instant Slowly he raised his hands 
level with his shoulders, spoke to the horse and, mus- 
tering all the dignity possible under the circumstances, 
rode slowly down the slope. 

'^ That's far enough," said a crisp voice, pleasant ia 
timbre even though business-like and angry. " Haven't 
I told you punchers to keep off this ranch? " 

"Never to my knowledge, Ma'am," he answered. 

"Have you the brazen effrontery to sit there and 
calmly tell me that?" 

" I don't know. Ma'am ; but I never heard about no 
such orders." 

" Who are you ? Where do you come from ? What 
are you doing here?" 

Johnny smiled apologetically. "Fifteen hundred 
shore would strain that gun. Ma'am. An' mostly a 
shot wasted is worse than none at alL I'm here to 
offer you one that bites hard at that distance, 'though! 
I can't say I generally recommend it for ladies — it 
kicks powerful hard, heavy as it is." 

"Answer my questions. Who are you ? " 

"A stranger, Ma'am ; a pilgrim, seekin' what I can 
devour. But now it's nearer sixteen hundred^" he sug- 
gested, lowering a hand to get the Sharp's from its 
sheath under his leg. 

" That will do 1 " she warned. " The range 



interests me is ten yards. You may rest them on your 
hat/* she conceded. 

He locked his fingers over his head and grinned. 
'*Why, Fm a roUin' stone from Montanny, Ma'am. 
So far Fve rolled into trouble all th' way, an' it looks 
like I'm still a-roUin'. I want to apologize for bustin' 
up your party — they've done faded." 

"*Done faded' never Was born in Montana," she 
retorted, suspicion glinting in her eyes. She lowered 
the gun until it rested on her knees, but its muzzle still 
covered Johnny. 

" Neither was I, Ma'am," he replied, smiling. " I 
was bom in Texas, an' grew up there. My greatest 
mistake was goin' north — but now I'm tryin' to wipe 
that out. It's a long trail. Ma'am ; an' I've wasted a 
powerful lot of time." 

** You shall waste some more; after that the speed 
of your departure will doubtless largely compensate 
you. How do I know you are telling the truth ? " 

**As to that, not meanin' no offense, I ain't none 
interested. An', Ma'am, neither are you. I might 
say, as a general proposition, that no stranger has any 
business askin' me personal questions; an', also, that 
in such cases I reserve th' right to lie as much as I 
please, 'though I ain't admittin' that I'm doin' it here. 
Pepper warned me that somethin' was wrong, which 
it was by several hundred yards — an'. Ma'am, shootin* 
across a valley is shore deceivin'. Also I saw that one 
jroung lady was goin' to mix up serious with three 
growed-up men — pretty craggy individuals, from what 
I know of punchera. That was not th* right thing for 


a lady to do — but I'm alius with th' under dog, I'm 
sorry to say, so I homed in an' offered you a gun that 
would fill them fellers with righteous indignation, homi- 
cidal yeamin's, an' a belief in miracles. I knowed they 
wouldn't get hurt at that distance — you see, there's 
little things like windage, trigger pull, an' others. But, 
Ma'am» th' sound of that lead an' th' noise of that gun 
shore would pester 'em. They'd get most amazin' 
curious, for men, an' look into it. An' when they found 
me with a gun on 'em they'd get more indignant than 
ever. Now, Ma'am, I've busted up yore party, which 
I had no right to do. If you wants them fellers right 
up close so you can look 'em over good an' ask 'em 
questions, say so, an' I'll go get 'em for you. I owe 
you that much. But I don't aim to be no party to a 
murder," he finished, smiling, and slowly and deliber- 
ately lowered his hands and rested them on his belt 

She was staring at him with blazing eyes, a look on 
her white face such as he never had seen on a woman 
before ; and he realized that never before had he seen 
an angry woman. His smile changed subtly. It soft- 
ened, the qmicism faded from it and kindly lines crept 
in; and there was something in his eyes that never had 
been there before. He looked out across the valley, 
at the few cows, where there should have been so many 
in a valley like that Then he gazed steadily at the 
point where the three horsemen had become lost to 
sight — and the smile gave way to a look hard and 
cold. Pepper moved, and Johnny drew a deep breath, 
squaring his shoulders in sudden resolution. Swinging 
from the saddle he walked slowly forward toward the 


threatening rifle mazzle, took the weapon from its 
owner's knees, lowered the hammer, and placed the 
gun against the rock at her side. Straightening up, he 
whistled softly. Pepper, advancing with mincing steps, 
shoved her velvety mazzle against his cheek and 
stopped. He swung into the saddle, wheeled the horse 
and rode around a near-by thicket, soon returning with 
a saddled SV pony, which he led to its owner. Mount* 
ing again, he badked Pepper away and, removing his 
sombrero, wheeled and sent the horse up the slope with- 
out a backward glance, sitting erect in the saddle as a 
figure of bronze until hidden by the crest and well down 
on the other side. Then he pulled suddenly at the reins 
with unthinking roughness and dashed at top speed to 
the left until the crest was again close at hand. With 
his head barely on a level with the top of the hill, he sat 
staring across the little valley at the point where the 
horsemen had disappeared ; and there was a look on his 
face which, had they seen it, would have turned their 
conversation to subjects less triviaL 



THE sun was near the meridian when Johnny rode 
bto Gunsight, a town which he took as a matter 
of course. They were all alike, he reflected. If it 
were not for the names they scarcely could be told apart 
—and it would have been just as well to have num- 
bered them. A collection of shacks, with the over- 
played brave names. The shack he was riding for was 
the " Palace," which only rubbed it in. Out of a hun- 
dred towns, seventy-five would have their Palace saloon 
and iifty would have a Delmonico hotel. Dismounting 
before the door, he went in and saw the proprietor 
slowly arising from a chair, and he was the fattest man 
Johnny ever had seen. The visitor's unintentional 
stare started the conversation for him. 

"Well, don't you like my looks?'* bridled the pro-^ 

Johnny's expression was one of injured innocence. 
"Why, I wasn't seein' you," he explained. "I was 
thinkin' — but now that you mention it, I don't see noth- 
in' th' matter with your looks. Should there be ? " 

The other grunted something, becoming coherent 
only when the words concerned business. "What's 

"A drink with you, an' some information." 

"Th' drink goes; but th' information don't" 




I take It all back/' soliloquized Johnny. **This 
town don't need a number; it don't even need a name. 
It's different. It's th' only one this side of Montanny 
where the barkeeper was hostile at th' start I'm peace- 
ful. My ban's are up, palm out. If you won't give me 
information, will you tell me where I can eat an' sleep ? 
Which of th' numerous hotels ain't as bad as th' rest 
of 'em?" 

Davis Lee Beauregard Green slid a bottle across the 
bar, sent a glass spinning after it, leaned against the 
back bar and grinned. " Gunsight ain't impressin' you 
a hull lot? " he suggested. 

"Why not? It's got all a man needs, which is why 
towns are made, ain't it?" Johnny tasted the liquor 
and downed it. " I alius size up a town by th' liquor it 
sells. I say Gunsight is a d — d sight better than I 
thought from a superficial examination." 

Dave Green, wise in the psychology of the drinking 
type, decided that the stranger was not and never had 
been what he regarded as a drinking man; and even 
went so far in a quick, spontaneous flash of thought, as 
to tell himself that the stranger never had been drunk. 
Now, in his opinion, a hard-drinking, two-gun man was 
" bad ;" but a coldly sober, real two-gun man was worse, 
although possibly less quarrelsome. He was certain 
that they lived longer. Dave was a good man with a 
short gun, despite his handicap ; but a stirring warning 
instinct had told him that this stranger was the best 
who ever had entered his place. This impression 
came, was recognized, tabbed, and shoved back in his 
memory^ all in a mechanical way. It was too plain to 


be overlooked by a man who, perhaps without realizing 
it, studied humanityy although he could not lay a finger 
on a single thing and call it by name. 

Dave put the bottle back and washed the glass. 
*' Welly'* he remarked, "every man sizes things up 
accordin' to his own way of thinking which is why there 
are so many different opinions about th' same thing/' 
Letting this ponderous nugget sink in, he continued: 
** I reckon th' bottom of it all is a man's wants. You 
want good liquor, so a town's good, or bad Which is 
as good a way as any other, for it suits you* But, 
speakin' about eatin'-houses, there's a hotel just around 
th' comer. It's th' only one in town. It butts up agin* 
th' comer of my rear wall. Further than sayin' I've 
et there, I got no remarks to make. I cook my own* 
owin' to th' pressure of business, an' choice." 

"It ain't run by no woman, is it?" asked Johnny. 

"No; why?" 

Johnny grinned. " I'm ridin' clear of wimmin. It 
was wimmin that sent me roamin' over th' face of th' 
earth, a wanderer. My friends all got married, an' — 
oh, well, I drifted. Th' first section I come to where 
there ain't none, I'll tie fast; an' this country looks like 
a snubbin' post, to me." 

"You lose," chuckled Dave. "There's one down 
here, an' some folks think she's considerable. What's 
more, she's lookin' for a good man to run her dad's 
ranch, an' get an outfit together, as will stay put But 
if you don't like 'em, that loses th' job for you. An' 
I reckon yo're right lucky at that." 

" Shore ; I know th' kind of a ^ sood' man they want»*' 


said Johnny, reminiscendy. " * Goody' meanin* habits 
only. A man that don't smoke, chew, drink, cuss, get 
mad, or keep his hat on in th' house. Losin' th' job 
ain't bendin' my shoulders. I ain't lookin' for work; 
I'm dodgin' it Goin' to loaf till my money peters out, 
which won't be soon. You'd be surprised if you knowed 
how many people between here an' Montanny think 
they can play poker. Just now I'm a eddicator. I'm 
peddlin' knowledge to th' ignorant, an' I ain't no gam* 
blcr, at that I " 

Dave chuckled. "There's some around here, too. 
Now, me; I'm different. I can't play, aa' I know it; 
but, of course, I'll set in, just for th' excitement of it, 
once in a while, if there ain't nothin' else to do. Come 
to think of it, I got a deck of cards around here 
some'rs, right now." 

The rear door opened and closed. Johnny looked 
up and saw the worst-looking tramp of his experience. 
The newcomer picked up a sand-box cuspidor and 
started with it for the street 

" Hi, stranger 1 " called Johnny. "Ain't that dusty 

The tramp stiffened. He hardly could believe his 
ears. The tones which had assailed them were so spon* 
taneously friendly that for a moment he was stunned. 
It had been a long time since he had been hailed like 
that — far too long a time. He turned his head slowly 
and looked and believed, for the grin which met his 
eyes was as sincere as the voice. It made him honest 
in his reply. 

" No," he said, " this here's sand." 


''But ain't yore throat dasty?'* 

Two-Spot put the box down. '' Seems like it alius is. 
If these boxes get dusty, I'll know how it come about* 
;ne bendin' over 'em like I do, an' breathin' on 'em.'* 

Johnny laughed. " I take it we're all dusty." He 
turned to Dave. " Got three left ? " 

Two-Spot walked up to the bar. Usually he sidled. 
He picked up his glass and held it up to the light, and 
drank it in three swallows. Usually it was one gulp. 
Wipmg his lips on a sleeve, he pushed back the glass, 
dug down into a pocket and brought up a silver dollar, 
which he tossed onto the bar. " Fill 'em again, Dave," 
he said, quietly. 

At this Dave's slowly accumulating wonder leaped. 
He looked at the coin and from it to Two-Spot. Sensing 
the situation, Johnny pushed it farther along towards 
the proprietor. " Our friend is right, Dave," he said, 
*' two is company. Make mine th' same." 

Two-Spot put down his empty glass and grinned. 
" I'll now go on from where I was interrupted. Gents," 
and, picking up the box, went towards the door. As 
he was about to p^ss through he saw Pepper, and he 
stopped. "Good, Lord!" he muttered. "What a 
hossi I've seen passels of bosses, but never one like 
that. Midnight her name oughter be, or Thunderbolt" 
He turned. "Stranger, what name do you call that 

Johnny looked around. " That's Pepper." 

Two-Spot grinned. "Did you see that?" he de- 
manded, tilting the box until the sand ran out. " Did 
you see it? She knows her name like a child. Well, 


it's a good name — a fair name," he hedged. **But, 
shucks I There ain't no name fit for that hoss I How 
fur has she come today?" 

" Near forty miles," answered Johnny. 

** I say it ag'in — there ain't no name fit for that hoss. 
She looks like she come five," and he passed out. 

*• Don't mind him," said Dave. " But where did he 
git that dollar ? Steal it? Find it? Reckon he found 
it. I near dropped dead. Pore devU — he come here 
last winter an' walks in, cleans my boxes an' sweeps. 
Then he goes 'round to th' hotel an' mops an' cleans th' 
pans better than they ever was before. He was so 
handy an' useful that we let him stay. An' I've never 
seen him more than half drunk — it's amazin' th' liquor 
he can hold." 

"Sleep here?" 

*' No ; an' nobody knows where he does sleep. He's 
cunnin' as a fox, an' fooled 'em every time. But wher^ 
ever it is, it's dry." 

Johnny produced a Sharp's single-shot cartridge. 
'* Where can I get some of these Specials?" he 

Dave looked at it " ^45-1 20-550 ' — you won't get 
none of *em down in this country." 

"Post office in town?" 

" Not yet. Th' nearest is Rawlins, thirty mile east, 
widi th' worst trail a man ever rode. Th' next is High- 
bank, forty mile south. We use that, for th' trail's 
good. We get mail about twice a month. Th' Bar H 
an' th' Triangle take turns at it." 

" Then I'll write for some of these after I feed. Ill 


tell 'em to send *ein to you, at HighbanL What name 
will I give?*' 

*^ Dave Green, Highbank-Gunsight mail But you 
better write before you eat. This is goin' away day, 
an' th' Bar H will be in any minute now." 

Johnny arose. "Not before I eat I ain't had 
nothin' since daybreak, an' it's afternoon now. I hate 
letter writin' ; an' if I don't eat soon I'll get thin." 

"Then don't eat — ^'though I wasn't thinkin' of you 
when I spoke," growled Dave. " Wish I was in danger 
of gettin' thin." 

"What you care?" demanded Johnny. "Yo'rc 
healthy, an' yore job don't call for a man bein' light" 

" That's th' way you fellers talk," said Dave. " I'm 
short-winded, I'm in my own way, an' the joke of th* 
country. I can't ride a boss — why, cuss it, I can't even 
get a gun out quick enough to get a hop-toad before he's 
moved twenty feet ! " 

" PuUin' a gun has its advantages, I admits," replied 
Johnny, who had his own ideas about Dave's ability in 
that line. Dave, he thought, could get a gun out quick 
enough for the average need — being a bartender, and 
still alive, was proof enough of that He walked to- 
ward the door. "If you was to get a big boss— -a 
single-footer, you could ride, all right." 

He went around and entered the hotel, mentally num- 
bering it Arranging for a week's board and bed for 
himself and Pepper, he hurried out to the wash bench 
just outside the dining-room door, where he found two 
tin basins, a bucket of water, a cake of yellow soap, a 
towel, and two men using them all. Taking his turn 


he in turn followed them into the dining-room and 
diose the fourth and last table, which was next to a 
window. The meal was better than he had expected 
bat, hungry as he was, he did not eat as hurriedly as was 
his habit Fragments of the conversation of the two 
iranchers in the comer reached and interested him. It 
had to do with the SV ranch, as near as he could judge, 
and helped him to build the skeleton upon which he 
hoped to hang a body by dint of investigation and ques- 
tioning. The episode of that morning had occurred on 
the SV ranch if the brands on the cattle he had seen 
meant anything. The woman's name was Arnold, and 
she had a father and a brother, the latter a boy. There 
was a fragment about '*th' Doc," but just what it was 
he did not hear, except that it was coupled to the Bar H. 
Also, something was afoot, but it was so cautiously 
mentioned that he gained no information about it 
Finishing before him, the two men went out, and soon 
rode past the window, mounted on Triangle horses. 

He rattled his cup and ordered it refilled, and when 
die waiter slouched back with it, Johnny slid a perfectly 
good agar across the table and waved his hand. ** Sit 
down, an' smoke. You ought to rest while you got th' 

The waiter losf some of his slouch and obeyed, nod- 
ding his thanks. **Are you punchin' ? " he asked. 

" When Fm broke," answered Johnny. " Just now 
I'm ridin' around lookin' at th' scenery. Never knowed 
we had any out here till I heard some Easterners goin' 
mad about it I've been tryin' to find it ever since. Butb 
anyhow, punchin' is shore monotonous." 


" If yoa can show me anythin' monotoner than this 
job, m eat it/' growled the waiter. '*It*8 hell on 
wheels for me." 

*'Oh, this whole range is monotonous,*' grunted 
Johnny. ** Reckon nothin' interestin' has happened 
down here since Moses got lost But there's one thing 
I like about it — there ain't no woman in thirty miles.'* 

"You f oiler Clear River into Green Valley, whicU 
is SV, an' you'll change yore mind," chuckled the waiter. 
" She'll chase you off, too." 

"I'll be cussed. An' she's suspidous of strangers?*' 

"Don't put no limit on it like that; she's suspicious 
of everythin' that wears pants." 

"How's that?" 

" Well, her cows has been wanderin' off, lookin' for 
better grass, I reckon, an' she thinks they're bein* 

Johnny pictured the valley, but hid his smile. " Oh» 
well; you can't blame the cows. They'll find th' best.. 
Any ranches 'round here run by men ? " 

"Shore; three of 'em. There's th' Bar H, an* th* 
Triangle, an' over west is th' Double X, but it's ranch- 
house is so fur from here that it's a sort of outsider. 
It's th' biggest, th' Bar H is next, an' then comes th* 
Triangle. Th' Triangle don't hardly count, neithert 
'though it's close by." 

"What about th' SV you mentioned? An* what*a 
yore name?" 

" My name's George. Th' SV has gone to th' dogs 
since it was sold. It ain't a ranch no more. Of course, 
it's got range, an' water, an' some cows, an' a couple 


of bu3din*8 — but It ain't got no outfit. Old Arnold, 
gal, an* his kid — all tenderfeet — arc tryin* to 

run it." 

•* But they Vc got to have punchers/' objected Johnny. 

"They can't keep 'em, though I ain't sayin' why," 
replied George mysteriously. 

" Does th' Doc own th' Bar H ? " asked Johnny. 

"Lord, no I It owns him — but, say; you'll have to 
excuse me. I got work to do. See you at supper. So 

Johnny left and rode back the way he had come that 
morning, lost in meditation. Reaching the rim of the 
valley he looked down over the rolling expanse of vivid 
green, here and there broken by shallow draws, with 
their brush and trees. He noticed an irregular circle 
of posts just south of him and close to the river. Ex- 
perience told him what they meant, and he frowned. 
Here was a discordant note — that enclosure, small as 
it was, was a thing sinister, malevolent, to him almost 
possessing a personality. Turning from the quicksands 
he sat and gazed at the nest of rocks below him until 
Pepper, well trained though she was, became restless 
and thought it time to move. Stirring, he smiled and 
pressed a knee against her and as he rode away he 
shook his head. "Yes, girl, I'm still a-roUin'— an' I 
Sdon*t know where to." 

After supper he talked with George until they heard 
the creaking of wheels and harness. Looking up they 
WW four heavy horses slowly passing the window, fol* 
iowed by a huge, covered wagon with great, heavy 
fHieels having f our*inch tires. A grizzled, whiskered. 


weather-beaten patriarch handled the lines and talked 
to his horses as though they were children. 

*' Now I got to make a new fire an* cook more grub,*' 
growled George, arising. '* Why can't he get here ia 
time for supper? He's alius late, goin' an* comin'." 

" Who is he, an' where's he from ? " 

'' or Buff aler Wheatley from Highbank. He*s goin* 
up to Juniper an' Sherman." 

*^He come from Highbank today?" demanded 
Johnny, surprised. 

" Shore— an' he must 'a' come slow." 

** Slow? Forty miles with that in a day, an* he come 
slofvf retorted Johnny. "He was lucky to get here 
before midnight. If you'd 'a' done what that old feller 
has today, you'd not think much of anybody as wanted 
you on hand at supper time." 

" Mebby yo're right," conceded George, dubiously, 
as he went into the kitchen. 

Johnny arose and went out to the shed where the 
driver was flexing his muscles. "Howd'y," he said. 
"Got th' waggin where you want it?" 

" Howd'y, friend," replied Buffalo, looking out from 
under bushy brows. " I reckon so. 'Most any place'U 
do. Ain't nothin' 'round'll scratch th' polish o£F it," he 

Johnny laughed and began imhitching the tired, pa- 
tient horses, and his deft fingers had it done before 
Buffalo had any more than started. "Fine bosses," 
he complimented, slapping the big gray at his side. 
" You must treat 'em well." 

" I do," said Buffalo. " I may abuse mjrself , some* 


Hmesy but not these here fellers. They'll pull all day, 
an' are as gentle as kittens." 

'* How do you find f reightin' ? ** asked Johnny, lead- 
ing his pair into the shed. 

*' Pickin' up, an' pickin fast," answered Bu£falo, fol- 
lowing with the second team. *^ It's gettin' too much 
for one old man an' this waggin. An' top of that I got 
di' mail contract I been askm' for for years. So I got 
to put on another waggin an' make th' trip every week 
'stead of only when th' f rdght piles up enough to make 

it worth while. Reckon I'll break my boy in on th' new 

_^ • ft 

*^ I'll leave th' f eedin' to you," said Johnny, leaning 
against the wall. " You know what they need." 

"All right, friend; much obliged to you. I just let 
'em eat all th' hay they can hold an' give 'em their 
measures of oats. I have to carry them with me—* 
can't get none away from Highbank, everythin' up here 
bein' grass fed." 

" I feed oats when I can get 'em," replied Johnny. 
'* I alius reckon a corn-fed boss has more bottom." 

"Shore has — if they're that kind," agreed Buffalo. 

" Travel th' same way all th* time ? " 

"Yes. I won't gain nothin' goin' t'other way 
•round," answered Buffalo, busy with his pets. "You 
see I alius come north loaded. Th' first stop, after 
here, is Juniper, where I loses part of th' load. That's 
thirty miles from here, an' th' road's good. Then I 
cross over to Sherman, lose th' rest of th' load, an' come 
bade from there light — it's fifty mile of hard travelin'. 
Goin' like I do I has th' good, short haul with th' heavj^ 


load; comin* back I have a light waggin on th* long, 
mean haul. If I went to Sherman first, things would 
just be turned 'round." 

"What do you do when you have passengers for 

"Don't want nonel" snorted Bufialo. "Wouldn't 
carry 'em to Sherman, anyhow. Anybody with sense 
that can sit a hoss wouldn't crawl along with me in th' 
heat an' dust on that jouncin' seat. But sometimes I 
has a tenderfoot to nurse, consam 'cm. They ask so 
many fool questions I near go loco. But they pays me 
well for it, you bet I " 

"Anythin' else I can give you a hand with?" asked 
7ohnny, following the old man out of the shed. 

" No, thankee ; I'm all done. Th' only man that can 
give me a hand now is that scamp, George. I'm goin' in 
to eat, friend. Got to be up an' be on my way before 
th' sun comes up. I get th' cool of th' momin' for my 
team, an' give 'em a longer rest when she gets hot. If 
you see Jim Fanning, tell him I'm buyin' hides as a 
side line now. I pays spot cash for 'em, same price as 
or Saunders would pay, less th' frei^t. He has quit 
th* business an' went to live with hts married da'ter, ol' 
fool I" 

" Fanning sell hides ? " 

" No ; I just want him to know so he can tell th* Bar 

H an' th' Triangle an' mebby th' Double X. I want 

to have a good load goin* back from here. There ain't 

Tofit in goin' all di' way back with an empty waggin. 

1, good night, friend! I'm much obliged to you." 

That's all right," smiled Johnny. " I'll tell him. 


O>od night; an' good luck I'' he added as an after* 
thought, and then drifted around to the saloon, where 
he found several men at the bar. 

Dave perfonned the introductions, and added: 
^' Nelson, here, says he ain't goin' back punchin' cows 
as long as his money lasts. He's a travelin' eddicatoi; 
in th' innercent game of draw — or was it studhoss. 

" Draw is closer to my heart," laughed Johnny. " My 
friend, Tex, told me I might learn draw if I lived long 
enough; but I'd have to have a pack of cards buried 
with me an' practice in th' other world if I aimed to 
learn studhoss." 

" It grieves me to see a young man wastin' his time 
in idleness," said Ben Dailey, the storekeeper. ^^Th* 
devil is alius lookin' for holts. Young men should 
keep workin'. Might I inquire if you feel like indulgin* 
in a little game of draw? You'll find us rusty, though." 

" We don't play oftener than every night, an' some 
afternoons," said Fanning. 

"I'm a little scared when a man says he's rusty," 
replied Johnny. " But I reckon I might as well lose 
tonight as later. I hope Dave is too busy to cut in—* 
he said he don't know nothin* about it." 

" Dave's still cuttin' his teeth," chuckled Jim Fan- 
ning ; " but he uses my silver to cut 'em on. When he 
learns th' game I'm goin' to drift out of town while I 
still got a cayuse." 

Two punchers came stamping in and Dave nodded to 
liiem* *' Here's yore victims ; here's them infants from 
di* Double X. Boys, say ^Howd'y* to Mr. Nelson* 


Nelson, diat tall, red-headed feller is Slim Hawkes; 
an' that bowlegged towhead is Tom Wilkes. They 
ain't been in here in three months, an' they've rid 
twenty miles to rob us." 

"An' we might walk home," retorted Wilkes. " Let's 
lay th' dust before we starts anythin'. Nelson, yoVe 
in bad company. This gang would rob a church. You 
want to get a kneehold an' hang onto th' pommel after 
this game starts. Here's how I " 

As the game progressed the few newcomers who 
straggled in felt their interest grow. As each finished 
his drink, Dave would lean forward and whisper: 
*' There's what I call a poker game. Four highway- 
men playin' 'em close. To listen to 'em you'd think 
they never saw a card before." 

Johnny was complaining. " Gents, I know I'm igno* 
rant — but would you advise me to draw to a pair of 
treys? Shall I hold up an ace, or take three cards? 
I'll chance it; I never hold a sider. Gimme three." 

*'Ain't that just my luck," sighed Ben. ^*An' me with 
three of a kind." 

A little later Johnny picked up another hand and 
frowned at it ^' Well, seein' as I alius hold up a sider« 
I'll have two, this time." 

Hoofbeats drummed up and stopped, and a voice 
was heard outside. Dave looked at the calendar. " Big 
(Tom's a day ahead — he ain't due for his spree dll 
pay-day. Hello, Hufi I What you doin' so fur from 

*' Hello, Dave I Hello, boys I " said the newcomer. 
** I feel purty good tonight. Just got woi;d that Mc- 




Cttllough wants two thousand head from us fellers up 
here. He'll be along with his regular trail outfit in a 
few weeks. Sixteen men, a four-mule chuck waggin, 
an' nine saddle hosses to th' man. I'm sendin' word 
that I can give him a 'thousand head, an' th' Triangle is 
goin' to give him five hundred ; so he'll want five hun* 
dred from th' Double X, which Slim an' Tom can tell 

Shore," growled Slim, and his ranch mate nodded. 
Goin' up to Dodge again?" queried Dailey. 
He didn't say," answered Big Tom. "Who's 
doin' the scalpin' ? " he asked, going over to the table, 
where he gradually grew more restless as he watched. 

"Some of these days, when I grows up," grinned 
Wilkes, " I'm goin' up th' trail with a herd, like a reg'lar 
cow-puncher. Dodge may be top-heavy with marshals, 
but I'd like to see it again, with money in my pockets." 

Slim grunted. " Huh I " He looked over his hand, 
and drawled : " Th' last time you went up you put on 
too many airs. Just because Cimarron let you play 
segundo once in a while when he went on ahead to size 
up th' water or some river we would have to cross, you 
got too pufied up. I'm aimin' to be th' second boss th' 
next trip, an' I'll hand you a few jobs that'll keep you 
out of mischief." 

Big Tom watched the winner rake in the chips and 
could stand it no longer. "Say," he growled, "any- 
body gettin' tired, an' want to drop out ? " 

Dailey looked up. " I only won two dollars in two 
hours, an' I got some work to do. Everybody bein* 
willin', I'U ^o out an' bury my winnings." 


Big Tom took lus place. " I'm ihore of one thing: . I 
can't lose th' ranch, for I don't own it." 

A round or two had been played when Big Tom 
drew hit first openers. Johnny raised it and cards were 
drawn. After it had gone around twice, die others 
dropped out Big Tom raised and Johnny helped it 
slong. The betting became stiSer and Big Tom lauded. 
** I hope you keep on boostin' her." 

" You can't get me out of this pot with dynamite," 
replied Johnny, pushing out a raise. 

Big Tom's gun was out before be left his seat His 
chair crashed backward and he leaned over the table. 
"Meanin'?" he snarled. 

Johnny, surprised, kept his hand on the chips. " What 
1 said," he answered, evenly. 

"Tom I" yelled Dave. "He don't mean nothin'l 
He's a stranger down here." 

Big Tom's scowl faded at the words. " I reckon I 
was hasty, Nelson," he said. 

Johnny spoke slowly, his voice metallic " You was 
so hasty you come near never gettin' over it Put down 
th' gun." 

" I'm a mite touchy at " 

"If you has anythin* to say, put — down — that — 

"No offense?" 
For th' third time: Put — down — that — gun." 
ig Tom shook his head and appeared to be genu- 
r sorry. He slid the gun back and picked up his 
r. "You raised?" 
I did. I advise you to call — and end it" 



She's called Five little hearts,'' said Big Tom, 
lying down his cards. 

"They're hasty, too. ' Queen full, count 'em. Let's 

The foreman paused in indecision. "Nelson " 

" We all get touchy," interrupted Johnny, scraping in 
the winnings. " Will you drink with me ? " 

" I'll take the same," said Big Tom, and he bought 
the next round, nodded his good night and went out. 

Johnny turned to Dave. "Will you oblige me by 
tellin' me what Mr. Huff got hufiy about? " 

Dave hesitated, but Slim Hawkes laughed and an- 
swered for him, his slow drawl enhancing the humor 
of his tale, and wrinkles playing about his eyes and 
lips told of the enjoyment the picture gave to him. 
" Clear River crossed our range, flowed through Little 
Canyon, made a big bend on th' Bar H, passed out of 
East Canyon, an' flowed down the middle of th' SV. 
Three years ago a piece of Little Canyon busted loose 
an' slid down, blockin' th' river, which backed up, gettin^ 
higher an' higher, an' began to cut through its bank 
about three miles above. Big Tom got busy, pronto. 
He sends for a box of djrnamite, sticks it around In th' 
debris an' let's her go — all of it. When th' earth- 
quake stopped there was a second one in th' dust an' 
smoke — we all thought it was a delayed charge. It 
wasn't. It was a section of th' canyon wall, near a 
hundred feet long an' almost two hundred feet high. 
There was a shale fault runnin' down from th' top, back 
about forty feet Everythin' in front of that was jarred 
loose an* slid. Th' canyon was choked so hard an* 


fast diat it won't never get open again. Clear River 
kept right on a-cuttin\ an' it now flows on th* other side 
of Pine Mountain, which means th' Bar H ain't got no 
water of its own, except a few muddy holes south an' 
west of th' ranch buildings. That's why he's touchy. 

But that's » long speech, an' a dry one. Let's all liquor 

* ft 



JOHNNY looked forward eagerly to the coming of 
the outfits for ^eir monthly celebration, and he was 
not certain that he would not make enemies before the 
night was over, which impelled him to visit the Bar H 
and the Triangle while he would be welcome. He had 
familiarized himself with the SV valley and the country 
close to the town. Therefore he mounted Pepper after 
an early breakfast and rode south, passing the shack 
occupied by the Doc, about two miles south of Gun- 
sight The Doc was squatting on SV land, had a small 
corral, a hitching post, and a well. Johnny stopped at 
the latter and had a drink while he mentally photo- 
graphed everything in the immediate vicinity. When 
he started on again he had the choice of two trails. 
One wound up over Pine Mountain, a high, wooded 
hill, and was the more direct route to the Bar H ; the 
other followed the river bed around the base of the 
mountain, and was the trail used by the Triangle. 
Deciding on the shorter, if more difficult route, he gave 
Pepper her head and started up the slope. The trail 
was fair, following, as it did, the line of least resistance 
and threading through rocky defiles, rocky clefts, and 
skirting steep walls. 

Riding down on the south side he found himself in 
a deep ravine and when he left it he came to the old 


bed of the rivery and a grin came to his face as he 
pictured the episode of the dynamiting. Following the 
dried-up bed he entered East Canyon and found its 
north wall to be perpendicular and remarkably smooth ; 
the other side sloped more, showed great errosion and 
was scored by clefts and wooded defiles running far 
back. Emerging from the canyon he rode over a hilly, 
rolling range and some time later recrossed the old 
river bed and arrived at the Bar H ranchhouses. Two 
men were in sight, one mending riding gear and the 
other had just fixed the fence around the wall. They 
nodded, and he asked for Big Tom. 

"He's around some'rs," said "Squint" Farrell^ 
whose name had been well bestowed. 

"Git oS an' set down," invited the other. "He 
won't be long. Ridin' fur?" 

" Gunsight," answered Johnny. 

Bill Eraser's eyes were on Pepper. " Ever think of 
swappin' cayuses ? " he asked. 

" Not this one," smiled Johnny. " She's too dumb 
—won't learn nothin'. But I had her since she could 
stand up, an' she's rapid for short distances." 

" Meanin' several short distances hooked together,'^ 
suggested Squint. "I can see she's dumb — it's wrii 
all over her." 

" I don't care," said Eraser. " I'm a great hand with 
th' dumb ones. I'm doin' wonders with Squint." 

"Shore," grunted Squint. "He owes me so much 
money I got to do what he says. Here comes Tom» 
now. He's some touchy this momin'. Must 'a had a 
session with them poker deacons last night." 


*^He holds 'em too long,'' chuckled Frasen ^'He 
figgers that if three little deuces are worth a dollar, 
why two aces an' two kings is worth a hull lot more." 

^* Does sound reasonable," said Squint, ^' three deuces 
makin' only six, an' th' others makin' — a king is thir- 
teen — twenty-six, an' two more is twenty-eight That 
the way you been figgerin' all these years, Tom?" 

Big Tom smiled. " Howd'y, Nelson. What brings 
you down here so early?" 

" Curiosity, mostly," answered Johnny. " That an' 
not havin' nothin' to do. An' I'm grievin' about them 
two dollars Dailey took away from me last night." 

"Nobody that wiggles away from Dailey an' only 
leaves two dollars behind can associate with me steady," 
objected Fraser. " I got my rights." 

" Mebby we'll see him get two more tonight," said 
Squint. " We're ridin' in with money in our pockets." 

"An* you'll travel light retumin'," said Big Tom. 

"An' most amazin' noisy," laughed Squint. 

After a little more idle conversation Johnny pulled 
his hat more firmly down on his head. " Well, I just 
thought I'd drop in an' say hello. Any place else to 


" Don't be in no hurry," said Big Tom. " But if 

yo're set, you might get acquainted with th' Triangle 

«— it's only an hour's ride. They'll be in town, too, 


Johnny nodded all around and rode off the way they 

pointed. He looked carefully at the brands of the 

cattle he passed, stopped at the Triangle for a drink 

and a few minutes conversation with a puncher ^o 


was MiMling a fresh hone and rctnnicd bjr the tra3 
aromid the eastern end of Pine Mountain^ to Gonsight» 
where he q>ent the afternoon phiying sevcn-ap widi 
Dave, with indifferent success. 

Night had scarcely fallen when a whooping down 
die trail heralded the approach of an outfit. It was 
from the Triangle and they stamped in eagerly. Dailey, 
Fanning, and several more of die townsfolk followed 
them, and it was not long before liqoor and cards vied 
with each other for the honors of the evening. 

Johnny, declining cards, and going easy widi the 
liquor, watched the games and became better acquainted 
all around. 

'Tm losin* my holt,** mourned DaQey. ^'Redum 
Fm sidL." 

**When you get so sick you can*t move," grunted 
Hank Lewis, foreman of the Trian^e, "I*m comin' 
in an' take yore dothes. You'll be left like you was 

" You ain't got a chance, Hank," asserted Fanning- 
** I live next door to him, an' I'll get him first. Here's 
a litde more to freeze him out." 

'' No man with three jacks ou^t to sit in this here 
game at all," muttered Gardner, sorrowfully, "But 
I'm trailin'." 

" Now that I know what Sam's got, I'll trail, too," 
grinned George Lang. "Here comes Huff an' his 

The Bar H arrived tempestuously. Big Tom's voice 
could be heard above the noise and he was the first to 
enter, followed dosely by his outfit He nodded to 


the crowd and ordered drinks all around. Exchanging 
a few words with Dave, he approached Johnny. 

*' Reckon you can hold onto diat last pot, Nelson?*^ 
(e asked. 

"1*11 do my best," replied Johnny. "Fll have a 
Better chance with Dailey out of our game.** 

" Let's make up another table," said Big Tom, look* 
ing around. 

Fraser joined them, followed by Lefty Carson. " Fm 
after more*n two dollars," he laughed. " Dailey alius 
did play a kid's game." 

*^ Somebody else is pickin* on me,** came Dailey*s 
voice. " If that Fraser'U come in some evenin* I'll try 
to suit him. Hey, Dave I What's th* matter ? Some- 
body tie you to th' bar? " 

Dave's retort was not what fiction attributes to a fat 
man. He was not genial; he was stirred up. "You 
go hang I I'm so cussed busy I can*t see. / ain't no 
jack rabbit!" 

" He says so hisself I " shouted Squint, roaring with 
laughter. "If I ever sees a jack rabbit lookin' like 
Dave, I'll give him all th' trail! " 

" Hey, Two-Spot I " yelled Dave, with a voice which 
shook the bottles. "He's alius around when there's 
nobody here — but when there's a crowd to be waited 
on, he flits. Hey 1 Two-Spot ! " 

Dahlgren held his hand over the bar. "Gimme a 
glass of liquor, Dave, an' I'll trap him," he laughed^ 
looking at his foreman, who had forgotten all about 
cards and was drinking steadily. 

Dave looked at him, grinned, and complied. Dahl* 


gTtn turned, glass held up. ** Order, Gents I Order I 
Less noise I I'm goin' to trap a bum-bum an' have him 
on show right before you for two bits a head" 

The crowd took it as a wager and would not let him 
explain. ^^All right, you coyotes; let it go that way, 
then: Two bits apiece that I do,'' he cried, and, the 
cynosure of aU eyes, pranced to the door where he 
placed the glass on the sill and then lay down along the 
wall, his hand raised to grasp his quarry. Laughing^ 
he faced the crowd. " [They are 'lusive animals. Gents ; 
but they can't — oh I hoi — resist th* enticin* smell 
of ^" 

Another roar went up as a hand stole around the 
glass and whisked it from sight All oblivious to this, 
Dahlgren took the shout as a tribute to his humor, and 
when he could be heard, continued : " They can't re- 
sist th' smell of liquor. Gents. When th' wary bum- 
bum scents this here glass of fire water," pointing-^ 
he stopped as another roar went up. ^^Well, I'm 
d — d 1 " he grunted. Scrambling to his feet, he plunged 
out into the night as Two-Spot entered the rear door» 
carrying the liquor at arm's length. Two-Spot stopped, 
gulped down the fiery liquid and, pladng the glass on 
the bar, started to serve the card players, his face grave 
and serious. 

The place was in an uproar when Dahlgren returned 
and he was met by a howling mob of creditors. Shak- 
ing his fist at Two-Spot he exhausted his change as he 
bobbed around in the crowd, got more from Dave and 
at last managed to pay off. Emitting a yell, he jumped 
for Two-Spot, grabbed him and began to manhandle 


him playfully. Others joined in and the sport grew 
fast and furious, rougher and rougher. Johnny, seeing 
how things stood, and thinking that Two-Spot was in 
danger of being hurt, plunged headfirst into the mass of 
merrymakers, grabbed Two-Spot and, at the first oppor- 
tunity, threw him reeling toward the doon Leaping 
after him, he grasped the confused tramp, whispered : 
^^ Vamoose I** and then yelled out: "I can^t, huh? 
We'll see!** There was a flurry and Two-Spot shot 
Out of the door as though he had left a bow. Johnny 
turned and faced the crowd. *' Did you hear him ? '* 
he demanded. " I showed him if I could, or not. Blast 
liis nerve, to talk like that to me I** 

" Wish heM said it to me," growled Big Tom, whose 
liquor was making him surly and uncertain. *' I'd 'a' 
busted his cussed neck. This here country is gettin* 
too d — d independent. That's it — too independent. 
Th' Bar H runs this country, an' / run th' Bar H," he 
boasted, resting against the bar. "That's it, an' it'a 
got to leara it It's got to learn that th' Bar H runs this^ 
country, an' / run th' Bar H. Anybody say I don't?'* 
he demanded, looking around. 

Just at this auspicious occasion, Squmt was unfor* 
tunate enough to step on the foot of a man who had 
little use for him and who, several times in the last few 
years, had been restrained only by force from carrying 
out his thinly veiled threats. Wolf Forbes, the dead- 
liest man on the Bar H, more than disliked Squint, and 
taly their conunon interests had averted bloodshed. 
Now he snarled and reached for his gun, but found it 
beld in the holster by Little Tom Carney, who hung 


to Forbes* arm like a leech until others came to his 
and succeeded in taking the killing edge from Wolfs 

Wolf struggled, gradually getting free. **I don*t 
want him now/' he panted ** Let go of me I 1*11 get 
him when he*s sober." He wrestled free and went over 
to his foreman. *^You heard what I said?*' he de- 
manded. " There won*t be no interference this time I '* 

Big Tom rocked back on his heels and scowled down 
at his gunman. ^' I heard you," he replied. "An* I 
sajrs yo*re makin' a fool of yoreself. /*m runnin* this 
ranch, an' I'm tellin* you diat I'll see that he is good 
an* sober an* gets an even break, if it ever comes to 
gunplay between you two. Take my advice, an* forget 
about it** He pushed Forbes to one side and waved 
his arm. ** Everybody have a drink widi Big Tom 
Huff, th* boss of th* Bar H. Set *em out, Dave.** 

They responded, but the soberer heads began to feel 
uneasy. Dave looked at Dailey, who exchanged glances 
with him; and at Johnny who, lounging against the 
further wall near the card players, was missing nothing. 
Johnny allowed a faint smile to show, and winked at 
the proprietor, a knowing, significant wink. If it was 
meant to bring ease to Dave*s troubled mind, it failed 
utterly. Worse than that, it acted the other way. 

'' D — n it I ** thought Dave. '' He*s sober as a hoss 
an* cold as h — 1** which anomaly did not strike Dave*s 
too-busy mind. **Is he aimin* to get Huff? Is he 
nursin* last night*s play? Here I was hopin* none of 
th* Double X would ride in, an* Trouble was campin* 
under my fat nose all th* time I H — 1 will shore pop 


at the first shot — they^ll shoot him to pieces, an* no 
teUin* who else r* 

The card game died gradually and the players near- 
est the crowd shoved dieir chairs back. Dave noticed 
it and shook his head imploringly, trying by sheer will- 
power to force them back to the game. He failed, and 
his fears looked to be justified. Big Tom, turning pon- 
derously, looked at them and then stared as their 
atrange inactivity slowly impressed itself on his befud- 
dled mind. 

" Go on an' play I " he roared. " I run th' Bar H— 
an' Bar H runs th' country." 

Dave leaped into die breach. " They can't Dailey's 
got all th' money." 

"Dailey's got— Hal Hal Hal" roared Big Tom. 
"He's th' or fox. Coin' to shake ban's with th' ol' 
fox I " He weaved across the floor and shook Dailey's 
hypocritical hand. **An' he's got Nelson's two pesos I 
Me an' Nelson's goin' to play a two-hand game for th' 
limit — an' th' winner'll tangle up with Dailey." 

That plan did not suit Dave at all. He refilled a 
glass and slid it across the bar. '^Hey, Tom I" he 
called. "Hey, Tom!** As the foreman turned dum- 
aily and stared at him, Dave held up the glass. "I 
never thought you was so stuck up as to ask th' boys 
to drink with you, an' then throw 'em like that I " 

"Who's stuck up?" 

" Then why didn't you drink with 'em ? " demanded 
Dave, severely. 

Huff looked at him and lurched forward. "Beg 
boys* pardon. I'm with th' boys. I alius drink with th* 


boyst an* I ain't stuck up I '' He gulped the liquor and, 
spreading his feet, leaned against the bar. *^ Th* Bar H 
runs this country, an' / run th' Bar H. Fll learn 'em, 
too I " He threw off two of his men who tried to quiet 
him, fearing he would say too much. '^ I'm all right," 
he assured them. ^^Tll learn 'em," he continued. 
" There's that minx on th' SV. I'll learn her, too. I've 
been layin' low ; but I'll learn her. I'm not stuck up ; 
but she is. First night I called she tried to sneak out 
an' leave me holdin' th' sack. But I showed her who 
was runnin' this country. She's a wiry minx, but I 
kissed " 

^' That'll do ! " snapped Johnny, the words sounding 
like the crack of a whip. He leaned forward, away 
from the wall, his hands hanging limply at his sides. 
The crowd jumped, and Dave's heart was severely 
taxed. " I don't know th' woman, but I objects. The 
Bar H may run this country, an' you may run th' Bar 
H ; but if I hears any more about wimmin I'll take th' 
job of runnin' you, an' th' Bar H, an th' country, be- 
sides, if I has to I I've got some rights an' I ain't goin' 
to have my evenin' spoiled by wimmin 1 An' that goes 
as she lays 1" 

Big Tom had pushed away from the bar and swung 
around unsteadily. He blinked, and focused his eyes 
on the man who had interrupted him, and who spoke 
about running him. Steadily the meaning of the words 
hammered at the liquor-paralyzed brain cells, and at 
last was recognized and understood. His blood-red 
face wrinkled like the muzzle of an angry dog and the 
red eyes blazed with murder. Memory tried to inflame 


him furtheri and succeeded. He snarled an oath and 
reached for his gun. 

There was a fiash, a roar, and a doud of smoke at 
Johnny's hip and before the crowd could move they 
were facing two guns, from one of which trailed a thin 
wisp of smoke. Big Tom, holding his benumbed hand 
against his body, looked from it to his gun, which slowly 
ceased sliding and came to a stop on the floor at the 
other end of the bar. He appeared to be stupefied. 

** I didn't touch him 1 " snapped Johnny. ^^ I hit his 
gun. You all saw him draw first Fm aimin' to make 
this personal between him an' me — an' so far's /'m 
concerned, it's over now. But if anybody has any ob- 
jections, I'll hear 'em." Receiving no reply, he coh- 
tinued, looking out of the comer of his eye at the Bar 
H foreman : 

" Tom, I don't aim to do you no injury, an' you can 
palaver all you wants, an' have all th' fun you wants, 
regardless. That is yore right But I've got rights, 
too. An' so has all th' boys. An' we ain't goin' to 
hear nobody talk about winunin. Wimmin is barred^ 
all th' way to th' ace. I ain't goin' to listen about 'em, 
at all. They lost me th' best job I ever had, on the best 
ranch I ever saw. They drove me clean out of Mon- 
tanny, to h — 1 an' gone. All my troubles have been 
caused by wimmin — an' you hear me shout that there 
ain't goin' to be no palaverin' about 'em where I got to 
hear it That's flat; an' I got two six-guns that says it 
is. I ain't holdin' no grudge ag'in' you — no more'n 
yo're holdin' ag'in' me for my mistake last night We 
all of us make 'em, not meanin' to. 


** This is a man's towiii a man's saloon, an' we're all 
of us men. We ain't goin' to be follered around by no 
wimmin in talk or otherwise. All in favor of barrin* 
wimmin, have a drink with me." 

The invitation was accepted, and Dave followed it 
by a treat on the house. Then he mopped his head and 
wearily let his hands hang down at his side. He looked 
at Johnny and heaved a sigh. " D — d if you ain't a 
he-wizard I " he muttered. "A rcg'lar sheep-herder I ** 

Johnny walked over, picked up the gun and handed it 
to its owner, slapping him on the back at the same time. 
" Here, 01' Timer," he grinned, " take yore gun. She's 
a beauty an' ain't hurt a bit. Don't it beat all how 
me an you get all mixed up without meanin' to ? I says 
it's funny — cussed if it ain't I " 

Big Tom fumbled at the holster, slid the gun into it, 
and a grin crawled across his face. *^ Seems like we are 
alius buttin' our fool heads together," he replied. " I'm 
with you, Nelson. I'm with th' boys. Th' h — 1 with 
wimmin. They're barred, an' I won't listen about 'em, 
.We're all men — ain't we, boys?" 

^* I reckon so," said Dave. He motioned to Squint 
and Eraser, nodding at Big Tom, and then at the door. 

" Hey, Tom," called Fraser, " let's go home 1 " 

"Won't — won't go home I" objected Big Tom, 
lurching forward. Reaching a chair in a comer he fell 
into it and in a few minutes was snoring sonorously. 

Dave slid his elbow on the bar and rested his head 
in his hand. His pose bespoke great weariness. He 
looked at Johnny and shook his head in bewilderment 
Johnny dragged a chair up to the unused second tablet 


made a face at the fat proprietor, and piled up a sizable 
stack of coins in front of him. 

**Any Bar H or Triangle hombre think they can get 
any of this?'' he demanded, grinning. Four men 
thought so at the same time; and soon a third game 
was going on beside them. 

Two-Spot poked his face up to the window again 
and looked in. Then he came in with an air of non- 
chalant confidence. Having seen all that had happened 
he believed the stormy weather to be over and if it 
wasn't, why Nelson seemed to be a friend of his, which 
sufficed. Dave slid him a partly filled bottle. 

** Take it away and don't bother me," said the pro* 
prietor. " I'm restin' up for th' next storm." 

Two-Spot looked around. ^^You can go to sleep, 
Dave," he said. " I'll tend bar for you. There won't 
be no more. My friend over there is like his black 
ca3ruse — everythin' in this country is hid back in his 
dust." Turning away, he glanced quickly around, stuck 
out his tongue at the snoring Mr. Huff, put his bottle 
on a chair, sat down on another one, rested his feet on 
the recumbent form of Squint, who snored tenor to his 
boss' bass, and appeared to be well pleased with him- 



THE following morning was a quiet one in Gunsight 
and a stranger entering the town would have 
thought an epidemic of sleeping sickness had raided it, 
for yawns would have met him wherever he turned, and 
quite some headaches, the owners of which were short 
of temper and ugly in words. Dave dozed in his chair 
and his countenance was not a smiling one. He opened 
his eyes from time to time and fell asleep again with a 
scowl. Ben Dailey petulantly cursed everything his 
clumsy fingers bungled, and it can be said that clumsiness 
was not the normal condition of those digits. Art Fan- 
ning, whose hired man could run the routine affairs of 
the hotel as well without him, turned and tossed on his 
bed, finally getting up and poking his head out into the 
hall. Thinking he heard a noise in Nelson's room, he 
went to the door and hammered on it 

*' House afire?" demanded Johnny, sleepily. 

" No ; but my head is,'* growled Fanning. " What 
you say about a bucket of roarin' strong coffee for us 
sinners ? " 

" I say yo'rc shoutin*. Comin' in ? " 

" Naw; I got to put on some clothes — an' find some 
socks ; these here are roundin' my heels an' climbin' up 
my laigs. I'm shore hard on socks," he growled. Lean- 
ing over the stairs he let out a bellow, *^ Hey, George t^^ 



" I'D swear he heard you," said Johnny. " Mcbby 
th* Bar H did, too. I never saw nobody go under so 
quidc from liquor as Big Tom an' Squint." 

"Hey, George/'' yelled Fanning. "Oh, they was 
well ribbed before they hit town. Where th' ** 

"What you want?" asked a voice from below. 

" What you think I want I " retorted Fanning. " Yore 
grandmother's aunt? You brew us a quart of coffee 
apiece, and brew it my way. I been bit by a snake." 

''/ don't want none of that paint," objected George, 

"Who said you did?" snapped Fanning. "Who 
cares what you want? Nelson an' I'll handle that 
Jump lively or I'll shoot down th' stairs." 

"Shoot, if you wants. They don't belong to me. 
You can shoot down th' house, if you wants 1 " George 
slanuned the door with vim. " * Bit by a snake 1 ' Bet 
it was a hydrophoby skunk. I'll brew him some coffee 
diat'll stunt his growth, blast him I " 

After breakfast, during which his companion found 
fault three times with everything in sight, Johnny wan- 
dered around and dropped in to see Jerry Poole, the 
harness-maker. Jerry's mouth tasted of burnt leather 
and alum from his night's indiscretions and he was so 
unendurably ugly that his visitor, twiddling his fingers 
at him, dodged a chunk of wax and departed, going 
into Dailey's. 

"Hello, yoreselfl" growled Dailey. He fumbled 
a ball of cord, dropped it, and kicked it through a win* 
dow. " Now look what you done I " he yelled. 

Johnny wheeled, slammed the door, and wandered 


to the Palace. Peering iiit he assayed a test of Dave's 

**How do you feel?'' he asked, loudly. ** You was 
goin' too fast with th' juniper.'' 

Dave straightened up, glared at him for a moment 
and found a more comfortable position. **You can 
go to Juniper, or h — 1, for all / care I " he grunted, and 
went off to sleep again. 

Johnny leaned against the wall in momentary inde- 
cision. Hearing shuffling steps, he looked up to see 
Two-Spot rounding the comer. His face brightened. 
Here was someone with whom he could talk. 

" Howd'y, or Timer," he said, cheerily. 

**Howd'y," grunted Two-Spot, and passed into the 
Palace. There was a noise within, a crashing of chair 
legs, and a thunder of words. Two-Spot came out 
again in undignified haste, crossed the street in three 
leaps and, turning, shook his unwashed fist at Dave, 
Johnny, Gunsight, and Creation, and told his opinion 
of them all. 

Johnny shook his head and went around the comer. 
"Pepper's th* only company fit to 'sociate with; an' 
a ride won't do me no harm. Reckon I'll go down 
an' wander around that hill between th' SV an' th' 
Triangle. I ain't been south of that valley yet." He 
looked up at the sun. " Cussed if it ain't noon already I " 

While Gunsight slept or swore, the day's work was 
going on as usual on the SV. Arnold had finished a 
hurried breakfast and ridden out to the north boundary 
of his ranch, at that point not more than a mile from 


die house, to continue setting posts for a fence. His 
boundary ran along the foot of hills heavily covered 
with brush and timber and he had grown tired of turn- 
ings his cattle from them. Having found several rolls 
of wire left by the former owner of the SV, he deter« 
mined to use them and make them go as far as they 
would. If they reached no farther than across the 
Devil's Gulch section and the creek, he would be repaid 
for his labor. 

Reaching the gulch, he started to work and found 
the task disheartening. The ravine was rocky and 
bowlder-strewn and he had difficulty in finding places 
for the posts. More than half of the morning had 
passed when he reached the bottom of the gulch and 
began to look for a place where his shovel would do 
more than scratch rock. After a fruitless search he 
abandoned the idea of digging and determined to build 
a cairn around the post Taking a crowbar, he attacked 
the side of the gulch and sent several rocks rolling 
down. He was prying at a small bowlder with indiffer*- 
ent success when the rock under it, giving way unex* 
pectedly in a small slide of gravel and shale, freed the 
bowlder suddenly and sent it crashing downward before 
he could get out of its way. It passed over his left leg 
and he dropped in agony, the leg broken below the knee. 
There was only one thing for him to do and he tried 
it, despite the excruciating pain. He had to drag him- 
self to his horse and get into the saddle somehow. 
There was no way to call for help with any chance of 
being heard, for he did not pack a gun, believing him- 
self safer without one. Not being able to use a six-gun 


Weill he knew he would have no chance against men 
who used them as though they were an integral part 
of themselves ; and to carry a weapon under those cir* 
cumstances would be suicidali for he then would become 
an armed man and have to assume the responsibilities 
of one. 

After what seemed to be an age, he finally reached 
the top of the gulch, and saw his horse. Resting for 
a few minutes, he again dragged himself forward. The 
horse wheeled, pricked up its ears and stared at him 
in panicky fear. Snorting, the animal dashed away at 
top speed, the injured man calling after it in despair. 

Back in the ranchhouse Margaret set the table for 
the noon meal. The dinner was nearly cooked when 
she glanced out of the window and saw her father's 
saddled horse standing at the corral. Going to the 
door, she called out that dinner was ready, well know- 
ing her father's habit of not coming until the food was 
nearly spoiled. Her brother appeared from the tool 
shed and splashed with the wash basin, which he firmly 
believed was all that was necessary; but his sister, wise 
in the ways of boyhood, thought otherwise. 

^' Don't you dare to touch that towel," she warned. 
*' If you want any dinner, wash your hands and face 
with soap — get them wet, znywzy. Charley, for a 
ten-year-old boy you are hopeless 1" 

*^An* for a twenty-year-old woman you are a nui* 
sance," retorted Charley. ** You women don't do noth* 
ing but find fault Where's ds|d ? " 

^' I don't know. When you have washed go tell him 
that dinner will be spoiled if he doesn't hurry." 


Charley growled something, made a creditable effort 
at revealing his face, and departed to find his father. 
After a short but fruitless search, he returned and 
reported his failure. "Wonder where he went?" he 

Margaret felt a chill of apprehension. Fears of 
this kind were not strangers to her, for she had felt 
many of them in the last two years. " Perhaps Lazy 
wandered home without him," she suggested. "It 
wouldn't be the first time. You would better saddle 
Pinto, and go see. Take Lazy with you." 
" Go yourself." 

"If you want any dinner you'd better be starting. 
The sooner you return, the sooner you will eat," she 
declared, with vexation. "You know that I cannot 
leave now." 

"All right I " growled Charley. He slouched to the 
corral, saddled Pinto, caught Lazy, and loped toward 
the gulch. 

Margaret's impatience gave way to a nameless fear 
as the minutes passed without sign of the " men." Going 
to the door again, she looked out, caught her breath, 
and then ran toward the corral. Her father, supported 
in the saddle by her brother, was riding slowly toward 
the house. 

" Dad's broke his leg, Peggy; a big rode come down 
on it," said Charley, gloomily. " Help me get him into 
the house.'* 

Between them they soon had him on his bed and 
Margaret told her brother to ride to Gunsight for the 


**He won*t come,** groaned the injured man. ''If 
he wouldn't come when you needed him, he won't come 
for me. Don't waste any dme widi Reed — I wouldn't 
have the bladcguard if he would come I Charley, you'll 
have to make that ride to Hi^ibank again. I hate to 
ask it of you, but there is nothing else to be done. 
Forty-five miles is too long a ride for P^Egy, and 
besides, I need her here. Eat your dinner, sonny, and 
then start as soon as you can. I only hope Doctor 
iTreadwell is sober enough to sit a horse when you 
get there." 

"Gee, Dad I I can do it!" Charley asserted. ''I 
did it before in five hours — I'll do it in less diis time. 
Pinto can run all day, for she's a good litde horse. 
Take good care of him, Sis ; I'm off." 

Grabbing a chunk of meat, and stuffing his pockets 
with bread, Charley dashed out of the house, climbed 
into the saddle, and rode off. '' Come on, Pinto 1 " he 
pleaded. '' It's goin' to be a long, hard wait for dad 1 " 

Fording the river, he took the slope of the hill 
beyond at a walk and, reaching the crest, shot down 
the other side. Soon he came to a better trail, where 
the Triangle punchers rode when they went out to their 
north line. He had not gone far along it before he 
saw a horseman ahead of him, and when the rider 
turned and looked back:, Charley felt a thrill of fear. It 
was Squint Farrell. 

Squint was still going home from Gunsight and he 
was not yet sober. Worse than that, he was in a savage 
mood. When his outfit had started for die ranch, in 
the early, dark hours of the morning, he had fallen 


behind them, stupid with drink. At the end of one of 
his spells of mental oblivion he suddenly realized that 
he was alone, and urged his horse forward in hope of 
overtaking his friends. If left to itself the animal 
would have followed the trail to the ranch; but in his 
sodden frame of mind the rider knew better. ** G*wan 1 " 
he ordered, pulling savagely on the reins, and barely 
managing to ride out the ensuing bucking. *^ Where 
you — goin'? Fm boss of this — here outfit an' Fm 
goin' home. 1*11 — point this here herd. GVanI" 
The result was that when day broke and Squint aroused 
himself and looked around he had no idea of where 
he was. "It's further'n I reckoned," he muttered. 
"Don't care: I'm goin' to sleep." He dismounted, 
made the horse fast to a sapling, and soon was asleep. 
When he awakened he looked around in bewilderment 
and began to take note of his surroundings. Mounting 
his horse, he rode around and finally got his bearings. 
He was miles east of the ranchhouse and, with a savage 
burst of profanity, he turned the horse and started for 
home. As he crossed the SV-Triangle trail he heard 
the rapid drumming of a horse's hoofs and, drawing 
rein, waited to see who it was. 

"Wonder if he got lost, too?" he muttered, and 
then the hard-riding horseman turned the corner and 
shot into the narrow defile. " Cussed if it ain't that 
brat from th' SV I " he exclaimed, and became instantly 
though hazily suspicious. " Here, you 1 " he shouted. 
'* What you doin' on this range ? Where you goin' so 
fast?" He turned his horse across the narrow trail, 
effectually blocking it " You speak up, an' don't give 


me none o' yore lip I Where you goin* ? " He reached 
for the pinto's bridle, but missed it as Charley pulled 
the pony back on its haunches and bathed away, 

"I'm going to Highbank for the doctor; dad's 
broken hts leg," answered the boy, ti^ng to get past. 

"Oh, are you?" snarled Squint '* Wish he'd busted 
his neck I Go 'round an' git on th' trail where you 
oughter; you can't cross this ranch." 

"You don't belong to it," argued the boy. "This ■ 
is the Triangle ; and I haven't got time to go back now. 
Please, Mr. Farrell, let me past I can't waste any, 
time I " 

" Can't you ? " sneered Squint " I say yo're goin'' 
'round th' way you should. G'wan, now I Turn 'round, 
an' d — d quick, before I does it for youl D — d 

"Please, Mr. Farrcll," pleaded the boy. "I-et me 
past. Dad's suffering, and I've got to hurry." 

" * Please, Mr. Farrell,' " mimicked Squint, savagely. 
"You goin' to do what I say?" he demanded, drawing 
his Colt and waving it menacingly. " I got a notion 
not to let you go at all, no way. You (urn that cayuse, 
an' move fast Hear me?" 

In his desperation Charley forgot lus fear. .There 

was only one way to save 'the precious miles, and he 

took it The sides of the delile were steep, and studded 

lowlders, but he dug his heels into the pony's sides 

ent him scrambling like a goat up the left-hand 

He was ten feet above Squint before that sur- 

I individual realized what had occurred; but with 

ialization came a burst of drunken rage. The 


heavy gun chopped down and flamed. Pinto rose 
straight up on his quivering hind legs, stood poised for 
an instant, and then crashed backward and rolled down 
to the trail, his rider barely having time to throw him- 
self from the saddle. 

** Now you can hoof it I " shouted Squint, brandish- 
ing the gun. ''Next time you'll listen, an* do what 
yoVe told. G'wan home, now 1 " 

"D — n youT* blazed Charley, groping his way 
(down the bank, and kneeling at the side of the little 
horse. Realizing what was at stake, he flung himself 
down on the dead pony and sobbed as though his heart 
.would break. 

Squint kneed his horse forward. '' Don't you cuss 
me I *' he warned. " Don't you do it, you brat 1 Serves 
you right : now you can hoof it I " He urged his horse 
into a lope and rode down the trail, arguing with him- 
self, and finally burst into uproarious laughter at the 
trick he had played 

Johnny, riding as quietly as possible along the side 
of the big hill, just below and south of the SV-Triangle 
boundary, looking for rebranded cattle and other signs 
of range deviltry, pulled up short at the sound of a 
distant shot. It fitted in very nicely with his suspicious 
frame of mind and, thinking that he might catch some 
one red-handed in some of the things he had been 
searching for, he sent Pepper tearing down the slope 
and arrived at the trail shortly after Squint had de- 
parted. Rounding a turn, he saw the defile and the 
pidful scene it held, and he pulled Pepper to her 
liaunches and leaped from the saddle. 


I just got to gO| somehow/ Mebby I could take Squint^s 
horse/' he suggested, emboldened by desperation* 

Johnny shook his head. ^' You don't never want to 
ride a Bar H cajruse; 'tain't healthy. But, say, bud, 
we don't have to go to Highback at all — we can get 
th' Doc at Gunsight. You been eatin' loco weed ? " 

"He won't come," said the boy, whispering, and 
looking at Squint 

*'Did you ask him?" asked Johnny in a low voice, 
taking the cue. 

" No ; but he wouldn't come when Peggy was sick-^ 
an' dad says to get Dr. Treadwell from Highbank." 

" He wouldn't come when — when Peggy was sick? " 
demanded Johnny. 

"No, sir; he said he'd treat cows an' horses, but he 
wouldn't sling a leg across a saddle if the whole SV. 
was dying." 

Johnny sat up very straight " Climb up here, sonny. 
I'll get th' doctor for you — I can get to Highbank on 
this cayuse so quick you'd be surprised. First, I'll take 
you nearer home. Pronto, buddy! Yo're holdin' up 
th' drive. That's th* way; up you come I " He picked 
up the reins. "Squint," he called, "lead th' way, an* 
don't stay too close. We travel along th' foot of th* 
hill, on th' other side, goin' east after we get there." 

" That ain't th' way to Highbank," said the boy. 

"I know," replied Johnny. "When you grow up 
an' ride around th* country as long as I have, you'll 
find there's lots of ways gettin* to places. I'll have th' 
doctor at yore house by ten o'clock tonight, which is 
some hours before you could get him there. Nowt 


Squint tried his legs and armsi found them still to be 
working, and sullenly plodded to his horse. Mounting, 
he surrendered his rifle in compliance to orders, and 
then loped back the way he had come, Johnny riding 
one length in his rear. 

** Squint,** said his captor in a hard, level voice, ** if 
you give me th* least excuse I'll blow you apart. IVe seen 
some mangy humans, but I never run across a two- 
laigged polecat like you. I hate to tell you anythin' 
that'll save yore life, an* I'm hopin* you'll forget it. 
1*11 tell you just once: You behave yoreself like you 
never did before, an* move lively when I speak. Keep 
looking ahead/ You don't have to look around to hear, 
do you?** 

Squint preserved an unbroken silence and soon they 
reached the scene of his outrage and stopped. Johnny 
ordered him to ride on for a hundred feet 

*' That's him. Mister I** excitedly cried Charley. 

" I agree with you, buddy,** answered Johnny. " Now 
you tell me all of it, over again.** He listened in grave 
silence until the pitiful tale was told and then pointed 
to Pepper*s bade, behind him. ** Climb up, sonny. 
Squint an* me are passin* dose to yore house an* we*ll 
take you as far as we can. You don't mind walkin* a 
few miles, do you ? ** 

*'But I can't go I** protested Charley. *^I got to 
go to Highbank for th' doctor. I only hope he ain*t 
drunk when I get there." 

" How you goin' ? ** quizzically demanded Johnny. 

'* Don't know ; but that don't make no difference*-^ 


strange one. Oh, if you'll only make a break, or give 
me half an excuse to throw lead 1 " 

The trail grew slowly but steadily worse, and when 
they finally reached the bottom of a long, rough slope 
Johnny ordered a halt 

**I figger we're twenty miles from Gunsight, near 
as I can judge,** he said, ^' which leaves only ten to 
Kawlins. Get o£f that cayuse. You heard me. Yes; 
get of I Now, any man as shoots a fine little pinto pony 
an* tells a kid to walk, ought to do some of that walkin' 
hisself. Rawlins is ten miles; it*s twenty to th' Tri*' 
angle, an* with a lot of hills, an* a bad trail. Also, 
there*s my six-guns. If I ever hear of you comin* back, 
or see you this side of Rawlins TU get you. I want 
to make that plain. If it*s th' last thing I do on earth, 
/'// — get — youl I am't got no love for th* SV, but 
h — 1 ain*t good enough for th* man that'll shoot a fine 
hoss to keep a kid from gettin' a doctor. Thinkin* as 
mebby you forgot last night, I'll give you another sam* 
pie of my gunplay.** He jerked out a gun and a hole 
appeared in the crown of Squint*s hat. " When I say 
1*11 get you, you know what it means. Turn around, 
an* keep yore shadow before you. Vamoose I** 

Watching the hurrying Squint until satisfied that he 
intended to keep on in the right direction, Johnny turned 
back, leading the Bar H horse. He had watched the 
animal closely while driving Squint, and believed it to 
be in good enough condition to answer the demand he 
wished to make upon it. He could tell better when he 
got back to the SV range, in a certain woody draw 
near the main trail. This point was reached at dusk 


and he examined the horse, nodded his head, and pick* 
eted die animal to a tree with Squint's lariat The two 
hours would do wonders for it Leaving the Bar H 
horse, he led his own farther back in the draw and 
tied it to a tree with his lariat. Returning to Squint's 
mount, he took the slicker from behind the saddle and 
unrolled it, picking up the worn gloves which rolled 
out of it Finishing his preparations, he went on a 
reconnaissance on foot, smiled as he saw the dim light 
in the Doc's house, and quickly returned to the horse. 



DOC REED, finding his tobacco pouch neariy 
empty, led his horse around to die door and 
went in to replenish the pouch. He plunged his hand 
into the big tobacco jar — and let it remain there, the 
tobacco slipping from his fingers, for a guttural, muffled 
voice suddenly said: 

"Hands ttpf Shut up! Come here, backtoerds/" 
An argument in one's own mind can be odiaustive 
and reach a conclusion in a very short space of time. 
It took the Doc about a second to weigh matters and 
abandon the idea of hurling the jar, and with the deci- 
sion his hand came slowly out and went up, with the 
other, above his head. While he was doing this his 
eyes had not been idle and they saw everything there 
was to be seen, for he was trained in observation. They 
saw: A man of his own height, dressed in an old, well* 
worn, yellow slicker; a sombrero so covered with gray 
dust as to resemble a hat only in shape and function, 
its brim pulled well down in front; a pair of common 
black trousers reaching from the slicker down to com- 
mon boots, so thickly covered with gray dust as to 
resemble At hat in everything but the above-mentioned 
characteristics; a common cotton kerchief, of a pattern 
d on half of the kerchiefs on the range, was tied 
is the caller's face, hiding it from chin to eyes; 


A narrow strip of the intruder's face, so indistinct in the 
shadow of the hat brim as even to hide the color of 
the eyes; a pair of gloved hands, the right of which! 
was held in front of the intruder and on a level with 
his eyes ; and last, but emphatically not least, a heavy, 
common-calibered Colt, with ivory grips yellowed by 
use and age, which weapon was firmly gripped by the 
upraised hand The hammer was up, and a crooked, 
gloved finger lay in the trigger guard. As the Doc 
moved to obey, as he turned around, he caught a glimpse 
of a heavy, black line running from the lower edge of 
the ivory grip uncovered by the curling fingers. It 
looked as though it was a crack filled with dirt, which 
was a little thing, but not too small a thing to be 

" Whoa I ** growled the man in the door. 
The Doc obeyed. "What do you want?" he asked 

" Nothin* you can lose," came the answer. " Back 
up a little more ! " 

The Doc backed, stopped when the gun pressed into 
his back and stood motionless while a heavy hand felt 
him over. It took a Colt out of his shoulder holster, 
and then the victim felt the gun at his back move a 
little. He smiled slightly, for the fact that his captor 
had shifted it to the left hand so he could use the right 
to empty the captured gun and then toss it across the 
room onto the bed was no due, for the reason that all 
of the men he knew were right-handed. The pressure 
changed again as the right hand went back on the off en* 
sive, and then the intruder gave him his second surprise. 


"Padc yore tooli — broken laig — take everychin' 
you need. Hurry I " 

The Doc stepped forward and picked up a satchel, 
Seeing out of the comer of his eye as he did so. Only 
a band, a foot, and part of the hat and face were in 
sight, the rest of the visitor's body being behind the 
outside wall. Pilling the bag with what he would 
require, he took a bundle of splints from a shelf, for 
he was a methodical person, usually had plenty of 
time on his hands, and believed in having things to suit 

"It was not necessary to go to all of this trouble," 
he smiled, as he reached out to turn down the lamp. 

** Stop t Let it bum I " warned the visitor. 

" Very well, although I only intended to turn it domi. 
'As I said, itwas needless for you to go to all this trouble 
and risk. I am in the habit of going on professional 
calls at any hour, in any weather, merely upon a simple 
request, or a statement of fact If this is a practical 
joke I may or may not enjoy it — usuaUy the victim 
doesn't — but I really don't mind, if you are careful 
irith this bag and its contents. You might be the man 
to need it first — quUn sabef " 

** I shoot at th' first false move," warned the other. 
** You are goln' to th* SV — now — with me — an' fast 
I'll lead yore boss — mine's out yonder. Go ahead of 
me, an' don't look back." 

~1ie Doc obeyed and his captor, feeling around the 
lie for weapons, grasped the bridle and led the 
lal to where his own was picketed. Mounting, he 
:red die Doc to do likewise, and soon they were 


pounding along at a good pace, too good to suit the 
Doc, considering how dark it was. 

Their coming had been prophesied by the stranger 
diat afternoon, and now it was heralded by the rolling 
hoofbeats; and as they neared the house two figures, 
one considerably shorter than the other, appeared in 
die lighted doorway, while behind them a dock slowly 
struck ten. 

The captor growled a command and, surprised, the 
Doc pulled up quickly. ** There won't be no charge 
for this call," he said, ** an* remember that I'm stayin* 
outside, near th* window. You make a false move an* 
ril shoot you through it If th* job ain't well done, 
I'll shoot you when I find it out. You don't know me, 
so you won't know who to watch for ; but I know you 
weU — all h — 1 can't save you. Don't talk more than 
you have to^ an' then only about yore trade. Get off^ 
an' go in — hurry, before they come out herel ** 

The Doc dismounted, turning for a look at his cap* 
tor's horse and saddle, and walked forward, adjusting 
his hat and pulling at his coat sleeves. Handing the 
bag to the boy who ran to meet him, and who seemed to 
be very much surprised, he led the way to the house, 
bowed to Margaret and went inside. The boy, looking 
back reluctandy, slowly followed him, and as the man 
in die saddle tied the Doc's horse to a sapling and 
swung around to leave, he saw the slender figure of 
Margaret reappear, sofdy oudined against the mellow, 
ydlow light of the room and framed by the darkness, 
for all the world like a jet cameo against an old ivory 
badcground. She stood without moving while the horse- 


man In the dark, die glint of whote brass saddle orna- 
ments barely reached her, bent low in the saddle and 
removed his hat She could not see this, nor his slow 
departure, 'though she faintly heard the soft tread of 
his horse on the sod, steadily growing fainter. A 
roice from within called her, and turning, she shook her 
shoulders as if to throw ofi a restraining force, and 
hastened to answer the summons. 

Reaching the main valley, Johnny rode at a lop^ 
and when he believed himself to be well past the quick- 
sands, he entered the river, following it close to the 
bank. Leaving the water at the main trail, he dis- 
mounted, removed the saddle and bridle and, slapping 
die horse on its rump, sent it homeward. Picking up 
the saddle and seeing that the stirrups did not drag, 
he stepped only on rock as he went up the mountain, 
where he stopped at the base of a great pine. When hs 
came down again to go to his own horse he bad left 
behind him everything belonging to Squint, the saddle 
in the brush, and the weapons and gloves welt-wrapped 
in the slicker and buried in a sand drift. 

Some time later, in Gunsight, Two-Spot heard a rider 
and, waiting a few minutes, slipped into the horse shed, 
where he spoke lofdy to Pepper before running his 
hand over her. 

tluh 1 What made Dave say he went to Juniper ? '* 
uttered. " She's warm, but not much; her bade is 
dry. Juniper?" he scoffed. "Thirty mile there, 
hirty mile back, since noon? He was some place; 
'U bet my jewels he ain't been to Juniper. TTiere'a 
[try afoot — but I ain't talkin', litde hoss." 




WO-SPOT rested on the broom. " Wonder what 
happened to Nelson?" he queried. ^^Ain't seen 
since you went on th* prod yesterday.*' 

Dave held up the glass he was polishing and looked 
at it. " What you mean, on th' prod ? " 

*^ When you chased me, at noon." 

Dave picked up another glass, breathed on it and 
rubbed it vigorously. " He stuck his head in th' door 
an' said he was goin' to Juniper. Ain't he got back 

"Don't know," grunted Two-Spot, going to work 

"Ain't his boss back?" 

" Don't know." He listened. " Mebby this is him, 
now, comin' up th' trail." He looked out and shook 
his head. " Nope, it's only that d — d pill-roller from 
the flats. What's he comin' here for ? He's got more 
liquor in his shack than we've got. I don't like no man 
that swizzles it secret. As I was sayin', it ain't every — 
why, hello, Doc! What brings you up here so early 
in th* momin'?" 

" My horse," grunted the Doc, passing him without 
a glance. " Hello, Dave I How are things? " 

"Smoother'n h — 1, a« th' old lady said when she 
•lipped on th' ice. What'U yours be ? " 




"Cigar apiece," said the Doc; "for you an* me,** 
he amended. 

Two^pot turned back and resumed his sweeping. 

"Dave, I was kidnapped last night," said the Doc, 
bluntly. Waiting for Dave to get his expression part 
way back to normal, he told the story. Dave's cxpres* 
sion was under control again and bespoke surprise and 
sympathy, gradually assuming a stern, uncompromising 
aspect at the thought of such a grave breach of law 
and order. Two-Spot, after the first shock, did not 
dare to look around, for his grin was unholy and alto< 
gether too sincere for his health, should the victim of 
the unheard of atrocity see it Swish f SioijA/ went the 
broom; kel hel went his throat, low and in time with 
the sweeping. Doc finished and hammered the bar with 
his fist. "It's a d — d outrage!" he declared, with 

Dave nodded emphatically. " It shore is 1 Do you 
know who did it ? " 

" No ; if I did I'd be on his trail." 

" See anythin' that might identify th* coyote ? " 

" Perhaps ; I'll know more about it before the day is 
over," answered the Doc. " Big Tom has some of his 
men out now looking for tracks on the Double X. 
Those fellows don't like me very much." 

:heir eyes 1 " commented Two-Spot, sweeping 
red vigor. 

need at him, frowned, and went on. " Some 
1 me to think one way; other things, other 
I complicated by Squint's disappearance." 
ot assimulated the second shock with avidityii 


^■■— I ■ " ■ -I.I III I. I ■ I ■ 

He was beginning to be glad that he was alive, and his 
brain was putting two and two together at top speed. 
His ears fairly ached for more, and he waited for the 
third When there were two, there should always 
be a third, he hopefully assured himself. 

Dave's face showed real surprise again and then 
marched to orders and revealed his sympathy and dis- 
approbation. "Why, there won't be nobody safe!'* 
he exclaimed. " Do you mean he's missin' ? " 

"He is. Have you seen him since the night they 
were all here?" 

"No; I ain't." 

"Sorrers an' calamities never come singly," said 
Two-Spot, energetically digging a match stick out of 
a crack. 

"Mebby it was Squint," suggested Dave, "as cap- 
tured you." 

"Well, the evidence points that way, but it isn't 
reasonable," replied the Doc, going to a chair and sit- 
ting down. "Squint wasn't the sort of a man who 
would go out of his way to do anyone a favor, espe- 
cially if it was for someone he did not like ; and most 
especially if it involved a large element of risk. But 
this man had on Squint's slicker, rode Squint's horse 
and saddle, and even had Squint's gloves and gun." 

"He must 'a' et Squint," suggested Two-Spot, spit- 
ting violently at the thought. 

" Shut up, you ! " said Dave, sternly. " But, Doc, 
he was shore petrified when he left here ; an' what he 
had in his person would stay with him for a long time. 
He alius was economical in his drunks: he made 'em 


last quite a spelL Now, when a man't full of liquor 
he'll likely do anythln' — no telUn' what" 

" This man wis not drunk," asserted the Doc in hit 
best professional manner, " and he had not been drunk 
for over a week. His hand was as steady as mine, and 
he did not make a single false move. I'm sure it was 
not Squint; Big Tom cannot make up his mind; Wolf 
Forbes swears it was, but Wolf was no friend of his, 
as we all kno^Ar. Some of the boys su^ested the Double 
X, knowing the strong dislike some of that litter has 
for me. Three of the boys are over there now lookin' 
for tracks." 

"What good will that do 'em?" demanded Dave. 
"A man has a right to make tracks on his own ranch, 
an' they're alius ridin' around over it. But, dien, if they 
found tracks leadin' from th' Double X to yore place, 
or from th' Juniper trail to th* Double X, why, then 
you'd have sometfiin'." 

*' There are none of the first category," replied the 
Doc, "and there will be none of the second: I told 
you that this man rode Squint's horse, and any tracks 
on the Juniper trail could have been made while we 
rode over it together. We can't find where he got onto 
the horse, or where he got off of it; but it must have 
been in the river somewhere. He was a fiend for rid- 
ing on rode — he knew this country like a book. We've 
ng, but it got us nowhere. So, Dave, I rode 
ask you a plain question : Who were in here 
>etween a quarter of nine and, say, a quarter 
You may save some innocent person from 


"Well," said Dave, pursing his lips. "Th* poker 
gang was here. .Two-Spot an' I was here. Jerry Poole 
came in to set his watch— that was just at nine-twenty. 
Nelson poked his head in th' door about ten minutes 
after Jerry, wriggled his fingers at me, cuss his impu- 
dence, an' disappeared. Where he went I don't know. 
I guess that's aU." 

Two-Spot gripped the broom convulsively and then 
slowly relaxed. The third shock had arrived. The 
problems of his sorely taxed brain were jammed by 
the sudden arrival of more. Never before had he 
heard Dave deliberately lie; and here the proprietor 
was lying coolly and perfectly, with trimmings to make 
it stick. In turn surprise, wonder, and satisfaction 
swept across his boiled countenance like driven clouds 
across the coppery sun. He gradually worked closer 
to the Doc and soon his stroke became longer and 
harder. When he began trying to sweep a tobacco 
stain out of the flooring the Doc suddenly leaped from 
his chair. 

"What — the h — 1 do — you think — you're do- 
ing ? " he coughed. 

" Huh ? " said Two-Spot, looking up. 

" What do you mean, sweeping like that, over here ? " 

" I was only sweepin' where th' dirt was," answered 

The Doc regarded him keenly. "Oh, is that it? 
Well, hunt for it somewhere else, or I'll kick you 
through the window I " 

Two-Spot flared up. ** You got my permission ^" 

^ Shut up I'* snapped Dave. " Now, Doc, as I was 


sayin' — what'n h — 1 was I sayin'? Well, anyhow, I 
said it," he asserted, belligerently. ^* What you aimin' 
to do now ? " 

" Dance on th' quicksands, I hope," grunted Two- 
Spot, savagely. Then he listened, and said: **Here 
comes Nelson on that fine little hoss." Under his 
breath he muttered, '* I bet he'll be surprised to find out 
he was in here at nine-thirty, last night" He straight- 
ened up. " Huh 1 Mebby he won't. Mcbby he fixed 
it with Dave. Well, if he's wise, he'll tip me off next 
time — I might tell th' truth, an' make a lot of trouble, 
if I didn't know." 

Johnny walked in. "Hello, Ol' Timer!" he said, 
jabbing Two-Spot in the ribs. 

Two-Spot grasped the broom handle firmly. "Hello, 
yoreselfl An' you lookout who yo're punchin'," he 
grinned. " Squint's dead," he said, mournfully. 


"Oh, well; he's missin', anyhow," amended Two- 

"Missin* what?" asked Johnny. 

"Missin' hissclfl" 

" Then he's drunker than I thought," replied Johnny. 
" I never heard of nobody bein' so far gone in liquor 
that they missed themselves," 

"Oh, you go to th' devil I " snorted Two-Spot, turn- 
ing around so he could snicker in safety. 

Johnny glanced casually at the Doc, walked up to 
the bar and bought a cigar, which be lit with scrupulous 

" Meet th' Doc, Nelson," said Dave. 


Johnny turned, " Glad to meet you, Doctor. IVc 
heard of you, an' passed yore place/' ^ 

" Saw you," replied the Doc, " and I coveted that 
black mare." 

*' Nice little cayuse," admitted Johnny. 

^^The Doc was kidnapped," said Dave, watchii^ 

" That so ? " replied Johnny, politely. "An' how old 
was you. Doctor?" 

** What do you mean ? " 

" Why, when you was kidnapped," Johnny explained. 

" I was kidnapped last night," replied the Doc. 

"You — last night?" demanded Johnny, incredu- 
lously. "WeU, I'm d— dl What did they get?" 
They got me." 

I mean, what did they get that was valuable?" 
persisted Johnny. 

Two-Spot turned away again and missed the floor 

" They stole th* Doc," explained Dave. " They was 
takin' him away just about th' time you looked in at 
me. They took him over to th* SV, to set Ol' Arnold's 
busted laig." 

"What you talkin* about?" snorted Johnny, seating 
himself across from the Doc. "I never heard of a 
doctor bein' kidnapped to set a busted laig. What am I 
supposed to say ? I'll bite, if it does cost me th' drinks." 

"No, Nelson, that's the truth," earnestly asserted 
the Doc, and he told the story over again. 

'* You say he was on Squint's cayuse, wearin' Squint's 
', an' usin' Squint's gun ? " asked Johnny. " Then 



where was Squint? A man don't just drop things lil 
that without knowin' it. What was that Two-Spot was 
tryin' to tell me?" 

The Doc explained the matter and finished by sa]ring 
that he felt sure that it had not been the missing puncher 
who had visited him. 

** I don't think so, neither/' asserted Johnny. *^ He'd 
be a fool to go like that No, sir, I'll bet it wasn't 
Squint — but, wait a minute 1 If he counted on leavin* 
th' country right after, why, he might a' done it, at 
that. If it wasn't Squint, then where was he ? " 

^^Sleepin' off his liquor," said Dave. *^Why, that's 
it I While he slept somebody took his outfit an' kid* 
napped th' Doc. H — 1, it may all be a joke ! " 

*^ You wouldn't think so if you observed that man as 
I did," replied the Doc *^ He was in deadly earnest* 
I could feel it." 

" Well, there's two ways to start at it," said Johnny, 
ordering drinks all around, including Two-Spot ^^ He 
had a grudge ag'in' you, an' he was extra friendly to 
th' SV. Run back in yore mem'ry for somebody that 
hates you enough to want to get square. If that don't 
work, then hunt for th' feller that likes th' SV. Any- 
body 'round here that's sweet on that Arnold gal, that 
you knows of?" 

" No ; not that we know of," answered the Doc " Big 
Tom was the last one who called there; but he quit, 
quite some time ago." 

** Got throwed so hard he still aches," gloated Two* 

"Well, I can't help you," said Johnny. "I don't 


know anjrthin* about th' people around here. An\ bein' 
a stranger, an* likely to be suspected of any orphaned 
devilment, Fm shore glad I looked in here, last night 
But I ain't worryin' about Squint,'* he deprecated. ^* He's 
an old hand at takin' care of hisself, if Fm any judge. 
He'll turn up with a headache, an' yell fit to bust for 
his saddle, an' gun." 

'*I hope so," said Dave. He turned to the Doc. 

** Certainly; it was a simple fracture," answered the 
Doc. He paused. ^' Cussed if I know what to think," 
he growled, arising. He had observed Johnny closely, 
saw that he was left-handed, found the voice not quite 
what he had hoped for, and Dave's statement cinched 
the matter. He nodded good-by and went out, but he 
looked at Johnny's saddle, where he found silver orna- 
ments instead of brass, and plain stirrup guards instead 
of the fringed ones he had noticed the night before. 
Shaking his head he mounted and rode homeward. 

Two-Spot placed the broom across a table and sat 
down. "Dave," he said, almost revcrcndy, "what 
made you say that* " 

" Say what ? " demanded the proprietor, belligerently. 
"You hearin' things?" 

" Mcbby ; but I ain't seein' 'em." 

"What did I say that's ridin' you so hard?" de- 
manded Dave. 

" What you did about Nelson lookin' in last night." 

"What was that?" asked Johnny, with pardonable 

" Why, Dave up an' tells th' Doc dut you poked 


yore head in at that there door at nine-thirty last 
night/* explained Two-Spot 

"WeU, suppose I did?" asked Johnny. "What 
about it?*' 

" Well, now/' mourned Two-Spot, " if I ain't got th' 
cussedest mem'ryl It's got Texas fever; a tick must 
a' crawled up my ear. Of course you did; and didn't 
you say * Two-Spot, when I sees you tomorrow I'll 
buy you a drink? '" 

"I reckon I might 'a' said somethin' like that,'^ 
laughed Johnny. "She's youm, 01' Timer — with a 
cigar to punish me for forgettin'." 

Two-Spot enjoyed his drink and pulled contentedly 
on the cigar. Then he turned toward the rear door. 
"Time for me to give George a hand. Shall I take 
Pepper around out of th' sun? " 

"Why, yes; an' much obliged," answered Johnny. 

Dave pointed his finger and his whole arm at the 
broom lying across the table. "That youm?" he de- 

Two-Spot looked. " I told you that my mem'ry waa 
bad," he chuckled. Putting the broom '.way where it 
belonged he went out and led Pepper aiound to the 

Johnny looked hard at Dave. "That was a good 
turn, Dave," he said. " What made you do it? '* 

Dave rumpled his hair. "Squint's missin', which 
means one customer less. Bein' a stranger down here 
I reckoned they'd pass th' buck to you. That meant 
they'd likely do it here — th' Doc come up to locate 
you, I figgered. Besides losin' a lot more customers 


I'd have to dean up a slaughter-house. I just made up 
my mind I wouldn't do it. Anyhow, Vd like to shake 
hands with th' coyote that lugged th' Doc off to fix that 
laig. I would so." 

** Don't blame you," said Johnny, holding out his 
hand. *^ We can shake on that, all right. I say a doctor 
is a doctor an' ought to go where he's needed." 

Dave looked him full in the eyes, a quizzical smile 
playing around his mouth, and shook hands gravely, 
solenmly. It was almost a ceremony. *' My sentiments, 
exactly," he responded. *' Wonder if Squint was hurt? " 

" I'd bet he wasn't," answered Johnny. " I'd even 
bet he went to a different part of th' country. Mebby 
he got caught in some devilment. Punchers are great 
for roamin' — just look where / am." He shook his 
head sadly and went out through the rear door for the 
hotel, leaving Dave with a grin on his face which threat- 
ened to disrupt it. He had not gone more than a few 
steps when he turned and went back. Poking his head 
in at the door, he said : ** Dave, when I'm drinkin' in 
here, an' it can be done easy, just see that mine is some 
watery. I like th' delicate flavor it has that way; th' 
delicater, th' better." 

Dave chuckled and nodded. *^ Yo're drinkin' it. If 
yo're satisfied, I am. I can't do it at th' bar, where 
th' bottle passes ; but it'll be easy if yo're playin' cards.'* 



JOHNNY entered the kitchen, looked at the stove 
tnd went into the dining-room, where George was 
playing solitaire. "That's a bad habit, George,'* he 
said, shaking his head. " It don't get you nothin'." 

George made a play and looked up. "Aimin' to get 
me into a two-handed game of somethin' ? " he queried. 

" No; I ain't," answered Johnny. " I was just won- 
derin' how long you was goin' to play it." 

"I'm goin' to play it till I have to start cookin'," 
said George, determinedly. 

" Then you ain't goin' to stand over that hot stove 
for more'n an hour, are you?" 

"No, sir; I ain't." 

" You talk like it was somethin' to dodge I " snorted 

" I'd like to see you do it 1 " retorted George. 

" Huh I " sniffed Johnny. " I got a good notion to 
do it" 

George made another play. " Notions I " he sneered. 
"Notions ain't doin' it 1" 

"Then I will do it," said Johnny, going into the 
kitchen and throwing wood into the stove. He took 
down a lid made up of rings, substituted it for one of 
the stove lids, lifted out the middle section and put in 
its place an iron ladle. 


A chair scraped out in the dining-room and George 
poked his head in. "What you think yo're doin'?'' 
he demanded 

^* Callin' yore bluff. Go on back to yore solitaire. 
I*m goin* to run some bullets." 

" Why, cuss yore nerve ! " said George. "Who told 
you to mess up my kitchen ? " 

'* You said youM like to see me stand over this stove," 
answered Johnny. " Run around an' get me two pounds 
of lead from Dailey." 

"Get it yoreselfl" snapped George. "You clean 
up when you get through," he warned. 

" Shore," replied Johnny, and he went out to get the 

Dailey looked up. " Hello, Nelson 1 " 

" Howd'y, Ben I Got two pounds of lead, an' some 
Kentucky powder ? " 

"Shore," answered Dailey. He slid a bar of lead 
onto the counter and took a can from a shelf. " This 
ain't Kaintuck — but it's as good. How much?" 

Johnny put a few grains in the palm of his hand 
and rubbed them with a forefinger. " I don't want this 
at all," he said, showing the black smudge. " I want 
th' kind you use." 

Dailey grumbled, but felt under the counter and pro- 
duced another can. " Here's th' best made," he said. 

Johnny tested it, and nodded. " Half a pound will 

Returning to the kitchen he used George^s axe to cut 
the lead into smaller pieces, and dumped them into the 


ladle, after which he paid a hurried visit to his room 
for tools. 

Two-Spot shoved his head in at the door. *' What 
you doin' ? Runnin' slugs ? " 

*' Shoein' a hoss," said Johnny. 

Two-Spot grinned. " Where'd you get th' lead ? '* 

'^Dailey's/* answered Johnny, punching out old 

''Buy primers, an powder, too?" demanded Two- 

** Powder,'* grunted Johnny. 

"Orn th' shelf behind him?'' 

" Under th' counter." 

" Yo're lucky; he must like you. Well, then some ot 
'em will go off," said Two-Spot '* But if you'd bought 
his primers, none of 'em would." He looked around 
and started to resize some of the shells. *' These here 
ain't shells. They're — they're kegs." He picked up 
the mold and opened it. ''My G — d!" he snorted. 
"Yo're a bloody-minded cuss. Yore gun got wheels 
an' a limber?" 

" It'll make th' other feller limber gettin' out of th' 

Two-Spot hurt his finger and quit " Reckon Dave 
wants me," he observed. 

" I'm shore / don't," grunted Johnny, beginning to 
reprime the shells. 

*'Do it yoreself, then!" snapped Two-Spot, going 
out He looked carefully around and, going into the 
narrow space between the kitchen and the rear of the 
saloon, disappeared from sight 


Around in front of the Palace four punchers were 
dismounting. They were disgruntled, but in one way 
they felt relief. After a morning's search for tracks 
on the Double X, along its eastern line, they had given 
up the job and had started to Gunsight to carry out a 
task which they felt would require a great amount of 
tact to keep it from becoming a shambles. But on the 
way they had stopped at the Doc's and found that it 
would not be necessary to cross-question Johnny. There 
remained one further duty to perform and they decided 
to slake their thirsts before attempting it. Big Tom 
wanted information from those whom he felt would be 
able to give it, since they were directly benefited by 
the kidnapping of the Doc. He felt sure that the com- 
mittee he had appointed were qualified to get it for him, 
especially if they had a proper amount of liquor before 
they started after it. Hence he had supplied them with 
the funds and told them that it was his treat Carson 
and Dahlgren had fat blanket rolls behind their sad« 
dies; '^Smitty" and Fraser, nothing but their usual 

They stamped in to the bar and lined up. To Dave's 
inquiry, they replied that their morning's work had 
been in vain, but boasted that the afternoon would not 
be wasted. 

"We're goin' where th' information is," said Car- 
son, " an' we're goin' to get it. If it comes easy, all 
right — but we're goin* to get it, savvy?" 

"An' when wc do get it, it will be forty feet of rope 
an' a sycamore tree for th* coyote that got rid of Squint 
an* kidnapped th' Doc," boasted Dahlgren. 


" Nobody gives a whoop about th* kidnappin*, *cq^ 
th' Doc/' said Fraser; ''but this was a poke at th* Bar 
H9 an* that's where we set in. If we finds out who got 
rid of Squint, we know who kidnapped th' Doc ; an' if 
we learns who kidnapped th' Doc, we likewise finds th' 
coyote what got rid of Squint. An' I'm tellin' you 
that we're goin' to find out who he is. Doc said he done 
a good job on that busted laig, an' it would be a mean 
trick on him to undo it; but we're goin' to find outl 
Give us another round." 

''I got to laugh about th' Doc," said Smitty, ''a 
growed man, lettin' hisself be stole that way. An' 
what's he doin' now? Is he out a-huntin'? He ain't. 
He's settin' in that shack of his'n waitin' for us to get 
his kidnapper. Fill 'em again, Dave." 

" Forty feet of rope an' a sycamore tree," repeated 
Carson. ''If he puts up a fight we'll give him this/^^ 
He yanked out his gun and fired at the floor. 

Could they have seen the result of the shot they would 
have been greatly surprised. Two-Spot, under their 
feet, lying on his pile of stolen blankets and discarded 
clothing, and drinking in every word they said, had 
just shifted to a more comfortable position when the 
gun roared and the bullet, ripping through the flooring, 
cut a welt on his cheek. Panic stricken, he started to 
roll and crawl toward the hotel, and was too excited 
to notice the pair of legs at the wash bench, where 
Johnny was cooling bullets in the basin, but rolled out 
and against the bench, upsetting it and Johnny, too, 
as well as the basin, bullets, and the water bucket. There 
iras a mad scramble for a few seconds and Two-Spot 


lost a tooth before Johnny saw who It was. Then both 
leaped to their feet, Two«Spot angrily spitting blood 
and dirt. 

"What you think yo're doin'?" blazed Johnny, 
reaching for Two-Spot's collar. " Playin' earthquake? '* 

** Who you hittin' ? " snarled Two-Spot. " Leggo my 
shirt; I got somethin' to tell you I " 

George came running and stuck his head out of the 
door. " Go It, or Timer I " he encouraged. " Serves 
him right for th' mess he's made I " 

Two-Spot thanked him by kicking backward, guided 
by sound and instinct. George, receiving one whole 
foot just below his short ribs, doubled up forthwith and 
disappeared. There was a crash and the sound of fall- 
ing stove wood, and George had interest in nothing 
outside of himself. 

"They're goin' to th' SV, an' make 'em tell who's 
raisin' th' devil on th' range," said Two-Spot in Johnny's 
car. " If they ain't told easy, then they'll take th' splints 
off 'n th' ol' man's laig. G — d only knows where they'll 
atop, for they're gettin' full of liquor." 

"Who are they?" 

" Carson, Dal, Smitty, an' Fraser," answered Two- 
Spot. " * Forty feet of rope an' a sycamore tree,' they 
says," he mimicked, " an' shot through th' floor. I got 
it in th' cheek, d — n 'em." A frightened look came 
to his face. " Don't tell 'em where I was," he begged, 
for the hiding-place was his only refuge and without it 
his life would be made miserable. 

"I'll swap secrets," said Johnny. "Keep mum 
kbout tdlin' me this. Take Pepper around front an* 


mix her tn with their cayuses. Then pick up th' slugs 
an' keep 'em for me." 

A piece of firewood whizzed past his ear, and then 
a stream of them. George, still throwing, emerged 
from the kitchen, blood in his eye. Johnny grabbed 

" We was playin' a joke on you, George," he said, 
hurriedly. '^Two-Spot kicked you accidental Here's 
somethin' to square it," and George opened his hand to 
see a coin nestling therein. 

** Joke I " he muttered, feeling around his belt *^Ac« 
cidental 1 You may think so, but I'm cussed if / do I 
My G — d, his relations must be mules I " 

Dave and the committee looked up as the door flew 
back and slammed against the wall, to see Johnny enter, 
a little. too erect, stepping a little too precisely and 
wide, his mind obviously concentrated on his legs. His 
face was owlishly serious and he nodded to each in turn 
with great gravity. Describing a wide curve he stepped 
carefully to the bar, where he stopped, sighed, and 
braced himself. 

"Dave," he said, waving an arm, "th' best in th* 
house for us. Didn't know what to do with m'self ; 
but now we can have some 'citement Here's how. 
Here's to pore OP Squint." 

"Here's to pore Ol' Squint," repeated Dave. "I 
alius liked Squint." 

"Everybody liked Squint," responded Johnny. 
"Everybody, 'cept — 'cept what's his name? Pore 
Squint, kidnapped; an' the Doc, kidnapped; nobody's 
safe no more. You might get kidnapped — you — an* 


you — an' you — an' Dave I No, not Dave 1 " he burst 
into laughter. "Not Dave I He I He I Less'n it 
was or Buffalo wa! his waggin 1 " 

Smitty rocked to and fro: "He I He I He I" he 
roared. " 01' Buffalo an' his f our-hoss team I Freight 
for Juniper I " 

Carson slapped Johnny on the shoulder. " Nobody's 
safe but Dave ! " he shouted. " Ol' Buffalo would have 
to roll him in, like a bar'l." 

" Don't you care, Dave," said Fraser. " I'm yore 
friend, an' nobody's goin' to kidnap you, waggin or no 
waggin. Not while Bill Fraser's around'. No, sir. 
Give us another. Big Tom's blowin' his boys." 

"Couldn't get along without Dave, not nohow,"^ 
said Johnny. "Here's to Dave — everybody's fr'en'* 
Just th' same I ain't forgettin' pore Squint. I'd like to 
know who kidnapped him — just so I could get my rope 
on him. That's all. Jus' that. Got notion to go find 
him. Come on, le's all go 1 " 

" Forty feet of rope an' a sycamore tree," burbled 

Smitty. " Forty feet of " 

"We're goin' to find him," boasted Dahlgren. 
" Goin' to righ' now. Le's have one more drink, Dave. 
Just one more, an' then we go git him." 

" That's th' way 1 " cried Johnny, " Come on — one 
more, Dave, ol' kidnapper. Then forty feet of syca- 
more rope. Want to come, Dave ? Come on ! Come 
on with us I " 

" I better stay here," said Dave, earnestly. " I better 
be right here when you bring him in. Somebody ought 
to be." 


" That's or Dave, all righ'," cried Smitty. ** Good 
or Dave." 

*^Give us a bottle, Dave,'' said Johnny. *^Give us 
iwo bottles. Nothings too good for my fren's." 

** If pore Squint was only here," burbled Smitty, eye* 
ing the bottles. '' Pore Squint We'll bring that coyote 
in for you, Dave. We'll drag him to town." 

" Him an' Or Arnold," supplemented Carson. " Boih 
of 'em ! " 

" That's it ! " cried Johnny. " That's where we'll go 
— come on, fellers 1 Goo'-by, Dave ; goo'-by ! " 

They surged toward the door, milled before the 
opening, and then shuffled to the street. Fraser threw 
an arm around Johnny's neck and slobbered about poor 
Squint Johnny slipped the six-gun from Eraser's hol- 
ster, dropped it on his own foot to deaden the fall, and 
then pushed it under the saloon. He staggered, with 
Fraser, out toward the horses and bumped into Dahl- 
gren, who grabbed them both to save himself. Eraser's 
other arm went around his friend's neck and he pro* 
tested his love for them both. Dahlgren's gun also 
struck Johnny's boot and was quickly scraped over with 

Under the saloon Two-Spot changed from all ears 
to mostly ears and some eyes, for his view was limited 
to below the hips of the maudlin gang. When Eraser's 
gun slid under the floor he became, for an instant, all 
eyes, and wriggled in greedy anticipation. Then he 
saw the second gun strike Johnny's boot and become cov« 
ered over with sand, and he rocked from side to side widi 
silent mirth, his boiled countenance acquiring spots o£ 


motded purple, especially his nose. As soon as the 
crowd mounted, he crawled forward, wriggling des- 
perately when the space became too small for hands and 
knees. He had to get those guns before the proprietor 
got them, for Dave would not allow him to own a 
weapon. When he had gone as far as he dared, he 
stopped and waited until the bunched group whirled 
away up the trail, and then wriggled more desperately 
duui ever. Suddenly he stopped and writhed sidewaya 
behind a pile of dirt, for the heavy steps above his head 
ceased as a pair of enormous legs waddled into his field 
of view. Dave kicked around in the sand, found the 
weapon, and laboriously picked it up. The huge legs 
remained motionless for a moment as their owner 
watched the cloud of dust which rolled eastward on 
the trail 

" He's takin' chances,'' muttered Dave. "An' I can 
almost smell him from here. Six glasses of whiskey 
down his sleeve — great guns, but he must feel com* 
f ortable I Well, boys, I don't know where yo're goin'^ 
but nothin' would surprise me." He paused a moment 
in indecision, thoughtfully regarding the colt. "I 
reckon I ought to lose this gun down th' well — but 
I'll wait till he comes back." 

The fat legs waddled out of sight and the floor 
creaked again. Two-Spot wriggled forward, snatched 
die Colt and backed to his nest, where he looked at his 
prize and gloated. 

"Dave never saw you fall," he chuckled. "Oh,, 
yo're a beauty; an' only two are gone. Cuss it I This 
is th' gun that shot me/'' He considered a moment. 


*^Now I got to get some •45*8 from th' store when OP 
Eagle-Eye ain't lookin'.*' 

Meanwhile the exuberant conmiittee tore over the 
trail until Eraser, wishing to let off some extra steam^ 
felt for his gun. He reined in so quickly as almost to 
cause a catastrophe. Dahlgren now discovered his own 
loss and there was a wrangle about going back to look 
for the missing weapons. Their insistence won out 
and the committee wheeled, spread out, and cantered 
back almost to Gunsight, wrangling all the way. Yield- 
ing at last to the acrimonious suggestions of the other 
three, they gave up the search and set out again, be- 
ginning on the second bottle. When they finally arrived 
at the SV ranchhouse the afternoon was over half gone 
and they were so under the influence of liquor that it 
was all they could do to get to the door of the house. 
Staggering in, they went to Arnold's room and all began 
talking at once. There were no preliminaries — Mar- 
garet and Charley, caught in the room, were forced into 
a comer and had to hear the brutal threats. . Johnny 
was the loudest of them all, but there was no profanity 
in his words ; and he took the first chance that offered 
to wink at the helpless man on the bed. Arnold, igno* 
rant of what he was supposed to know, pleaded in vain. 
Carson rolled up his sleeves and announced his inten- 
tions, staggering toward the bed. He collided with 
Johnny and they both fell. As Johnny scrambled to his 
feet he caught Margaret's eye and winked slowly. Then 
he let out a roar and blamed Carson for the fall. His 
«ye caught sight of a calendar on the wall and he ob« 
jected to the red numerals representing Sundays. Jerk- 




ing out his guns he shot the numbers out, the bullets 
passing so close to Smitty that that valiant committee- 
xnan nearly broke his neck falling oyer a chair he backed 
against. A glass of water was shattered and then the 
guns became wobbly, covering everything in sight. 
Boasting that he could shoot out a fly's eye without 
touching the rest of the insect, he shot a spur off of 
Carson's boot and put a hole through Dahlgren's hat 
when he presumably aimed at the lamp on a shelf. 
Roaring and jumping, he accused Arnold of doing the 
kidnapping himself, and fired at a knot in the floor, miss- 
ing it, and clipping a button from Eraser's vest. The 
committee was very drunk, but it was not so far gone 
that all instincts of self-preservation had fled, and it 
made haste to get out of the room. Smitty, finding the 
door blocked, and being in a hurry, went through the 
open window with remarkable directness for one in 
his condition. 

** He ain't here I " shouted Johnny. *' He's got away I 
Come on, fellers; we got to get him — pronto f 

'* Where'd he go ? " shouted Carson, stumbling over 
a chair. He kicked it across the room and sat down 
suddenly. Being assisted to his feet, he staggered out 
toward the horses, the rest stringing after him. 
•* Where'd he go ? " he demanded at the top of his voice. 

^* Don't know," answered Johnny, hanging onto 
Dahlgren. *' But he'll come back. Let's ambush him 1 " 

"A'right; I'm tired of ridin'," declared Smitty. " Got 
forty feet of rope an' sycamore tree. Where'U wc 

" Up on th' Juniper trail," said Johnny. ** We know 


he don't hide in tfa' toiith; we'd a' teen ham Img zgOm 
I know a good place, come on I " 

It was a wonder how they ever mounted, but they 
managed it, all but Smitty, who had to be assisted to 
the saddle. Once seated, they were fairly well at home 
and followed Johnny along the ranch trail. An hour 
later Johnny and three of them were lying in die bushes 
tt the edge of the Juniper trail, Smitty having been lose 
on die way. The sun was still warm, and the liquor 
potent, which was in no way checked by their inactivityt 
and snores soon arose. Johnny, smUing cynically at 
the prostrate iigureSf made a soft bed out of Carson's 
and Dahlgren's blankets and lay down to see it through 
The night passed quietly and the early morning li^t 
showed four soundly sleeping figures. Higher and 
fairer climbed the sun and one by one the men awak- 
ened, consumed by raging thirsts. Johnny raised him- 
self on one elbow and looked around. 

" I want a drink," he announced. " Gimme a drink* 
Fraser t " 

"Ain't got none ; I'm dyin' of thirst ! " 

Staggering to their feet they looked around, got their 
bearings and made a rush for their horses; and soon a 
miserable, sick committee pounded along the trail at 
its best speed, bent only on one*thii^ — to get to Dave's. 

Dave heard them coming and knew what would be 
wanted. He met them at the door and passed out a 
■mH-it; consuming it eagerly, they strayed off toward 
ranch, ugly and profane. 

!inny watched them go. ** I was in desperate corn- 
Dave," be said. ** They was all primed to raise 


h— -1 out there, but I saw that nobody belongin* to that 
ranch knew anything about Squint, or th* Doc, that we 
didn't know, so I sort of coaxed 'em away. An' would 
you believe it, Dave, we was so petrified we got lost an' 
finally climbed down an' went to sleq) right where th' 
idea struck us ? " 

**I alius was a great believer, Nelson," answered 
Dave. ** That's mebby why I'm a pore man at my 
time of life. An' I admits that you has persuadin' ways. 
Now, I figgers it this way : Th' Doc up an' kills Squint ; 
Squint gets even by kidnappin' th' Doc ; after which th' 
Doc buries th' corpse an' throws away th' grave. But, 
I says, an' it's th' * buts ' that raise th' devil, how does 
Big Tom figger it? He ain't got my trustin' nature. 
An' how will Wolf figger it? An' all th' rest, after 
they get together an' wrestle things out ? I'm glad you 
got a fast boss, an' a dear trail. Where's Smitty?" 
he demanded. 

•* He was a weak brother," Johnny sorrowfully de- 
dared. ** Th' last I saw of him he was f allin' off his 
cajruse about five miles northwest of th' ranch. First 
he fell back over a chair, backwards ; then he fell out of 
a window, frontwards; an' when he fell off his cayuse 
he was goin' sideways. When it comes to fallin' I'll 
back him against anybody. What do I owe you for 
them two botdes of whiskey? They was amazin' medi* 

"Whiskey?" queried Dave. "Did you taste it?'* 

•* I didn't," confessed Johnny. " I handed th' first 
botde to Dahlgren, an' by th' time it got back to me 
diere wasn't nothin' in it. Th' second botde I gives to 


Smitty, an' I got left again. If I'd had a couple more I 
might a* got a drink. What makes you ask? " 

" The ^rst was brandy, an' th' second was gin,** said 
Dave. " I reckoned mebby they'd like a change. Sorry 
jrou didn't get none of 'em." 

Johnny looked at him reproachfully. "/ ain't," be 
said. "Good Lordl Come, Pepper, there ain't no 
tellin' what this man'll do next. Mebby we won't see 
Smitty till next wedc — come, little boss t ** 


A man's a man 

HAVING eaten enough to arouse the unqualified 
admiration of George, Johnny went to the kitchen 
and became busy with patch paper, tallow, and loading 
cup, and had just finished the twenty-fifth, and last, 
cartridge, when Two^pot wandered in. George was 
out attacking the wood pile. 

"Got 'em done, huh? Ain't it better to buy 'em?" 
asked Two-Spot, looking into the dining-room. 

" It is, or Timer, when you can. Just now I can't 
get 'em, so I got to make 'em." 

His companion looked at the belt full of .45 's. 
•* Gimme a couple of them? I want to try somethin'." 

Johnny complied. ** Want to see if they fits ? " he 

"What you mean?" 

*' Carson dropped his gun under Dave's floor. Who 
got th' one in th' road ? " 

" Don't say nothin'," begged Two-Spot. " Dave's 
an old woman, an' I don't want nobody to know I got 
it. He got th' other." 

•* What you goin' to do with youm ? " 

** Keep it in my bunk. I might need it, sometime. I 
ought to have a rifle, though." 

" I'll get you one," promised Johnny. 

" What you goin' to do this afternoon ? " asked Two- 



Spot, his face betming at the thought of owning a rifl& 
'* Don't know yet" 

** It's time 70U Icnowed about things out here. You 
ride up th' Juni[>er trail to th' second draw^ in about 
an hour, an' I'll fix yore case rack so you'll know what 
cards are out Yo're guessin' good, but Faro am't th' 
only game where keepin' cases is better." 
*' Why go up there? " 

"WeU, purty soon it ain't goin' to be healthy for 
anybody to be too friendly with you," said Two^pot. 
reflectively. "Anyhow, I'll be worth more if I ain't 
suspected of bein* too talkative." 

"Th' best way to get suspected is to hide out when 
you don't have to," said Johnny. " You wander over 
to that grass spot across th' road from Dave's an' 
Dailey's in about an hour, an' lay down to rest yore 
laty bones, with yore head toward th' saloon, so nobody 
can see that yo're talkin' steady. I'll try to get there 
£rst It'll be innocent as sheep. Pepper hankers for 
live grass — an' she deserves what she hankers for." 

" She does," responded Two-Spot " Big Tom was 
In yesterday talkin' to Dailey. I heard him say some- 
thin* about no supplies. They had an argument an* 
finallv Dailey sajrs : 'All right ; if you say so.' " 

my nodded, " I'll see jrou around front in about 


ut the time agreed upon Two-Spot stopped sweep- 

1 looked out of the door. "Tilings look plumb 

il. Dare," he said. "There's Nelson lyin' on 

Jt over there in th' sun. He's too comfortable. 

lotion to stir him up." 

A MAirS A MAN 87 

" You stir up that broom an' get through,** replied 
Dave. " You*rc sweepin' later an' later every momin*.** 

The sweeper sighed and went to work again, with a 
vigor so carefully figured that Dave was on the verge 
of speaking about dust several times, but thought better 
of it each time. Finishing his chores, Two-Spot shuffled 
out and threw a can at the recumbent figure over on 
the grass. It stirred and raised its head 

**I*11 turn you inside out," it threatened 

**You couldn't turn a glove mside out,'* retorted 

Johnny grunted He was silent for a moment, and 
dien inquired, '^ What you doin\ Feather Head?" 

" Workin'." 

" Then you can't do it," regretted Johnny. 

Bring over a couple of cigars." 
Show me yore money." 

Johnny rolled over on his side and produced a coin, 
which he held up. 

" Chuck it over," said Two-Spot. 

•* Yo're too busy," jeered Johnny. 

"Chuck it, an' see." 

Johnny sat up and sent the coin glittering through 
die air, Two-Spot making an unexpected catch. He 
went into the saloon, soon reappeared, and shuffled 
across the road Sitting down at Johnny's side with his 
bade to the buildings, he lit his cigar and lazily redined 
" I shore appredates this rest,'' he sighed. 

Johnny laughed outright. " Yo're worked to death,'* 


•* or Simon Vcrricr," began Two-Spot, " was A* first 
owner of th* SV. He run it for twenty years, an* there 
wasn't nobody in all that time done any devilment an* 
wanted to repeat it. He was testy, big, an' powerful, 
an' he reckoned th' gun he packed was made to be used. 
He had Buck Sneed for his best man, an' an outfit what 
believed th' same as he did about guns. At that time 
there wasn't no boundaries, not fixed. Th' ranches 
sort of mingled along th' edges. Then th' Bar H got 
notions. It sort of honed for that valley, an' made a 
play or two for it There wasn't no third. Ol' Simon 
an' Buck rid down to th' Bar H house an' spoke plain. 
Failin' to have any lines didn't bother them two. They 
picked th' ridges of th' dividin' hills an' says : *' Them's 
th' lines ; stay on yore own side.' " 

Johnny laughed for the benefit of any of the curious 
on the other side of the road. 

" 01' Frank Harper owned th' Bar H in them days. 
Poker an' drink was his f ailin's. His poker took Dailey 
out of th' saddle an' put him into th' store, an' it did th' 
same for Dave. It also put a mortgage on th' Bar H. 
More'n that, it kept him drinkin' harder an' harder—^ 
an' he was found dead one day in East Canyon ; he had 
fell off his cayuse an' busted his neck. Th' mortgage 
was foreclosed an' th* present owners of th' ranch 
bought it in an' hired Big Tom to run it. 

^* Th' first thing Big Tom did was to forget all about 
them boundary lines. 01' Simon an' him had words, 
an' when th' smoke cleared Big Tom had four slugs 
out of five into him; but he's got th' strength of a 
grizzly an' pulled through. About th' time he was 


^ I ^i.— ^ ■ 1 11 I 111 11 I—— H^i— — ^1— — B^— — — — ^M^— ^1^ 

ridin' around ag'In, on his own side of th' lines, Simon 
got his feet wet an* died in four days. I says that is 
downright funny. He had weathered stampedes, gun- 
play, northers, an' th' Lord only knows what for sixty 
years, an' then he goes an' dies from wet feet I " 

Johnny nodded and pushed Pepper's muzzle from hisi 
face, "Keep a-feedin'« girl," he ordered; "I won't 
sneak away." 

"Well," continued Two^pot, "Buck buried th' ol' 
man, an' went right on runnin' things for th' heirs. He 
kept th' outfit together, an' th' ranch was payin' fine. 
Then th' heirs, eastern mutton-heads, didn't like hisi 
spellin', an' his habit of writin' letters when he was mad* 
They fired him, an' th' oufit, f eelin' insulted personally, 
quit th' ranch an' went with him." 

"I've knowed outfits just like that," murmured 
Johnny, reflectively. 

"Th' new foreman came, an' went Likewise th' 
second. They had a mark to live up to — it lays along 
th' top of them hills — an' they wasn't big enough to 
do it. Meanwhile th' SV was goin' to th' dogs. Then 
or Arnold bought it an' came out to run it. He was 
a tenderfoot, an' came out for his health. Things was 
happenin' all th' time. His herds was shrinkin'. Rus- 
tlin', shootin', maverick huntin', an' them quicksands 
kept a-cuttin' his herds. Just about that time Big Tom 
dynamites th' rock slide in Litde Canyon, an' forthwith 
loses his water. Then things happen faster than ever. 
He makes a play toward th' Double X ; but th' Double 
X talks plain an' he reckons he better get th' SV." 

Johnny sat up and stretched. " Let's play mumble- 


peg," he suggested, producing « clasp knife. "This 
steady talkin' is lastin* a long time, diough I don't 
believe they hear you. I better cut in an* ask fool 
questions for th' looks of it" 

"That'll come easy to you," retorted Two-Spot. 
"Well, things was gotn* from bad to worse on th' SV. 
They couldn't keep an outfit. Them that wasn't scared 
away was bribed to quit. Dahlgren, Lang, an* Gurley 
all was SV men. 01' Arnold borrowed three thousand 
dollars on his note in Highbank two years ago. Big 
Tom bought it an' holds it now. I think it's due next 
spring. Arnold has had to sell cows in small bunches 
to buy grub. There ain't no nat'ral increase, an' th* 
Bar H has a lot more calves an' yearlin's than Nature 
gave it For th* Ust year th* SV ain't been bothered 
very much. It*s so dose to d^n' that I redcon Big Tom 
would rather wait a little longer an* have somethin* 
left to take when he does get it'* 

" Pleasant sort of a buzzard, Big Tom," said Johnny. 
"You missed then — gimme th' knife." 

" Once in a while Lang or Gurley drive a cow into 
til' quidcsands, just to keep their hands in. They work 
for th* Triangle, but really for Big Tom. They're 
handy for him, seein' that they has th' Triangle range 
next to th' SV." 

"Them names are easy to remember," observed 

ny, surrendering the knife. 

Big Tom wants th' SV for its water," said Two- 
" That's what most folks think. / think him 

Dme friends he's got somewhere aim to get it cheap 

un it themselves." 

A MAirS A MAN 91 

"What's th' Doc dom\ squattin' where he is?'* 
queried Johnny. 

" There was some talk about th' SV's title to that end 
of it lyin' west of th* main trail, an' I reckon he's there 
to file a homestead claim if it's needed ; but I really don't 

"An' these other ranches are settin' back an' watchin* 
a sick man, a woman, an' a kid get robbed?" asked 

"Th' Triangle is scared of th' Bar H," answered 
Two-Spot. " It had its lesson ten years ago, an' ain't 
forgot it. Hank Lewis ain't got no nerve — it's only 
gall. Sam Gardner is sore about th' game, but he's 
all alone. Lefferts an' Reilly don't care much, an' Lang 
an* Gurley are in Big Tom's pay." 

What about th' Double X?" demanded Johnny. 
They are so far off they don't take no interest. 
(They keeps over there purty much an' don't meddle, 
an', besides, they has troubles of their own, with th* 
rustlin' goin* on along their west edge." 

" How do you know all this?" said Johnny. 

" I worked for Ol' Simon fifteen years ago. I drifted 
back last winter, an* I've been here ever since. Nobody 
knows me." 

"Why are you tellin* me?" 

" I hears a lot under th' floor, before you come, an* 
after,** said Two-Spot " My ears are good, an* I got 
some brains left — not much, but enough to put two an* 
two together. Likewise I'm feelin' sorry for them 
Arnolds. I don*t like to see a gang of thieves robbin* 
helpless critters like them. An' there's more. When 


I was comin' down here I got ketched in a storm an' 
like to froze to death. I would have, too, if that Arnold 
igal hadn't rid across me, pulled me out of a snowbank, 
an* toted me to th' ranch. They took care of me till I 
was strong ag^in, an* fed me up. I was near starved 
when th* storm got me.*' 

^* But why are you tellin' all this to me ? ** demanded 

Two-Spot stretched and handed over the knife. " I*m 
an or man, now,** he said, ^' but there was a time when 
I wasn't You are a young man, an* square, fur's I 
know. You been hangin' 'round here playin^ a lone 
hand against a bunch that'd cut your throat if they 
knowed what you've been doin'. There's a purty gal 
over on th' SV. She's square, too, an' helpless, an* 
lonely. She don't know what to do, nor where to turn. 
She layed in a nest of rocks one day an' was watchin* 
three Bar H punchers. A rattler showed up close to 
her, in a dead line with th* men. Scared to death of 
snakes, she was drawin* a bead on it, when a stranger 
offers her his cannon, an* his help. Then he gives her 
h — 1 about murder, an* goes away. But he don*t go 
fur, only to Gunsight He drives Squint out of th* 
country, kidnaps th* Doc, an' keeps a bunch of hosa 
thieves from killin' her ol' man. I never saw you 
before; I don't know how many cattle you*ve rusded 
nor how many trains you*ve stuck up. What's more, 
I don't care. I know a white man when I sees one, an* 
I'm not gamblin' when I shoots off my mouth to you. 
I'm only a two-spot; but even two-spots has their good 
points. You can alius remember that there's a two-spot 


holdin' a six-gun under that there floor any time you 
need him." 

Johnny sat up : " I'm sayin' you ain't no two-spotf 

" Before I forget it, I want to tell you th' rest of it,'^ 
went on Two-Spot, anger heightening his color. **As 
I was sayin', th' gal's white, an' square. She's plumb 
different from some I've seen in th' cow-towns. Big 
Tom wants th' SV, but he wants her, too ; an* 'though 
he ain't pesterin' her now, I know him too well to think 
he's give up th' idea. He never lets loose. Th' only 
reason he's let up is because he figgers he's got a better 
way; an' he's patient. Can you imagine a whiskey- 
smellin', big brute like him courtin' herf Can you 
imagine how he'd do it ? An' lemme tell you. Nelson : 
I am z two-spot, for if Td been any good at all I'd 'a^ 
put a knife into him an' then took my medicine, like a 
man. I was near sick with disappointment when yoa 
shot th' gun out of his hand." 

*' How do you know anythin' about that nest of rocks^ 
an' th' three men?" 

*' I know lots of things I ain't supposed to, an' one 
of 'em is that Big Tom ain't give up di' notion of gettin' 
th' SV| nor her, neither. There ain't no parson in thirty 
miles — an' Big Tom is terrible lazy. Sometimes I near 
sees redl" He glanced up the trail. **Here comes 
little Charley, leadin' a pack boss. He's after supplies 
at Dailey's — ^" he stopped short and looked at Johnny, 
who was looking at him through narrowed lids. The 
same thought had come to them both at the same time. 
** I'm bettin' he don't get 'em," Two-Spot prophesied. 



Johnny arote and stretched " I'm bettin' he does,** 
he drawled* *'Redu>n Til go over an* swap gossip 
with Dailey,*' he esqilained, striding away. 

Two*Spot watched him and also arose, going across 
the road and around the saloon. *' I called it wrong, 
he mutteredf "I'll copper that bet: / bets he does. 
A grin stole across his face as he shuffled toward Dailey's 
back door. " This'll be worth hearin\ an' mebby I can 
get me a box of .45's; Ol' Eagle-Eye may be too cussed 
busy to pay any attention to me/'' 

Johnny sauntered into the store and seated himself 
on a box. " Howd'y, Ben." 

Dailey smiled a welcome. " Been sunnin' yoreself ? " 

Johnny yawned. "Yeah; Fm shore lazy." He 
glanced out of the door at the boy who had ridden up 
and dismounted. "Reckon this is that Arnold kid," 
he observed. 

Dailey hid a frown, and nodded " I'm awful short 
of supplies today," he said. " 01' Buffalo didn't bring 
me any — now I got to wait till he comes again." 

Charley entered and handed a paper to the store- 
keeper, who took it, studied it, and then shook his head 
" Bud, if you'd hunted through th' store you couldn't 
'a' picked 'em any worse. I ain't got notUn' this calls 

Charley's face fell " Gee 1 " he said, " Peggy's out 
of almost everything. She said she just had to get these 
today." He looked around inquiringly. "Ain't that 
€our ? " he asked, pointing to several filled sacks behind 
the counter. ^ 

** Them's flour sadcs," answered Dailey, " bat ther« 


ain^t no flour in 'em now.'* He handed the list back to 
the boy. ** No use, bud, you'll have to wait till Buffalo 
conies up again. He's too old to be of any account, 
anyhow, th' ol' fossil: he's alius forgettin' somethin', 

Johnny held out his hand, his right hand. **Let*9 
see it, Charley," he said, and looked it over. *' I'll be 
cussed if that ain't funny 1 " he exclaimed. ** This here 
is th' very same as I was goin' to get filled for myself, 
only mine wasn't all writ down like this. How'd you 
come to pick these things out, Charley?" 

"Quit yore fooling," grinned Cl^rley. "I didn't 
pick them. Peggy wrote that." 

Johnny reached out and put the list in Dailey's hand. 
" Better begin at th' top, Ben, an' run right down," he 
suggested. *'We won't get 'em mixed that way, or 
leave nothin' out. Let's start with one of them flour 
sacks, no matter what's in 'em." 

Dailey flushed. ** But I just said I was all out ^ 

" Yo're th' most forgetful man I ever knowed, except, 
mebby, Buffalo," said Johnny. ^'You ain't go no 
mem'ry at all. Don't you remember you found a lot of 
things you'd poked away an' forgot you had? An' 
don't you remember that nobody ain't told you, yet, 
not to sell me nothin' ? That there paper is mine, now. 
I'm borrowin' it because I ain't got my own list writ 
out That's writ so pretty an' plain, that it's pretty 
plain to read. If anybody gets curious, which they 
won't unless you tell 'em, you say that I gave you that 
an' wanted it filled. Now, we'll start with di' flour, 
iike I was sa]^'." 


Dailey looked down the list and then up at Johnny. 
He was asking Fate why Nelson had to pick that par- 
ticular time to visit the store. Johnny was smiling, but 
there was a look in his eyes which made the storekeeper 
do some quick thinking. He had no orders not to sell 
to anyone but the SV ; and if Big Tom became curious 
he could put his questions to the two-gun man and get 
what satisfaction he could. In his heart he was in 
sympathy with the SV, and he had argued against refus- 
ing to sell to it 

^'Nelson," said Dailey, slowly going behind the 
counter, '^ It's a good thing you remembered about that 
stuff. Are you takin* it to th' hotel ? " 

" Reckon not," answered Johnny. " Reckon Fll bor- 
row Charley's pack boss an' him to take it oft to a place 
I knows of, where there ain't no mice. You'd be sur- 
prised, Ben, if you knowed how many mice there are 
in that hotel." 

Charley looked from one to the other and, not know- 
ing what to think or say, grinned somewhat anxiously. 

"How's yore dad, an* yore sister?" Johnny asked 

"All right," answered Charley. " But they was scared 
half to death yesterday when you an' them fellers came 
tearin' in, 'specially when you started shooting. You 
was awful drunk, wasn't you?" 

" I don't remember much about it," confessed Johnny, 
" so I reckon mebby I was. We all got lost an' had to 
sleep out in th' brush all night. We was after th' coyote 
what kidnapped th' Doc, but we couldn't find him." 

Dailey forgot to continue filling the list. He was 



holding a sack of sugar in his hand and drinking in 
every word. Johnny turned to him. 

" Say, Ben," he said, " did I ever tell you th* story 
about Damsight?" 

"You never did," answered the storekeeper, "not if 
my memory ain't playin' me false again." 

It was scandalous," began Johnny, drumming with 
fingers on the butt of a gun. " There was a bunch 
of boss thieves fightin' a lone woman an' her crippled 
dad. An' what do you reckon th' men in Damsight did 
about it? Nothin'. Nothin' at all. They was so mis» 
erable, so coyote-livered, so scared to death that they 
didn't raise a finger. No, sir; there wasn't a man in 
th' town. They were just yellow dogs, runnin' around 
in men's clothes an' pertendin' they was humans— a 
lot of yellow dogs, an' not a cussed thing more." 

Dailey bungled a knot, and swore under his breath. 

"Things went on like that for quite a spell," con« 
tinned Johnny, " then a big storm come up, an' one by 
one them fellers who didn't see th' error of their ways 
was struck by lightnin'. They never knowed what hit 
'em. It was just like th' miracles I've heard sky pilots 
tell about. Some of 'em did see th' error of their ways 
in time. They had a hard time in th' storm, but they 
pulled out alive. There seems to be a moral to that 
story; there ain't no use tellin' a story like that if th' 
moral is left out. An' I reckon th' moral of this one is: 
A man might be able to dodge lots of trouble, 'specially 
when it ain't near him all th' time ; but when he's livin' 
right next door to th' lightnin', he can't dodge that 
MThat do you think about it, Charley?" 


*'GeeI That's like die diings P^gy reads to me 
out of the Bible," he replied. ^ Only it wasn't light- 
lung, bat floods, and pestilences, and things like that. 
Why, once a whole ocean opened up right in the middle 
and let a lot of people walk across it, bat when their 
tnemies got halfway over, it closed op, smack/ and die/ 
Were all drowned*' 

Johnny nodded gravely. '* There's strange things 
happenin', even today, Charley, an' nobody knows when 
or where they ttnll happen. Now, leavin' miracles out 
of it, let's pat those packages on that boss oat there, 
an' see if Ben has forgot how to throw a diamond 
hitch. I'm bettin' a dollar he has." 

"I'll take that dollar, parson," grinned Dailey. 
^* Gimme a hand with th' stuff." 

They filed out to the horse, loaded with paduiges, as 
Two-Spot slipped in the back door, and Dailey won 
the dollar. Watching the boy ride away, he turned and 
started for the store. 

"Well," he said, over his shoulder, "I've put up 
my lightnin' rods, an' now I'm goin' to spit on my handi 
an' hold fast, for if this storm busts she'll be a whizzer. 
I'm aimin' to tell people right to their faces that Dailey's 
store sells to anybody that's got th' cash. You better 
look to yore tent pegs, young man.^ 




THE next morning Johnny mounted Pepper and 
rode toward the SV. He had some thinking to 
do and chose the conditions which he had found were 
most conducive to clarity and continuity of thought—* 
the saddle. As he left the town behind he took Pepper 
into his confidence. 

•* Little hoss," he muttered, " we've gone just about 
as far as we can go without stirrin' up active an' per- 
sonal troubles. We can't play our hand much longer 
without folks knowin' what we are doin'. What you 
an* me has got to do is plan things, choose th' leads, 
an' then stick to 'em in spite of h — 1 an' high water. 
An' we ought to figger on doin' somethin' solid for 
th' SV. Any fool can tear around an' smash things, 
an' we've got to do that; but you an' me ain't sat-» 
isfied with no worthless pile of rubbish; we got to 
smash so we can pan that rubbish, sort of, an' get some- 
thin' out of it. An' when a feller pans free an' wide 
on a cattle range, he most likely will get cows. What 
else can he get? A man rocks gravel an' gets gold, if 
there's any gold in it. A. puncher, rockin' ranches, 
ought to get cows. There ain't nothin' else to get. So 
we got to get cows, an' now we got to find out how 
many cows we want. We can't find out exact, but we 
can do better than guess at it. There's a limit to this 



pannin* of ours — an' It ought to be what was lost an* 
stolen. There's only one place where we can find that 
out, an' we're ridin' that way now. Havin' decided 
what we're aimin' for, we'll let It rest an' turn to some- 
thin' mighty close to us, ourselves; somethin' plumb 
personal, an' terrible riled. 

" You remember Tex Ewalt, don't you? You ought 
to, because he said some mighty nice things about you ; 
I was scared he'd turn yore head. Now, Tex was a 
wise boy; he was amazin' wise. Do you remember 
what he told young Slim-Shanks, that there Baxter kid, 
who was all tangled up with tender feelin's? Mebby 
you don't; but / do. Slim-Shanks, he was fair wallerin* 
in misery, an' actin' like a sick calf. He hung around 
that gal's house like a dogie 'round a water hole. She 
must 'a' got sick of th' sight of him. Every place she 
looked, there was Slim-Shanks, an' his hope-I-die look. 
She couldn't get away from th' big calf. Tex never 
missed anythin', 'specially If it was under his eyes, an' 
one day young Slim-Shanks got bleatin' to him, moanin* 
an' groanin' about his busted heart What did Tex tell 
him ? I'll tell you. He says, slow an' deliberate : ' Slim- 
Shanks, some you got to rush ; others you got to pique — 
an' th' best way to do that, in most cases, is to let 'em 
think you can look at 'em, an' not see 'em. It takes 
nerve — an' not one man in a hundred has got th' nerve. 
Make 'em keep a-thinkin' of you without chasin' after 
'em. Yore medicine ain't no good — you might try th' 
other.' Now, just because Slim-Shanks didn't have th' 
nerve ain't sayin' Tex was wrong. I've got to decide 
which way Is best, an' It's tough ridin'. Now you keep 


right still while I wrestle this thing out/^ and he became 
so wrapped up in the problem that he paid no attention 
to where Pepper was going; and she took him to the 
vantage point on the valley's rim from whence he had 
looked down at the posts and their enclosed quicksands ; 
and arriving there, she stopped. Johnny was aroused 
from his abstractions by a voice which brought him 
back in touch with his surroundings, and with a jerk. 

" Good morning," said Margaret. 

He looked up, hauled off his sombrero and muttered 
something, his face in one instant giving up his secret. 
Then by an act of will almost brutal in its punishment, 
he mastered his feelings and nodded calmly. 

"Good mornin\ Ma'am," he replied. "You found 
me off my guard; I was miles away." 

"Why aren't you?" she retorted, smiling. 


" If I were a man I'd stay near my friends as long 
as I could." 

" I did. Ma'am ; but there was too many wimmin', 
so I drifted." 

"Ah ! A woman-hater ; or are you trying to forget ? " 

"They was all married," he grinned, "that is, all 
that had any chance to be. They married my friends, 
which took down th' bars on me. I was fair game when 
there was any blame which should 'a' been saddled on 
their partners. So I drifted. You can't use a gun on 
a woman, you know." 

" So you came down here to be a mystery? " 

"Mystery?" he laughed. "Mel Why, Ma'am, 
I'm so open I'm easy pickin' in every poker game I sets 


in. Folks know what I*m goin' to think before I start 
thinkin* at aU/' 

'^ Then I must be even denser than I feared I am 
very much interested in what you have been thinking, 
and haven't the slightest clue to it Perhaps if I con- 
fess my helplessness you will take pity on me, and tell 
me what you are doing down here ; and why? '' 

•* Th' * why • shows you ain*t guessm' much, Ma'am,** 
he replied, quizzically. 

*^ Why did you join that crowd of drunken rowdies, 
and act worse than any of them ? " 

^' Because when I acts bad, I'm harmless, an' they 
was not." 

" Perhaps ; but why did you join them ? " 

''I was afraid they might hurt themselves, or get 

" Father says that we owe you a debt of gratitude ; 
I'm sorry that I shall have to disillusion him." 

'' I wouldn't give him no shocks, Ma'am, till his laig 
gets well. He ain't as young as he was." 

'' Why did you go to the trouble of seeing that we 
had supplies ? " 

'* Invalids has got to eat. Ma'am." 

"Why did you stop that — that brute — when he 
was entertaining his companions with his idea of 

"A man* would just naturally do that, Ma'am; it's 
an instinct'* 

"Why did you do what you did the day, and night, 
that my brother was stopped from going to Highbank 
for the doctor?" 


*'A man would do that, too ; an* any doctor that for- 
gets his duty deserves to be stole an' made do it/' 

" You realize, of course, that you are getting your- 
self into great danger?" 

** I wouldn't hardly call it that, Ma'am," he replied, 
smiling. '* There are different breeds. A man might 
get scared at a pack of wolves, an' not worry about 
coyotes, at all." 

** Nevertheless, the danger exists ; no man is proof 
Against ambush. Why are you courting it?" she per- 

" Folks don't ambush till they're purty shore about 
things ; an' tryin' to keep 'em from gettin' shore is th* 
hardest part of it." 

" Why are you courting it? " 

'* Ma'am, some things are so raw that they rile an 
honest man ; I admits I'm riled considerable, which, of 
course, don't prove me to be honest. Even Two-Spot 
says he don't know how many cows I've rustled, nor 
how many trains I've stuck up. Th' number might 
surprise him." 

** Somehow I feel that I should thank you for the 
favors you have done us," she replied ; ** but my opinion 
of western men, as / have found them, urges me to seek 
the motive first." 

He flushed, and looked at her steadily. **Mebby 
that's th* motive yo'rc askin' about,'* be ttfr* wavcly, 
and slowly continued : ^* You've aSKed me a lot of que»* 
tions; can I deal a few?'* 

It depends on what they are.** 

They*re personal — plumb personaL I*m wantin* 



to know if Big Tom holds yore dad's note for three 
thousand dollars.'* He waited a moment and, receiv- 
ing no reply, asked two in one. *^ How many cows was 
on th' SV when you bought it, an' how many are on it 
now? Th' tally sheets ought to give that purty close — 
dose enough, anyhow." 

'^ Mr. Nelson, the first seems to be public knowledge. 
Mr. Huff holds my father's note for that amount The 
number of cows, then or now, I do not know." 

" Is th' note endorsed, an 'what security was given?" 

" I endorsed it. The ranch is in my name." 

"Uh-huh," commented Johnny. "Do you know 
where th' tally sheets are?" 

" If you mean the books, they are on a shelf in the 

" Ma'am," he said, earnestly, " I wonder if you would 
mind copyin' off what there is about th' number of cows 
on th' ranch after th' last trail herd left, th' year before 
you took possession? An' how many cows there was 
this spring, or th'*number of calves branded then?" 

"Why do you want this?" she demanded. "Why 
should I go to that trouble, or tell you such things? " 

"I don't know," he answered, "less'n you want to. 
You see, I'm curious about things, too. It's a failin' 
most humans have, a bad failin'. An', before I forget 
it, I'm goin' to ask you another: Judgin' from them 
posts down there along th' river, that's a quicksand. 
Why ain't there more wire strung to keep th' cows out 
of it?" 

" Because it is torn off as fast as it is put up. We 
have given up the effort; it is useless. // you only 



ktgew — *' she checked herself, but the tears of helpless 
anger in her eyes could not be kept from forming. 

"That's just it, Ma'am — if I only knowed," he 
replied, nodding. " I know a lot about that, but not 
about th' number of cows you have lost. I'm what 
you might call morbid, an' like to grieve about calami- 
ties. Would you jpiind gettin' them iiggers for me? 
I'll be here about ten o'clock tomorrow for 'em, if you 

" Yes ; but why do you want them ? " she demanded. 

" I'm aimin' to put th' fear of God where it ain't been 
knowed for a long time, Ma'am," he answered, ** an' 
be rewarded by th' company." 

"What company?" 

" I'll tell you that later. Ma'am. It will be th' last 
thing to be told, an' you'll never guess it alone. You'll 
have to be helped. An' when I tell you, you'll be sur- 
prised, an' wonder how it was that you couldn't guess 
such a simple thing as that. I'll be leavin' you now, to 
keep on a-roUin'." 

She looked after him longer than he was in sight, 
lost in the solving of the riddle, which grew more for- 
midable the more it was attacked, unless the instinct of 
her sex was given a fairer hearing. It hammered and 
hammered for admittance and gained entry enough to 
cause a flush to steal across her face, and was instantly 
thrown out bodily. But if it was refused its day in 
court, it could at least stand outside the walls and make 
its plea, and so it did. Somehow, when she was in the 
presence of this man she felt a sense of security that 
was almost like a lullaby. His easy, graceful poise, 


the quiet reverence which lay smiling behind his eyes 
and crept into his voice, the unobtrusive but unwavering 
confidence he had in himself, and the feeling of tremen- 
dous reserve power which emanated from his every 
word, look, and movement seemed almost to bathe her 
with peace and security. And for one instant his eyes 
had looked at her and made her go suddenly limp : she 
had felt suffocated, and the feeling had not been rebuked. 
Turning her pony's head, she rode slowly homeward, 
knowing that she would do whatever he requested, in 
spite of herself — and, strangely, she felt no fear. 

Johnny, the vortex of an emotional whirlpool, rode 
into Gunsight and dismounted before the Palace, the 
action purely a matter of habit. Suddenly he shook his 
head with savage energy. " You fool ! " he growled. 
" Keep yore mind on yore job, or somebody'll find you 
easy pidcin* I " He looked around and saw Two-Spot 
grinning at him, and felt a quick irritation. *' Well,'' 
he demanded sharply, "what's on yore mind?" 

Two-Spot rubbed the disgraceful stubble on his face 
and grinned wider than before. " I was just a-thinkin* 
you need a guardian," he retorted. "Through with 

Johnny regarded him unfavorably. "A man jQsually 
gets what he needs, if he tries hard enough. Tote that 
away an' gnaw on it I I'm through with Pepper." 

Two-Spot watched him enter the saloon, and reflec* 
tively scratched his chin. " Mebby there is some meat 
on that bone, but he didn't have to call me no dog, did 
he? Cuss him an' his trick of leavin' me knots to untie* 
He's crazy — crazy as a fox I " 



WHILE Johnny had been talking to Margaret 
there was being enacted a far different scene 
down on the Bar H. The foreman's anger at the 
condition of his three men when they had ridden in 
the day before was newly aroused by Smitty the follow- 
ing morning, when he arrived and shamefacedly slunk 
into the bunkhouse. Big Tom stormed about the room, 
demanding to know why he had to have such sheep in 
his outfit He wanted to know what they had done, 
and they could not tell him ; he asked where they had 
gone, and they replied to the SV. What had they 
done there? They could not recall. Dahlgren spoke 
vaguely of "going after th' feller," but had no idea 
who he was, or anything about it ; but they all remem- 
bered that Nelson had been with them, in the same 
condition as themselves, and that he had terrorized the 
SV household. Smitty corroborated the last and rejoiced 
at the^agility which had twice saved him. There were 
some things to which his memory clung. 

Little Tom Carney and Wolf Forbes enjoyed their 
friends' discomfiture, at the same time sharing in some 
of Big Tom's disgust. 

Wolf looked at them pityingly. "You make me 
sick I" he sneered. "Fine bunch of sage hens — all 
you think about is liquor. How many times have I 



told you to let th* stuff alone, as long as yoa couldn't 
drink like humans ? " 

"Parson Forbes has th* floori" growled Carson. 
"Bein' human, he '* 

"That'll do I" snapped Wolf. "You know how 
much parson there is to me. Who shot you out of a 
lynchin' bee back m Texas?" he demanded. 

"Who got me into it?" demanded Carson. "They 
was watchin' that bank, an* I told you so 1 *' 

" You said so because you got scared at th' last mm- 
ute I " retorted Wolf. " If I didn't have to waste half 
an hour arguin' with you — oh, what of It I That ain't 
excusin' you from bein* a fool day before yesterday, 
is it?" 

"Mebby you could *a* done better?" ironically 
queried Dahlgren. 

" If he couldn*t, I'd fire him I " snapped Big Tom. 

"You wouldn't have to fire me; I'd quit I" replied 

"Then why don't you do somethin*, 'stead of loafin* 
along that northwest line, pertendin' you has got to 
watch for rustlers an* them Double X fellers?** sneered 

" I will I " shouted Wolf. " I'm goin' to watch one 

man— not everybody on th' range. There's only one 

man in this country that ain't got a good reason for 

bein' here — that's Nelson — an' I'm goin* to watch 

him till I get what I want. Then mebby you fools will 

iblc to bury him for me. Think so?" 

'I'm wishin' you luck," said Smitty. "Youll need 

You be careful who it is that gets buried.'* 


Wolf looked at him pityingly. " You pore sheep I •* 
he said, " I'm sorry you was so lively in th' SV house» 
cussed if I ain't I" He turned to Big Tom. "Do 
I go?" 

'* You do/' said the foreman. ** Somethin' is wrong,, 
an' we got to fix it. Stay as long as you has to. I'm 
not worryin' about you — but I am scared th' cows will 
eat these four chumps. They shore is green an' tender. 
When you startin' ? " 

" Right soon," answered Forbes, going out. 

Big Tom stood in the doorway and watched his two» 
gun man enter the corral. His confidence in the wiry 
killer was not built upon hearsay. Cold, venomous^ 
and quick, he was more like a rattler than his namesake. 
Up to now every man who had faced Wolf Forbes had 
faced death, a death swift and certain. 

In due time Wolf rode northward and arrived in 
Gunsight, where he loafed around exchanging gossip 
with everyone he knew. George was coaxed to talk, 
but his stupidity did what a mediocre cleverness might 
have failed to do. He yielded nothing that Wolf could 
use, and a few things which did not suit Wolf's needs. 
With Jerry, the harness-maker, the conversation was 
a husk without a kernel, and the second-hand saddles 
were of no value to Wolf, who was searching doMoi 
things which were against his own convictions. Two- 
Spot smoked his cigar and rambled aimlessly in his 
garrulous monologue. He was hopeless from Wolfs 
viewpoint. Dave's admissions were barren of infor- 
mation of a constructive sort. Fanning did not know 
anything, and Dailey was as bad. Wolf finally gave up 


the effort and went bade to the Palace, there to await 
the coming of Nelson. 

Johnny entered the saloon some time later, nodded 
to its occupants, but kept on going toward the rear door. 
" Be back after I eat," he said. 

George looked out to see who was washing. " This 
ain*t no time to come in for dinner," he growled. 

" There's never no time like th' present. Can't help- 
it," retorted Johnny. " While I'm washin' you rustle 
th' chudc" 

" Wolf was here askin' about you," said George. 

" That so ? Well, that ain't no crime." 

"Can he shoot better'n you?" queried the cook. 
. *' He says he'll shoot against anybody in this coontry 
with six-guns, any fashion, for a dollar a shot Does it 
sound like money?" 

" If I could shoot that good I'd be too rich to be 
restin' up between cow-punchin' jobs," gurgled Johnny 
through a double handful of water. " Reckon he 
knows what he's talkin* about, or he wouldn't risk bein' 
took up." 

" Well," said the cook, " I've heard somethin' from 
them that seen it If you aim to go ag'in* him, let me 
know ahead of time, will you ? " 

" I ain't aimin' to," replied Johnny. 

" Hey I Wait 1 " exclaimed the cook, disappearing. 
He returned with a clean toweL "Use this. That 
ain't lit for a dog no more." 

looked at the old one and smiled. It was 
le distance from the condition which called 
nge of towels at the Delmonico. "Thanks. 



Th' dirt won't come off this one. What about dinner ? " 

^^Goshl I forgot," said George, dodging into the 

Johnny had company while he ate, for the cook en- 
tertained him with an account of Wolf's visit, to all of 
which Johnny paid polite interest, but he hastened his 
meal. Then he slowed again, for George was beg^- 
ning to get at the kernels. 

*^ Has he lost his saddle ? " asked the cook. 

"Don't know.'* 

" Must a' busted it He asked me if I knowed where 
there was a good second-hand one, gold or brass 
trimmed. An' say, keep yore eyes on youm; he asks 
me if you tote it up to yore room nights. I didn't tell 
him you keep it in th' kitchen, but I did say there wasn't 
no room in yore room for no saddle. He wants one, I 
reckon, because he went to Jerry's when he left here." 

" He wouldn't take my saddle," said Johnny. " He 
was havin' fun with you." 

"Mebby," admitted George. "He was in a jokin' 
humor, 'cause he laughed an' says he reckoned you'd 
get th' courtin' bug, like all th' rest, an' go callin' on that 
Arnold gal. An' he says he'll bet you get throwed as 
hard as th' rest of 'em. I gave it to him right back an' 
says that you an' me are both alike — we hates wim- 

"They've got to hustle if they rope you or me," 
laughed Johnny. "What else did he say?" 

" That's all, that an' what I told you before. Where 
you goin' now?" 

'* Round to Dave's for a game of cards, mebby. 


Wolf an' Fanning are there," answered Johnny, taking 
fail hat from the floor and arising. 

"You ain't repeatin' what I said, are you?*' asked 
George, somewhat anxiously. *' He didn't mean notbin* 
by it." 

" No ; why should I ? We all like to joke. I ain't 
got nothin' against Wolf. See you at supper," and 
Johnny went out the rear door. As he neared the cor* 
ner of the kitchen Two^pot turned it and bumped into 
him. "Wolfs askin' about you all over town," he 
muttered, and then, louder: " Why'n blazes don't you 
look out?" 

" Some day I'll chuck you over th' roof," retorted 
Johnny. " If you'd keep yore head up you'd see where 
you was goin' ! " 

"Keep yore own head upl You don't own this 
town I " 

Johnny turned as he reached Dave's door. " If I did 
I'd run you out of it," and entering, he slammed the 
door behind him. 

There was a laugh from the bar, where Wolf and 
Fanning were stitl chatting with Dave. Wolf swung 
the conversation around to the SV and kept it there as 
long as he could after Johnny joined them. He worked 
around to Squint, and to the kidnapping of the Doc, and 
endeavored to get a careless admission from Johnny; 
but the latter evaded the traps. He showed no disin- 
clination to talk about Wolf's pet subjects and even 
other to keep the conversation on them. He 
if the committee's visit to the SV by saying 
the Arnolds knew nothing at all about recent 


events, or else they had been terrorized by the visitors' 
actions and had been unable to think clearly or even 
to talk. He admitted that the committee was in no 
condition to handle the situation, and that he was as 
bad as any member of it. As to what had really oc- 
curred out there the details were lost to him because 
he had been too drunk to know much about anything ; 
and in this he was backed up by what Wolf, himself, 
knew about the other members of the committee. He 
remembered that he had got rough and that someone, 
he thought it had been Smitty, had yelled something 
about getting somebody, and they had followed him to 

"Give us another round, Dave," said Wolf. **I 
ain't losin' no sleep about th' Doc — ^^' he began again. 
Johnny interrupted him and led the way to a table. 
Ain't no use standin' up all afternoon. We'll drink 
'em over here, Dave." 

Fanning and Wolf followed and the afternoon passed 
in cards, drinking, and talking. Johnny drank his liquor 
every round without losing his head, for which he was 
indebted to the proprietor. When supper time came 
around Fanning pushed bade the table. 

" I just can't make nothin' these days," he growled. 
" I never saw a game break so even ; bet nobody's lost 
ten dollars." 

"I won somewhere 'round four," laughed Wolf, 

" I'm out five," grinned Johnny. " Jim has played 
all afternoon to get that dollar. Goin' home, Wolf, or 
you aimin' to make a night of It? " 



"Got to go,*' answered Wolf, "but I got sense 
enough to get my supper in town," he smiled " Lead 
th* way, Jim." 

"Hey!" called Dave, "somebody ginune a hand 
with this keg?" 

Johnny, who was last in the line, turned. " Be right 
after you fellers," he said, over his shoulder. " Where 
do you want it, Dave?" 

"Up on th* buck, under th' bar. Easy, now I Up/ 

"That was fine baby stuff I was drinkin* all after- 
noon," chuckled Johnny. " How'd you keep th* color? ** 

" Young man," smiled Dave, " yore business is punchr 
in' cows; mine's sellin' " liquor. Go on, now, an' eat- 
Keep yore wits sharp." 

While they were at supper there was a conunotion 
outside and four punchers from the Double X stamped 
in. " Hello, fellers I " said Slim Hawkes, throwing his 
sombrero on a table. 

" It smells good," grunted Wilkes, and turned to the 
other two. " Boys, this is Nelson : Nelson, shake ban's 
with Gus Thompson an' Bill Sage." He nodded coldly 
to Wolf, who returned it with reserve. 

" What brought you hoodlums to town ? " asked Fan- 
ning. " You fellers act scared of Gunsight. Ol' Dalley 
got you buffaloed ? " 

" I reckon it's th' twenty miles," said Slim, dragging 
a table up to the one then in use. "Hey, George I 
Can't you move faster'n that?" 

" Go roll in a ditch," came the polite reply. 

"Well," said Wilkes, "we was ridin' near th' east 



line when we discovers we was goin' to be late for 

supper, an* th' ranchhouse bein' near twenty miles, an' 

th' town only a couple, we votes for a Ao-tel feed an* 

a session in Dave's." He turned toward the kitchen. 

*' Hey, George ! We saw dust above th' Sherman trail 

an* figgers it's Buffalo. Is he due tonight? Thought 

I'd" tell you so you could get ready for th' old codger.'* 

George stuck his head in the doorway. ^'Any more 

hard luck comin' this evenin' ? " he demanded. *' Can't 

somebody trail in after him so I can keep on a-work- 


'^ You get back in there an' go to work I " warned 
Thompson. " We're hungry I " 

Wolf arose, paid his bill, and took up his hat. ^' Well, 
I'm off. So-long, fellers," and he strolled out. 

** Which ain't causin' me no tears," muttered Slim. 
*' He likes us 'bout as well as we like him. Here comes 
th' cook. Good for you, George 1 " 

When the Double X squad had nearly finished, the 
rumble of a wagon was heard, rapidly getting nearer. 
Soon it passed the side of the hotel, and ceased. 
" There's OV AUus-Latc 1 " grumbled George. 
^^I'll give him a hand," said Johnny, arising and 
going out " It'll save you time." 

"Don't strain yoreself on my account," replied 

" Hello, Buffalo ! " said Johnny, starting to unhitcht 

** I'll put these boys in th' shed an' you go eat. George 

. is ready for you. You can feed 'em later* If you'll 

trust me, I'll do it for you ; I watched you last time." 

** Much obliged, scnny," smiled the old man. *^ Yo're 


right obligin', but I alius eat last. They've ddne good 
today, considerin' th' load, an* nothin's too good for 

"Thought you came back light?" 

"Got near a load of hides — can't you smell 'em?" 

*' I shore can ; but I'm so slow witted they didn't mean 
anythin' to me. Green, too?" he suggested. 

"Yep," replied the freighter. "Picked 'em up all 
along; but I won't get no more this trip. Th* Triangle 
won't have none — an' I ain't goin' to go out of my 
way to call at th' Bar H. Got enough, an' I'm goin* 
right through. I'm alius glad to git home." 

"I bet you are," replied Johnny. "Ain't anythin' 
more I can do, is there?" 

"No, sonny; thankee. I appreciate yore help. I 
ain't as young as I used ter be, nor as quick. Thankee ; 
good night" 

Johnny went to the saloon, where a sudden outburst 
of voices told him he would find Fanning and the 
Double X men. As he opened the door a roar of laugh- 
ter greeted him. 

"Cussed if that ain't rich I" shouted Slim, jumping 
up and down. " Th' Doc stole from his peaceful fire- 
side. Oh I Ho I Ho I An' to 'tend to his friends, th' 
SV I By th' Lord I Mebby we'll do it over again, our- 
selves, sometime, when we feel extra good I" 

"Pd give ten dollars to shake ban's with th' man 
t done it," laughed Sage. "I bet Big Tom rolled 
th' floor when he heard it — an' bit th' fumiturel" 
'But how'd he get Squint's outfit?" demanded 


a^—— ^— — — — ^— — ^^ ■■■■I. I ■■ ■ I — — i^ 

Dave told of Squint's disappearance and of the deep 
torrow darkening the sun, whereupon an eager disf 
cussion took place. This lasted until Dailey came ia 
and impatiently pounded on a table with the butt of 
his gun. 

** Order, Gents ; order 1 " he shouted. " My time's 
valuable — who are goin' to be th' victims? " 

** Shore we'll order 1 " yelled Slim. "All up, boys ! 
Dailey's treatin'," and despite his protests, he found 
that he was. Soon after this a six-handed game got 
into full swing. 

Dave's vexation grew steadily and passed the anger 
point without stopping. He was tired, and now his 
labors were only beginning. Two-Spot was living up 
to Dave's opinion of him, for he had not been much 
in evidence around the saloon since noon, and had not 
appeared at all since the Double X punchers had come 
in. Dave went to the front door and called, and then he 
went to the rear door and yelled, but received no re- 
sponse. Thinking that he saw a shadowy figure skulking 
in the darkness, he yelled again, and with no honeyed 
promises as the burden of his message. Glancing around 
in the darkness as if to penetrate it by an act of will, he 
shouted a threat and stamped back to the bar, slanuning 
the door so hard that the windows shook. 

"Come on, Dave I" cried Dailey, cheerful in view 
of his ownership of the last pot. "What you so slow 

"If he'd quit pickin' on Two-Spot," said Thompson, 
** an' tend to business, folks would like it better." 

^^Anybody that don't like it can get out ! " retorted 


Dave. ** He's never around when there's work to be 

The evening passed swiftly and midnight was not 
far off when Dave found it necessary to draw on the 
contents of the new keg, and he disappeared below the 
bar for a few minutes. Hardly had his head passed 
from sight when Two-Spot, closely watching the bar, 
slipped quietly through the rear door and went silently 
to Johnny, where he poked his face close to the punch- 
er's ear and muttered for a moment Johnny nodded 
and looked over his hand again, while Two-Spot scur- 
ried for the door and safety, being silently threatened 
by Fanning, who thoroughly enjoyed the situation. 
Two-Spot looked fearfully around and closed the door 
behind him. He barely had time to get under the 
saloon when Wolf Forbes, returning from his short 
tour around the buildings, turned the comer of the 
kitchen and peered in at the window. 

Johnny folded his hand, pushed out the required 
number of chips and grunted. ^^Fm trailin' — but I 
shore wish that man would stop. He must have about 
thirteen aces." 

" Fm limpin', but Fm there," remarked Thompson. 
** Th' dust bade here Is awfuL" 

" There ain't no call for you to put on airs,'* growled 
Slim, pushing in what he was shy. ^* I got four kings, 
but you don't see me quittin', do you?" 

^^ You must a' pidced up what I throwed away," said 
ODailey. ** Havin' felt yore pulses Fm buildin' a house 
right out there in th' middle, where you all can see it, 
An' get covetous." 



**Th' coyote that wins this pot," said Slim, "will 
shore have to get Or Buffalo an' his freight waggin* 
to haul " 

A roar of laughter burst from Johnny and he pushed 
back from the table, lying back in his chair so his lungs 
could have plenty of room. Dailey put his hand over 
the pile of chips he had just shoved in, Slim jumped 
and stared at the roaring puncher, the others manifest- 
ing their astonishment. each according to his own man- 
ner* There was a resounding whack/ from the bar 
and Dave, holding the top of his head with both hands, 
moaned as he looked wildly about, and then, glaring 
at the convulsed puncher, he made several pointed, per- 
tinent, profane, and personal remarks and slowly went 
down again to finish his task. 

Slim scratched his head. "WeU," he drawled, "I 
alius knowed I was bright an' witty, but I never knowed 
that I was that good. I likes a man that pays me a 
compliment like that." 

"Th' loud an' screechin' roarin' of th' wild jackass is 
heard nightly over th' land," observed Sage. " It has 
scared me plumb cold — I'm layin' down as fine a pair 
of four-spots as I've ever held. I ain't got th* nerve 
to pve 'em the backin' they deserves. Will somebody 
lend me their gun ? " 

" I cussed near shot," said Wilkes. 

" What's that ? " demanded Dailey. " Don't you do 
nothin' like that I He's a part of my profits. Now^ if 
somebody will stuff a hat in that cave, I'll proceed from 
where I left off. I've raised her till she sags in th* 
middle— who's got any props?** 


^^ I alius play poker by th' weather,** said Thompson. 
^^When it*s dry an* hot, I calls, an* when it's hot an' 
dry, I raises. Bein' dry an' hot, I hereby calls. Dave, 
bring me a box to put it in." 

" Don't you bother Dave," chuckled Dailey. ** He's 
puttin' hcfss lininaent on his bald spot — from ear to ear, 
an' eye« to spine. I can tote this home in a couple of 

Johnny, weak and tearful, drew up to the table. ** I 
was just a-thinkin'," he said. ** Where are we now?" 

"Was you?" queried Fanning. "Then don't you 
never do no thinkin' nights after I've gone to bed." 

Dave emerged again, grinning. " Beats all," he mut- 
tered, "how our sins f oiler us around. Pore Squint; 
I reckon his mcm'ry's with us. I won't rest till I knows 
what was done with him." 

In the middle of the next game Johnny broke out 
again and Dave reached for the mallet. 

" I ain't what you'd call superstitious," said Dailey, 
"but I lost that last pot to a man who didn't even know 
where he was. Every time I hears a jackass warble I 
has bad luck. I'm obcyin' th' wamin' an' gcttin' out 
of this game while I have th' holes left in my belt. 
What's more, I'm goin' home ; I know when it's time 
to let go." 

" Pore Dailey," moaned Fanning, " we all got a little 
of it tonight — an' I'm sleepin' with a gun under my 
piller, you betl" 

"It's time we quit," said Slim, arising. "We got 
twenty miles to go — an' while mcbby it ain't so dark as 
I've seen it, it'll be dark enough to keep us from racin'. 


But before I go I'd like to find out somethin' : Will 
somebody please tell me what I said, that second time, 
that was so funny? " 

" It wasn't noUiin' you said, Slim," answered Wilkes ; 
^' it was yore face — but I holds that it's cussed unpolite 
for anybody to laugh right out loud about a man's mis- 

"Nelson, I begs yore pardon," said Slim. "You 
has a proper an' fittin' sense of humor. Let's have one 
more round before we ride home an' wake up th' boys 
to tell 'em what happened to Dailey. How'd you come 
out, Nelson?" 

" I got plenty — a great plenty, thank you," answered 
Johnny, throttling the laughter which threatened to 
burst out again. " I'm heavy with it. Dailey will f oiler 
me around tomorrow tryin' to get me into a seVen-up 
or Califomy-jack game in his store, where he's got 
lookin' glasses an' cold decks. Well — here's how.'* 
j^utting down the half-emptied glass he turned, nodded, 
and went out. When he closed the door behind him 
he became alert as a cat in a strange cellar and slipped 
around the kitchen, hand on gun. Once inside the 
hotel he began laughing again, silently this time, and 
went hurriedly up to his room, where he lit the lamp 
and began to undress. Removing his boots he stood up, 
and in such a position that the shadow on the wall would 
tell any watcher that he was removing his shirt. Blow- 
ing out the light, he hurriedly put the garment on again 
and, carrying the boots in his hand, slipped silently down 
the stairs and into the kitchen, where he took the lariat 
from his saddle and went swiftly to the front door, 


where he listened as he slowly opened it Satisfied that 
no one was watching, he slid out sideways, closed the 
door gently behind him and, going along the side of 
Dailey's store, he slung the lariat around his neck, put 
the boot straps between his teeth and, dropping on all 
fours, crossed the road and disappeared into the dark* 
aess on the farther side. 

The noise around at Dave's took on sudden volume 
as the Double X punchers went out to their horses. 
Laughing and joking, they swung down the trail at a 
lope. Fanning and Dailey said good night to Dave 
and departed. 

Gunsight instantly grew quiet and soon a figure 
emerged from Dave's horse shed and was swallowed up 
in the darkness to the east of the main trail, and soon 
thereafter the hoofbeats of a horse were heard by one 
pair of listening ears in town. Two-Spot crept out from 
under the saloon and stood up, shaking his fist at the 
sound, which moved southward. Then the hoofbeats 
grew more rapid as Wolf increased the pace of his 

Down the trail, where it narrowed to pass between 
two clumps of brush, a coatless, hatless figure crouched 
in the left-hand thicket, the coil of rope in his left hand 
held low down. At irregular intervals he seemed to 
be suffering from an attadc of ague, for he quivered and 
shook ; and there came from him strange, subterranean 
rumblings and rusty wheezes which he tried to muffle 
with an arm. As the hoofbeats coming from town grew 
rapidly louder and nearer he tensed himself. The pound- 
ing rang out loudly, now, the soft jingling of chain and 


ornaments distinguishable in the greater sound, and 
soon the vague figure of a mounted man burst out of 
the darkness and swept past the clumps of brush. The 
waiting man on foot straightened his body and arm at 
the same moment, and at the instant the rope grew 
taut he pulled it sharply and leaned back with all his 
strength. There was an exclamation and a crash, and 
the man who had waited ran swiftly forward, hauling 
the rope in hand over hand. Kneeling at the side of 
the prostrate figure he slipped the guns from their hol- 
sters and threw them into the brush, and then fell back 
to work with the rope and the victim^s kerchiefs. With 
the gagged, bound, and blindfolded man on his back 
he went up the trail toward town. 

Gunsight had been quiet for over an hour when a 
strangely shaped figure staggered across the road west 
of the hotel and steadily neared the shed. It came 
slowly around the comer and stopped at the side of the 
big freight wagon, where part of it went to the ground, 
while the remainder, appearing in the form of a man, 
worked at the ropes closing the tarpaulin at the rear of 
the wagon, and soon had it open. He stepped back for 
a moment as a reminder of what lay behind it struck 
his nostrils, and again he was seized with a recurrence 
of the peculiar malady which had seized him frequently 
in the last hour. At the muffled sounds which came from 
him, the figure on the ground writhed as if in sympathy 
and endeavored to repeat them. The attack passing, 
he drew a long breath and plunged his head and shoul- 
ders into the opening he had maue and worked hard 
lor a few minutes ; and when he stepped back he had 


-■■■■■■■ I. ■ I III , ■ ■ ■ I II . ^IM^^^^ 

several pieces of rope in his hands, which he had taken 
from a bundle of akins. Drawing a few deep breaths 
he moved around the wagon and bent over ihc figure 
on the ground, exchanging the pieces of rope for his 
own lariat, but not without a struggle which made it 
necessary for him to sit on the figure and exert his 
strength. Tying good knots in the dark on arms and 
legs which writhed and twisted was slow work, but it 
was necessary that it be well done, and when he arose to 
his feet he was assured as to that. Bending over, he 
picked up the figure and carried it to the rear of the 
wagon, where he pushed it headfirst into the opening 
made for it, despite its contortions and gurgled pro- 
fanity. Again his head and shoulders disappeared 
under the tarpaulin, and when he straightened up he 
knew that his victim was so securely lashed to the wagon 
box that it would be impossible for him to move around, 
no matter how much he bridged and wriggled, no matter 
how much the wagon jolted. It was a job which de- 
manded care, and had received it. Satisfied as to the 
conditions inside the wagon, he now turned his attention 
to the outside, which must be proof against telling any- 
thing to the observing eyes of the old buffalo hunter. 
He carefully replaced the tarpaulin as he had found it, 
even to its folds, and he duplicated the knots he had 
untied. Pausing a moment to think, he dusted canvas 
and ropes, cogitated as to his own footprints, which 
Old Buffalo would not fail to notice, if the light per- 
mitted. He got his rope, coiled it, and with this for his 
tool he effaced the prints and then went to the horse 
shed. When he reappeared he was leading a horse 


hose color melted into the darkness like a lump of 
diarcoal in ink. They passed in the dark like the pass- 
ing of a doud and it was not until some minutes later 
thzt the drumming of hoofs rang out on the trail, bound 
southward in search of a saddled, but riderless, horse, 
which should be found in that direction. It would not 
do for it to be seen by anyone but themselves while it 
bore the riding gear of Wolf Forbes. 

A blot on the ground near the horse shed arose. 
Two-Spot was in pain and the tears were flowing down 
his unwashed cheeks, while spasm after spasm racked 
him. Holding a six-gun limply in his hand, he stumbled 
and staggered away from the buildings, to some place 
where he could give free vent to the agonizing mirth 
which threatened to choke him. Coming to a weed- 
filled gully he sank into it and lay with his face buried 
in his arms. Minutes passed before he got control of 
himself and then he rolled over weakly and stared up 
at the star-filled sky, inert and sore, for h^ knew not 
how long. 

"If it was anybody but Wolf," he moaned, "it would 
be bad enough, but it's ten times worse as it is. Wolf 
Forbes, th' killer ; Wolf, th' two-gun badman, th' terror 
of th' range; th' cool, deliberate, stuck-up Wolf, who 
walks with stiff-laigged dignity, an' holds his nose up in 
th' airl Wolf Forbes— K)h, my G — dl Gimmie airl 
Snoopin' wiselike all over town, fiUin' his ears; smart 
an' chipper, cold an' wise! Oh, me I Oh, my I Sneak- 
in' 'round from winder to winder, listenin' at th' cracks 
— ^as if I didn't see his bow laigs passin' back and forth. 
Tryin' to learn if it was Nelson who stole th' pill-roller, 


an* did for Squint. Hearin* what them Double X fellers 
had to say about it, an' him; standin' there bilin* with 
rage! Oh, when this night's work gets spread over 
th' range there'll go up a laugh that'll shake th' sky I 
If he's got th' nerve to come back an' face that music 
he'll have to use them guns of his'n. An' he can't fight 
'em all, good as he is. ff^olf, huh? He started out as 
a wolf, but he'll change his spots afore he gets to High- 
bank, an' his scent, too! He! He! He! He'll turn 
into a polecat — a hydrophoby skunk! Oh! Me! Oh I 
My! Polecat Forbes, th' strong man I Oh! Hoi 

While he rested, his merriment slowly died and gave 
way to venom, and he sat up to shake his fist in the 
direction of the wagon. 

''You earned it, cuss you!" he snarled. ''Bound 
up like a bundle of rags, an' headed for Highbank, you 
are I Forty mile, it is ; forty mile of sun, an' jolts, an* 
stink, an' flies, an' achin' bones, an' cuttin' ropes. Forty 
mile of heat an' dust an' thirst; forty mile of rage, of 
thinkin' it all over; forty mile of h — 1 on wheels— 
that's what it is — forty mile of h — 1 on wheels I Four- 
teen hours, says I, but I hopes it's twenty. Time enough 
for thinkin', you blackguard. 'Member th' time you 
kicked me off'n Dave's hitchin' rail? 'Member how 
funny it was, huh ? 'Member how I said I'd get square 
with you, an' how you kicked me ag'in, an' made me 
dance to yore blasted guns? I was a harmless ol' man; 
but it was funny, just th' same. Oh, I'm wishin' I 
dast go over there an' tell you all I'm thinkin'— yore 
ears would bother you more'n yore nose if I could. 


If I only knowed you wouIdn^t come back; if I only 
knowed that I It was me that did it. I told Nelson 
about youy an' I was hopin* you'd get blowed apart; 
but this is better, cuss you I When yo're dead yore 
troubles are over — an' you'll wish you was dead when 
this story gets out. An' if you keeps yore nerve, an' 
finds out who done it, you totll be I Wolf? Wolf? 
Huh I I got a better name for youl ** 

He arose and went back toward the saloon, and 
had not quite reached it when he heard the soft steps 
of a horse on the sand and he dropped to the ground, 
his gun lightly held and ready. In a moment he made 
out a man leading a horse and he arose, which turned 
the approaching figure into a blur of action. He could 
feel the menace of the other's gun. 

"It's mc — Two-Spot," he whispered hoarsely. 

The other relaxed and came nearer. "You tryin' 
to get shot?" came a low, tense voice. "What you 

" I had to be dead shore who it was that's tied up like 
a bundle of trash in th' waggin," answered Two-Spot. 
** You ridin* south bothered me. I'll never forget this, 

"That's th' first thing you got to do — till you hear 
about it from somebody else," replied Johnny, feeling 
at his saddle. " Here," he said, untying a Winchester 
and holding it out. " I promised you a rifle — an' this 
is somethin' else you want to forget. I got one of his 
six-guns tied under my slicker roll — you see that you 
don't forget that it belongs to me. I'll give you th' 
cartridges tomorrow — they're in th* belt over my 


shoulder. You rustle under that floor, it's near day- 

A grin of delight swept over Two-Spot's face as he 
grasped the weapon, and he scurried to his nest But 
there was one thing more to make his happiness com- 
plete — he had to see the start of the wagon. And 
he did not have to wait long. With the first blush of 
day Old Buffalo appeared, hitched up his horses and 
urged them to begin their long pull to Highbank. The 
wagon squeaked and rumbled and passed from the 
watcher's sight; and when the last sound died out in 
the south, Two-Spot went to his blankets to lie on his 
back and gloat over the miseries of Wolf as his vivid 
imagination pictured them. 

Down on the Highbank trail, bound and helpless, 
and exhausted by his frantic efforts to free himself, 
Wolf Forbes seethed with rage, which later would 
bum itself out and bring an inert apathy to ease him ; 
and two things seared his memory: The mirth of the 
man who had trapped him, and the sound of a horse's 
hoofs pounding at top speed down the trail. They had 
gone southward, towards the Bar H, the Triangle, and 
the faint trail leading to the Double X. With these 
meager clues he built several edifices of speculation, 
not one of which could be singled out in preference to 
the others. His friends were notorious practical jokers, 
and he had done his share at it The Double X outfit 
hated him, and Nelson had cause to wish him out of 
the way if his suspicions concerning Nelson were well 
founded. Would his unthinking friends carry a joke 
so far; would the Double X think of and carry out the 


pla.y; and if Nelson felt that he was in danger, would 
he be fool enough to do a thing like that ? In his place 
VVolf would have killed. But he would hunt out the 
perpetrator, whoever he wa$i when he came back-— 
£ind he was going backl 

"the tinkung op the camkl's bell** 

JOHNNY had a late breakfast, according to George. 
" You look like you made a night of itt" said the 

"I reckon I did," replied Johnny, yawning; "I 
didn't get much sleep." 

" Did Wolf make any remarks about shootin' ? " 
" Last night." 

"Didn't you see him start for home?" 
" Thought mebby he come back to play." 
"He didn't come back to play," replied Johnny. 
*' I'm goin' for a ride an' sec if I can wake up," he said, 
and he did. 

As he loped along the Juniper trail he made a con* 
iidante of Pepper. 

"Dearly Beloved," he muttered, "we are goin' ta 

be th' center of a whole lot of eyes before long. People 

will pay attention when they sees us. We are going 

to be right popular — an' unpopular. If you knowed 

all th' trouble I'm brewin' for us, you'd reckon I wasn't 

no friend at all. But I know yo're with me to a finish, 

worryin' about whose finish it's goin* to be. I've 

do some thinkin*. You listen. 

otf was sent up to find out who's been dckUn* 

r H with a prong, an* he didn't have no ludc^ 


Knowin* he was losin^ patience, I knowed what a man 

like him would do when he came to th' end of it. He'd 

pick a fight an' start shootin'. Now you know I ain't 

scared of Wolf, but you don't know that I wasn't ready 

to start no open war just yet. I'll admit I hope I don't 

have to start none, but I wouldn't bet two bits on that. 

So what did I do ? I sent him away, Pepper, but he'U 

come back. Uh-huh, he'll come back if he's got th* 

nerve — an' it'll take some. An' if he does you an^ 

meUl have to step around right lively. If he figgers 

right he'll come back a-shootin', for he'll be all riled 

up. I couldn't have him trailin' me wherever I went, 

could I ? Th' man wasn't reasonable — he didn't allow 

I had any rights. 

" Now, then : Wolf won't be back before tomorrow 
momin'. I'm bettin' he won't be able to sit a saddle 
before mornin', an' that brings him here tomorrow 
afternoon. Th' Bar H won't hunt for him, thanks to 
what you helped me do last night If they find his 
cayuse without his saddle they'll think he come down 
an' got a fresh boss. An' all we want is to see that 
litde Peggy girl, an' go over to th' Double X. Then 
we'll turn th' Bar H upside down, an' let Wolf square 
up for his buggy ride if he wants. An' I'll give odds 
that he'll want to." 

When he reached the rendezvous he was early and 
he grinned as he realized his unusual impatience. 
*' Pepper, things are shore happenin' to me. I'm what 
you might call sober-drunk. Just settin' here quiet, 
lookin' at that little valley is plumb thrillin\ little hosa 
-—an' would you cock an eye at that gent down there! 


An' cussed if there ain't a cow in them sands I I reckon, 
mebby, it's goin' to be real thrillin' before long." 

He jammed his sombrero tight on his head and 
waited, tense and eager for the overt act he felt sure 
would come, and send him down the hill like the swoop 
of a hawk. 

Down in the valley Lang looked searchingly around 
and then, tying his rope to the remaining strand of wire, 
urged his horse ahead. He was standing up in the 
stirrups, his weight on one leg, leaning to one side to 
keep the rope from pressing against his other leg, his 
back to the hill, and he did not see the black thunder- 
bolt dropping down the green slope ; and so intent was 
he upon the work in hand that his ears did not give 
him warning of the charging enemy in time to attempt 
deliberate and well-sighted long-range rifle shooting. 
The wire had been torn loose from the first post and 
was straining at the staples in the next one before he 
had any intimation of the swiftly approaching danger. 
Surprised and galvanized into action by the sound of 
rolling hoofs pounding over a stretch of bare, hard 
ground, he turned in his saddle, flung a glance at the 
racing thoroughbred and jerked his rifle from its sheath. 
His horse, feeling the rope rub against one of its hind 
legs, kicked viciously and pranced. Twisting from one 
side to the other, rifle at his shoulder, Lang found him- 
self in too awkward a position for well-aimed shooting 
against the racing enemy, who lay along the back of 
his horse and presented a discouragingly small target. 
Sliding the rifle back into the sheath, Lang worked 
desperately at the rope, trying to free it from the sad- 


ille. Cursing his dutnsy fingers, he suddenly realized 
llie trouble. ** D — n my soul, if somebody ain*t knotted 
2tl Oh, th' cussed fool I'' 

Giving up the attempt, he reached again for the rifle, 
swiftly changed his mind and pulled angrily on the reins 
to back his horse so he could get the other end of the 
rope and free it from the wire. *^ Staked out like a 
calf I" he gritted. Hauling in the rope, he at last 
grabbed the knot, and swore again. It had pulled so 
tight that precious seconds were wasted before he could 
free it, and his temper was not sweetened any by the 
two bullets which Johnny, firing at long range, sent on 
a gamble. They missed him by feet, but had their 
cfFect Dropping the freed wire, he spurred around to 
face the swiftly nearing danger and jerked out his Coltt 
firing hastily. Johnny now was standing up in his stir- 
raps to offset the bouncing of the horse and his shots 
were coming nearer all the time. Lang swerved his 
horse suddenly and fired again, but the animal was 
prancing. Johnny's reply struck the horse and the pain- 
racked animal, leaping convulsively, bolted for the gap 
between the posts, straight for the quicksands. Lang, 
frantic at this new danger, fought the animal with one 
hand, trying desperately to turn it, and used the gun 
with his other hand, doing neither well. Johnny, draw- 
ing his second Colt, replied to Lang's last shot and the 
Triangle puncher, dropping his weapon, sagged for- 
ward in the saddle and fell sideways into a grassy 
hollow, where he sprawled grotesquely as his horse, 
freed of his weight, leaped forward at greater speed 
and dashed out onto the treacherous sands, stopping 


only when it became mired beyond the possibility of 
further progress. It floundered and strained with fran- 
tic energy until exhaustion made it pause, and then 
stood trembling, doomed by the inexorable sands which 
slowly crept up its quivering legs and caused its eyes to 
become wide with terror. 

Johnny flashed past the prostrate puncher and then 
suddenly became aware of his danger. Pepper, hold- 
ing her speed, kept straight on for the sandy trap. 
Johnny tried to swing her and she responded, but not 
enough in the restricted space and when he had pulled 
her back on her haunches she had crossed the quick- 
sands' edge and slid, wallowing and struggling, to a 
stop far from safety. Her instinct warned her of her 
peril and she struggled frantically to retrace her steps, 
but succeeded only in turning part way and had to give 
up the fight momentarily, with her side to the firm 
ground she had just quitted. Panting and shaking with 
terror, she looked around appealingly at her rider, who 
shook his head. 

" No use. Pepper Girl," he said. " You'll only get in 
deeper. Rest yourself an* wait — Fm th' only one who 
can help you now — an' I never thought Fd do a things 
like that to you ; an' I ain't goin' to do it till I has to. 
Good little cayuse — th' best I ever laid eyes on, an' 
I've seen th' best there was. We've had our last ride 
together, little boss, an' mebby we'll go down together^ 
too. Easy, girl; easy," he coaxed, and not wholly in 
vain. ''You just rest an' mebby we'll make another 
try after I see what there is to be seen. We got th* 
ipoyote that caused it, anyhow 1 " 




His words were contradicted almost as soon as 
qK>ken, for a derisive voice from the grassy hoUoiif 
rang out in exultant laughter. Johnny, fearing a shot, 
although the fear was from instinct rather than from 
reason, fired instantly at the sound, and then lowered 
the gun. Lang was unarmed and could not get to his 
Colt without exposing himself. 

"He won't get it while Pm alive,** muttered Johnny, 
reloading his other gun. 

" Shoot 1 '• exulted Lang ; " but you better save th' 
last for yoreself. That's right, shoot 1*' he jeered, as 
Johnny, stung by the words, wasted another cartridge. 
**Yo're comin* as close as anybody could," he con- 
tinued. "You can shoot like th* hammers of h — 1, 
an* that makes it all th' funnier. Shoot again I" he 
in\nted, holding up his hat. A hole appeared in it, to 
his surprise, but he jeered again instantly. "Fine I 
Thafs shootin'. Shoot again I " 

Johnny stroked Pepper's neck and then leaned over 
and looked down. " Not so deep," he muttered. 

"Shore; look it over," shouted Lang. "That's 
what I'm aimin' to do. I'm aimin' to look it over, 
right to th' finish. I've alius wondered how a man 
would act in them sands, an' I'm goin' to find out now. 
Mebby if yo're polite I'll put you out of yore misery 
when yore chin gets wet. Then I'll ride over to th' 
Bar H an' tell 'em who kidnapped th' Doc, an' did for 
Squint I've seen shows, but this here is goin* to be 

Johnny's eyes glinted and he fired twice in succes- 
dm— then a third shot after an interval, endeavoring 


m h—^— ■[— M^M^aMI. I ■ I Bill ^— — ^^ 

to force Lang to keep his head down while his other 
hand worked swiftly under his slicker roll. Emptying 
one gun, he slipped it back into its holster and used 
the other, still struggling with the slicker. At the last 
shot in the second weapon he worked Wolf*s gun loose 
and slipped it into the holster on the far side from 
Lang. Standing up in his stirrups he gave vent to a 
burst of profanity and hurled his Colts, one after the 
other, at the hidden observer. 

Lang looked up in time to see the first gun bounce 
from the ground and then the second fell close to it. 
He laughed nastily and ducked down again as Johnny 
drew the heavy Sharps from its sheath and sent an 
ounce of lead smashing into the sand and pebbles dose 
to his head. Another, another, and another struck the 
top of the ridge, the last striking a rock and screaming 
high into the air. Then Johnny gripped the heavy 
Weapon at its muzzle with both hands, stood up in his 
stirrups, whirled it around his head and sent it through 
the air towards the hidden man. It struck loose sand 
and slid ten feet in a little cloud of dust. The Triangle 
puncher looked out again, chuckled, and slowly emerged 
from his place of refuge. 

" I calls that kind," he laughed. " There wasnft no 
use of lettin' good weapons like them be lost. I can 
use 'em all — an* just for that I'm goin' to end yore 
misery like I said I might First," he said, going over 
to the nearest Colt and picking it up, ^' Fm goin' to load 
this gun an* do somethin* for my boss an' that cow." 
He walked unsteadily toward the edge of the sands, 
pulling half a dozen cartridges from his belt as he 


advanced. Reaching the danger zone, he tried each 
step before putting his weight into it and slowly ad« 
vanced to the last tuft of grass, where he stood, swaying 
slightly as it moved gently under his weight The 
sand at its outer edges moved a little and changed 
color as the water flooded and receded in it. " Reckon 
this is th' jumpin' off place,*' he said. " You'd be plumb 
tickled if I fell in, wouldn't you?" he jeered. "Well, 
I ain't almin' to. Fm figgerin' on loadin' this gun — 
this way: Number One," he said, sliding a cartridge 
into the cylinder, " is for my boss ; Number Two is for 
th' cow; Number Three is for a hole through yore 
hat ; this one is for yore boss when only its head is out, 
or as soon as you jump off. I'm givin' you that chance 
to help it — an' to save my valuable time; these two 
are for yore head when yore chin gets under. One'U 
be enough, but two will be dead shore — I might miss 
th' first to hear you cuss." 

Lang raised the Colt and put his horse out of its 
misery; then he did the same for the cow. "That's 
what I call fair shootin'," he said. "Of course, you 
might 'a* done it faster — but I'm in no hurry. Now, 
this next shot has got to be dead shore if I put it high 
enough in yore hat to miss yore head — an' I ain't 
aimin' to hit that yet. So if I takes plenty of time, 
don't you get jumpy." 

He raised the gun above his head to increase the 
torment and there was a flash and roar at Johnny's hip. 
The Triangle puncher's hand opened and the gun 
dropped behind him as a look of great surprise flashed 
to his face, and remained there. Twisting sideways^ 


he fell face down, ipnwltd full length upon the greedy 

" There, d — n you I " gritted Johnny. " Th' show's 
over, for youf " He brought the gun back on its mark, 
but did not release the hammer again. There was no 
doubt, this time, about Lang. He let the hammer 
down on an empty chamber and slid the weapon back 
in his holster. 

Reassuring Pepper, he glanced down and saw that 
her legs were being pulled to the sides, which sprawled 
them out. " Slow,'* he said, and looked again to make 
sure. *' Mighty slow. This stufi is different in places — 
but d — dsure," he added bitterly. " You take it easy. 
Pepper Girl. I won't let it last much longer— 'though 
it's goin' to take a lot of nerve. Good little boss — 
good little Pepper Girl." 

He now knew there was no hope of riding out He 
knew quicksands — he had seen them on other ranges, 
but never such a one as this, for the others had been 
small — the size of this bed was far beyond his experi- 
ence. He studied it and watched the tremors run- 
ning through it — the sand seemed to be mov- 
ing and new surfaces to be forming. Wet spots 
appeared, became covered with water and then were 
uncovered again as !t drained away. Hollows slowly 
formed here, slight bulges there, but with no stability. 
Undulations showed frequently near the bodies, which 
were slowly sinking. The cow was nearly under, 
his trap had no definite edges, for it met and merged 
ith the honest sands around it in such a way as 
I show no lines; but he knew, by looking at the 


^^M^— — ^■^■^^il^^™^—— — — ' ■ ■! I m I ■ ■ I I ■ 1 I I I I II 1—^— ^■^w— ^^— — ^»^— ,^ 

trades of his horse, which, strangely enough, had not 
been quite obliterated, that he was too far from firm 
ground to have any hope of getting out in that direc- 
tion. He cogitated upon the possibilities of escape in 
other directions, for it was possible that along some 
other course he might find firm earth closer to him. 
To his right was a grass tuft, not as far from him as 
was the place where Lang's body marked the other 
edge, but it lay too far away. Behind him the nature 
of the sands was evident for a like distance, and ques- 
tionable for half as far again. To his left was the 
Triangle horse, which he could gain by leaping from his 
saddle; beyond that, half as far, was the cow, still useful 
if used soon enough and not rested on for too long« 
He believed that the cow could not have crossed much 
of the sands before becoming mired, and this gave him 
renewed hope. It was the only way worth trying with 
a chance of success. At the best it would be a gamble, 
but while those two bodies remained above the surface 
they would serve as stepping stones. From the body of 
the horse he would do the last kind act in his power 
for Pepper, and then, throwing away the gun to save 
its weight, jump to the cow. This would be easy; but 
from there on he would need all his strength and wits 
and wilL Looking beyond the cow, he searched for 
something to put his rope on, and found nothing nearer 
than the fence posts, which were too far away. And 
then, while he looked, he saw water ooze up and cover 
the sand some distance beyond the cow, and he admitted 
diat his case was hopeless ; and as he admitted it the 
ifiofw disappeared from sight. 


Hopeless, but not to be submitted to without a strug- 
gle. He would neither sit apathetic nor frantic, nor 
turn the gun on himself. Hope had gone as a matter 
of reasoning; but something had taken its place which 
in power transcended hope — cold rage, and a savage, 
defiant hatred for that deadly, silent trap ; a rage such 
as he seldom had felt before, which urged him to tear 
and rend the sands as though they were a sentient 
enemy. Hope, living in him, had been faint-hearted 
when he thought of how ghastly the thing was ; how he, 
a man with all a man's strength of body and mind and 
will, mounted on the finest horse for hundreds of miles, 
armed with a weapon, the use of which no man knew 
better; how he could not do a thing to save his life. 
What is hope but a wish ? But the djmamic rage which 
crept through him was a force of another kind— 
defiant, savage determination to cheat the workings of 
that mobile bed of horror, or go down to a death made 
glorious by the fight 

He shook his fist at it His thin lips drew bade over 
set teeth in a snarl primitive in its timbre and in the 
savage nature behind it ** D — n you I You may win ; 
but ril make that winnin' hard I " 

Gripping the pommel he climbed up onto the saddle 
and poised for the leap. Could he believe his ears? 
Glancing around, he saw a woman tearing down the 
valley toward him, the drumming roll of her horse's 
pounding hoofs growing ever louder. What a sound I 
What music ever was so sweet? What sight had ever 
been so beautiful as that trim figure mounted astride a 
horse which seemed to spurn the grass in its arrowy 


flight? HadesSy her hair streaming behind her like a 
glorious battle flag of Hope, came Margaret, and her 
voice rang out like a trumpet 

Hope returned again to bulwark Rage and give 
Determination a better footing and stronger lever. 

" Pepper Girl," choked Johnny, " I'm glad I waited. 
There's mebby many a mile we'll do together, better 
friends than ever. I'm tellin' you that if there's any 
way outside of h — 1 to get you out of this, yo'rc goin'. 
Hear me, little boss? An' that thoroughbred girl has 
brought us th' way. Cheer up — we're goin' out, you 
an' me. But we'll have bad dreams — plumb bad 
dreams — for many a night to come." He suddenly 
raised a warning hand. ^^Look out I" he shouted. 
" Don't come too dose I " 

*^ I know this grisly thing like a book," she replied. 
"What shall I do?" 

" Don't come too close 1 " 

*' This is the edge ; tell me what to do I " She looked 
at Lang's partly submerged body and shuddered. 

"Hold your cayuse fast by th' reins an' get off, so 
I can put my rope around that pommel. But I'm afraid 
it's a little too far," he replied, swinging the braided 
lariat carefully around his head. She quickly obeyed, 
but led the horse to another point on the edge, and 
gained a few inches. The rope shot out and up, struck 
the saddle and then the sands. Jerking it back again, 
he coiled it carefully, and then looked up, and nodded. 
Margaret was holding to the pommel with one hand 
and leaning out over the sands, her other arm extended 


toward him. The second cast went over her wrist and 
«he caught the rope, drew back to the saddle and made 
the loop fast around her pommel. 

*^Get up in th' saddle an' pull this rope tight — 
tight/' he said, and at a word from him Pepper braced 
herself, as well as she could, as if a cow were at the 
other end He slid from the saddle, touched the sand 
for an instant, and pulled himself at his best speed 
along the lariat, moving too rapidly to be caught, and 
soon stood at the side of the woman who had saved 

^^ Can't we save that darling?" she asked, tears in 
her eyes. 

"We're goin' to try mighty hard," he said. "Start 
ahead, slow — a little more. You watch yore cayuse 
an' stop instanter when I says th' word. I'm scared 
we'll break Pepper's laigs, 'though if it's done easy we 
may get along all right; it looks soft, right there. 
Ready ? Then, pull. Come, Pepper I Come on, little 
boss I Come on I Come on I " he cried, and then he 
whistled the well-known signal. " Come on I That's 
th' girl ! That's th' girl I Keep a-chumin', tear it up I 
Come on I Come on, you black darlin'I That's th' 
way I Keep a-comin', keep a-comin' I " 

Slowly Pepper went sideways, Margaret fearing that 
its legs would snap under the strain, but the struggling 
animal fell on its side, and then came the tug of war. 
Johnny added his strength to the rope and slowly, an 
inch at a time, they gained, and then had to rest for a 
moment because flesh and blood could not stand such 
41 continued effort. Johnny breathed deeply and relaxed. 


" Once morCi Ma'am," he said, getting a fresh hold 
fOai the rope, ^^ I'm glad that saddle is a rim-fire — I'd 
mistrust a center-fire, with its one cinch. An' I'm glad 
it was made by Ol' Hawkins — that pommel can stand 
twice th' strain. Now then— pii///" Again they 
rested, the blood pounding in his ears. '^ Yo're comin' 
fine, little hossi We ain't handlin' you very gentle; 
but yo're comiWI" A few minutes later Pepper slid 
across sand that was dry and honest, and with the 
slackening of the rope she scrambled to her feet and 
trembled, weary but safe. 

Johnny hung the lariat on his saddle and then rubbed 
the velvety muzzle which sought his cheek, and stroked 
the quivering shoulder. Impulsively he buried his face 
in the wet, sandy, roughened coat on her neck and flung 
an arm around it; and when he turned away his face 
was drawn and wet, and there were tears in his eyes 
despite all effort of will. 

" Ma'am," he said, huskily, " Pepper an' me owe you 
a debt we never can pay; but we can try right hard to 
square up some of it. I'll never forget th' last half* 
hour, never." 

^'How did you come to get in it?" asked Margaret, 
glancing where she last had seen the body of Lang. It 
was gone, and so was the horse. The sands, still undu- 
lating, were slowly assuming their mask of innocence. 
"Pepper got goin' so fast she couldn't stop quick 
enough, which was my fault. I didn't try to turn her in 

"And that — that other — man. Who was he, anSl 
what happened to him ? " 


'^I reckon he got tangled in th' wire, an* got his 
rope mixed up with it An' somehow we got to shoodn*. 
l^en th* excitement stopped he was there, an* I was 
where you found me.** 

^^ Who was he? ** she demanded. 

*^He was a Triangle puncher, Ma*am; Lang was 
his name.** 

^* He was one of the men whom I ordered to stay off 
our range — we couldn't keep the wire on those posts, 
and I suspected them strongly. Are you sure he was 
only tangled in the wire ? *' 

*^ Well, I wouldn't just say nothin* about that. Mebby 
he was tryin' to help th* cow that was mired, an* got 
afoul of di' wire. But that don*t make no difference, 
anyhow, now. Have you got any wire at th* ranch ? ** 

^' I think so,** she answered. 

^^ We'll put it up some day soon, so it'll take some 
time, an' more trouble, to get it loose." 

She nodded and took a paper out of her waist 
*^ Here are the figures for the year we took possession." 

He looked them over. "Uh-huh," he said, " they're 
what I want" 

^^It is surprising that we have as many left as we 
have," she said. "We are about ready to give up, 
admit our failure, and go back East." 

"Ma'am," said Johnny, with great earnestness, 
"don't you do it Just sit tight an' see things come 
around yore way. Luck alius turns. Stick it out, an' 


" Do you believe in luck?" 

"I do; when somebody's behind it pushin' hard. 


^— —————— I I I I ■■ I I ■ I ■ ■ . I 

Now, Ma'am, I reckon we hadn't ought to stay here 
no longer, where folks can see us. They might talk, 
an' there's no tellin' what harm it might do. Besides, 
this little Pepper hoss needs a bath an' I'm aimin' to 
take her into th' river as soon as she gets a little 
quieter — she looks like she mixed up with a tornado." 
He walked around collecting his guns, blowing sand 
from them, and cleaning them as well as he could. 
'^There's shore some guns around here," he grinned, 
getting Lang's Colt and throwing it into the quicksand. 
^* This here gun," he said, reloading Wolf's Colt and 
tying it under the slicker roll, ^^ shore come in handy. 
Some folks would call that luck — mebby it was, as far 
as totin' it is concerned — but I'm tellin' you there 
wasn't no luck in th' way it was used. But as for totin* 
it, I reckon that was luck, even if I did carry it to fool 
somebody, sometime. Now, Ma'am, I'll be ridin' west 
There's a regular bath tub near th' main trail, where 
th' river runs over solid rock : an' solid rock is th' only 
kind of river bottom I have any use for, today. Pepper 
an' I won't forget what you did for us — an' I'm tellin' 
you to sit tight, an' watch th' luck swing yore way. I'll 
be leavin' now — good-by. Ma'am." 

She spurred her horse and shot even with him. '^ Why 
are you doing this?" she demanded. "You can't fool 
me about that — that man's rope fouling the wire. I 
know what he was doing. Why are you running such 
risks for total strangers?" 

** Ma'am," he replied, smiling quizzically, " I don't 
know, unless it's because I can't keep out of trouble. 
I'm alius gettin' mixed up with it, somehow, an' th* 



Jbabit^t set, I reckon. Fm gettin* so I like it But we 
shouldn't be ridin' like this. You have no idea how 
much folks can talk, or figger from a little thing like 

^' Can't you stop them, as you did that Bar H 

*^ Reckon so; but I ain't ready to," he grinned. 
"There's a time for cvcrythin', an' I'm not shore th* 
time has come for that. When it does I'll know it 
without no doubts. I'm askin' how you learned all th' 
things you said yesterday? " 

"I suppose it is a natural curiosity, even in a man; 
hut I prefer to say nothing about the matter." She 
drew rein and he took off his sombrero. '* I'm tempted 
to see if the luck will turn," she smiled. "Good-by." 

" I'm thankin' you again. Ma'am," he replied. " It 
shore will, an' you can bank on it," and he pressed 
Pepper's sides. The horse struck into a stride sug* 
gestive of a wish to put miles between her and the scene 
of her torture, but he pulled her down to a walk. 
**Yo're entirely too willin', little boss of mine," he 
reproved, patting the roughened coat " I was aimin* 
to do somethin' today, but it can wait. Wolf or no 
Wolf. If he horns in I won't waste no more time on 
him, none at all. There's a nice little wooded draw 
over there, an' we're goin' for it. You got to get 
rested up an' quieted a little — th' bath can wait a couple 
of hours. You got to keep in good shape, because th' 
time is comin' when I'll have to ride you like I had a 
remuda to draw on — an' I ain't worth a cuss unless 
yo're in good shape. Yo're my latgs. Pepper, an' tim" 


puncher Is better'n his cayuse. An' mebby Two^pot, 
€b^ tatde-tale, won't be surprised when he sees you 1 " 

Margaret looked after him and smiled, and then 
tamed and stared at the innocent patch of wet sand 
iinder whose hypocritical surface lay grisly death. 
Shuddering, she sent her pony into a sharp gallop and 
set out for home, a color in her face which might have 
been due to the exhilaration of horseback riding. 


''coming events •" 

JOHNNY entered the draw, found a small dearingt 
and let Pepper wander, watching her closely, while 
he went over his guns again, cleaning them thoroughly* 
The afternoon had half gone when he whisded her to 
him and rode her down to the rocky pool he had men- 
tioned. Stripping himself, he removed the saddle and 
its blanket and, mounting bareback, rode her into the 
stream, where he found a place deep enough to swim 
her. Crossing and recrossing this several times, he took 
her out and started to dress ; and no sooner was she 
free than she trotted to a dry, warm patch of sand and 
rolled to her hearths content, grunting with pleasure. 

"Now look at what youVe done," he grinned. 
**After me gettin* you all washed up, you go an' blot 
yoreself just like a conmion cayuse. I've been wastin* 
sympathy on you — there ain't nothin* th' matter with 
you. An' there's somethin' I want to ask you, before I 
forget it: Was you ever in a quicksand just like that 
one? I bet you wasn't. I've crossed some rivers in 
my time, an' had cattle bogged in several — but this 
was different, somehow. Mebby it's because it wasn't 
under water; but I don't know. I was scared we'd 
bust yore laigs; mebby we didn't because we pulled 
you sideways, an' you raised so much h — 1 when you 
felt th' rope tighten, an' heard me call you. Just th' 



^— — ■ ■ I ■■ ..I 

same, I^m sayin' we had a close call. An' we mustn^t 
forget it Come here, now, an' let me throw this saddle 
on you. We're goin' to town, an' yore goin' to get 
nibbed till you shines. I'm as stuck-up about you as a 
gal is over her first beau." 

In a few minutes they were on their way to Gimsight, 
but they did not reach the town without incident. They 
had ridden to Pine Mountain and Johnny, wishing to 
see if Squint's saddle had been discovered, hid Pepper 
in a dump of brush and scrub timber well back from 
the trail and, taking his rifle, crossed the beaten road at 
a rocky place and worked his way into the brush on 
the mountain side. When he had climbed about eighty 
feet he reached a little rock shelf and rested a moment. 
As he was about to go on he heard hoofbeats down the 
trail and he flattened himself behind a tuft of grass 
growing in a crack. Looking down the trail he saw a 
horseman round into sight from the arroyo leading 
from East Canyon. 

"Smitty," he muttered. "I don't think much of 
him, an' I reckon he'll scare. An' mebby if he's scared 
near to death a few times he'll figger he ain't wanted 
around here, an' hit th' trail out. Mebby I'm wrong, 
but here's where Mr. Smitty gets a jolt he won't forget 
It will be Number One. Whether or not he gets any 
more will depend on how he takes this one. I'm bettin' 
he don't stalk me for it — here he comes, ridin' lazy 
an* tryin' to sing. I ought to be able to come awful 
dose at this distance, with a rifle layin' on a rock rest." 

Mr. Smith, of the Bar H, rode at a walk, singing a 
song, the words of which should never appear in print 


He had a message to deliver to the Doc and was in no 
hurry. His hat, a Mexican sombrero with ultra-fancy 
band, and a high crown, which appeared to be even 
higher because of the vertical dents which pushed the 
top into a peak, was tilted rakishly off-center and looked 
rather ludicrous to the man on the mountain, who noted 
that there appeared to be plenty of hat and horse, but 
very little man. When just across a short stretch of 
rocky trail there rang out over the rider's head a roar 
such as only black powder can make, and the tilted 
sombrero flew into the air and struck the ground. The 
horse and its rider heard the roar at the same instant 
and each acted as their instincts prompted. The horse 
shot forward, clearing a dozen feet in the jump, sprang 
back, wheeling in the air, and bolted for the arroyo it 
had just left, where it quickly recovered its poise and 
stopped to search out succulent grass tufts. Mr. Smith's 
instincts seemed to have come to him through genera- 
tions of acrobatic ancestors, although he was not aware 
that any of his family tree claimed any such accom- 
plishments, at least since they had forsaken arboreal 
surroundings. Certainly he never boasted, even in his 
maddest sprees, of being in any way gifted in acrobatics. 
Nevertheless, he performed a creditable exhibition when 
the roar smashed against his ears. As the horse leaped, 
he grabbed at the pommel, missed it, and in his haste 
to jerk his head back from the screaming lead he lost 
his balance. His feet left the stirrups, and then came 
swiftly upward as he pivoted on the saddle. They 
swept up past the horse's neck, kept on and described 
a half-cirde, the saddle as the center. As they went 

^ ''COMING EVENTS'' 151 

up Mr. Smith's head went down, and as the horse leaped 
back and whirled, he was jolted into a position rarely 
seen in horseback riding except in exhibitions. For a 
moment he stood on his shoulder against the cantle of 
the saddle and then turned a pretty, if unintentional, 
back flip onto the ground, landing squarely on his hat 
The whole thing happened in a flash and the sound of 
the shot was still rumbling among the hills when, grab- 
bing his sombrero, he started on a dead run for the 
horse and the ranch. When he reached the animal he 
lesiped into the saddle without touching the stirrups; 
and urged a speedy departure, which his spurs obtained. 
Johnny rolled over on his back and laughed heartily. 
Finally he sat up, put the empty shell in his pocket, 
reloaded the rifle and went up the mountain to hide 
Squint's saddle in a better place, for he now believed 
such a precaution necessary. It was more than prob* 
able that Pine Mountain would be searched as soon as 
the indignant puncher could lead his friends to the scene 
of his discomfiture. He found the saddle where he had 
left it and carried it to a narrow, shallow split in the 
mountain's rocky side and dropped it in, after which 
dead branches and grass and rocks covered it and hid 
it securely. Scrambling back to the trail he looked 
cautiously along it and then dashed across and made 
his way to his horse, stepping on rock whenever pos- 
sible. Not long afterward he rode down the Juniper 
trail and went to the hotel shed, where he led Pepper 
inside and prepared to groom her. He hardly had 
begun work when Two-Spot sidled in, and there was 
wrath in his eyes. 


^' What you been doin* to that hoss? " de demanded, 
as his gaze swept over her. " She looks like she*s been 
rolled in th' river." 

'' Mebby she has," replied Johnny, rubbing briskly. 
''She likes a swim as well as I do — an* we both had 
one, which is somethin' I can recommend to you.*' 

'' What did you do with them rifle cartridges of Pole- 
cat's you was goin* to give me ? " asked Two-Spot, going 
to work on the other flank. 

"I hid 'em," answered Johnny. "Look out she 
don't hand you a stomachful of hoof — she don't like 

"Huh!" snorted Two-Spot, "what do / care about 
strangers ? Where'd you hide 'em ? " 

"In them sweepin's, under th' manger," replied 
Johnny. " Wait till after dark." 

" What you figger I'm goin' to do — show everybody 
that Two-Spot's startin' an arsenal?" He rubbed for 
a moment in silence, and then began to chuckle. " Ol' 
Chief Smell-Um-Strong had a plumb fine gun — I got 
a laugh comin' ; you gave th' best one away." 

" I'm satisfied," grunted Johnny. 

"Dave was on th' prod this noon when I showed 
up," continued Two-Spot. "What did you say you 
was swimmin' in?" he demanded, curiously, examining 
one of Pepper's hocks. 

" Water," answered Johnny. " What did he say? " 

" Mebby it was," observed Two-Spot. " How'd you 
get out?" 


"At th' end of a rope? Why, Dave, he wanted to 




know where th' this, that, an' th* other thing I was last 
night. Reckoned, mebby, I*d got full of berries an' 
hibernated. What was you doin' in th' SV valley? " 
What did you tell him?" asked Johnny, grinning. 
Told him that I was rustlin' a passel of cows an* 
that they went so fast I had to run to Juniper before 
I could head 'em off. You must 'a' had one h — 1 of a 
time gettin' out. Shore Pepper ain't hurt?" 

" It ain't th' first bath she's had — she's a good swim- 
mer, 'though for much of it I'd ruther have a cayuse 
with a bigger barrel. She won't shrink." 

"Why in h — 1 don't Dave set out th' bottle, like he 
used to?" growled Two-Spot. "There ain't no sense 
in totin' it by th' glass to a crowd of blotters. They'll 
hold more liquor than a gopher hole — an' I've broke 
my back carryin' water to drown them fellers out when 
I was a kid. How long is your rope?" 

"Dave's a friend of mine, that's why," answered 
Johnny. "My capacity is so limited that ol' Dailey 
coidd clean me out after my fourth drink. Them 
leather-bellies can drink me into a heap on th' floor, 
an' never know they'd been drinkin'." 

" Shore," said Two-Spot, chuckling; " yo're a teethin' 
infant, a reg'lar suckin' calf — I've seen you put away a 
dozen an' not bat an eye. An' it's bad medicine ; look 
at me. How long's that rope?" 

"Eighty feet." 

" Yo're another. There ain't a man livin' can throw 
such a rope an' ketch anythin'. I've seen some good 
uns, but I've never seen even a sixty-foot rope. Who 
fastened to you ? " 


**YoVe loco — plumb loco," said Johnny. "Ton 
wint to forget them hallucernadons — somebody m^^ 
believe 'em." 

" * HaUerlucinations ' — humph 1 I'll have to remem- 
ber that an* throw it at Dave. Where was you today?'* 

*' Mindin' my own business," retorted Johnny. 
"What ever put you hangtn' 'round a saloon, emptyin* 
boxes ? " 

" Whiskey," said Two-Spot " I was smart, like you, 
an' liked to hold up my end, drink for drink. Here's 
some more of that water you swum in — looks familiar." 

" I'm goin' to drag you out to a ranch some of these 
days," threatened Johnny, "an' give you a job — an' 
whale th' skin from yore bones th' first time I see you 
takin' a drink. You got brains an* that ranch needs 

"You can't learn an old dog new tricks," grunted 
Two-Spot, and then burst out laughing; "but you can 
change a wolf inter a skunk if you goes about it right. 
He I He I Hcl" In a few minutes he threw down the 
brush and went to the door. " Seein' as how yo're 
playin' fresh-water clam, do it yoreself I " he snorted 
and, dodging the other brush, he scurried around to 

Down on the Bar H, Smitty's arrival made a ripple 
f excitement. Big Tom was mending a shirt and curs- 
ig the clumsiness of his fingers and the sharpness of 
lie needle, when diere came the clatter of hoofs outside 
nd he looked up to see Smitty leap from the saddle 
nd jump through the doorway, holding a much-abuicd 


Mexican sombrero out at arm's length. It was tram- 
pled and soiled and there was a fuzzy-edged rip an 
inch long in the brim where a 550-grain bullet had 
ploughed before passing through. Eight years before 
Smitty had paid twenty-five dollars for the hat, perhaps 
entirely too much, and next to his saddle it was his most 
prized possession. It had seen hard service, but he 
fondly regarded it as being as good as new. 

^'Lookit my hat I" he cried, jabbing it under the 
foreman's nose, which caused the needle to find the 
finger again. 

"D— n th' hatl" growled Big Tom. "Take it 
away from my nose ! " 

" Lookit it ! " insisted Smitty. " Some coyote shot at 
me from up on Pine Mountain an' plumb ruined it ! He 
came so close I could feel th' slug — cuss it, I smelted 
it ! It fair grazed by nose. Lookit it I " 

Big Tom threw the shirt away and took the hat, turn* 
ing it over in his hands. '^ I'd say it was close — plumb 
close," he admitted. "How far oflf was he?" 

"Right over my head — couple dozen feet," an- 
swered Smitty. " Here I Don't poke yore blasted finger 
in it like that I Cuss it, it's bad enough now I That's 
more like it. I could feel th' concussion an' smell th^ 
smoke. I was ridin' along at a walk, when whang of 
It near stunned me, it was so dose. An' lookit what he 
done to that hat I There ain't another hat like that on 
th' whole range I " 

"Yo're right, they throw 'em away long before 
that," retorted Big Tom, an idea coming into his head* 
" Did you pick up his trail ? " 


How could I?** indignantly demanded Smitty. 

My cayuse fair went wild, an' before I could get him 
under control he was clean out of th' canyon — I tell you 
I did some highfalutin' riding stickin' to a crazy hoss 
among all them rocks." 

^'How'd you get yore hat? Didn't it go off yore 

*^ Shore it did I I scooped it) up as my cayuse wheeled 
— an' talk about turnin' on a saddle blanket — that 
jack rabbit can wheel on a postage stamp if he's prodded 
enough. He just simply climbed up straight an' 
swapped ends." 

'^ You should 'a* gone back an' stalked that feller," 
said Big Tom, using plenty of salt on what he heard. 
** Or at least rustled to Gunsight to see who might come 
ridin' in. Where did all this happen?" 

*^ Right on them benches on th' east end of th' moun- 
tain — at that rocky hump in th' trail. How he ever 
missed at such close range is more'n / can understand 
—why, a kid oughta be able to make a hit, every time» 
as close as that. An' it was a rifle; th' roar was deaf- 

* 9 99 


''He missed because he wanted to miss," said Big 
Tom. " One of th' boys is playin' a joke on you — you 
know what they've said about that tent. He come 
closer than he reckoned on — I'll bet you rocked for- 
ward in th' saddle as he shot." 

"Yes, I reckon I did — you know what ridin' is over 
that hump," Smitty said. *' I remember that when I 
jerked back as it passed my nose I went quite a ways 
—my neck is sore ifrom th' jerk. But I'm tellin' you 


I ain^t nowise shore it was any joke. An* I says, if it 
was, it was a cussed pore one. FU nat'rally skin any 
fool / ketches playin' any more jokes like that on me* 
Cuss it, it skun my nose I '' 

*'A skin fur a skin, huh ? '* chuckled the foreman. He 
handed the hat back to its owner. ** There ain^t no man 
on th' range that would miss yore head, hat or no hat, 
from them benches. It ain't more than seventy-five or 
eighty feet from up there. They aimed to miss you; 
an' they shaved it a little too fine, not allowin' for you 
bobbin' forward. I says it was one of th' boys. You 
lay low an' use yore eyes an' ears, an' if you find out who 
it was I'll give that fool a dressin' down he won't for- 
get. A joke's a joke — we all play 'em; but there's 
such a thing as ridin' 'em too hard. Did you give th* 
Doc my message ? " 

" What message ? " 

The foreman stared at him and slowly raised his 
hands. ** I'll be cussed — it was more of a joke than I 
thought. Didn't I tell you to ride up there an' tell th' 
Doc that we wanted to see him tonight? Didn't you 
leave here to tell him that, an* for nothin' else?" he 
demanded, his voice rising. 

"Yeah, I reckon mebby you did," admitted the 
puncher, uneasily. '^You want to see him tonight, 

"I do. Now you fork that cayuse an' get goin*. 
Good Lord I That bullet must 'a' hit yore mem'ry." 
He glanced at his puncher's thigh. "An' where's yore 
six-shooter? Did you forget that, somewhere? " 

Smitty^s hand went to the holster and he cursed heart*- 


3y. *' D — n these open sheaths! It must 'a' fell out 
when that jack rabbit did th' fanqr swappin' of ends. 
Now I got to go get it, but I'm borrowin' a gun to wear» 
or I stays here. Somethin' tells me it's unhealthy to 
go ridin' around this God-forsaken country without no 

^* Take that spare one of mine, hangin* up over my 
bunk," offered the foreman. ** She's in good shape. 
Now, yo're plumb shore you didn't lose nothin' else, 
more valuable than earthly belongin's?" he grinned. 
" Yo're shore yo're goin' back for yore gun?" 

^' Shore I am; what you mean?" replied Smitty^ 

" Nothin' worth mentionin*," smiled Big Tom. " I 
reckoned mebby you'd take th' over-mountain trail, 
seein' as it's shorter." 

"Then how could I get my gun?" 

" That's what I was wonderin'." 

" I'll get it," Smitty assured him. " I'll get it unless 
yore fool joker picked it up. Mebby he's a-settin* on it, 
waitin' to hand it to me, an' Apologize for missin* me.** 

" He won't be within miles of here by this time,** said 
Big Tom. " He dusted quick. If he was jokin* he'd 
get away pronto, an' if he wasn't, he'd do it quicker. 
I reckon you'd better diipb up on that bench an* see 
what you can find — an* empty shell might help us a 
lot. But don't forget to see th* Doc, this time. After 
that you can go to town an* find out what you can learn. 
Now get started. An* take good care of that hat— - 
that ain't no way to treat it, nohow.*' 

Smitty growled, took down the six-shooter, strode out 


to his horse and swung into the saddle. ^* Hope nobody 
picked it up," he said. '^ Twenty dollars is twenty dol« 
lars, an* I ain't got th* twenty. Anyway, it*s a better 
gun than they're makin' nowadays." 

** Don*t lose that one while yoVe pickin* up th* other/* 
laughed the foreman. 

When he was out of sight of the ranch Smitty wheeled 
sharply and rode eastward. *^ I got to get it," he mut* 
tered, **or FU never hear th' last of it; but there ain't 
no reason for ridin' through th' canyon an' th' arroyo, 
along th' side of th' mountain for no four miles. It 
was too cussed close for a joke. An' mebby he aimed 
to spatter me all over th' trail. I just can't figger it, 
nohow. But I'm free to remark that any more of them 
jokes will send Smitty dustin' along th' trail, no matter 
what way he's pointin' at th' time, an' he won't never 
come back no more. Somehow, I just can't help thinkin* 
of pore Squint. Cuss it, I can feel it yet I " 

Getting near the scene of his discomfiture, Smitty 
dismounted and went on a reconnaissance, viewing the 
benches from every angle, and after some time he 
located his gun lying in the grass near the trail. Re- 
turning to his horse he mounted and rode forward, 
striking into a dead run as he approached the rocky 
hump in the trail and, leaning down, he picked up the 
weapon as he swept past, no mean feat when the grass 
is considered. In a few minutes he pulled his mount to 
a lope and soon drew rein at the Doc's door, where he 
delivered the message, gossiped for a few minutes, and 
dien went on to town. 

The first person he saw was Two-Spot, leaning 


against the front of die Palace and who accepted, inth 
alacrity, Smitty's invitation to drink. Two^pot saw 
the condition of the hat before its wearer had dis- 
mounted, and his curiosity burned strongly within him. 
The puncher engaged him and Dave in conversation 
but his efforts at these sources of information were 
futile. What knowledge he gained had no bearing on 
Johnny. Two-Spot casually remarked that Johnny had 
been loaHng around most of the afternoon, pestering 
him and said that he was a nuisance. Buying another 
round Smitty sauntered into Dailey's, where he learned 
nothing at all. Having taken the census and found that 
everyone had been rooted in town all day, he began 
to accept his foreman's view of the mystery, and set 
out for home, burning for an opportunity to observe his 
bosom friends and listen to their careless conversation. 
But if he had not received any information, he had not 
given any, and Two^pot's curiosity about the hole in 
the hat was still raging. 

"The' doin's on this here range are scandalous,** 
observed Dave's factotum to Dave, himself. " They're 
gettin' worse an' worse, an' somebody's goin* to get 
hurt afore long. Now I wonder how th' devil Smitty's 
hat got abused like that?" 

"What makes you think things is gettin' worse?" 
asked Dave. 

" That Greaser tent never come by that hole from 

used; an' Smitty was shore askin' a lot of ques- 

; an' Nelson ain't swimmin' hisself an' that boss 

m — I know / wouldn't." 

V^bich is an abidin' sorrer to all them as gets down 


ind of you/* said Dave. ** Was Nelson's saddle wet? ** 

^' No-o ; I reckon it was dry/' grudgingly admitted 
the other. 

^'Was his clothes wet?'' continued Dave. 

" NoKM)," more reluctantly admitted Two-Spot 

**You got a head like a toad/' contemptuously re- 
joined the proprietor. ** Trouble with you is, yore 
imagination is on th' rampage. You got too much 
time on yore hands — suppose you 'tend to th' sand 
boxes? They ain't been touched in three days." 

Two-Spot sighed and obeyed. *' Huh 1 " he grunted, 
emptying a box into the road. **Mebby; but I saw 
somethin' about that hole that reminded me of some 
gosh-awful ca'tridges I seen lately. Cuss it — I'd het 
on it!" 

He chuckled, set down the box, slipped around the 
side of the saloon and poked his head in the hotel shed. 
'* Don't she shine, though?" he remarked in congratu- 
latory tones. 

** She does," admitted Johnny, finishing the job. 

*' Say," said his visitor, ^^ gimme an empty rifle shell." 

"What for?" 

" I want to keep matches in it I'll get a cork from 
Dave an' have a waterproof matchbox." 

"You need it," countered Johnny. "Aimin' to fall 
in th' crick? You need that, too." 

Two-Spot ignored the insult, the second on that 
topic within five minutes. Evidently there must be 
some real or fancied foundation for it " Got one ? " 
he asked. 

"I'll save you one," replied Johnny; "but mebby 


you'll have to wait quite a spelL I still got them I 
loaded/' he said, truthfully. 

^^ Weill there ain't no hurry,'* admitted Two-Spot. 
'' Thought mebby you had one in yore dothes." 

*^ I might go out an' shoot one off ; but I redu>n I 
won't, seein' that it ain't goin' to rain for a day or two.'* 

*^ Don't shoot none for that," replied Two-Spot. 
** Smitty was in town a few minutes ago." 


" Uh-huh, he was. He was projectin' around tryin* 
to find out who spoiled his twenty-year-old Mex. sun«> 
shade. He was het up about it" 

"Don't blame him. Was it spoiled bad?" 

" Plumb sufficient. Looks like th' railroad thought 
it was a tunnel. He acts like he's got hal — hallerlucer- 
ations," grinned Two-Spot. 

"But you can't wear them on a hat," reproved 
Johnny. " That is, not till after you open th' can, any- 

"Huh?" Two-Spot scratched his frowsy head, 
^* mebby not, but that's th' safest place to tote 'em — 
on th' outside, leastawise. Did you think they was like 
a — a shirt?" he demanded with great sarcasm. 

" Mebby ; they covers a lot of ignorance. Yo're not 
goin' out, are you? " asked Johnny. 

"I am," retorted his companion, shuffling toward 
the door. "You think yo're d — d smart, don't you? 
You an' yore huUercations ? Well, you can go plumb 
to h — II" and Two-Spot made haste to get around in 
front of the saloon, where he refilled the box and carried 
it inside. 


**Cus8 it, Dave," he complained, *' nobody 'round 
here treats me like I deserve I '' 

"An it's d — d lucky for you that they don't," re- 
ported Dave. *^ You 'tend to them boxes, or I'll make a 
start at treatin' you like you deserves. What's th' mat- 
'ter with you, anyhow? You've been chucklin' all day 
like you've lost what little sense you had. You ought 
to take somethin' for them spasms — they're too fre- 
quent to do you any good." 

Two-Spot sighed and carried out another box. He 
dropped it and shook his head. " I don't care a cuss ; 
I'm still bettin' that hole was made by a Sharp's Special. 
But what gets me is, how could he perforate th' brim 
while that there pinched-up peak waves defiance, an' 
courts destruction? You gimme a shot at it, and I'd 
blow th' hull top off'n it But I dassn't think about 
that, now that I've got a gun ; it's so f ascinadn' I'll be 
takin' a shot at it some of these days — an' I reckon 
I'd get more'n a hat. Shucks I that'd be all right ; it's 
only Smitty." He leaned up against the building and 
laughed until Dave came out to see if he could get in 
one healthy kick, but Two-Spot avoided him and went 
back to the box. " Polecat is near Highbank now," he 
muttered. *^ I'd give his gun to read his thoughts ! He 1 



AT THE Other end of the Highbank-Gunsight trail 
the warm afternoon was drawing to a dose and 
the shadows of the buildings were reaching out across 
the dirt streets when a dust-covered, four-horse freight 
wagon rolled down the steep bank across the river to 
an accompaniment of rattling trace chains and grinding 
brakes, passed the end of the ford, followed the road 
along the river's edge and crept out onto the big, flat- 
bottomed ferry which awaited it 

*^ On time to a tick,'' smiled the ferryman, poling off 
and shifting the lengths of the trolley ropes leading to 
the block which ran on the great, sagging cable over- 
head The current struck the side of the craft at the 
changed angle and sent it slowly across. 

^^ I got an extra early start," explained Buffalo. *^ Got 
a fine load of hides." 

^^ You young fellers are h — 1 on branchin' out," said 
the ferryman, grinning. 

"Well," replied the freighter, " they was lyin' there; 
I only picked 'em up." 

"Here we are; hold tight," laughed the boatman. 
He used his pole deftly and the ferry struck the bank 
squarely. Making it fast, he lowered the short gang- 
plank. "All ashore, an' good luck ! " 

The quartet strained and the wagon rumbled up the 



bank and then up the road in the wide ravinei and in a 
few minutes struck the level at the top and entered the 
main street of the town. 

" Brazos " Larkin, town marshal, pushed away from 
the Highbank bank and rolled out to the wagon, stepped 
on a hub and then up to the footboard, as was his 

" Judgin' from th* way those no-*count bosses was 
pullin^ when they come over th' hill/* he said, " I reck- 
oned you got th' hides ; but now Fm dead shore of it.*' 

"Yep," chuckled Buffalo, "they smells good to me." 

"Dodge th' Injuns all right?" asked Brazos, in- 
dulging in a time-honored jest. 

"Dodged 'em ag'in," gravely nodded the driver. 
" Here comes th' postmaster. Hello, Jim I " 

Jim Hands walked up to the wagon and alongside as 
it turned the comer and stopped before a frame build- 
ing bearing in weather-bleached letters across its front: 
" Wheatley's Express." As it stopped, a tall, lean young 
man came out and smiled. 

"Everythin' all right, Pop?" he asked. 

" Right as a dollar. Can't you smell 'em? " chuckled 
the old man. 

"Jerry," said Brazos, "I hears yo're quittin' th' 
office for a wagon next week?" 

" I am ; I wanted to swap jobs right along with Pop. 
Now that we're goin* to run two waggins I'll get a 
chance to bust out of this jail; an' Pop can still see his 
friends along th' trail, too. I start in a day or two.*' 

A small group came up and joined them. In it was 
Rod Wilson, the liveryman ; Reb Travers, the railroad 


freight agent; and Pete Wiggins, the owner of the 
hotel. Tliey all were cronies of the same vintage a* 
die driver and formed a closed drde into which, how^ 
ever, they had admitted Brazos. 

" Bet you didn't git a load," said Rod. 

" Bet you didn't git half a load," amended Reb. 

"I'll show you scoffiin* mossbacks what I got," re- 
torted Buffalo, rising to the bait He clambered down 
and went to the rear of the wagon, untied the knots and 
threw back the canvas. As he paused to wonder how 
the bale had become spread out, the top skin moved 
up and down, and he jerked back his hand. " There's 
some kind of a varmint in there 1 " he cried In pardon- 
able amazement. 

Brazos left the group with a leap and reached for 
the hide as his gun slanted down on it Giving it a 
quick, hard jerk, he threw it behind him and then gazed 
in astonishment at a pair of boots which moved ener- 
getically, while strange, strangled gurgles were heard 
in the wagon box. "I'md — d 1 " he muttered. "What 
th' — who th'— how th' — " He grabbed hold of a 
boot and pulled heartily. It resisted and tried to kick. 
Following his gun under the canvas, he moved another 
skin and then emerged and stared at Buffalo. 

" What is it ? " demanded the freighter. " Who is it ? 
How'd he git there, hey? " 

^ 's Wolf Forbes, blind-folded, gagged, hog-tied» 
ihed to th' box," accused Brazos. "Was you 
to skin him when you had more time ? " 
in him?" indignantly retorted Buffalo. "You 
lun him; he's so tough a plough wouldn't scratdt 


his hide. How*d he git in there, an* tie hisself up like 

" Mebby you can tell that to a jury," retorted Brazos, 
8l3ring winking at the dumf ounded group. ** However, 
unless we want to call on a coroner's jury first, we better 
git him out," and, slipping the gun into its holster, he 
plunged back under the canvas. 

Pete Wiggins was the first of the group to recover. 
"After all these years we done found you out I" he 

"What's wrong?" demanded Jerry, from the office. 

"Yore Pop is bringin' in hide on th* hoof," declared 

" Kidnappin' innercent punchers like Wolf Forbes," 
accused Pete. 

"Cuss it!" snorted Buffalo. "What I want you 
fools to tell me is how he got there ? " 

"You can't slip out that way," asserted Rod. 

They listened to what Brazos was saying under thcf 
canvas. "Tied up four ways from th' Jack," he an- 
nounced. " Rolled up in a stinkin' hide, he was, all but 
his head an' arms. Cuss me I this is somethin' new to 
me; an' I reckoned I'd been up ag'in' everythin' in 
human cussedness. How fur did he come this way?" 

" How in h — 1 do / know 1 " blazed Buffalo, his thin 
chin whiskers bobbing pugnaciously. "I didn't even 
know he was there!** 

" You can't never tell," said a voice back in the crowd. 
" Sometimes it comes out in a man when he's even older'n 
Buffalo. Redcon it's th' breed.^' 

"I'll show you what's in my breed!'' shouted the 


snug in my skins, like a tick in a cow's hair, layin' there 
for forty miles, snickerin' at me I You wouldn't pay, 
an' ride alongside me, up in th' dust an' th' heat; but 
you got poked away on them soft hides, out of th' 
dust an' th' sun, takin' it easy while I was drivin' them 
four wild hosses for forty miles 1 Dozin' off, mebby, 
while I was doin' all th' work. I don't see no joke.'* 
He choked, controlled himself, and shouted: *'But 
you can't do it I I want my pay I An' what will folks 
say up in Gunsight when they hears about you ? " 

"Oh, Lord I" yeUed Pete. "What will they say? 
It'll never be forgot I " 

" Life must be pleasant,'* said Reb, " livin' with thai 
outfit 1 There's alius somethin' to pass away th' time. 
I reckon they must 'a' saved up a long time for this 

"Can you imagine what he's been through today?'* 
asked Pete, his imagination becoming active. " It was 
plain, common h — II" 

Buffalo suddenly let out a whoop, draped himself on 
a wheel and burst into laughter, and when he could get 
control of himself he looked around at his audience. 
"Fellers," he groaned, "it wasn't his outfit 1 It was 
them Double X fellers. There was four of 'em in 
Gunsight last night, an* they was f eelin* good. They've 
got th' nerve to tackle a joke like this, too ; an' there 
ain't no love lost between them two ranches. When I 
was goin' into th' hotel after puttin' up my team, I 
heard a lot of laughin' in Dave's saloon, an' I remem* 
bers some of them Double X fellers howlin* 'bout a 
kidnappm*. That's it I They done it I An' I tell you it 


took nerve, taddin' this two-gun man for a joke t It 
won't be no joke when he gits back — there'll be killin's 
over this. But, killin' or no killin', I can't help it — • 
Oh I Ho I Ho I Oh I Ho I Ho I An' me settin' up there, 
drivin' like a dodderin' old fool, with this feller tied up 
in them odorous skins I Wolf Forbes, two-gun bad- 
man of di' Bar H I Oh I Hoi Ho I There'll be killin's; 
but I got to laugh — Oh, Lordyl Lordyl Lordyl" 

'* Forty mile I Forty mile 1 " senselessly repeated one 
man, weaving around, stepping on everyone in his path* 
" Forty mile I Forty mile I " 

^^ Playin' mimuny on a pile of stinkin' hides I " cried 

Tied up like a -r- like a — I dunno what I " 
Bouncin' an' jouncin' under that tarp on a day lika 

*^ Forty mile" came around again, chanting his pass* 
words, stumbled over Reb and flopped, still chanting. 
Brazos held up the botde, and put it down again, not 
daring to give the last dose for fear of spilling it, and 
rocked back and forth on his haunches: *' Wrapped 
in a stinkin' hide — forty mile — mummy — oh, my 
sacred cowl" 

" Forty mile " gasped and sat up. The botde took 
bis eye, and his hand took the botde. Putting it back 
empty he slowly arose ; and when last seen he was ttymg 
to walk on both sides of the street at once, still chanting^ 
his lay. 
Wolf stirred, tried to get up and, falling, rolled over. 
" 'Oot 'ell out ah di'," he muttered. " No dah 'an.'^ 
He desisted, since he could not pronounce labials, and 



tried his arms and legs. They responded somewhat 
but there was great uncertainty about them. 

Brazos wiped his eyes, picked up the bottle, looked 
at it and then around at the crowd, and arose. " Come 
on, boys; give me a hand. In another hour he'll be 
petrified. After which, I'm takio* a drink — two of 
'em — rAr«of 'emi I needs it bad.*' 

The cronies picked Buffalo off the wheel. " Give lu 
a hand, ol' kidnapper," ordered Reb. " We'll lug him 
into Pete's. Come on — git a-holt, all as can find 

A procession formed, with a line of dogs acting as 
skirmishers, and tramped to Pete Wiggins' Highbank 
hotel and bar, into which all -but the small boys and dogs 
disappeared. And a stranger entering Highbank later 
that night would have carried away a very unfavorable 
impression about the sobriety of its citizens. And had 
he seen the innocent and imassumlng cause of it all he 
would have marveled how a man could get so drunk, 
and live. And for a day or two Wolf did not draw a 
sober breath, but staggered, when he was able to walk, 
from place to place, muttering dire threats and drinking 
steadily while his money lasted. There is no telling 
where a periodical drinker will stop when once he geti 
*¥t.r¥„A — and he had been started on more than a pint 



THE following morning Johnny rode toward the 
northwest comer of the Bar H, the hilly, wooded 
section which had been presided over by Wolf Forbes. 
On his ride from the Bar H bunkhouse to the Triangle 
he had seen numerous unbranded cattle and wondered 
what he would find on the difficult section over which 
Wolf was wont to hold jealous guard. Riding to the 
west of the town he then turned and went south, passing 
behind the Doc's cabin, and parallel with the over- 
mountain trail. Reaching Clear River he followed it 
onto Double X range and then let Pepper pick her way 
over the mountain, and soon came to his objective, 
where he found large numbers of cattle, with an un- 
usually high percentage of mavericks among them. 

" Pepper," he said, alert for signs of Bar H riders, 
"th' SV has lost a lot of cows — an' folks can't make 
cows. So if it's goin' to make up its losses, it will have 
to do it with cows that are livin' this very minute. Now, 
it ain't reasonable to go on a ranch an' round up a lot 
of unbranded cattle, 'specially if it ain't willin' for 'em 
to be rounded up. On th' other hand, there ain't no 
harm in ridin' around an' sizin' things up. ^ We want 
to find out where th' mavericks are, an' get some idea 
of how many there are of 'em. 

" Mebby you don't know it, but a lot of mavericks 




means, generally, a lazy outfit, not to say nothin' worse. 
An' when a ranch reckons it^s fenced off by natural 
barriers from other herds, that don't excuse 'em. A 
dishonest foreman or outfit, or a couple of dishonest 
men in it, can get rich with mavericks, if they know their 
business, an' don't work too hard. An' if th' whole 
outfit is dishonest an' workin' for its ranch, mavericks 
belongin' to surroundin' ranches are awful temptations. 

** Now, th' SV don't eamotch its calves. They don't 
have no sleepers, at all; an' I know that calves will 
wander from their mothers after they are weaned, an* 
get notions of their own; an' they can be cut out an' 
drove to another range an' grow up to be big cows. On 
a ranch like th' SV, that ain't had no round-up in three 
years, all calves will be mavericks. There won't be a 
sign on none of 'em to tell where they belongs. 

" Now, then : We'll say th' Bar H is dishonest, but 
its foreman an' outfit is workin' for th' ranch an' not 
for their own pockets. If they drove SV calves to their 
own ranch, they'd put an iron on 'em as soon as they 
could, after which they wouldn't have to bother with 
'em no more. They wouldn't have to be guarded jealous 
by th' best man of th' outfit, an' turned back when they 
tried to get off th' ranch. When I heard how Wolf 
almost lived out here, I got suspicious, Peppery an' 
when I saw too many mavericks on this ranch, I got 
more suspicious; an' you've mebby heard that I was 
brought up in a plumb suspicious outfit. Of course, all 
ranches are goin' to have some mavericks, 'specially if 
it has a wild, rough range. Brush, timber, scrub, an* 
broken country hides cows that don't get combed out 


in a round-up ; we had some, ourselvesi down on th* old 
Bar-20, along our west line — but th' numbers out here 
are scandalous. I'm keepin* cases on these cattle, an* 
I says it's so scandalous that it just can't be true — but 
it is true, so far. There's folks down here that are 
careless an' lazy, or crooked an' I've got my sus- 
picions about which it is. 

" Now, we'll say that th' outfit is crooked, an' workin' 
for its own pockets. They wouldn't want to brand any 
mavericks, not with th' ranch mark. There's two ways 
of dividin' that conclusion. First: That they're doin' 
it for their own pockets, th' foreman not knowin' about 
it. But no foreman is so dumb that he'd overlook so 
many mavericks — he'd raise h — 1, an' weed out his 
punchers an' get new men. There wouldn't be many 
cows unbranded if he was workin' for his ranch. Th' 
second is : Foreman an' outfit are workin' for them- 
selves, dividin' up th' profits accordin' to some plan. 
[Then nobody would care how many mavericks there 
was, for th' more th' merrier. They'd have a right 
smart herd to brand with th' mark of some friend's 
ranch, road brand, an' throw on th' trail for some 
shippin' point up north, near th' railroad. Or mebby 
they figger on stockin' a ranch of their own that they 
has in some other part of th' country. Rustlers plumb 
love mavericks — an' if I was one, an' wanted to get 
rich, I know where /'d start out. An' if it wasn't for 
th' Double X layin' between this ranch an' th' Snake 
Buttes country, them rustlers over there would give this 
outfit sleepless nights. Them Double X punchers bein' 
on th' job all th' time is all that saves these here mave- 


ricks from swappin* ranges. Th' Double X is woridn' 
for this passel of thieves, an' don't know it 

''Now, then: These mavericks out here are mostly 
all three years old, or younger. There's some four- 
year-olds, an' others, of course. An' th' SV ain't had 
a calf round-up in three years. Ain't that remarkable? 
Th' Bar H owners get good reports every round-up. 
Th' new calves keep right up to th' factor of natural 
increase, an' there ain't notfim' to make anybody jump 
out here for a good look at things. An' when th' drive 
figgcrs go on, an' show five hundred cattle on th' beef 
trail, an' really there is a thousand, th' books balance 
just right ; an' Big Tom gets a Christmas present from 
th' owners for bein' such a good, honest foreman. 
Where that extra five hundred head goes to nobody 
knows but th' outfit. I've heard that Wolf is ^segundo 
down here, an' is trail boss on every drive. Do you 
wonder he's jealous of his mavericks out here, an' 
watchin' day an night for some of them Snake Buttes 
rustlers to bust through th' Double X riders an' pay 
this section a visit? Him bein' so alert was anodier 
reason why I packed him off to Highbank for a day or 
two, where he can have excitement, an' there's things 
to do an' see. An' while he's enjoyin' th' hilarity of 
town, we'll have a good look around. Pull up, Pepper, 
there's hoss tracks — fresh, too. They was made while 
th' momin's dew was heavy, which is told by th' little 
chunks of dirt his hoofs picked up an' turned over. 
You stay right here while I go ahead. Lay dozvn/" 
He slapped the horse and gave a low, peculiar whistle. 
Pepper laid her ears back, but slowly obeyed the 


and went down, ** playing dead'* on her side. Taking 
his rifle, Johnny slipped into the brush, following a 
course parallel to but some distance from the tracks. 
For an hour he trailed, seeing numbers of mavericks 
and but few branded cattle, and twice he was in danger 
of being charged by crusty, old long-horned " outlaws ** 
who, while having a due and well-founded respect for 
mounted men, evidently regarded a man on foot as 
being a different and less aangerous species of animaL 
These he eluded by taking to the brush and swiftly 
)getting out of sight, detouring and picking up the trail 
again farther along. Suddenly he stopped and laughed 
silently. On the farther side of a clump of brush a 
conical, vertically dented Mexican sombrero loomed 
against the sky. Waiting a moment to be sure that he 
had not been heard, he raised the rifle and took long, 
deliberate aim. With the roar of the gun the peak ot 
the hat flipped up and over, reversing itself as if on a 
hinge, and hung down on the side of the high crown like 
a cup. There was a yell of surprise, the hat dipped 
down below the shielding brush, and the sudden noise 
of pounding hoofs rolled toward East Canyon. Johnny 
reloaded and ran to a place from where he could see the 
fleeing horseman. It was Smitty, and he was mounted 
on his own horse, a long-legged, big-barreled roan, and 
it was fresh from a three days' rest. The speed it made 
awakened a surprised admiration in the laughing rifle* 
man, who watched the departing horseman until he 
dashed into East Canyon. 

" Thanks, Smitty," chuckled Johnny. " Fm glad you 
ain't headin' for th' bunkhouse. Now I won't be both* 


ered by no corioiis outfit combin' these hills, lookin* for 
me. Reckon Smitty is goin* to town — or he never 
would 'a' rode for th* canyon. Just th' same, I*m 
leavin' for th' Double X. I've seen all I wants out 
here, an' now FU try to fix up a round-up for th' SV, 
an' get the rest of th' figgers I needs." He returned 
to the horse and rode into the northwest, giving vent to 
occasional bursts of laughter. 

** Pepper," he chuckled, as he rode down the other 
slope of the watershed, *' we're havin' more fun down 
here than we had up around Twin Buttes, but th' show 
ain't hardly begun. However, we'll laugh while we can, 
an' meet trouble when it really comes." 

Smitty pounded into and through East Canyon, busy 
with his crowded thoughts and harrowed feelings. Hia 
horse from habit chose the left-hand turn at the other 
end of East Arroyo, and swung around the bend toward 

" Twice 1 " he soliloquized. " Twice in th' hat 1 He 
was close up, th' murderin' coyote — sneaked up on top 
of me when I was so far away from th' mountain I had 
plumb forgot him. Sneaked up to th' other side of that 
brush — couldn't 'a' been forty feet away — an' he 
missed againf You can't tell me he didn't aim to miss, 
not this time. An' I'm dead shore he aimed to miss me 
that other time. Why? Because he didn't want to hit 
me, yet I It was a wamin', it was. He says plain: 
* Smitty, you ain't wanted around here no more. I'm 
warnin' you th' second time. But, mebby, th' third 
time I won't miss.' I'm sayin' there won't be no third 
time. Practice makes perfect, an' / ain't no target. 


He won't score no buUs-eye on me/ Big Tom says it*8 
a joke; all right; but if it is, it ain't goin' no further. 
An' th' reason is, / am. Pm goin* further, an' I ain't 
comin' back. I ain't even wastin' time to go back to 
th' house for my war bag, an' have to give 'em an 
argument about quittin'. There ain't much pay a-comin* 
to me — none, when I pays up what I owe — an' I'm 
callin' everythin' square, all around. Pore Squint I Huh; 
I'd rather be able to say 'Pore Squint' than hang 
around here till somebody up an' says ' Pore Smitty.* 
This here country ain't fit for a dog no more an' I'm 
goin' to find one that is. Keep a-goin', you longJaigged 
rabbit I" 

He whirled over the rocky hump below the historic 
stone benches on Pine Mountain and streaked toward 
Gunsight, seeing the Doc come to the door of the shack 
and wave at him. The Doc was haggard and sallow, 
nervous and poorly nourished after an unfavorable 
bout with his worst enemy, and leaned weakly against 
the door casing as he watched the hard-riding puncher 
whirl toward him. He made up his mind that if Big 
Tom wanted to see him, Mahomet could come to the 
mountain, for he was in no condition to go afield. To 
his surprise and great relief, Smitty followed the bend 
in the trail and headed to ride past Then it was that 
Doc waved again. 

Smitty's hand went to his nose and he shouted a 
greeting and prophecy in three words. The Doc, un- 
strung and highly irritable, took enraged umbrage all 
4ie insulting greeting, jerked the Colt from its shoulder 
liobter and took three erratic shots at the derisive 




RIDING northward after he had left the hills 
which lay along the line between the Double X and 
die Bar H, to find and follow the trail used by the 
Double X punchers when they rode to and from Gun- 
ng^t, Johnny was nearing it when he saw a horseman 
Ht to the north, riding at speed down a hill and headed 
straight for him. Keepuig on, Johnny turned into the 
trail in the direction of the Double X bunkhouse, where* 
vpon the other changed his course and rode as if to 
head him off. From the way in which the other stuck 
up above the horse, Johnny thought him to be Slim 
Hawkes, and he pulled Pepper to a walk, rolling a 
dgarette while he loafed along. His surmise was cor- 
rect, and soon Slim joined him, his look of suspicion 
having some time back given way to a smile. 

•• Hello, Nelson I " he cried. " Lost ? " 

**Not quite," answered Johnny, smiling in turn* 
••How arc you?" 

•• Cheerful, if not handsome," grinned Slim. " Judgin' 
from th* way yoVe headed, I reckon yoVe headed my 
way. Wolf Forbes chase you away from his pet mav- 

"Didn't see him down there. What's he doin' — 
Ininin* 'em?" 

••Keepin* 'em from strayin' over on us," growled 



lowed the action left no doubt In his mind that he had 
interpreted it correctly. He reached for his gun, thought 
better of it and, shaking a fist, shouted instead : "All 
right I But you'll be comin* back, cuss you I '* and forth- 
with reached toward the gun again at the shouted an- 
swer he received. 

Two-Spot saw the felt cup flapping up and down at 
the edge of the sombrero's peak and he let out a howl 
of pleasure at the sight, whereat Dave discreetly ducked 
back from the window, fearing Smitty's reply ; but the 
puncher kept on ahead of his dust cloud and whirled 
over the trail toward Juniper. 

Two-Spot shouted with laughter. " Did you see th* 
hat? Did you see it? Just what I was sayin'/* he 
cried, delighted by the idea that his humorous concep- 
tion had appealed to another. "Number Two, an* 
Smitty pulls his stakes. Hey, Daileyl'* he shouted, 
"you says he'll be comin* back; /'m sayin* he won't 
I'm bettin' we won't see Smitty no more. He's takin* 
what's left of his hat where it won't be spoiled no more. 
Did you notice th' boss he's on? That ain't no Bar H 
critter; that's his own/ I'm givin* you two to one he 
won't come back — two to one, you gapin' jackass!** 

Dailey's open mouth closed suddenly, and he stepped 
forward, feeling for his gun again; but Two-Spot went 
around the corner of the saloon, kicking his heels 
together. " He won't come back I Squint, Polecat, an* 
Smitty I Wonder who else will be missin' ? Three in 
a row — if Polecat stays away. But Polecat won't, cuss 
him. I know him too well for that. He won't — and 
m be glad of it, too, th' coyote. Who*s next?** 


** Neidier of them calamities has happened,*' dmdded ! 
Ifohmiy. ^How modi can th' Double X scrape up^ in ! 
case I makes up my mind to stay a week?" I 

'* Four dollars an* two bits. I'm aimin' to play 'cm 
•o dut you'll have to put up dut black wonder yo're 
ridin'. I shore can use her for my very own ridin' 

'*This cayuse won't never put no interest in gam* 
blin'," said Johnny, stroking a glossy shoulder. ^' She's 
my pardner." 

'*I'd say she was northern raised," guessed Slim. 
^^Them north ranges shore do make a difference in 
stock. IVe heard of Texas ponies puttin' on a couple 
of hundred pounds, 'an' even growin' higher, up there. 
• Tin-Cup,' " he read. " Where's that located ? I never 
saw that brand before." 

^^ Up in Montanny," replied Johnny. ^* I worked for 
it, an' bought this cayuse while th' brand was still red 
She's got blood in her, I'm tellin' you." 

** I knowed that as fur as I could see her," replied 
Slim. ^* But you ain't no Northerner. Did you go up 
with a trail herd, an' stay over?" 

" No, I went up by myself. Went up to help a friend 
spread th' gospel over his ranch, which was done proper. 
It's fine country, but it's gettin' crowded." 

** See many Texas an' Greaser cattle up there ? " 

** Shore; we wasn't so far from th' MusselshelL 
They're on th' trail all th' time. An' they ain't loved 
a whole lot, neither. Th' northern punchers try to 
keep their herds from grazin' too dose to th' trails. 
They're plumb scared about Texas fever. Sometimes i 


^^—^^—i^— — i^— ■ II ■ M ill II — ■^■W— — — — ^^— — ^ 

trail herd will pick up quite a lot of local cattle, an* 
when they're cut out they're mostly held on a range by 
themselves over a winter, until th' danger is reckoned to 
be past. You can't blame 'em, for th' fever raises th' 
very devil in northern herds. I know what I'm talkin* 
about, because some fever cattle was throwed over on 
th' Tin-Cup by some two-laigged skunks, an' we had 
one busy time, /'U admit It went through our cattle 
like fire through dead grass ; an' if it hadn't been f er an 
Englishman, with plenty of brains in his decivin' head, 
it would 'a' been good-by Tin-Cup. It was a squeak for 
us. How's everythin' with you fellers ? " 

"Our troubles are periodics," replied Slim. "We'll 
have a long stretch of peace an' quiet, an' then things 
will happen in bunches, an' keep us crow-hoppin' alt 
over th' range. We got our southeast section tamed, 
but our west section boils over every once in a while. 
Even when it ain't boilin\ or even simmerin', we have 
got to watch it dose. An' it's generally on th' simmer. 
If you go broke a-visitin' us, which I hopes you do, you 
can earn quite some cash. All you got to do is to go 
over in th' Snake Buttes country, just west of us, an* 
get Nevada for us. We'll pay five hundred dollars for 
his body, an' a hundred apiece for each of his men. 
I've heard tell about th' Hole in th' Wall, up north, 
but I reckon we've got its first cousin down here, right 
next door to us. We have to keep four men on our 
west section day an' night. Don't you never ride out 
there for fun — we shoots first, an* then finds out who 
it was." 

" Nevada I " mused Johnny, " who is ht ? " 


"Some My he'* white, othen, a half-breed," an- 
twercd Slim. "Nobody I ever met knew anythin* 
about him, except that he come from Nevada. While 
I never saw him, I shore heard an* felt his lead one 
night; an' if he can shoot that good in th' daik, by ear, 
f ain't hooin* to meet him for fun an' excitement in th' 
dajrtime when he can use his eyes. He skinned my car, 
put one through my ann, another cut my shoulder, one 
went through my hat, th* fourth grazed my side, an* 
th' fifth killed my cayuse. It sounded like a loud r-i-i4^f 
Since then Z don't make no noise at night out there. I 
imitates a ghost when I move around, an' I'm on full 
cock, with a hair trigger, every minute, which is some 

" How'd it happen ? " asked Johnny. 

" We was roundin* up last fall, an* had a beef herd 

we was holdin'. Th* night come on windy an' rainy, 

but there wasn't no lightnin' or thunder. Four of us 

was ridin' th* middle trick an* singin' plenty as we went 

around. Th' herd had fed heavy an* was well watered, 

an' tired, an' we wasn't worryin* much about It. Just 

after midnight we heard a rumble from behind us, an' 

th' whole herd was on Its feet like onr cow. It was a 

small bunch of stampeded catde, an' when it hit our 

herd everythin' went that had hoofs. Th* cook, back 

in th* waggin*, was awake because of a leak over his 

^'d-roll, an' as soon as he heard th' rumble he let cut a 

II an' woke up th* ofi-shifts. They had their cayuset 

d to th* waggin, or staked out close at hand, an' they 

rked *em quick. Tom Wilkes saw my abc-gun flashes 

' he joins me. We lean against one end of th' front 


rank of our bunch, tryin' to turn 'em, an' get 'em to 
mill ; but it wasn't no use. Th' herd had split up into 
bunches, an' our bunch run for half an hour southwest 
When we finally got 'em millin', an' then busted that 
up, they figgered they had all th' runnin' diey wanted 
an' behaved themselves. I rode back to take th' rear 
when I heard what sounded like another bunch runnin' 
west, quite a ways north of us. I sung out to Tom that 
I'd be back, an' streaked up to give a hand with th' other 
herd. When I got to it I rode right up front an' sung 
out that I was givin' a hand. My mouth wasn't hardly 
shut before I got in th' way of that stream of lead t 
told you about I got my gun workin', but I was afoot 
an' had to hear th' herd leave me behind. Managin' to 
get my saddle off, I hoofed it for th' cook's fire, which 
was blazin' high when I got to where I could see it. 
By th' time I got there th' rain was comin' down in 
sheets, an' I was done up. They got away with over 
forty head, as near as we could figger it, an' th' rain had 
smoothed them sandy valleys over in th' Buttes so they 
didn't show a print. We wouldn't 'a' f ollered far, any<^ 
how— 'Nevada likes ambushes, an' that country wai 
made for 'em." 

" I've been through it," growled Johnny. ** There's 
th' fourth muley I've seen in ten minutfs," he said, 
nodding to the right 

'^He was made a muley by a saw," replied Slim. 
**That feller was a bloody-minded terror. He's cost 
this ranch a dozen times what he was ever worth. We 
don't know what was th' matter with him — just bom 
lavage, I reckon. He killed an* ruined a lot of young 


steers before we got onto hinu At first we was goin* to 
kill biro ; then we said he had been so all-fired mean that 
he ought to be punished. So we sawed off his horns 
an' turaed him loose to play with th' rest of th* long- 
horns. He got some good liddn's before he learned 
that he wasn't dangerous no more. He got mauled ao 
much before he quit his mean ways that we sort of felt 
sorry for him. Here comes QuantreU. He's our 
segundo, an' boss of our trail outfit Good man, alt 
around. Hey I Look at that old reprobate go for him I 
What do you think of that? Cimarron was th* man 
who sawed o9 his horns, an' cussed if he don't remem- 
ber it I" 

The approaching rider evaded the chaise, fired dose 
to the steer's nose as the animal went past, which turaed 
its chain of thought, and rode up laughing. 

" Did you see th' old boy ? " he chuckled. 

" Reg'Iar friend of youm," laughed Slim. " Here, 
shake ban's with Nelson. He's comin* out to show na 
how to play draw — an' his pockets are full of money.** 

" Yo're welcome," said Cimarron, grinning, his hand- 
clasp solid and sincere. ** Better put yore rope on him, 
Slim, in case he gets scared oS." 

Laughing and chatting they rode westward until 
about mid-afternoon when, hungry as wolves, they ar- 
rived at the bunkhouse, where Cimarron dared the 
tity of the cook shack to rustle warm, if rather 
1-out food, from the back of the stove; and they 
to the frank and personal comments of several 
og onlookers. The rest of the afternoon was passed 
iscuBsions and rnniniscences of tilings concerning 


jra^nge activities and in telling stories about men they 

Had known. It was not long before other men began 

^o come in from the range and the cook showed signs 

of activity. When he was ready he let out a yell: 

**Are you all a-comin' ? '* They were, and ate hungrily, 

for the most part in silence, listening to the three who 

had enjoyed a late dinner and who could take time to 

talk. Four men soon arose and exchanged banter as 

they looked to tobacco, guns, and other things requiring 

their attention and, saying good-by, went out to the 

corraL They had the first night shift on the west 

section and soon were riding away. Hardly two hours 

later another four-man group came in, fell upon the 

second meal the cook had prepared in less than three 

hours, and then loafed, joining in the conversation. 

"How's things over Gunsight way?" Cimarron 
asked Johnny. 

" Just th* same, I reckon,** came the answer. ** Every- 
thing is all right, a cussed sight better than they are 
further east. It's a shame, too ; a cussed shame.'* 

"Meanin*?" queried Lin Sherwood, the foreman, 
A tall, wiry man of about forty years, whose broad, slop- 
ing shoulders suggested great strength. His face was 
frank and kindly, and his steel-blue eyes twinkled from 
their frames of wrinkles in a manner to win Johnny the 
moment he had looked into them. 

" I*m meanin' that old man with th* busted laig, over 
on th SV," answered Johnny; "an' that kid, an' that 
helpless girl. Do you know they ain't had no round-up 
in three years, neither calf nor beef? " 

"What's that?" exclaimed Cimarron in surprise. 


*' That ain't no way to run a ranch. Ain*t they done 
nobrandin* at all?** 

"Ain*t had an iron hot in three years,'* replied 

"What*8 th* matter with *em?*' demanded Matt 

"They can't keep an outfit,** answered Johnny. 
" Every time they hired a man he was either scared off 
or bribed to quit. After a while they gave it up. Three 
of their men are workin* on th* Triangle, or th* Bar H 
right now.** 

"Then they didn't lose a whole lot,** snorted Art 

" If they don't round up, how do they know where 
they are?** asked Bud Norris. "How do they know 
how many cows they got, or if they*re runnin* at a 
profit or a loss ? ** 

" They don't,** answered Johnny. " But there ain't 
no round-up necessary to tell *em about profit an' loss. 
They can see th' herds shrinkin', it's so plain ; an' when 
they has to sell off a few head every time they needs 
chuck, I reckon they know about th' profit an* loss. 
They want to have a round-up just to get a tally of th* 
cattle now on th' ranch. Knowing how many there was 
from th' tally th' year they took possession, they could 
tell what their losses are. But how can they hold onct 
without punchers?*' 

"They ought to know,** said Slim. "But diat 
wouldn*t help *em much, at that. It would only make 
*cm feel worse, I reckon.** 

** Their herds ain*t got no business to shrink, not iMi 


a. range like theirs/' said Bud. ** If they ain't throwed 
many on th' trail they ought to have more now than 
^ey had three years ago. Cattle don't stop multiplyin' 
just because they ain't rounded up once in a while I " 
Mebby their cattle are different, then," said Johnny. 
An' there's one thing shore : I never saw so few mav* 
ericks on any ranch as there are on th' SV; nor so 
d — d many as I saw on th' Bar H. Why, when I was 
on th' Bar-20, down in th' Pecos Valley, we wouldn't 
'a' let no ranch close to us hold so many unbranded 



" Where did you say ? " quickly demanded Bill Dusen* 
berry, who answered to the name of ** Deuce." 

" Bar-20," replied Johnny, " down in th' Pecos." 

**Did you ever hear of Lacey?" excitedly asked 

"Lacey? Why, he run a saloon, over in Perry's 
Bend ; an' he was a white man clean through." 

" Holy mackerel I " cried Deuce. " Was you one of 
Peter's outfit?" 

*' I was near since I was old enough to throw a rope,** 
answered Johnny, a pleased grin coming to his face. 
*'Did you know Lacey, or Buck?'* 

" Lacey Is my cousin,'* exclaimed Deuce. He turned 
to his friends. "We ain't goin' to have no poker 
tonight This feller is goin' to entertain us with th' 
doin's of th' cussedest he-man outfit that ever lived 
under one roof. Lacey has told me just enough to get 
me on th' prod — an' here's a man who was one of that 
outfit. You can begin with that cow-skinner you fellers 
:frent to Perry's Bend after. I'm tellin' you that if you 


can show as that you belonged to that haiMrigger outfit 
there ain't nothin' Bill Dusenberry an' his friends won't 
do for you. What was that cow-sldnner's name, an* 
where did he die?" 

"I'm glad to meet a relative of Lacey's," replied 
Johnny, amiling. "Lacey turned a buffalo gun loose 
on that gang of rustlers when they had me in Jackson's 
store after they had killed Edwards. As to Jerry 
Brown, he died in some sort of a church, or mission, or 
somethin* like that He shot me in Harlan's saloon, 
shootin* through his coat pocket, th' skunk. Speakin* 
of mavericks, you fellers all know that if th* natural 
increase ain't branded yo're goin' to have a fine crop of 
unbranded cattle; an* if there ain't no calves branded 
for three years, yo're shore goin' to have one slashin' 
big herd of mavericks. Now, if them mavericks wan- 
der off th* ranch there ain*t no tellin' what'll happen to 
'em. An* if they ain't allowed to git back again, or 
ain't kept off some other ranch, somebody's goin' to 
have a fine lot of cattle that can be marked with any 
brand they feels like puttin' on 'em. They won't even 
have to be vent branded : they can be sold, an' th* first 
an' only brand they start with can be th' sign of th* 
man that buys 'em. With a road brand to take 'cm 
over th* trail, there ain't nobody can question 'em, is 
there? At least not down in this country, where there 
ain't no laws to question 'em," 

*' ^o're right 1 " exclaimed Slim, his eyes glowing 
I sudden inspiration. "Where have our brain» 
all this time? Reckon we was too busy out on 
est line to do much thinkin' about other things." 


** YeS| an' none of 'em will be much more than three 

years old/' said Cimarron, looking around the room, 

^vvrhere various expressions met his eye. ^^A plumb fine 

lot of unbranded cattle, runnin' up to three-year-olds, 

ready for any iron. I've been as dumb as a locoed 

dogie I " 

Lin," said Gus Thompson, turning to the foreman, 
I'm tellin' you that when folks get th' maverick habit, 
an' ain't bothered, they get so, after a while, that they 
don't care a whole lot where them mavericks come 
from; an' you know that there are some parts of our 
ranch that are plumb heavy with scrub timber, brushy 
an' rough ground." 

^^ Tell us about Perry's Bend," impatiently demanded 

" Tell us about yore gran'mother's cat I " snorted Bill 
Sage. *^That can wait: Nelson's goin' to stay here a 
couple of nights, anyhow." He looked around. " I'm 
beginnin' to see through th' holes in th' ladder ; an' I'm 
honin' to listen to why th' SV don't show no mavericks, 
when it ain't had a spring round-up for three years. 
Does it sleeper?" 

" Not an earnotch," interjected Tom Wilkes. " You 
ought to know that, you flathead; you've seen enough 
SV cattle, anyhow." 

*' Mebby Nelson can explain it," suggested the fore- 

" I'm willin' to talk it over, anyhow," said Johnny. 
" In th' first place, there's natural enemies." 

** Then you can leave 'em in th' first place," laughed 
Slim. *^ There ain't none, that I knows of, down here." 


^'Well, then, there's them quicksands," continued 
Johnny, gravely. *^ Cattle are plumb fascinated by 
quicksands ** 

" Huh I " snorted Cimarron, ** you ain't figgerin* them 
sands are takin' th' increase of three whole years, are 

'^Or pickin* mavericks, as a choice?" grunted Matr 

" They'd be so full of bones if they got three years' 
calves," said Bud, "that you could build a shack on 
'em, an' never feel a quiver." 

" Well, then, there's th' f reezin' cold an' th' ice on 
th' grass," suggested Johnny, grinning. " We all know 
that cattle ain't got sense enough to paw through ice 
to get at th' grass under it." 

" Shore I " snorted Slim. " Did we have a freeze-up 
last winter? " he asked the crowd. 

"Not so no cows was killed," replied Cimarron* 
"An* I didn't see no driftin' herds at all." 

"What's th' matter with you fellers?" indignantly 
demanded Johnny. " Here I'm tryin' to explain a mys- 
tery, an' you keep puUin' me out of th' saddle as fast 
as I climb up. That ain't fair. Then how about this 
one : Th' SV wasn't no good for winter range, bein' all 

"Yo're down again," laughed Art French. "Th* 
SV is good winter range, an' summer, too." 

"An' spring an' fall, an' th' Fourth of July, as well 
as Christmas," supplemented Bud. 

" You fellers are shore ornery," complained Johnny. 
" Then mebby th* mavericks, bein' different than marked 



ammals, all got th' travel itch an' left that arid valley 
for th' thick, green grass down south of *em, or for 
th* juicy scrub an* dean rocks north of 'em/* 

^* 'Arid valley ' is purty near as good as * thick, green 
grass south of 'em,' " chuckled Cimarron. ** Was you 
ever over on that luxuriant south range?" he asked, 

*' I wasn't, but OP Buffalo was," answered Johnny. 

'^ Shore, but he don't eat grass," retorted Cimarron; 
an' what's more, he don't stop on it at all/' 

Well, I'll try once more," said Johnny, in simu* 
lated desperation. ** Mebby cow-hawks flew away with 
*em seein' that there wasn't no brands to prove nothin'.'* 

After the laughter quieted down, Cimarron jammed 
his fist into an open palm with a resounding smash. 
" I'm thinkin' we got more interest in th' way them SV 
cows are handled than we ever thought. I'm gettin' 
interested in seein' that th' SV runs itself some better 
than it has. There's ideas millin' around in my head 
that some folks might say are scandalous an' unpolite. 
You all heard me — lemme hear somcthin'." 

**An' I'm wantin' to know," said Johnny, ** what kind 
of barb wire is sold down in these parts ? " 

'* Mean, cussed mean," replied Slim. 

"Then mebby that's why it won't stay up," muttered 
Johnny. " It keeps a-comin' down from off them posts 
around th' quicksands, pullin' out double staples, an' 
draggin' itself all over th' valley. A couple of them 
posts set fire to themselves, too, an' burned till they 
busted themselves off, close to th' ground. I'm shore 
doin' a lot of guessin'." 


" Lacey told mt — " began Deuce. 

" — to rope yourself," interrupted Cunarroo. *'We 
got lots of time, later, to hear about what Lacey told 

"I believe in bein' neighborly," said Matt, *'aii* 
givin' folks a hand when they deserve it" 

*' Is th' Doc a friend of you fellers?" asked Johnny. 

*' We ain't weepin* none over his kidnappin*, if that's 
what you mean," chuckled Matt. " He mebby will be 
kidnapped ag'in, sometime — an* hoof it bade home. 

" Well, I didn't want to hurt you fellers* feelin**,** 
replied Johnny. 

*' What you mean ? *' asked Cimarron. " Youll have 
to be plumb rough to hurt any feelin's out here." 

" Matt was aaytn' he believes in bein* neighborly,** 
explained Johnny, " an' I happened to think of some- 
thin' about th' Doc, what stirred me a-plenty. That's 
why I asked." 

" What was that? " asked Slim. 

" Why, that Arnold girt was took sick aboui: a year 
ago, an' they sent for th' Doc. He said he would doctor 
cows an* bosses, but he wouldn't sling a laig across a 
saddle if th' whole SV was dyin', an* be refused to go. 
That kid had to ride to Highbank for that drunken 
doctor down there." 

" Th* h — 1 you say I '• snapped Thompson. *' Is that 

answered Johnny. *'An' it made me wonder 
of country I'd got into. I maintains that no 
e that measures up to th' standards of cow- 


country men; an* when th* old man busted his laig I 
says it was plumb proper that th' coyote was kidnapped 
an' made to do his plain duty.*' 

"Fm admirin' that kidnappin' more every day," 
exclaimed Slim. *'Th' dog wouldn't have to be kid- 
napped if he was needed on th' Bar H." 

" Huh I " snorted Cimarron. " If Big Tom had a 
sore toe th' Doc would bust his neck an' kill a boss 
gettin' there." 

" Will somebody tell me what's th* matter with that 
coyote?" asked Larry Hallock. ^^One day he's as 
bright as a new dollar an' witty as blazes ; th' next, he 
looks like somebody had dragged him by th' heels 
through th' hottest parts of h — I. Talk about quick 
changes 1 He's a wonder. What's he drinkin', any* 

*^ I reckon it ain't drink," said the foreman, reflect- 
ively. '* I once knowed a gambler, up in Dodge, that 
could play longer than anybody in town — hours longer 
— but when he went to pieces he shore hit hard. An' 
he'd rather lie than tell th' truth. However, th' devil 
with th' Doc; I'm wonderin' about somethin' else." 

'^Lacey knowed a man like that," said Deuce, but 
got no further, for Cimarron balanced a gun in his 
hand and seemed to be considering. 

*' I'm itchin' for to shoot Lacey," Cimarron remarked, 
** but as he ain't on hand any of his tribe will do. You 
shut up about Lacey till th' time's ripe to talk about 
him I " 

"It'd look too set, too plain, an' sort of hintin'," 
soliloquized the foreman, ** to send a Double X bunck 


over there. If we could make it universal, sort of free- 
for-all, with other's joinin* in, it would be better. It 
would look like a surprise party an' not point too strong 
in one direction. They should have a round-up an' get 
a tally. Even a litde iron heatin' wouldn't be out of 
place, as long as it was done by them as didn't belong 
to th* SV. Nobody could hardly blame th' SV for 
brandin' mavericks, an' say they was stealin' cows that 
didn't belong to 'em, if punchers from other ranches 
did th' brandin*. How many men do you reckon we'd 
need, Nelson?" 

"More than you could spare if you kept a good 
watdi on that west section," answered Johnny, seeing 
the drift of the foreman's thoughts. *' Quite some few 
more. An' you got to count me out of it, 'though I'd 
be glad to stay here an' take some man's place while 
he's gone. I don't aim to be hobbled in th' future by 
comtn' out strong an' plain. That may sound funny, 
but I got things to answer for if they're found out an* 
laid to me — which I ain't aimin* to have found out, 
positive. It ain't that I'm gun-shy, or tryin' to slip out 
of trouble, but I just ain't ready to smoke up, right 
now. It's shore a puzzle." 

Arch Wi^ins slapped his thigh with stinging empha- 
sis. " I'm seein' di' drift of this here conversation, an* 
T ain't dedarin* myself in because th' wool is bern' pulled 

ny eyes, at all; but I am dedarin* myself in, dean 
my hat, because I'm a cowman, through an* 

gh, first an' last; an' because I'm a human htm*. 

f round-up gang needs a first-dass hoss wrangler 
few ^yi) or a week, without pay, an* willin* to 


feed hisself, Fm speakin* for th* job. An* I ain't too 
lazy to keep irons hot, neither. Do I hear anythin' ? ** 

Jim Hallock leaped to his feet " I come down here 
to visit, an' get a rest," he declared, grinning. ^' Fve 
had all th' visitin' I wants with a bunch of cold-deckers ; 
an' I ain't had no rest since I arrove. My fingers ache 
from dealin' an' cuttin' an' drawin' ; an' I can see deuces 
an' treys in my sleep, when I get any. Spcakin' for 
myself, I'd enjoy seein' that lazy Wiggins wranglin' 
cayuscs for me every momin' before sunup. I'll do my 
cusscdest to wear him to a frazzle. How about you, 
boys ? " he asked, turning to his brothers. 

" I ain't got no love for Arch Wiggins," announced 
Wood, " but I'm swallerin' my pride. If he wants an 
assistant wrangler that knows more about th' job than 
he ever will, I'm ready to take orders, an' sacrifice my; 
independence an' self-respect." 

"Where you find one Hallock," chuckled George, 
'* you finds more. We was brought up like that. I can 
use an iron with any man on th' range, no matter who 
says I'm lyin'." 

Larry burst out laughing. "I never let my cub 
brothers put on no airs," he declared ; " an' some older 
member of th' family ought to go along to keep 'em 
from gettin' into trouble. I'm signin' this pay-yorseself- 
pay-roU, with Lin's permission." 

" I can't give no permission to anybody in my outfit 
to brand mavericks, or run another man's ranch for 
him," said Sherwood, " but I reckon I can give some of 
you boys a few days off, in case you want to go fishin* 
over in Green Valley, or chase them cow-hawks Nelsooi 


was tellin' aboat. Do ywi diate *an, or trap 'em, 

" You put a hunk of maverick meat on th* end of a 
rope, an' tie knots in it," said Johnny. *'Th' cow- 
hawk swallers th' whole thing, an' th' knots get caught 
in his innards. Then you shoot him through th' epi- 
xootic with a hunk of lead. Didn't you ever go huntin* 
*em ? '* 

" No, but I've heard all about it," replied Sherwood, 
apologetically. " Now, lemme see : some of you fellers 
have got to stay here. There's twelve, not countin' me, 
which nobody ever does, anyhow. Twelve, thanks to 
them Snake Buttes coyotes, on a ranch that shouldn't 
have more'n eight Well, after all, sizin' up th' twelve 
an' lumpin' *em, an* dividin' it by one real, shore>enough 
puncher, they only come to ei^t, after all. I figger I 
can do without four of th' laziest — live, if Nelson stays 
to show somebody how his job ought to be done. Now, 
that makes nine goin 'to Gunsight to spend their time an* 
money. Somebody ought to remember about a cook, 
for I'm sayin* right out loud an' flat, that our cook 
ain't gettin' no time off." 

"You can't make me sore," chuckled Lem Curds, 
culinary artist of the ranch. " It'd only be out of th' 
fryin' pan an' into th' fire for me. ThanKs, Lin." 

" I can cook good enough for any bow-laigged coyote 
tiiat ever set foot on this ranch," declared Art French. 

Jes, I got some scores to settle up. I'llcooL" 

" said Sherwood, "I promised Cimarron 
ago that he could have a few days off, to rest 
hem poker parties. He's a good foreman an* 


round-up boss, only he ought to do some work hisself. 
But Vm bettin' our wrangler ain't got enough saddle 
stock within a day's ride to give you fellers a remuda 
apiece — say about five to a man." 

"If you wasn't th' foreman an' keeper of th* pay- 
roll," retorted Rich Morgan, " I'd say you was a cross- 
eyed fabricator. Cuss yore nerve I I'm th' best boss 
wrangler, barrin' Arch, of course, that ever took a 
cussin' from a fool outfit. What th' devil is a little 
matter like a herd of forty-five saddle bosses to a man 
like mef' 

The foreman leaned back and laughed contentedly. 
" You would think we was wantin' 'em to go to a dance,'* 
he said to Johnny, his eyes twinkling, " instead of goin' 
out of their way to do some hard work. I'm bettin' th* 
SV has a proper round-up. Who's goin' to be tally 

"That takes a good man away from work, when 
anybody can count knots or make a pencil mark,'* 
growled Cimarron. " We ought to have somebody that 
can't do nothin' else like that Two-Spot over in Gun* 

That's th' tally man I " shouted Arch. 

He's ourn, if we has to do some kidnappin* our* 
selves^" exulted Larry. "We won't let him have a 
smell of liquor till we drop him off at Gunsight on th* 
way back. An' then we'll pickle him so he'll keep for 
a week." 

" He won't do," asserted Slim. " He can*t keep a 
tally straight" 

I'm sayin* he can," contradicted Johnny, smiling^ 




*' Seems to me I've seen him do little things that showed 
me he was a-punchin' once— an' punchin' for a long 
time. I'll bet he can keep tally as good as any man in 
this outfit) an' count 'em as they pass, too. Mebby he 
wouldn't suit a buyer, or a seller, but he's good enough 
for me. Anyhow, you can call th' figgers when yoVe 
countin' herd. There won't be a new brand get away 
from him if you let him alone. It's time he was put to 

" Mebby he won't work on th' SV? " suggested Arch. 

" Th' Doc didn't want to, neither, did he ? " demanded 
Slim; '^but he did. What's th' use of kidnappin' any« 
body that wants to be took? He'll work, all right — 
or he won't eat." 

"Hey," said Cimarron, turning to Johnny. "We 
got a lot of gall runnin' a round-up on another man's 
ranch. What'll we say to 'em? We got to say 

"Tell 'em it's a neighborly act," replied Johnny. 
" Say you'd *a' done it before if you'd 'a' knowed about 

"They got any wire?'* asked Wood. "I'm aimin' 
to run a fence around them posts that'll make some thief 
cuss some dark an' stormy night, as th' books say. 
Staplin' is fine, but takin' a couple of turns around th' 
posts an' staplin all around is better." 

"I reckon so," answered Johnny. "If they ain't 
tell Dailey to give you a spool an' charge it to me." 

" Not bein' in on this personal I'll pervlde a spool,'^ 
offered the foreman. " I'd like to see this crew at work 
over there — a man alius works harder for somebody 


as a favor than he does for th* man that pays him. 
It would give me a line on how hard I could crowd you 
fellers. Wood, if you throw about three half-hitches 
over them posts before you staple 'em, you'll bother 
anybody that tries to unwind it from a hoss. Xxy it^ 
an' see." 

" Yo're talkin' gospel," said Wood, grinning. " It'll 
just wind up th' other way, an' before he knows what 
he's doin' he'll have one plumb, fine job on his hands." 

*'I'll give two bits, purty near," chuckled the fore- 
man, *' to see some faces in this country when th' news 
gets out about this here high-speed round-up. But I 
don't reckon there'll be no trouble about it. I'm sayin'^ 
however, if you'll listen to mc, don't nobody start none. 
Yo're job is takin' care of SV cows, an' not gun-fightin'» 
'though I know there ain't no danger of anybody chasin* 
you oflf th' range." 

"There won't be no trouble, Lin," assured Cimar- 
ron, " not if I has to shoot up th' whole blasted country. 
An' I'm almin' to have some of them Triangle riders 
join hands with us : we're roundin' up wide an' regard- 
less, an' it stands to reason that we'll have to cross their 
boundary line. But we'll be polite an' fair ; we'll tell 
*em three times, smiling. After that it'll be their own, 
buUheaded fault." 

" There's one man on th' Triangle I hope is hard of 
hearin'," chuckled Tohi Wilkes; "that's Gurley. Can 
/ ask him, Cimarron? " 

"You'll stay right here," replied the segundo. 
"We'll have trouble enough, mebby, takin' things as 
they come, without lugg^* along no canned grudges." 


" You watch me stay here I " retorted Wilkes. 

*^ril do that very thing/* chuckled the foremaiu 
"Yo're goin' to show Nelson over our west rang^e 
tomorrow night, an' cover more ground out there on 
account of there bein' fewer of you. Nelson," he said, 
turning, ^' have you any choice of men for this here party 
that's goin' to celebrate their freedom over in Gun- 

** I ain't sayin' a word — not one word." 

"All right, then," continued the foreman. "Now, 
boys, them that are goin' to have a few days off are : 
Cimarron, Larry, Art, Slim, an' Bud. I ain't lendin' 
no cayuses, wire, or no chuck waggin, for they ain't 
needed goin' to Gunsight on a spree; but, I'm sayin' 
that I don't expect to go in th' storeroom, nor th' 
waggin shed, nor have no time to bother about my 
hoss wrangler's job. If he wants to keep a lot of saddle 
bosses away off somewhere where they can't be seen, 
that's his business. He's doin' th' wranglin' for this 
ranch, an' nobody else is. An'," he grinned, turning 
toward the cook, " Lem, here, has a pore mem'ry an' 
never would miss no pots an' pans." 

" I has ; likewise I'm blind," said Lem. " But lemme 
make a prophecy: If there are any cookin' utensils 
that gets misplaced an' can't be found for near a week, 
an' they ain't as clean when they're found again as they 
was when they got lost, there'll be some h — 1-roarin', 
excitin' times on this here packet. You all hear me 

"Now, then. Nelson," said Deuce, "tell us about 
Lacey an' — " he broke off his request as he dodged 


Cimarron's booti for the segundo was a man of set 
ideas, and he was going to turn in. 

"If I hears any more about that cousin of yourn, 
tonight," quoth Cimarron, pulling off the second boot 
and balancing it, "there is goin' to be weepin' in th* 
Deusenberry family. I'm turnin' in, an' I only turns in 
when I want to go to sleep. I got plenty of work ahead 
of me for a few days. An' I'm sayin', further, that if 
there's any poker playin' tonight, it's goin' to be held 
in th' kitchen, an' played by a lot of dumb men." 

"An' if I ketches any poker parties in my kitchen,'* 
announced Lem, arising and flexing his muscles, " I'll 
heave 'em out again. I ain't goin' to clean up after no 
pack of bums. You hear me real plain? " 

" Couple of grouches," growled Slim, looking around. 
" Get th' cards an' beans, Tom. We'll pull th' waggin 
out of th' shed, an' play in there, out of th' wind. Some- 
body else get th' lanterns." 

"An' what are you goin' to get?" demanded Rich,, 
pausing as he started to take a lantern down from its 


" I wasn't goin' to say nothin' about that," answered 

Slim, grinning; "but as long as you asked, I'll tell you. 

I'm goin' to get th' money. Come on, Nelson; we'll 

move th' waggin for them suckers." 

" I don't mind lookin' like a sucker," retorted Rich, 
getting the other lantern, " as long as I don't play like 
one. Who'll buy Slim's watch from me tomorrow?" 
he asked from the doorway. 

"Yo're blockin' th' door, an' talkin' foolish," said 
Thompson, shoving him aside. "Anybody wants that 


watch'll have to come an' see me. Don't forget them 
beans," he called over his shoulder. 

^* He ain't got time to get 'em/' mattered Tom. ** but 
he'll have to wait for me, if / get 'enu Can you figger 



AT DAYLIGHT there was hubbub, horseplay, 
and banter on the Double X. Art French climbed 
up into the chuck wagon (the cook's supply list in his 
pocket), banged on a huge pot, and announced that 
the race was on. Arch Wiggins, on this part of the 
journey, at least, had plenty of assistant horse wran- 
glers, for the eight riders, Cimarron with the rest, 
herded the horses and started for the SV, happy as 
schoolboys on a lark. 

Reaching Gunsight, they caused quite some commo- 
tion, and fired into the air to give zest to the occasion. 
Dave mopped his beaded brow several times before 
his share in the festivities slackened, and Two-Spot, 
burning with a fever of curiosity, shuffled from the chuck 
wagon being loaded in front of Dailey's to the saloon, 
asking shrewd questions and making pertinent observa- 

'^An' why th' waggin?" he asked Slim. 

"To put Juniper in," answered that cheerful disciple 
of George Washington. "We reckoned we'd like to 
have a town closer to th' ranch, an' Gunsight ain't good 

Two-Spot wandered around and put the question to 

The segundo regarded him with level gaze. " It's 


for th' widder's mite," he answered. "We're on tfa* 
rustle, which ain't to be totd." 

"Huh I" snorted Two-Spot, "you might be aimin* 
for some widder, at that; but I'm sayin' that if she sees 
you first, you'll need more'n eight men an* a wa^;in to 
take her away from her home an' fambly. What are 
you aimin' to rustle?" 

" Every cow on a certain ranch between here 
-an' Juniper," whispered Cimarron, looking stealthily 

*' Then don't you waste no time hangin' around here," 
warned Two-Spot, also looking stealthily around. *' Big 
Tom's gettin' up early these momin's, I bets." 

Cimarron gravely shook his head, whereat Two- 
5pot remarked carelessly, apropos of nothing, "Smltty 
has left th* range for good. He had two holes in his 
hat, th* upper hole like a coffeepot with th' lid bade 
He rode his own boss, an' was goin' strong when he 
passed here. But nobody was chasin' him, then." 

"Hey, fellers I" shouted the segundo, joyously, 
" Smitty has follered Squint, with a couple of gun-shot 
wounds in bis Mex. hat I '* 

Laughter and cheerful remarks greeted the news, and 
Dave had to verify it 

"Bar H: mark two!" cried Norris. "Bring 'em 
up, you ropers — th' irons are hot! " 

Two-Soot, despairing of gaining any real informa- 
ive's, shuffled out and went to Dailey's where 
:h was putting the last of the provisions on 

', French 1 " greeted Two-Spot, putting a foot 


on the spokes of a wheel. "Where are you fellers 
hcadin' for?'' 

"Up th' Juniper trail,*' answered Art. "Want to 
come along? Have you got th' nerve to take a chance 
with somebody else's cattle? " 

Two-Spot looked at him intently. "What are you 
aimin' to do with 'em?" he asked. 

"What do folks usually do with cows that don't 
belong to 'em ? " countered Art. 

"Holy mavericks 1" muttered Two-Spot. "These 
here ijuts ain't carin' a whole lot who knows about it 1 
What you got th' waggin for? Aimin' to squat out 
there an' steal 'em as fast as they grows up ? " 

" That's for th' hides of them that gets killed. We're 
goin' to round up every hoof, clean and prompt." 

" You didn't stop at th' Doc's on yore way up, did 
you ? " asked Two-Spot, paying no attention to the noise 
made by several men who had mounted and were riding 
toward the wa^on at a walk. 


" Oh, nothin', only I reckon'd mebby you'd got some 
of them little white pills he shoots into hisself ." 

" Can you keep a tally? " asked Art, carelessly. 

"lean; but I won't" 

Art waved a hand at him. "He can tally; but he 
won t. 

Three ropes dropped over the surprised ex-tally man 
and were drawn not unpleasantly tight He thought 
it might be a joke, so he grinned; it would not do to 
let anyone think he took it seriously, because it might 
cause them to tak£ it that way. " Takes three men on 



hoBset to rope me," he jeered, chuckling. *' Better ger 
th* re$t of th' gang before I gets rough an* boisterous.'* 

** Can you set a horse ? ** asked Slim. 

" I shore can't,*' regretted Two-Spot. " It's one of 
th' sorrers of my life." 

" Then we'll have to tie him on," said Wood. " Chuck 
us out a couple of hobbles, Art." 

'^I can ride any boss you can," boasted Two-Spot. 
I was bustin' 'em before you was horned." 

Then we'll hobble th' boss," laughed Wiggins. 

** Loosen 'em up; I hears Dave a-callin' ! " exclaimed 
Two-Spot, suspiciously eager to answer duty's call. 

''Where you aimin' to have him swing?" demanded 
Art '' Squint has got to be revenged." 

" Th' first tree," growled Slim. " We gives you one 
chance to save yoreself an' help rid this range of law* 
breakers. Who got Squint ? " 

"You go to h — II " blazed Two-Spot as the ropes 
tightened. " Take 'em off me I " 

" Who got Squint? " repeated Slim, threateningly. 

"If I tells, will you let me out of these cussed 
ropes? " asked the shivering victim. 

" We will ! " 

" Smitty got him," chuckled the captive. "Ask him 
if you don't believe me. Take 'em off, now I " As soon 
as he was freed he danced away, wary and anxious, 
and bumped into Cimarron, whose muscular arms held 
him as in a vice. ''Now, what's th' matter?" blazed 
Two-Spot, wriggling in vain. " What you reckon yo'rc 
goin' to do ? " 

"We need a tally man on this nistlin' expedition,'' 


said Cimarron, ^' an' we like yore looks. Bring up a 
cayuse, an' he can go bareback; either that or ride 
^with Art." 

" I'm ridin' with Art if I goes, which I ain't aimin' 
to I " snorted Two-Spot. " I can't count up to more'n 
ten," he protested. 

" You won't have to count at all," Cimarron assured 
liim. "All you got to do is make little pencil marks like 
a picket fence on a piece of paper, or drop a pebble in 
yore hat for every cow. You can drop pebbles, can't 

** Not very good," deprecated Two-Spot. " I'm too 


Well, when yo're oncertain," chuckled Slim, " yore 
chuck will be oncertain. Th' oncertainer you are, th' 
less you'll eat." 

Cimarron picked Two-Spot up and put him in the 
wagon, whereupon Slim and Wood rode up close to it, 
ropes in hand. "There ain't nothin' oncertain about 
Slim's ropin', or Wood's, neither," warned Cimarron. 
** You better stay right in that waggin." He turned to 
go to his horse. "Come on, boys! We're startin' 

Dave went to a window to see them off, caught sight 
of Two-Spot's appealing face in the wagon, and has- 
tened to the door and out toward the vehicle. 

*^HiI" shrilled Larry, his rope darting from his 

"Hi I Hi! Hi!" yelled the others, their ropes 
going to the mark. 

**What'n h — 1!" shouted Dave, struggling, and 


glaring around. He was the center from wludi four 
rope radii pointed to the cardinal points of the com- 
pass. ^^Leggo me I Loosen 'em up, you coyotes I 
Loosen up I '' 

** Does Two-Spot go with us ? " asked Larry. 

** Can we borrow him for a few days, to keep tally 
for us on th* SV, Mr. Green ? '' politely inquired Bud, 
tightening the rope. 

*' You can ; an* go to blazes, for all I cares I " Miorted 
Dave. He loosened the ropes and lost no time in get- 
ting back to his window. ** Cuss 'em I All right; take 
him 1 '' he yelled at the noisy cavalcade. " But if any- 
thin' happens to him, you'll settle with Dave Green! 
You hear me?" 

They did not. 

Margaret, responding to her brother's exdted sum- 
mons, went to the door and her hands flew to her breast. 
A wagon, loaded with packages, pulled up at the dilapi- 
dated corral and eight rough-looking men, driving a 
herd of horses, stopped near it. One of them kept on 
at a walk and approached her. Removing his som- 
brero, he pulled up and bowed. 

" Ma'am," he said, slowly and kindly, a smile wreath- 
ing his weather-beaten face, from which genial gray eyes 
twinkled at her; *' Ma'am, we have come out to round 
up for you. We understand that this ranch ain't been 
combed for three years — an' it shore is time it was. 
I saw a wire fence north of th' trail : how far does it 

"Why, why — I didn't know — we were not expect- 


ins ^^y round-up. Isn't there some mistake?" she 

*^ I don't reckon there is, Ma'am," Cimarron assured 
her. '^ Mr. Nelson was tellin' us about th' SV, an' we 
all reckoned it was time there was a round-up run over 
here. You ought to know how many cows you got; 
an' mebby there's some as should be branded." 

"I hardly know what to say — how to thank you," 
Nlargaret replied. *' Won't you come in and speak to 
father? He doesn't want to leave his bed for a few 
days more." 

'* Shore, Ma'am," said Cimarron, dismounting and 
throwing the reins over the head of his horse, and 
following her into the house. 

" Father, this is Mr. — Mr. — ?" she looked at Cim- 
arron inquiringly. 

" Quantrell — Cimarron Quantrell," he smiled. " I 
was born on th' banks of th' Cimarron when they wasn't 
exactly safe for bein' bom on, but our fambly was 

" This is my father, Mr. Quantrell," smiled Marga- 
ret. " I'll leave you men to talk by yourselves. If you 
want me, please call." 

"Arnold," said Cimarron, with simple -directness, 
'* we've come out here, nine of us, from thi Double X, 
to round up for you. Nelson said you hadn't held none 
In three years, an' we reckoned it was time we was payin' 
you a neighborly call. When you get an outfit of yore 
own sotne day you can give us a hand. By helpln' each 
other we'll both be helpin' ourselves. How far does 
that wire fence run, up north of th' house?" 


** Mr. Quantrell, I don't know how to thank you,'* 
replied Arnold '^ I was growing to think there were 
no human beings in this country, but I'm beginning to 
change my mind Even Doctor Reed has had a change 
of heart" 

** Don't you bank on th' Doc changin' his ideas," 
warned Cimarron. **He come out here because he 
was made to come. He shore was plain kidnapped that 

** You amaze me I Surely you are mistaken. Who 
would force him to come here ? " 

"That ain't known," answered Cimarron, "but 
everybody knows he was forced, all right Th' fool 
•ays so, hisself." 

" This is astonishing ! " 

" How long did you say that wire was ? " 

" Oh, yes ; I forgot It's nearly a mile ; why ? " 

"I'm aimin' to hold a herd ag'in' it; it'll save men. 
Now, we're aimin' to start on th' west end first, before 
anybody knows what's up," and the segundo sketched 
the operations as he had planned them. Leaving as 
soon as he could, he was crossing the kitchen when 
Margaret stopped him. 

" You told father about Doctor Reed coming against 
his will? " she asked 

" Why, yes, Ma'am ; did I trample on anythin' ? " 

" It doesn't matter — only I hoped to keep that from 
him. It pleased him so to think the hostility was dymg 

" Ma'am, I'm shore sorry, but I didn't know diat 
An' it's all right, too, for th' hostility is dying out** 


•*It'$ perfectly all right Where do you expect to 
cook; and what are you doing with Two*Spot?" 

"We aim to cook on th' range, Ma'am; an* Two- 
Spot is goin' to be our tally man. He was plumb tickled 
at th' chance to help.'' 

" Can't you cook here ? Or, better yet, can't I cook 
for you ? I would like to do something." 

" Well, at first we'll not be near enough to th' house 
for th' boys to have time to ride in for meals," Cim- 
arron replied. " You see, as we move over th' range, 
our cook moves with us, which saves time. Mebby when 
'we work close at hand you can cook a meal for us — 
but I'm sayin' that you don't know what yo're tryin' to 
get into. I'll be leavin' now, Ma'am. If you hears 
anythin', or sees anythin' that you don't understand, 
don't you worry none. I'm goin' out to start th' boys. 
Good afternoon. Ma'am." 

She watched him join the riders and saw them, with 
chuck wagon and horse herd, drive down toward Green 
Valley, noisy with cheerful laughter and shouted jests. 
They passed around a hill and became lost to her sight, 
and soon the voices could be heard no more. 

*^ Margaret I " came an excited, impatient call from 
the front room. 

'*Yes, Father; I'm coming," she answered, turning 
and entering the house. 

*^ It begins to look like people are getting friendly," 
he exclaimed, smiles playing on his drawn face. " Per- 
haps things will change, and we can make the ranch a 
success I " 

** * Luck always turns,' " she smiled. 


*'Are you getting to believe in luck? " he demanded 
'* ' I do ; when somebody's behind it pushing hard,' '* 

she replied, turning her face away. 

^^Are you crying my dear?'' he exclaimed, but she 

had left the room. 

While events were moving smoothly and swiftly on 
the SV| a new freight wagon rumbled north over the 
Highbank-Gunsight trail; and about the time that a 
circle of tired but happy punchers sat around a roaring 
fire on the west end of the SV ranch, the great wagon 
rolled around the comer of the hotel in Gunsight and 
the weary driver got down stiffly to put up and attend 
to his four-horse team. After becoming acquainted 
with George, and eating a hasty supper in the hotel, 
Jerry Wheatley went around to Dave's to make the 
acquaintance of that person and whoever else might 
be in the saloon, and to tell about Wolf Forbes and his 
trip to Highbank. He found the place quiet, but he 
left it full of hysterical laughter, wet eyes, sore sides, 
and some hiccups. And before he had gone to sleep, 
Dave's patrons were emulating some of the substantial 
citizens of Highbank in the avidity with which they 
sought strength from Dave's merchandise. An occa- 
sional burst of uproarious laughter brought the freighter 
back from the shadowy boundaries of sleep and set 
his bed shaking as he silently joined in. Realizing 
that Wolf's miseries were going to do more for 
him in the matter of getting acquainted along the way 
than a dozen ordinary trips up the trail would accom* 
plish, he smiled contentedly and fell asleep. 



AT DAYLIGHT Jerry went on his way rejoicing; 
the round-up started again in full swing on the 
SV, crossing the line onto Triangle range, to the later 
astonishment and vexation of Frank Gurley, Triangle 
rider on that section, whose hasty visit to his bunkhouse 
aroused a lively discussion, fortified him with Sam Gard- 
ner and Jim Lefferts to protect the interests of their 
ranch, and upon their return to the scene of activity, 
fortified Cimarron's smiling, but firm outfit, with three 
more men. In Highbank, Wolf Forbes, penniless now, 
was beginning to go without liquor and drift toward 
soberness, and the lambent flame of his reawakened 
anger burned constantly stronger; while out on the 
Double X, Johnny and the sleeping members of that 
outfit awoke to a new day's work, and to a firmer and 
warmer bond between them. The Bar H awakened 
to a new puzzle ; the mysterious disappearance of Smitty 
and the discussion which followed his inexplicable 
absence resulted in Dahlgren being dispatched to Gun- 
sight to see if the erring puncher had yielded to his 
well-known thirst and might be found snoring in that 
vicinity. Also, he was to keep an eye out for Wolf, 
and to make cautious inquiry concerning him. 

Dahlgren was most successful in his mission, accu- 
mulating a fund of information staggering in its total 



and barren of reason* His first accretion of wisdom 
came when he left East Canyon and descried numerous 
punchers zealously bent upon an operation well known 
to him, and he rode up for what information he might 
be able to obtain. Hoping for a full loaf, expecting a 
half, he left with a few crumbs which only increased his 
appetite for more. In Gunsight his appearance caused 
unnecessary hilarity, and his questions as to Smitty^s 
location were received with impolite guffaws, followed 
by an explicit description of Smitty's riding, looks, 
words, and actions, coupled to various prophesies, vari- 
ously stated. When he mentioned Wolf, a veritable 
gale of laughter deafened and confused him, and the 
roundabouti cryptic, and fragmentary references to 
Wolf taxed his brain. He gathered the information 
that Wolf was wrapped in hides as his preference in 
perfumes ; that Wolf was in the skin business, without 
competitors ; that he had descended in the social scale 
to the point where he traveled as freight ; that he took 
an arduous, unnecessary, and uncomfortable journey 
and was to be known, henceforth and hereafter, as 
Polecat, a name being better suited to his habits and 
preferences. It was explained that he was not expected 
back, which accounted for the half-masted flags and 
the black bands on the hats. He learned that Smitty 
was on the trail of Squint and would catch him if he 
went far enough in the right direction, and that Polecat 
was on the trail of Smitty, but would have to ride hard ; 
and a further suggestion postulated the belief that 
Squint was on the trail of Wolf. Gunsight was as gen- 
erous in its liquor as it was in its explanations ; it was 


open-handed and lavish, and insisted that the distin- 
guished Bar H ambassador imbibe freely, which he 
did ; and when he was helped into his saddle and started 
for home, he tried to repeat what he had heard so that 
he would not forget it; and by the time he readied 
the bunkhouse he had not forgotten anything but the 
relations between the various parts of each thing to be 
remembered, and his account was verbal hash. Big^ 
Tom learned, among other things equally lucid and 
valuable, that Polecate Forbes went after Squint hunt- 
ing Smitty's holy hat rounding up SV cows on the 
Double X part of the Triangle journey and would not 
be back until forty miles of hides went up toward 
Jtmiper with Two-Spot keeping tally on . Cimarron^a 

In the presence of such loquacity. Big Tom lost the 
power of speech, choked with feelings of a murderous 
kind, and used the flat of his foot as a propulsive agents 
which Dahlgren found helped him in getting to hia 
bunk, where he sprawled out on his back and snored 
through a doud of flies foregathered for their share 
of what had dribbled. 

The foreman strode to the horse corral, swearing at 
every step, caught, saddled, and mounted his best horse 
and rode off to see and hear for himsdf. The first 
man he met was Cimarron, who was expecting visitors 
after Dahlgren's departure, and had placed himself 
where he would be seen easily. The segundo had been 
thinking things over and had about come to the con- 
dusion that it would be foolish to try to deny the part 
the Double X was taking in the round-up; and when 


he caught sight of Big Tom riding toward him a feeling 
of contempt swept over him and decided the question. 

^^ There's more excitement on this ranch than IVe 
seen in some time,'' smiled the Bar H foreman. 
^' Makin' a clean sweep of everythin' that's got hoofs ? '* 

*^ Clean is th' word," answered Cimarron, his smile 
as friendly as the visitor's. "I reckon Lin is mebby 
thinkin' more about beef, though." 

"Aimin' to start a herd up th' trail?" 

" I don't just know what dickerin' there may come 
out of this," answered the round-up boss. " He says for 
me to take some of th' boys an' round up over here. 
There's no tellin' what he may do. I know that I can 
report that there's quite some four-year-olds, an' a few 
three-year-olds. Where th' devil th' cattle under four 
years old are keepin' themselves I don't know. But if 
he's aimin' to throw in a herd for Arnold an' send 'em 
up th' trail with some of ours they'll be numerous 
enough to make a showin'. He may be gettin' sweet on 
this ranch, because of them Snake Buttes thieves. If 
he is, I reckon Arnold wouldn't turn down a fair cash 
offer for grazin' a couple of herds over here through 
th' fall an' winter. He's got room for three times th' 
number feedin' here now." 

"There ain't no doubt about that," answered Big 
Tom. " When are you aimin' to round up for strays 
on our north end?" 

"Why, there can't be many over there," replied 
Cimarron. "Th' natural barriers would keep 'em 
back. Have you noticed any? " 

" Nary a one ; but if you want to make shore, I'U lend 


you a couple of th* boys, 'though Fm shore gettin' short 
of men." 

** If you say you ain't seen none, that's good enough 
for me until th' spring round-up, anyhow ; an' then we 
can start combin' at the same time, if we do th' work 
for th' SV, of course." 

"What's Arnold askin' for th' SV, lock, stock, an' 
barrel ? " bluntly asked Big Tom. 

" Don't know," answered Cimarron, surprised. " I 
don't reckon Lin would consider buyin' it, 'less, mebby, 
he could sell th' Double X. But what's th' use of you 
an' me talkin' about that ? I don't know nothin' except 
orders, an' th' only orders I got was to run this round-up 
an' get back as soon as I can. I'll be leavin' you now, 
for I'm workin' harder than any man here, which shore 
is sayin' somethin'." 

'*An' I got to be ridin' on," said the Bar H foreman, 
and he made the words good. Reaching the Doc's 
shack, he dismounted and went inside, where he re- 
mained for nearly an hour, came out, glanced at the 
bullet holes and then went on to town, where he found 
the saloon deserted except for the proprietor. 

Dave looked up and let his hand rest on the cap-and- 
ball under the bar, said cap-and-ball being .44 caliber, 
with the annoying habit of often sending one through 
the barrel, and igniting the caps on the nearest cham- 
bers and sending their contents along each side of the 
barrel with roving commissions. 

'' Well, Dave ! " smiled Big Tom, motioning for a 
drink that he did not want, '^ I'm lookin' for strays—* 
two-laigged strays." 


" What you wants is another outfit to ride herd on 
this one/' sympathized Dave. ^^Lookin* for Smitty?" 

" He*s one of 'em. Have you seen him ? " 

'' I have. He didn't stop here, so I don't know where 
he got it," said the proprietor, grinning; '^but from 
th' way he acted, insultin' folks, I reckon he must 'a' 
been bit by a passel of snakes, an' took too much cure." 

*^ That's th' worst of them sponges," regretted Big 
Tom, a scowl going over his face. " I don't mind a 
periodic if there's plenty of time in between; but Smit- 
ty's periodics are like th' days in th' week durin' a 
round-up — they come too close together. Have you 
seen any others?" 

'^ I ain't — not since Wolf was in here one afternoon 
last week," answered Dave. *^ Let's see : that was th* 
day or Buffalo come down from Sherman, which would 
make it on a Friday. But," he said sorrowfully, *^ I 
has had distressin' news about Wolf. Young Jerry 
Wheatley, who's freightin' now, stopped in here only 
last night an' says Wolf was down in Highbank drinkin* 
^em out of everything but water. He says yore puncher 
was on th' worst bender he's seen in months, which I 
says means somethin', comin' from a town like High- 
bank." . 

Big Tom's fist crashed on the bar. "Cuss it!" he 
exclaimed wrathfully, " that's th' worst of them period- 
ics I You can't never tell when they'll start, an* nobody 
knows when they'll stop ! " 

" You lose, both ways," nodded Dave. " Jerry says 
he didn't have no boss, saddle, or guns ; an* a man caa 
travel rapid on what they'd sell for." 




They wouldn't buy th* cayuse/' reflected Big Tom, 
seein' as he ain't supposed to own no Bar H animal. 
But I reckon it might 'a' strayed th' Lord only knows 
how far. We ain't noticed no cayuse missin\ so far, but 
that don't mean nothin'. All right 1 He can come back 
yAitn he goes broke an' sobers up an' he can walk, d — n 
him I Was Lang with him ? " 

'^Lang? Is he missin', too?" Dave's astonishment 
.was genuine. 

*^ Disappeared like th' earth swallowed him,'* 
growled Big Tom. " They've hunted all over for him, 
an' can't find nothin' at all. I'm sayin' this country is 
goin' loco; an' I'll give a hundred dollars cash to find out 
what's at th' bottom of it all. Why, cuss it 1 Sherwood 
is roundin' up for the SV — what's th' matter with himf^ 
Is he loco, too ? " 

'* Mebby he figgers on makin' them idle punchers of 
his'n bring in somethin' besides appetites," guessed 
Dave. " I don't blame him at all." 

'* Mebby; but they acts like they was havin' a picnic 
out there. Have you heard anythin' about th' Double 
X startin' a herd of their own up on th' trail?" 

*^ Not a word ; but ain't they throwin' their cattle into 
McCuUough's this year ? " 

"They're supposed to; but you can't never tell," 
answered the foreman. He glanced around and thea 
looked fixedly at his companion. " Yo're not forgettin' 
what I said about a hundred dollars cash, arit you?" 
he asked. 

"That's somethin' I ain't likely to forget,'^ replied 
Dave ambiguously, " if you mean it, shore." 


** rm meanin* it *though I ain't wantin' you to have 
no rivals," replied Big Tom, significantly. *' You hears 
an' sees a lot in here an' there ain't no use of lettin* 
anybody else in on it, an' splittin' up with you." 

'* There ain't nobody else goin' to get in on it,*' 
truthfully assured Dave. 

"Nelson got over his grouch ag'in' wimmin?** 
laughed the foreman. 

" Don't reckon so; but he ain't seen her yet, I guess,'* 
replied Dave, grinning. "When he does, there ain't 
no tdlin' what's goin' to happen to him. Don't it beat 
all ? You better look out, Tom ; he may edge you out 
of th' game." 

" Me 1 " demanded the foreman. He let out a roar 
of laughter. " I ain't got no interest thataway at all. 
I passed, cold." He turned away. "Don't forget 

"Goin' so soon?" 

" Yes ; I'm ridin' back. Adios/' 

Dave stared out of the window for a few minutes, 
his face slowly getting redder. " Yo're lyin'. Big Tom," 
he muttered. "Yo're aimin' to get that girl more'n 
ever you was. An', d — n yore shriveled soul I Do I 
look like a Judas ? " 

Down on the SV, Cimarron was weighing something 
in his mind. Perhaps he had said too much to the 
Bar H foreman. Coming to a sudden decision he rode 
over to Bud Norris. 

"Hello, Boss! " said Bud, grinning from ear to ear. 
"Big Tom's visit ridin' you?" 


" Bud, weVe got enough men here for this toy round- 
up," replied Cimarron. " There ain't no use of robbin* 
th' ranch of a man that ain't really needed here, an' 
I'm wishin' to send word to Lin by somebody who 
won't shuffle it. Now, you listen close," and the round- 
up boss gave him the facts of Big Tom's visit. *' Tell 
him that, an' what I said. He ought to know my leads 
in case that big coyote rides out to th' house an' gets 
curious. Now you tell me what I've just told you." 
Bud complied, and when he had finished, his companion 
nodded. ^^Big Tom ain't seen you. You go north, 
foller th' Juniper trail back, an' don't pass within sight 
of th' Doc's place. Tell Lin to keep you with th' outfit 
— I don't need you here, an' he's too short handed. 
Gtft a-goin'." 

Bud obeyed and in due time he came within sight of 
Gunsight, where a growing thirst lured him to ride in 
for a visit at Dave's. The proprietor still was smarting 
under the sting of Big Tom's attempt to bribe him and 
was glad to see someone who would help him get his 
mind on pleasant subjects. Dave regarded the story 
of the kidnapping of Wolf as being in that category, 
and when Bud left he was howling with laughter, and 
drove his horse toward home at a speed which awak- 
ened a resentful surprise in that animal. 

" Th' locoed sons-of-guns I " repeated the delighted 
rider at intervals. ''I knowed we had some locoed 
sage hens under our roof, but I thought they had limits I 
Why th' devil wasn't / in on that? /'m stickin' too 
close to home nights; but not no more. Any future 
Double X parties goin' to Gunsight will shore have 


litde Buddie right In their midst I Th' nervy coyotes { 
Th* stem-windin' fools I Hal Ha! Hal 

Further on he gave vent to another burst of laughter 
as a new thought struck him. *^ It's all Nelson's fault. 
Cuss it I now I know why there has been so much hilaritjr 
about th' kidnappin' of th' Doc I They was plannin' to 
go it one better — an' I'm sayin* that they shore sue* 
ceeded. They aimed purty high, but they done it, an* 
without even a scratch. I wonder who put th' sand 
burr under Smitty's saddle? Cuss that west section 1 
I'm goin' to change an' ride our southeast line I " 

When he pulled up at the bunkhouse door he found 
Lin and two other men who had ridden the last trick 
on the west section and he delivered Cimarron's message 
as soon as he dismounted. Answering the foreman's 
few questions, he let out a whoop and unburdened his 
news about Wolf and Smitty, painting the word pictures 
in a way which did him credit, and he felt the thrill of 
pride of an artist in the responses he obtained. After 
the greater pressure of their hilarity had escaped they 
began the puzzle of trying to name the jokers, and 
their foreman did that for them. 

" Friday night," mused Lin. " Huh I Th' last that 
went to town was Slim, Tom, Gus, an' Bill. An' it 
was Friday night, too, because they said somethin' about 
hearin' Buffalo rumblin' in. That makes it Friday 
night, an' puts 'em in town when th' wagon was there. 
Well, I'm d — dl I can believe it of Slim and Tom» 
puTty near, but not Bill an' Gus; still, there ain't no 
tellin' what any man of this fool outfit will do after 
h^'s been in Dave's all evenin'. I'm sayin' that mebbj 


tiiey got a tail holt on a mean varmint; that's their 
business, 'though, an' they ain't helpless kids." 

*^ Mebby Wolf don't know who done it, but blames 
us all," suggested Rich Morgan, unconsciously resting 
his hand on the butt of his gun. " In which case I'm 
all eyes an' ears from now on." 

** He knows who was in town that night," replied the 
foreman. *' But if he goes shootin' promisciously like, 
I'll have to take my rifle an' go get him, an' any way 
will do." He thought for a moment ^^He knows 
who to look for. Well, they started it, an' nobody's 
got any right to help 'em out, not if he goes about it 
open an' aboveboard. Now, if Big Tom Huff comes 
a-visitin', you don't know nothin' at alL Cimarron sort 
of declared us in an' I'll play our cards, myself. You 
better fix that horse corral. There's five posts loose 
near th' northeast corner. Set 'em tight an' bind around 
th' corner with a couple strands of wire. Keep it out-> 
side as much as you can so th' barbs won't do no dam- 
age. Th' locoed fools — kidnappin' a man like Wolf 1 " 

" Wait till Nelson comes in tonight," exulted Deuce, 
who by this time had learned quite a lot about the old 
Bar-20 outfit. ^' We got somethin' that beats th' kid- 
nappin' of th' Doc every way 1 " 

" Huh I " muttered the foreman thoughtfully. " That 
was th' night Dailey played in such hard luck, wasn't it? 
Shore it was. Then Nelson was there, too." He 
paused and looked out of the window for a moment. 
'* Well, go out an' wrestle with them posts. Bud, you 
go on day shift with Tom an' Nelson. I'm takin' th* 
second night shift with Bill an' Gus." 


Darkness had fallen when Johnny and Tom Wilk< 
rode in from the day shift after being relieved by the 
first night shift They had heard the bare outlines of 
the joke, and now got it as completely as the foreman 
could give it to them while they ate their supper. 
Johnny looked serious and did not laugh as much as 
they had expected he would 

"What's th* matter, Nelson?" bantered Matt 

Johnny pushed back. " Boys, youVe forced my hand 
I wasn't goin' to say nothin' to nobody about some few 
things till I had made all th' plays I was aimin' to make. 
But this here joke on Wolf, gettin' out like it did, shore 
forces me to lay down my cards, face up. An' I want 
tfa' whole range to see 'em — to spread th' news before 
it's too late. It ain't my way to sneak out of anythin' 
I've started an' let some innocent party take th' come- 
back. I freighted Wolf away; I shot th' holes in 
Smitty's hat; I drove Squint out of th' country; I kid- 
napped th' Doc, an' I killed Lang in a fair fight, his wits 
ag'in' mine, in fair sight of each other, when I was mired 
tn them cussed quicksands. I can prove what I say by 
showin' where Squint's things are hid, by Wolf's six- 
gun, that I kept to remember him by, an' by describin' 
what them holes in Smitty's hat looked like. I was 
savin' Wolf's gun to show it to him, sometime, an' ask 
h!m if he couldn't take a joke. Now I ain't apologizin' 
to nobody for nothin' I've done. I daim I was justified- 
—an' I'll leave it to you if th' joke on Wolf wasn't a 
hummer? Wasn't it a three-ringer, with a side show? 
I says it was ; an', further, I says I'll do it over again if 


I feel like it. No cussed man can spy on me without 
riskin' a comeback. An* I says there wasn't nothin' I 
could do to him that would 'a' been as good a joke as 
^what I did do. Now, Sherwood, I better be ridin* to 
tell Cimarron's boys about it, so. they won't be caught 
off their guard in case Wolf gets to them before he 
looks anywhere else. I'm wantin' to warn Slim 'specially 

he was in town that night. Then I'll rustle to town 

an' stay there. I reckon he'll come to Gunsight, an' 

I'm aimin' to be there when he does, to ask him if I 

ain't the cussedest practical joker he ever knowed. If 

he*s gone an' got on th' prod about a little joke like that, 

then I'll have to look out for myself. I'm startin' now.'* 

"No use goin' now," said the foreman quickly. 

'* That's a bad trail for a stranger to tackle at night, 

an' that cayuse of yourn is too good to risk bustin' her 

laigs. If you leave here before daylight — say half an 

hour before — tomorrow mornin', you'll be in plenty of 

time. Them boys ain't kids. I'm honin' to hear about 

these jokes, an' so are th' boys. You stay here, with us, 


" Lin's dead right," earnestly endorsed Tom Wilkes, 
the others unanimously backing him up. "You ain't 
goin' till we hears about 'em — that is, of course, if you 
feels like tellin' us." 

Johnny looked from one to another and then sat 
down again, and for the rest of the evening he had an 
•audience which expressed its appreciation of what it 
heard, and in unrestrained enthusiasm. When he had 
finished and started to turn in, the foreman strode over 
to him and held out his hand. 


** Ndsoii, Fm proud to know you. Put it there I " 
The others shook his hand ^th an enthusiastic sin- 
cerity which wanned Johnny's heart, and he fell asleep 
with a smile on his face. 



IN GUNSIGHT, Dailey nibbed his eyes and cursed 
the slowness of his breakfast fire, and then padded 
in his stocking feet to the window and looked out in 
time to see a black horse go past with a reach and swing* 
ing smoothness which brought an appreciative glow into 
his blinking eyes. The rider sat his saddle with a supple 
grace and erectness which harmonized with the beau- 
tiful leg action of his mount. 

"He ain't stoppin'," muttered Dailey. "Must 'a* 
been up to Juniper. Vm sayin' again that if that pack 
of coyotes lets him start ahead of 'em out of rifle range, 
there ain't nobody from down here as will ever get 
dose enough to see him again. There's mebby purtier 
things on earth than a boss like that, but I'm admittin' 
I never saw 'em. Cuss that fire — it's smokin' again I '* 

The Doc heard the rhythmic beat pass his shack, 
muttered drowsily, and turned over to go to sleep again. 
" Hope it's that Smitty, blast him 1 " and his snores grew 
steadily louder. 

Leaving the Double X quite some time before day- 
light. Pepper had been sent over the upper trail, which 
joined the Juniper trail north of town. Now she 
apumed the Highbank-Gunsight road beneath her flying 
hoofs with an eagerness and power that belittled the 
twenty-five miles she already had put behind her. 



Johnny stroked the satin skin under which the power- 
ful muscles of her sloping shoulders rippled and 
bunchedi and pride surged through him. 

'*I used to think Hoppy*s Red Eagle, an* Red's 
Ginger was th* real thing in hossflesh/' he told her» 
"but they was cows compared to you, Pepper Girl. 
There ain't nothin' on four laigs has any right to look 
at you — an' some few on two laigs, too." Swinging 
around the hill where Green Valley met the trail he 
patted her again. "There they are, little hoss, ridin' 
off to comb th' range. See that tied-in pinto Slim's 
a-ridin'? Show it what runnin' is — I want to talk 
to him." 

Slim glanced around, drew rein and had a brief argu- 
ment with the pinto, which did not like Slim, or his habit 
of stopping suddenly. "Changed yore mind?" he 
asked, smiling. 

"In quite some ways," replied Johnny, forthwith 
explaining the situation in terse sentences. Slim's mouth 
opened and forgot to close until his groping mind at 
last mastered what his ears fed to it, when the moutl 
opened wider and gave vent to loud, sustaining laughter. 
Finally subsiding, he demanded the story in detail, but 
Johnny wheeled around. 

" I'm wamin' you, not amusin' you, you human rope,'* 
retorted Johnny. "If Wolf comes back he'll mebby 
come a-shootin' — pass th' word along." 

Slim shoved his hat well back on his head and jammed 
his gloved hands against his sides. " Th' h — 1 he will I " 
he rejoined. " Let him, then. He ain't th' only man 
out here as packs a gun; I mebby got one, myself. 


Havin' been kindly warned, now Fm all ready to be 
amused. Tell it slow. If you can't talk it, sing it. 
Wait 1 Here comes Cimarron." 

The round«up boss rode up wearing a grin, in sym« 
pathy with Slim's far-reaching guffaws. ** What's th' 
scandal?" he demanded. 

** Th' cussedest thing you ever heard," laughed Slim, 
putting his hand on Pepper's bridle. ^* Nelson is in a 
hurry to go somewhere, but he's got to give us all of it 
now that he's whetted my appetite with th' mustard.'* 

" I want to get to town an' give Wolf his chance," 
objected Johnny. 

" If he's achin' to smoke up he'll come here, won't 
he ? " demanded Slim. *^ This is th' place to wait for 
him — right here." 

*'A11 of which I admits is interestin'," said Cimarron; 
"but what is it all about?" 

"Slow now," prompted Slim. He looked around. 
"Would you listen to that dickey bird up on th' hill?'* 
he asked. 

The dickey bird was Larry Hallock, whose voice 
barely reached them. "What do you reckon yo'rc 
doin' ? " demanded Larry, but in far different language. 
"Gettin' married?" Further inquiries not receiving 
the attention he felt they were entitled to, he suspected 
trouble and made haste to get where he could hear about 
it. "Hello, Nelson 1" he smiled as he joined them. 

" No ; where is he? " demanded Johnny. 

" I reckon he's downin' liquor in Dave's about now," 
answered Cimarron. " He's been raisin' th' devil for 


a drink which he didn't get Slim, th* fool, owns up 
that he gave him a dollar last night — an' when we woke 
up this momin' oar tally man had disappeared. But 
that ain't tellin' me what Slim was hee-hawin' about, 
or about Wolf.*' 

" Slowy an' ddiberate, widi everythin' in/' chuckled 
Slim. "Go ahead." 

Johnny complied, to their hilarious enjoyment, and 
when the tale was ended, Slim wiped his eyes, pointed 
out over the range, and said: "You can stay right 
here an' do somethin' worth while. Not one man in a 
thousand would come back with that pinned on his shirt 
tail — an' Vm sayin' Wolf ain't that man. He blames 
th' Double X — an' there's only twelve of us. He's 
shore about four bein' in town that night, but I ain't 
lettin' my modesty stop me from sayin' that, barrin' 
Cimarron here, he knows that th' four who was there 
are th' best six-gun men on our ranch ; an' that we am't 
takin' lessons from nobody when it comes to throwi' 
lead. He might get one of us, mebby two, an' I'll 
stretch h — 1 out of that word probability an' say he 
might get three ; but he won't get us all, an' he knows 
it. But worse than shootin' it out is what he'll have 
to face ; an' he hates ridicule worse than a rattler hates 
a king snake. You ain't goin' to set in Dave's, takin' 
it easy, while we're sweatin' out here — I got a nice 
little place where you'll fit in an' stop th' gaps that 
Larry is alius leavin' open." 

" Gaps I " snorted Larry, indignantly. " Trouble is, 
you drive 'em so hard they gets stubborn an' go on th' 
prod. Anybody'd think you never saw a cow before^ 


th' way you acts. You ought to know you can't crowd 
'em too hard.'' 

Cimarron cogitated. " If yo'rc aimin' to meet with 
Wolf, Nelson," he said, judicially, " I reckon you'd do 
better to stay here. He ain't got no reason to want 
anybody in town — nobody there has done anythin' to 
him. An' he knows none of us boys hang out there, 
except once in a while. What's more, he ain't likely 
to want to face Gunsight till he's squared up for his 
kidnappin'. As to him comin' back, I ain't nowise shore 
he won't. Some fellers are so full of th' idea of re- 
venge that everythin' else plays second fiddle when they 
go on th' prod. They go fair mad an' don't care about 
nothin' else. Wolf's bad — bad as a mad rattler. I 
figger this is th' place for you. I'm sayin' this, too: 
If Slim had worked that razzle on him I wouldn't take 
a hand; but, knowin' Slim didn't, if that venomous 
reptile comes tearin' around here with his guns cocked, 
I'U just nat'rally puncture him at long range with my 
Remington. I ain't sympathizin' with no man that 
shoots till he knows why he's doin' it." 

"Stay here till this afternoon, anyhow," said Slim. 
" We'll be needin' our tally man before night, an' you 
can ride to town, look around, an' bring Two^pot back 
with you. I'm sayin' Wolf won't come back — I'm 
cussed shore / wouldn't in his place." 

" Shore," endorsed Larry. " Turn yore cayuse loose 
an' get one from Arch — take that bay gelding — he's 
near human at this kind of work. Anyhow, he's got 
more senM than Slim." 


Dawn in Highbank found a sobered Wolf, unarmed, 
pennilessi and hectic, with a steadily growing rage. He 
went to place after place in search of a horse, finally 
borrowing one from a saloon-keeper who knew the 
foreman of the Bar H. Promising to use the animal 
only as far as the ranch, and to send it back behind 
the freight wagon, he threw the saddle on it and then 
rode around in search of a gun. Knowing about the 
joke, and feeling the man's murderous rage, no one 
would lend him a weapon. He had about decided to 
leave without one when he chanced to pass the small 
horse corral and shed behind Pete Wiggins' hotel, and 
espied a sodden figure asleep against the palings. 
Stealing the puncher's gun he rode away and in a few 
minutes was cursing the ford, of which a few yards 
was swimming water. Emerging on the other bank 
he pushed up the bluff trail at a walk and then, reaching 
level ground, set off for his ranch at a pace which might 
have killed a poorer horse. 

As he rode, his mind became clearer and clearer, and 
he began to unravel the tangled skein of his abduction. 
Like his kind who, accustomed to hours of solitude, 
often talked their thoughts, he did his thinking aloud. 

" Double X, says Buffalo. Mebby. First we'll ac- 
cuse everybody else in town. Dave?" he laughed 
sneeringly at the thought " Dailey ? Fanning? Jerry? 
George ? Why them ? They ain't th' kind to stack up 
ag'in' such a risk for th' fun of it; an' they ain't none 
of 'em got any other reason. Dailey an' Fanning was 
in Dave's all evenin' — they never left th' table. Jerry 
was snoring in his shop when I went around th' buildin's, 


an' he wouldn't dare try to kidnap a blind pup. George 
is another without nerve, an' he was snorin' worse than 
Jerry. Nelson? He was with th' others. Mebby he 
did it, but I'm thinkin' there was more'n one man mixed 
up in that. If my senses hadn't been knocked out of 
me I'd know more about it. We'll put him aside as a 

" Them Double X coyotes ain't lovin' me, 'specially 
since I've been ridin' sign along their line. There was 
four of 'em, an' they was all primed for a good time ; 
an' from what I heard 'em say about th' Doc an' Squint 
an' me an' th' rest of our outfit, they wasn't needin^ 
much urgin' to tackle a job like that But they was in 
Dave's too ; still, they left before I did. 

" That leaves my own gang of practical jokers. They 
knowed that I was in town, but they didn't know I was 
goin' to ride home that night because I didn't know it 
myself. They might 'a' done it, but I'll find that out 
cussed quick when I get back. 

"Who else was there? Dailey, Fanning, Jerry, Dave, 
Nelson — Two-Spot/ He wasn't in sight at all. Dave 
was raisin' th' roof about him not bein' around. But 
h — 1! Twenty Two-Spots wouldn't 'a' tackled a play 
like that; an' he couldn't sling a rope, nor carry a man 
as heavy as me that distance. Slim can rope — he's 
the best down here. I don't remember much about it 
till I was put down near th' waggin ; but I'm shore that 
th' man that throwed that rope was an expert. 

" Two-Spot ? I don't see how he could fit in — cuss 
him! I got it! Somebody must 'a' seen me movin^ 
'round or else nobody would 'a' knowed I was in town-^ 


None of them fellers could 'a* seen me; but Two-Spot 
could have. Whoever did that job had to be told I was 
there; an' I'm sayin' they was told. That bum hates 
me ; he'll never forget my kickin' him off'n th' tie-rail 
an' makin' him dance th' tenderfoot's fandango. I'm 
goin' to see Two^pot after I stop at th' ranch — an' 
if he don't talk fast and straight, he'll dance to h — 1 
this time I " 

It was not yet noon when Wolf swept up to his bunk- 
house and rode in through the door, leaning forward 
in the saddle to clear the rafters, his gun freezing Big 
Tom and Dick Carson as stiff as statues. 

" Don't you move till I says so 1 " he snarled. " Who 
was in town th' night Buffalo stopped there on his way 
home ? Think quick ; an' talk straight I " 

"What are you doin'? Goin' locof demanded 
the foreman. He stopped in his tracks when he saw 
the look on his puncher's face. 

" I'm askin' th' questions I " snapped Wolf, his rage 
climbing anew. " You answer 'em, an' pronto/ Who 
was there that night?" 

" Don't know ; but none of our boys was." 

"Nobody left here at all that night?" demanded 

" Not one." 

"How do you know? That was near a week ago. 
How do you know they was all here?" 

" That was th' first night you went on Nelson's trail," 
answered the foreman somewhat angrily. "I told 
them to stay home, an' give you plenty of room, 
did it" 


*^I reckon they was glad to do it," sneered Wolf. 
^* Coyotes don't go cougar hunting less'n th' pack is 

*' They might as well stay home as go on a drunk in 
Highbank,*' retorted Big Tom, coldly. 

For a moment Wolf was balanced on a narrow edge, 
but controlled himself because of genuine liking for his 
foreman. " Don't you ever come that close again,** he 
said, almost in a whisper. '^ Do you know why I went 
to Highbank? You ought to, for I reckon everybody 
does by this time," he grated. 

" I'm listenin' to you," answered Big Tom. " I don't 
know why you went." 

Wolf dismounted, drove the horse out of the house, 
and paced up and down the long room in a frenzy of 

*^ I was roped off my cayuse ridin' home that night. 
I must 'a' fell on my head, for I don't know nothin' 
about it till I got to town. When I came to my senses 
I was bound, blindfolded, an' gagged, an' my head 
was spinnin' an' near bustin' with pain. I was dumped 
into Buffalo's wagon, pushed in among a load of hides, 
an' staked out so I couldn't move. All that day I lay 
there under that tarp, joltin' over that long trail, near 
faintin' with th' pain of th' lashin's an' th' gag, swelterin^ 
in th' heat an' stink, sick with th' pain in my head, 
parched an' burnin' with thirst, ragin' with my thoughts, 
mile after mile. There was times I must 'a' lost con* 
sdousness ; but I can remember a-plenty I 

^' Down in Highbank I was hauled out by a gang of 
cacklin' sage hens who thought it was a joke. If I'd 


bad a ginii an* conld V used it* Td 'a' showed *cm 
what kind of a joke it was I " He flew into a burst 
of rage which awed his companions, and he nearly 
wrecked the room before he subsided, his words one 
quivering stream of profanity. '^An' what have I got 
to face ? " he shouted. " What have I got to live dow^n ? 
I'll be th' laughin'stock of this whole country till I die, 
an' after I But I can show 'em that it costs somethin* 
to make a fool of Wolf Forbes ; an' I will, if I dies for 
it I I want a six-gun, an' a rifle, an' yore pet boss. I'm 
ridin' to town to see th' one man who can tell me where 
to start, an' I'm ridin' alone." 

"Think it was Nelson?" asked Carson. 

"Mebby; but I'm not sayin' till I know," snapped 
Wolf, pacing again. " I'm askin' you : Do you figger 
ropin' an' kidnappin' Wolf Forbes was any one-man 
job ? Is there any man in this country that would tackle 
that job, alone, for th' fun of it? Yo're right. I says 
not, too. An' if he didn't do it for th' fun of it, would 
he 'a' dared tackle it, at all ? What I mean is, if he did 
it to get rid of me, wouldn't he 'a' killed me from that 
ambush. I'm tellin' you he'd 'a' figgered it would be a 
tot safer to shoot me, for there wouldn't be th' risk at 
th' time, an' th' dead shore danger of th' comeback. 
One man, alone, would 'a' shot ; three or four might 'a' 
took a chance with th' rope. I'm ridin' to town to learn 
for shore ; an' I'm ridin' now. Carson, saddle me th^t 
hoss, while I get th' guns I want. Gimme a drink ofi^ 
yore flask, Tom." 

" You shore you want it? " 

" Gimme a drink. I know what I want" 


In a few minutes he rode north at a dead run, headed 
for the over-mountain trail, and it was not until he was 
gone that the foreman realized that he had not told his 
puncher a word about the events which had taken place 
during his absence. 

Wolf crossed the mountain, turned to the left, and 
went around Gunsight on the west, heading back toward 
town to approach it on its blind side. He rode up behind 
the hotel shed, dismounted and crept along it, and as he 
passed a crack in the warped boards his eye caught a 
movement, and he stopped to peer through the crack. 
Two-Spot was crawling out from under the saloon. 
Arising to his feet, the tramp looked carefully around 
for signs of any of Cimarron's outfit who might have 
come after him, and then slipped through Dave's rear 

The watcher stiffened, and a sudden thought sent his 

rage up to the border line of madness. Two-Spot's 

mysterious sleeping quarters were no longer a mystery 

to him. His eyes swept the side of the saloon, and the 

narrow space between its foundation sills and the 

ground. This open space ran along three sides of the 

building and he knew that a man under the floor could 

see the feet and ankles of anyone who passed along 

the building. Returning to his horse he mounted and 

rode off the way he had come, careful to keep the shed 

between him and Dave's rear wall. Reaching an arroyo, 

he dropped into it and followed it until far enough 

from town, and then, keeping under the cover of hills 

and brush, he emerged upon the trail and loped along 

it into Gunsight. Dismounting in front of Dailey's, he 


wmlked swiftly and quietly toward Dave's, bending low 
to keep under the two front windows, and paused at 
the door to listen. 

''He I He I HeV shriUed Two^pot, wanning to 
the liquor he had taken. '' I'd 'a' liked to died when 
Jerry told about him. I could smell them hides before 
they turned th' comer of th* hotel that night. They 
was so odorous they near made me side An' if he 
went into 'em a Wolf, I'm sayin' he come out a Polecat ; 
this range never will forget it He can't never live it 
down — never I An' Jerry's tellin' it all along th' way, 
too. I'm wonderin' if he'll come back." 

Dailey laughed sarcastically. '' I'm bettin' he won't. 
No man would." 

" I'm shore / wouldn't," chuckled Fanning. " I'd 
ship off to South Americky, pronto — an' I wouldn't 
care what happened to th' ship while I was on it, 

^*ril take three to one he does come back," said 

^* Is twenty dollars too much?" asked Dailey. 

" Twenty to my seven suits me," replied Dave. " I'U 
take th' same from Jim, too." 

" Yo're on," chuckled Dailey. 

•• M,e, too," replied Fanning. 

A man slipped through the door» a gun in each hand. 
**Dave wins I" he snarled. ^^Keep 'em both on th* 
barl" he snapped at Dave, who forthwith forgot, for 
the moment, all about the cap-and-ball. The little group 
in front of the bar stiffened into whatever postures they 
had been caught in, their eyes on the muzzles of the 


Steady guns. Death hung poised on Wolf's thumbs 
like a hawk balanced in the blue, ready to strike. The 
only sounds in the room were the hushed breathing of 
four men facing destruction for the slightest slip, the 
insistent buzzing of a bee cruising across the ceiling 
and the soft slip/ slip/ of the gunman's feet as he did 
them forward a few inches at a time. His face was 
ghastly and working with rage, his power concentrated 
in his dull, threatening weapons. He jabbed one of 
them at Two-Spot 

" Step over there, on th' end I " he snapped. " I'll 
shoot at th 'first move," he warned them all, feeling 
the hostility which he faced. Three of them were 
armed and needed only an instant's carelessness or inde- 
cision on his part to prove that their courage was only 
held in leash by calculating reason. '^Not a move, 
cuss you I " he warned, his eyes not for a moment leav- 
ing the three armed men. Dailey's face was tense, but 
his body had slouched into a relaxation, the danger of 
which was well known to Wolf. Fanning's eyes were 
glinting and his lips were hard and thin, while enmity 
peered out of his eyes as though it were a living thing. 
Dave, his face paling after the redness of his first flush 
of anger, stood as a cat stands in the presence of a foe. 
Not for a fleeting instant did Wolf dare to take his 
eyes from this crouched danger. 

"You'd 'a' done better if you hadn't come back," 
said Dave, quiedy, but the timbre of his voice sent a 
chill up Two-Spot's spine. 

"Don't move yore paws," snarled Wolf. "Two- 
Spot, come over here, by th' bar." 


Two-Spot obeyed, sullen and fearful, taking a place 
which shortened the arc of danger for Wolf. 

'* Where was you that night?*' demanded the gun« 

Two^pot stared at him and tried to moisten his 

"Where was you?*' snapped Wolf, venomously. 
"Talk fasti" 

" I don't remember," answered Two-Spot 

" You was in yore hang-out under this floor," accused 
Wolf. "Didyouseeme?" 

" It was too dark," answered the tramp, flashing an 
appealing look at Dave, whose face was growing red 

" Not with th' light streamin' out of them side win- 
dows I Who did you tell ? " 

" I didn't see you." 

" Who did you teU ? Th' Double X ? " 

" No ; it was too dark." 

Warned by a premonition of impending disaster, 
and feeling that they were unawed, and restrained only 
by reason. Wolf ordered the three armed men to turn 
their backs to him, which they did with a slowness which 
in itself was an insult He took the guns of Dailey and 
Fanning and ordered Dave to come nut and join them. 
Dave took time enough to keep his dignity unsmirched. 
Free from the necessity of keeping a high-tension vigi- 
lance, Wolf walked up to Two-Spot and struck him on 
the face with the heel of his hand. 

"Did you tell th' Double X?" he demanded 
"D — n you, answer mel 



■^^^^^— ■— ^"i^— ' ■ I ■ ^^— — m ill ^ II I — ^— ^M^— — ■»»— w^— .1 

" No," whispered Two-Spot, and In his bleared eyes 
there smouldered the sparks of a fire long dormant 

" Did you tell Nelson ? Quick I '' 

Dailey and Fanning hung on the slow answer, for 
they remembered that little incident with startling 

" No I " snarled Two-Spot 

Wolf kicked him on the shins and, dropping one 
gun into its sheath, grabbed the skinny throat, gripping 
it cruelly. ^' Who did you tell?" he growled, shaking 
his victim, and quivering with rage at such resistance 
where he had expected to encounter none. 

Some ghost of a former stalwart courage, shaken 
awake by desperation and rage, came back to its for- 
saken habitation and spoke through a mouthpiece for 
too long a stranger to it Two-Spot tried to speak and 
Wolf, a gleam of triumph burning through the madness 
in his eyes, loosened his grip and stepped back. 

The voice which answered him was not Two-Spot's, 
although it came through his lips. It was level, cold, 
self-possessed, and biting. *^ You ask somebody who's 
a-scared of you, you three-card flush. An' keep yore 
paws ofl'n me — they stink of hides an' maggots." 

The crashing roar sounded like a thunderbolt and the 
acrid cloud of smoke swept forward and shrouded the 
falling man. Wolf leaped back, out of it, and stopped 
the instinctive advance of the horrified and enraged 
onlookers, who had turned at the shot, his two guns 
barely sufficient for the task. Dave's expression took 
his instant attention and he snapped a warning, venom- 
ous as the jet from a copperhead's fangs : '* Don't you 


try it| Green I *' He flashed a look at the other two, 
and nearly fired in instinctiye answer to the malev^olent 
looks in their eyes. 

'^Anybody that itches to take this up will get their 
chance: Fll be back I" he promised, and retreated 
swiftly to the door. Shoving his guns forward in a 
silenti final warning, he slipped from their sight and 
dashed for his horse, firing several shots behind him 
past the windows and door. Leaping into the saddle, 
he wheeled around the store and rode at a dead run 
for the cover of an arroyo several hundred yards 

Dave started toward his bedroom for the rifle hang- 
ing on the wall, reconsidered and looked at the huddled 
heap on the floor. ^' We'll take care of th' best man 
first," he said, picking up the limp figure and carrying 
it to the base of the front walL Getting a blanket, he 
went back again, and as he stood up he drew a deep 
breath and faced his companions, a look almost reverent 
coming to his face and softening the malignancy of its 

'^He died like a man — I hope I do as good. Let's 

The afternoon shadows were beginning to lengthen 
when the low voices in the saloon ceased to allow the 
speakers to catch the sounds of a horse coming up the 
trail. Dave, moving with surprising celerity for one of 
his build and habits, grabbed a rifle and hastened to 
the front window, where he peered out cautiously, and 
then, walking to the bar, he reached over it, stood the 


weapon behind it, and replied to the unspoken inquiries 
of his companions. 

" It's Nelson," he said, quietly. 

The hoofbeats ceased abruptly and Johnny's voice 
was heard promising the horse some sugar. He entered 
and strode straight for the bar, nodding cheerily at the 
three, and then smiled quizzically. 

'^You shore look glum,'' he remarked, **glum as a 
funeral. Come up an' take somethin' for it Well, 
th' SV is bein' cleaned neat an' proper. Cimarron 
knows his business, an' that crew of his is goin' at full 
speed. I come in to get Two-Spot They're needin' 
a tally man, an' he ought to go through with it. Seen 
him around, or is he hidin' out, layin' low? " 

" He's layin' low," replied Dave. 

Johnny looked at him curiously, puzzled by the pro- 
prietor's manner. " Meanin' ? " 
. *^ He's dead," said Dailey, bluntly, staring fixedly at 
the front wall. 

Johnny flashed him a glance and looked back at 
Dave, who nodded significantly at the front of the room. 
Johnny turned quickly and followed the other's stare. 
He straightened and walked slowly to the blanket, drew 
it bade a little and then replaced it with reverent care. 
Arising to his full height, he turned and looked at them. 
The silence was oppressive, crowded with potentials. 
They could feel a tension which fairly crackled, and 
which made them shrink, guiltless though they were. 
The erect figure radiated a ferocity which numbed them 
and caused Fanning to lick his dry lips. Overhead the 
bee, which had buzzed monotonously for so long a time, 


increased its buzzing and bounced from point to point, 
its wings striking the ceiling with a dry whirring not 
greatly unlike the angry whir of a rattler. From an 
unrinsed glass on the bar came a buzzing from drunken 
flies renewing their efforts to escape from it. The 
measured breathing of four men sounded loud and 
unnatural, and from Dailey's forehead rolled a bead 
of sweat They stared at the cold, motionless puncher, 
fascinated by what emanated from him, unable to look 
away from the glinting eyes which peered out between 
narrowed lids at each in turn, and back again. Out- 
side a horse pawed restlessly and the intermittent sound 
of striking metal reminded them of the slow pealing 
of a bell. A board cracked suddenly as it contracted 
from the encroachment of a cooling shadow and sent 
gt shiver up their backs. Fanning's nerves were on edge 
and seemed about to snap, and his clenching fingers cut 
into his palms. He suddenly slumped down into his 

" It was Wolfr' he shouted. " Two-Spot wouldn't 
tell I" 

The others sat rigid, not heeding the words. 

Slowly the puncher's hand went to his sombrero and 
slowly readjusted it with deliberate care and precision. 
He turned slowly, and slowly departed, the sound of 
the diminishing hoofbeats echoing in their brains long 
after the sound had ceased. The unrinsed glass became 
quiet, the bee blundered out through an open window, 
and a great peace, soothing and enfolding, stole over 
them. Fanning stirred, arose to his feet, and stumbled 
toward the door. 


" Christ I " he whispered. 

"Amen," said Dave. "Death's flyin' low." 

The Bar H outfit, loafing near the bunkhouse, were 
deep in discussion when they heard a horse. Looking 
up, they saw Johnny Nelson coming toward them at 
an amble. He nodded gravely and soon stopped near 
them. Carelessly throwing the reins over Pepper's 
head, he lazily swung down, pushed his hat back on 
his head« and sauntered up to them, stopping when 
only an arm's length away, Wolf stirring restlessly and 
not taking his eyes from the visitor's face. 

" Two-Spot was my friend," said Johnny in a matter- 
of-fact voice. 

Wolf's slouching frame shifted slightly and froze. 
"He never went heeled," continued Johnny's even, 
dispassionate voice. The open palm of his right hand 
struck Wolf's face with vicious force. There came 
two roars which sounded almost as one, and Johnny, 
leaping pantherishly aside out of the rolling smoke, 
held two guns on the paralyzed group. 

"Wolf shot him," he explained, backing away 
behind his ominous guns. He whistled softly, and 
Pepper, despite the dangling reins, lifted her head high 
and came to him. 

BigTom recovered himself first and took his eyes from 
the figure sprawled on the ground. He was beginning 
to believe them. He glanced at Johnny and back to 
the prostrate figure. It was incredible that a man with 
Wolf's courage, and ability with weapons, should shoot 
down an old, helpless tramp, whose greatest offense 


Hallock to the SV, and went down to notify the Tri- 
angle himself. 

The day dawned clear and reasonably cool, and at an 
early hour the riders began to come in. The saloon 
was as clean as Dave, Johnny, and George could make 
it, and the rude box which had kept Dailey and Fan- 
ning up most of the night with hammer and saw, was 
covered by green boughs and a few wild flowers. As 
each newcomer rode up to the door he was quietly 
informed by Dave that the bar was closed and would 
remain so until after the funeral. There would be no 
instrumental music, for Arch Wiggins' offer to ride to 
the Double X for his fiddle was politely but firmly 
declined after he had been questioned about his reper- 
toire; Jerry's harmonica was overruled, and Reilly^s 
accordion was declined for the same reason which had 
barred the violin. 

When Margaret Arnold rode up alone with a huge 
bouquet of old-fashioned flowers, Gunsight became tre- 
mendously interested and there was a great amount of 
surreptitious grooming going on in out-of-the-way 
places. Lin Sherwood regretted that he had not been 
more neighborly, and that he had decided against his 
new boots, tight though they were. He accused him- 
self of being a poor sort of a grown-up man not to risk 
a com or two under such circumstances. He frowned 
down Slim's sheepish remark about seeing Miss Arnold 
home after the ceremony as being unwarranted and too 
forward ; and he kept Slim in sight thereafter. Dailey 
cursed Big Tom's warning about selling supplies to the 
SV and was gloomy because of the handicap it put him 


under, but it became him well in such an atmosphere 
and nearly gave him the place of chief mourner. Sev- 
eral of the rejected suitors formed a consolation circle 
and deeply reflected the sorrow expected at funerals, 
grumbling because the universal remedy for grief would 
not be obtainable until the return from the grave. 
There was a suggestion concerning a concerted rush on 
the bar, but the tender flower of hope was frostbitten 
by a glance at the cap-and-ball protruding from Dave's 
waist-band. The proprietor had no consideration for 
the sacredness of the occasion to hang around the wal- 
nut armed like a highwayman, and the amount of pug- 
nacious confidence he exhaled and exuded was entirely 
out of place. 

" He acts like a cow with its first calf," growled Sam 

" He acts like it was his funeral, which I'm sorry it 
ain't," snorted Pete Wiggins' young hopeful, still raw 
about the matter concerning his fiddle. 

The minister walking around from the hotel was the 
signal for the groups to fall in behind him and file into 
the Palace. This sky pilot was a stalwart member of 
his cloth and acted as though saloons were not strangers 
to him. He looked about and nodded his appreciation 
of Dave's efforts and at once became the friend of every 
man there. 

" Friends," he said, looking slowly around, " a good, 
friend of the deceased, and one who knew him well and 
who cherishes his memory with gratitude and affection, 
will sing. Miss Arnold, if you please." 

Margaret, tears in her voice and eyes, arose and 


began her favorite hymiiy her rich contralto voice play- 
ing upon the heartstrings of the rough men until they 
dared not look around. Cimarron coughed, and re- 
ceived Slim's elbow in his side with unnecessary force. 
Dave developed a sudden cold and reddened with self- 
consciousness, wishing he had chosen a seat in the rear 
of the room instead of standing at the end of the bar, 
which was an altogether too suggestive place for one 
in his line of business. 

The singer^s voice grew slowly lower and lower and 
it was only by exercising all her will-power that she 
managed to finish the last verse. Her own emotion 
and faith throbbed in the beautiful words and gave 
them a power which brought tears to nearly every eye» 
Finishing, she sank down in her chair and sobbed sof dy. 

The minister, arising, looked over the room. 

"•Nearer to Thee,*" he repeated sofdy, and then 
paused, and when he resumed, his voice struck through 
to the hearts of his hearers as a hand plucking the 
strings of a harp. " * Greater love hath no man than 
this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.* Two- 
Spot. The name was lowly, and with thoughdess cruelty 
was given to Henry Travers, who once was under fore- 
man for Simon Verrier, the former owner of the SV, 
ranch. We have no knowledge of the interval between 
the days of his responsibility and strength, and that 
cold winter evening when Margaret Arnold found him, 
weak from hunger and exposure, freezing in a snow- 
drift not far from her home. Of the man^s weakness 
we will not speak, except in charity and to show that 
the character which won for him the confidence and 


^— ii^— — — i— — ^— I I _ I I I I ■ ■ y 

trust of old Simon persisted in spite of that weakness 
and blazed out gloriously, to win for him an honorable 
death. It would have been easy to betray the confidence 
of another, especially when he knew the ability of that 
other to protect himself. He could have saved his life 
by telling the truth, and I say to you that there are some 
untruths more glorious than those truths which mean 
danger, or perhaps death, to a friend. And if he had 
yielded to fear to save his life he would have found 
that life to be a thing without value. He would have 
lost to himself all that remained worth while. Two- 
Spot, weak with a weakness perhaps passed on to him 
by the thoughtless and vicious lives of those others who 
had preceded him, was, nevertheless, a man, and will 
live in your memories as a man, a man who at the threat 
of death, rallied the best within him and died to protect 
« fellow-man who had been kind to him. He was a 
lowly card, but even a two-spot has a value, as every 
man in this room can testify. A two-spot, at the right 
time and in the right combination, makes a winning 
hand; and I have it on the authority of two people 
here that he was given one spot too many. Hardly an 
ace of diamonds, but surely an ace of hearts, for in his 
breast beat a heart as true and sympathetic as that of 
any man in this room. 

** There was not a thing coming to his knowledge 
which affected the welfare of a struggling, defenseless 
family on this range, that he did not tell them; and 
when I say that for a man of his age and weakness to 
walk nine miles to warn them, and nine miles back 
again, in any weather, at the only time he could do so 


without being seen and arousing suspicion, required such 
a heart, and a fine quality of courage, I know that you 
all will agree with me. Many nights when the range 
was wrapped in sleep, Two-Spot made that journey. 
And I say that he was a man, and I pay him the respect 
which such a heart and courage merits. And no matter 
what his weaknesses were, no matter how unworthy 
you may have thought him to be, I say that this man 
whom you knew as Two-Spot was as good as any who 
sneered at him, as much a man in his last moment on 
earth as a material being as any man in this room I And 
I say that if we all, every one of us, can die as fearlessly 
and as honorably as this man died, we need not fear 
the Judgment Day. There may be some of you who 
do not give much thought to that Judgment Day, or to 
that Merciful Judge. There may be some of you who 
do not believe in God — but I say, that, no matter Who 
or What waits beyond the Open Door, He or It will 
deal gently with Henry Travers. And I say for those 
who do not believe in any divine faith, and say it aside 
from any viewpoint of religion, but purely as a question 
of ethics, of effort and reward, of right living or wrong, 
that every man in this room can find something in the 
strength of this weak man, something in the way he 
faced death, that can be taken with profit to himself 
and serve as an inspiration. Under all his fleshly weak- 
ness, with all his yielding to a dominant craving, there 
blazed the white flames of sympathy, affection, and 
loyalty. And I cannot find this occasion to be one for 
sorrow, or for grief. Rather, I should say it is one for 
congratulation: Two-Spot, shorn of his weaknesses, 


saved from jeers and cruelty and injusticei and the 
misery coming with old age, which cannot but be tragic 
to such a one as he, found himself at the last moment, 
and died the man which circumstances would have 
refused to have let him live. Let us pray/' 

If his auditors had been impressed by his address, 
the prayer reached down and gripped their very heart- 
strings, stirring into groping life the vague fear and 
awe of the supernatural, by heritage firmly implanted in 
each consciousness. Death, with its mystery and threat, 
brought ita awesome fear like a wave, with an impetus 
acquired from rolling down past generations, to minds 
prepared to quail before it in momentary surrender. 
From the distant and impersonal, it suddenly loomed 
out of the fog of the mysterious unknown real,. and 
made real by a mind trained to present truth as it isyj 
and became close and personal. And at the conclusion 
of the gripping words, only the fresher, newer mo- 
mentum of the carelessness and indifference of their 
every-day lives could offset the fear which spread like 
ripples over their superstitions and set their religious 
instincts a-quiver. But like concentric ripples, it grew 
weaker even as it reached farther out ; yet the reacting 
ripples enduring for days, showing intermittently and 
intermittently arousing vague unrest in their minds. 

He glanced at Margaret and walked quickly to her, 
placing his hand on her shoulder. ^^ I would not attempt 
it, my dear. Two-Spot would not allow another hymn, 
at such a cost to you.'* 

Dailey, Johnny, Dave, and Fanning moved slowly 
forward, feeling as they never had felt before, rever- 


endy and carefully picked up the box and led the 
out of the building and across the street to a grassy 
knoll not far from the road, where the warmth and 
brightness of the sun rested from dawn to dark. The 
ceremony at the grave over, they returned to Dave*s, 
where they shook hands with a parson who had jolted 
their ideas regarding men of his calling. 

"Friends," he protested, raising his hands at the 
coins in the hat held out to him, *^ this is too mudu i 
cannot take so much for doing my duty. It is not 

"Parson,'* said Dave, a grin coming to his face, 
" we ain't had no gunplay today, but if you don't take 
that money, I can't promise that there won't be none. 
Some of us leather-backs has been eddicated today, an' 
they say eddication costs money. I reckon a parson 
livin' in such a hole of iniquity as Juniper can find use 
for our ofierin's. If you can't take it for yoreself, take 
it for yore church — it'll help you to build one all th* 
quicker. An' I'm sayin' that we'll alius be glad to see 
you in Gunsight, as a parson or as a man. Shake.'* 

Margaret came forward and thanked him, and 
turned to Dave. 

" Did you know that he slept under your floor?** she 
asked. " He was always wondering if you did.** 

" Ma'am," smiled Dave, feeling to see if his tie had 
slipped, "I knowed it th' very first time he snored, 
which was th' second night he was here. An' I've had 
many a laugh at him th' way he wiggled out of litde 
slips he made. He heard a lot under here, an' some- 
times he let tlungs out that made him dig frantic to 


explain away. I reckon Fm goin* to be lonesome, *spe- 
cially this winter. Here comes Lin Sherwood — Miss 
Arnold, meet Mr. Sherwood, th' bashfuUest man in 
this country. 'He don't mind a little thing like an extra 
eighteen miles in th' saddle — an' I'm admittin' that 
nobody will steal yore cayuse while he's along. Now 
that I've broke th' ice an' pushed him in where he was 
afraid to go hisself, I'll take th' parson around an' 
make him better acquainted with th' boys." 

As they moved away, the minister noticed the restraint 
and restlessness visible around him and he turned a 
smiling face to the proprietor. "As soon as Miss 
Arnold leaves, open the bar. I'll take a cigar with the 
boys and then say good-by." 

Dave stopped in his tracks, his jaw dropped, and 
then he beamed upon his clerical companion. "I'm 
repeatin' what I said about bein' glad to see you any 
time," he exclaimed, slapping the broadcloth shoulden 
** Parson, I'm proud to know you 1 Put it there 1 " 

Johnny, going over to say good-by to Margaret, and 
concealing to the best of his ability any sign of jealousy, 
received a distinct shock and one which hiade him 
wrestle hard to keep his dignity. 

"Oh, here's Mr. Nelson, now," smiled Margaret. 
"I just told Mr. Sherwood that he was too late; but 
perhaps he will beat you the next time. I think we 
would better be riding, for these men feel a restraint 
while I'm here; and I'm getting anxious about father. 
So if you will excuse me, Mr. Sherwood, I'll say good-by 
to the men and ride on." 

Sherwood stood on his foot and did foolish things 


to his hat, but was spared any farther embarrassment 
by Johnny, who gripped his arm in a friendly way and 
escorted Margaret on her round of the room. And 
as the pair rode away Sherwood turned from the door, 
kicked Cimarron, and tramped to the ban 

The segundo stared after him. " Well, Fm cussed 1 '* 
he muttered " So thafs it, huh? Well, you'd 'a' done 
better if youM *a' kidced Nelson." 

The minister having left, Dave became very busy, 
and Dailey found a pack of cards and dragged out a 
table. "Havin' been generous to th' church, now I 
aims to get back some of it,'' he remarked. " He is a 
fine man — an' what he said is true; an' if I can get 
four little two-spots I'll show you all an inspiration 
that's stem-windin'. One at a time; don't push I " 

^^Yo're shore hard-boiled," reproved Slim, slighdy 
vexed. ** You ain't got enough reverence in yore sat- 
urated carcass to start a prairie dog out in life like he 
ought to go — an' G — d knows that ain't much." 

^^ Which same I says is true as h — 1," endorsed 
Cimarron, scowling. *' Let th' old mosshead herd by 
hisself . I'm goin' back an' pick up that round-up where 
we dropped it We got to get that over with as soon 
as we can, for we'll be roundin' up for McCullough 
purty soon — an' he ought to be along next week." 

Sherwood heard him and turned from the bar. ** He 
ain't getting many from us," he said. *^ We'll send our 
own herd up th' trail next spring, an' take a gamble on 
gettin' more for 'em. I'm sayin' th' SV has got plenty 
of friends from now on, too. I'm ridin' home; who's 
comin' with me ? " 



ON THE last day of the round-up Johnny rode out 
to the SV and found a herd held against the wire 
fence. A branding fire was burning off to one side and 
Larry Hallock had just thrown a calf, its pitiful bawl 
turning its mother into a charging fury. The mothefi 
being unbranded, was thrown instead of being diverted 
and received the same treatment being accorded to her 
sturdy offspring. Larry's helpers arose, let the calf up 
and grinned at its eagerness for maternal protection. 
They wiped their foreheads with wet sleeves and wel- 
comed the visitor. 

"There's some calves at that,V said Larry, "but 
they're this year's crop. An' that's th' last brandin', 
I reckon, for here. Cimarron an' three of th' boys are 
startin' a clean-up north of th' east end in that grassy 
valley. I reckon today will finish it." 

Slim nodded. " It wouldn't hurt to keep a few men 
ridin' well back, for a few days, pickin' up strays ;• but 
Vm sayin' this ranch has been combed to a T. We've 
cussed near branded even th' shadows. You'll never 
have no trouble tellin' them that Larry has branded. 
He paints wide an' free like he was paintin' a house. 
Just look at that yearlin' over there; an' them two 
weaners — they're cussed near all brand." 
Larry grinned. " Shore ; it saves a lot of ridin' when 



you can read 'em far off. I'm in fayor of histin' flags 
on 'em an' ridin' sign with a telescope hangin' from th' 

Johnny laughed at the grinning pair, dust and sweat 
from head to feet **This ranch will have stampin' 
irons as soon as it can get 'em, 'though Larry must hate 
'em like poison. I'm comin' out here, some of these 
days, an' put that horse corral at th' house in better 
shape ; an' anybody that offers to help won't get insulted. 
Now I'm ridin' to th' house. I got an idea an' want 
to see how it sets with th' 01' Man. See you later." 

**I been scratchin' all day for an idea like that,'* 
chuckled Slim. **A11 I could think of was a drink of 
water; an' Larry goes an' shoves out his canteen 

" If I didn't," said Larry, " everybody would 'a* got 
thirsty, an' then who would 'a' held this herd?" 

Johnny laughed and rode off, his friends watching 
him for a few moments. Then Larry went toward his 
horse. Slim following him. 

"Well," said Slim, "Nelson knows where he can 
find a parson ten miles closer than Highbank, anyhow. 
After he put her on her boss th' other day in Gunsight 
an' went off to get his own, she looked after him — an' 
I ain't no f ooL I'm in favor of holdin' it in town. An' 
I says this here busted-down ranch needs a good man 
to take hold of it an' run it. I reckon an outfit of four 
would swing it handsome. Yes, three good men could 
do it" 

Larry swung into the saddle. " I got three brothers 
ihat shore do love singin' smce Two-Spot was planted 


I*in leanin' strong to th' melodious mysdf. An* Vm 
admittin' that I never knowed what singin' was before. 
Well, you maverick, let^s go an' help 'em count that 
herd. You an' me aim to stop in town tonight on our 
way home, don't we ? Then come on." 

Johnny dismounted at the kitchen door and knocked. 
Charley came running and acted as host 

** Gee I " he exclaimed, his eyes sweeping to the six- 
guns and resting on them. *^Come on in! Peggy's 
readin' to dad. He's gettin' plumb ornery an' says he's 
goin' to get up tomorrow, anyhow, come h — I or high 
water. Here she is now : Hey, Sis ! Here's Mr. Nel- 
son—bet yo're plumb glad to see him. Is dad still 
on th' prod ? " 

** Charley I What language! How you do pick 
things up ! How-do-you-do, Mr. Nelson? " she smiled, 
holding out her hand. " I am so glad to see someone 
who may have a good influence on father. Come in. 
Father, here is our friend, Mr. Nelson." 

" Which gun got Wolf ? " demanded Charley. 
" Glad to sec you, sir ! '* exclaimed Arnold. " You 
have been entirely too much a stranger to this house. 
Sit down, and tell me what is going on. That Cimarron 
may know how to talk, but he doesn't seem very anxious 
to prove it. When I ask him how he finds the ranch 
he tells me about everything else that he can in one 
minute, pleads work, and leaves." 

" I think a whole lot of Cimarron," replied Johnny. 
"He and his boys have worked like slaves out here— 
diey've done an amazin' lot. They expect to have 
everjtlung cleaned up and counted by tonight, or 


tomorrow, without fail. Then we can do some figgerin* 
ourselveSi an^ aee how many cows are comin' to you. 
iWhat I called for was to make a proposition to yoa, 
an* I think it's a good one.'' 

" Go ahead ; I'm sayin' yes to it right now/' smfled 

** I reckoned mebby you would say that after yoo 
heard it/' said Johnny. ** M cCuIlough, trail boss for 
rTwitchell and Carpenter, is comin' up from th' south 
with two thousand head of mixed cattle. His deliv- 
eries call for four thousand head, an' he is countin' on 
gettin' th' second two thousand right up here around 
Gunsight Th' Bar H is throwin' a thousand over to 
him an' th' Triangle has promised him five hundred* 
Th' other five hundred was to come from th' Double X, 
but Sherwood has got other ideas. He's got a good 
outfit an' hankers on gamblin' a little. He's made up 
his mind to sell McCuUough only a hundred head of 
older cattle an' keep th' other four hundred for his 
own trail herd next year. He says Dodge, but I redcon 
he's fishin' for a government contract up north; an' if 
he is, an' lands it, he'll make a lot of money." 

*^I wish somebody would show me how to make 
some," replied Arnold, gloomily. "We are headed 
for some poorhouse, I'm afraid." 

** Father I " exclaimed Margaret, reprovingly. " You 
should not say or think such things. Everything will 
come out all right Our luck is turning." 

Johnny glanced at her and smiled. 

" Perhaps it is, but I can't see its face, yet," retorted 
Arnold. ** We'll know how many head we have, and 


liow many we have lost, but that knowledge won*t keep 

" PA-haps Mr. Nelson has something to say concern- 
ing that." 

" I have, Ma'am,'' smiled Johnny, his eyes for an 

instant resting full on hers. " I'm goin' to suggest that 

th' SV sells McCuUough that missin' four hundred 

head. That will be th' best way to turn some of yore 

cattle into money, an' it will bring you as much as you 

can hope to get without startin' an outfit up th' traiL 

If you put a herd on th' trail, it would have to be a 

small one this year, an' there ain't no profit in drivin' 

four hundred cows up to Dodge, 'specially th' Idnd 

you'd have to take. You'd have th' risk an' th' worry, 

an th' spendin' of quite some money. This other way 

you'll get yore money, an' McCuUough will have th* 

wrestlin' to do. Now, I suggests that you let Cimarron 

drive four hundred head home with him tomorrow, an' 

keep 'em handy on th' Double X for th' drive herd« 

They'll road brand 'em an' hold 'em with their own, 

and when Sherwood gets th' money, he'll send youm to 

you, an' you'll have something to work on." 

''And we will be four hundred head nearer bank« 
ruptcy," growled Arnold, more to give vent to his pes- 
simism, which had become nearly chronic by this time. 

" There will be more than that many turned over to 
you before winter," said Johnny. " Cattle stealin' don't 
go very long down here, even. Now, don't ask me 
nothin' about it ; but I'm wishin' you'd give me authority 
to act for you in any little thing that might come up<-^ 
I might not have time to ride out here for it, then." 


** Why, certainly; and I'll be glad to have somebody 
act for me who knows what to do/' replied Arnold. 

*^A11 right Fm advisin' you to tell Cimarron to go 
ahead with that litde trail herd. I'm goin' out that 
way now, an' I'll speak to him about it if you want 

me to." 


I think that is a splendid idea," enthused MargareL 
" If we did not sell them, they will be a year older next 
year, and we will have to sell them then, anyhow." 

"All rightl" grunted Arnold. "SeUthcm. I don't 
care what is done, if only I can get out of this cursed 
bed. And I'll be out of it tomorrow or know the 
reason why I " 

" We'd better have th' Doc come out an' look at it," 
said Johnny. "I'll be ridin' to town purty soon an* 
I'll drop in an' tell him. He shore ought to finish what 
he started." 

Margaret's hand went to his ann. " Please I " she 
pleaded. "Don't — don't have any trouble— wc — 
father can wait a little longer, I'm sure." 

" I certainly can, Nelson," quickly spoke up the quasi- 
invalid, " if it will save you from any trouble. I don't 
know just how much I would do for you." 

" There won't be no trouble, at all," Johnny gravely 
assured them. " Doc an' I know each other real well. 
You've got no idea how well we get along together. 
You'd be surprised if you only knowed how prompt 
he'll start for here. Why, trouble with me over a little 
thing like this is th' last thing he'd think of. You just 
stay where you are till he sees you an' says you cai» 
get up." 


'' That's the least I can do/' replied Arnold '' D — a 
it, man I If I only were up and about, .and could get a 
few good, honest men to work for me, I'd make some* 
thing out of the SV I" 

'* You'll be up an' around before you know it," 
Johnny assured him. **An' you won't have no trouble 
gettin' three honest men to ride for you. That parson 
must 'a' had a good influence on this range, even before 
he come down to Gunsight Did I hear Sam Gardner 
tell him he was tired of workin' for th' Triangle ? " he 
asked Margaret. " Why, of course you didn't. Well, 
I'll have to ask Sam if I heard right. I'm going to ask 
you to send to Highbank for three SV stampin' irons — 
Arch Wiggins is ridin' down there tomorrow. They're 
real handy — an' chute brandin' shore saves a lot of 
time. They'll be needed in a month or so. Arch knows 
a blacksmith that can turn 'em out alike as three 

*' You get anything you think we need," said Arnold. 
**How about some wire for those quicksands?" 

"They're fixed to stay fixed," answered Johnny. 
"Arch an' that Wood Hallock are great boys when it 
comes to wire, an' I'm gamblin' on that wire stayin' up 
till it rusts, which won't be soon. There's six strands, 
an' they set quite some few more posts. Arch does 
things right. I reckon he'll be lookin' for a job when 
he gets through visitin' Highbank. He says as how 
he's quittin' th' Circle 4. An' from what I've seen of 
Arch, I like him a lot" 

"Tell him to see me before he leaves the ranch,'* 
Arnold. **Why, we're sailing along at a 


great dip. Look here, Nelson, there's a spare-room 
here -— you come and use it until you ride south. You're 
better than a tonic Quit that hotel — God save the 
word — and come out here.'* 

** Well, I hardly think I can do that," smiled Johnny, 
'* 'though I'm thankin' you, just th' same. I've got 
business close to Gunsight that'll keep me there for 
quite a spell, but afterward, I'll mebby spend a couple 
of days with you." 

"Well, come when you can," replied Arnold. "If 
you think of anything else this ranch needs to get from 
Highbank, order it. You can tell that Arch that there's 
a job here if he wants it. I'll leave the question of 
wages to you." 

*'A11 right, but I'll send him in, anyhow," said Johnny, 
arising. 'Til be goin' now. You better stay where 
you are till th' Doc comes an' looks you over," and he 
followed Margaret out. 

**You are sure that you will have no trouble with 
Doctor Reed?" she asked, as he stepped onto the 

" Why, no. Ma'am ; th' Doc is seein' th' error of his 
sinful ways, an' I reckons he'll do purty near anythin' 
I tell him to if I tell him right. An' of course, I wouldn't 
tell him no other way." 

''You are a puzzle to me," confessed Margaret, 
smiling. '* I'm never quite sure about you." 

'* Puzzle ? " He turned his hat over and looked into 
it as if to find something puzzling. " Why, Ma'am," 
he said, grinning, daring another deep look into her 
eyes, "I'm as simple an' easy to read as a — as a—- 


Injun. Now if it was you Fd say there was a puz- 
zle — but, pshaw I I never was no good, at all, figgerin' 
puzzles. I remember once I was watchin* some ten- 
derfeet playin' billiards, when I was in Kansas City, 
after leavin' some cattle at th' yards across th* river. 
They did things to them balls that I never thought could 
be done, an* they did them easylike. Billiards is mebby 
an easy game. Ma'am, for them that knows how. It 
looked plumb easy to me, an' awful temptin'. I got 
me a table over in a comer an' took off my coat. I 
ain't never tried it since. Th' proprietor come 
a-runnin' an tells me that th' blacksmith-shop is down 
th' street a couple of blocks. That's me, Ma'am — my 
touch ain't gentle — I can't help smashin'. An' when 
somebody gives me a puzzle to figger out I alius look 
to see if I can smash through it But puzzles ain't 
made that way I reckon." 

Margaret stepped back into the kitchen, half closed 
the door and said, quickly, quietly, although somewhat 
breathlessly: "There is no puzzle worth the solving 
that the right man can't solve — if he tries hard 

Johnny started forward, but the door closed in his 
face and he heard the bar drop, and then the front door 
slammed. He tensed himself and then relaxed, a smile 
lighting up his face like a sunrise bathing a granite 
mountain. "This weather is bound to change," he 
said, loudly. "I can feel cyclones in th' air — an' I 
ain't th' only one that had better look to their tent 
pegs I " He reached Pepper in two leaps, the second 
of which put him in the saddle, and he dashed off to 


find Cimarron as though it were a matter of life or 

The segundo looked up, a covetous expression on his 
face. The black whirlwind slid to a stop at his f eet, a 
cloud of dust enveloping him and drifting slowly soutU 
with the wind. 

*' I'm solvin' puzzles with an axe," came the aston- 
ishing statement from the heart of the doud. ^' I mean, 
have you got a match ? " 

The round-up boss put his fingers in a vest pocket 
and produced the desired article. *^I got one; but 
mebby you ought to roll somethin* to smoke before you 
lights it." 

Johnny scratched his head and burst Into a roar of 
laughter, Cimarron joining him purely because it was 

** Seein' whe/e you come from, I'd say you was loco/^ 
chuckled Cimarron. *^ What's on yore mind besides 
matches an' axes?" 

" Why, I was just wonderin' if you could take four 
hundred head of these cows over to th' Double X, road 
brand 'em with th' Question Mark, an' throw 'em in 
with Lin's hundred. McCuUough shore is countin' on 
gettin' five hundred from you fellers, and he shouldn't 
be disappointed." 

^^ I can do it unless I lose my health an' strength," 
answered tht boss. "We ain't got 'em here — but on 
yore way to town stop an' tell Slim an' Larry to pick 
out as many as they can from that herd they're holdinV 
If we*re still short we can get th* rest easy enoughs 
Where you goin' now?" 


**To nee Arch. I reckon he's got a new job if he 
wants it" 

'^That so?" replied the round-up boss. '^He is a 
good man. You aimin' to be in Dave's tonight? " 

" I am." 

'* Slim an* Larry will stop there with th' tally figgers 
on their way home. Are you reckonin' there'll be any 
blast tonight? They ain't in no hurry — an' I'd just 
as soon come with 'em." 

"There won't be no blast — that'll come later," 
replied Johnny, smiling. " I only aim to light th' fuse 
tonight Mebby it's a long one, an' mebby it's busted 

"You move cautious just th' same after tonight,'^ 
warned Cimarron. " Some fuses hang fire ; others get 
crossed, which cuts out some of th' waitin'. You've 
been packin' in quite some giant, off an' on. I'd say 
it's overcharged, with Squint, Smitty, Wolf, Lang, an* 
th' Doc all packed in together. Don't you get slack»^ 


" I'll be hummin' like a fiddle string," replied Johnny 
quietly. "[There's Arch, over there. See you later^ 

Arch tested an iron and put it back in the fire, and 
looked up. "Well," he said, smiling cheerfully, 
" We're near through." 

" Glad to hear it," replied Johnny. "Are you aimin* 
to bum around Highbank, or get yoreself a new job an* 
keep out of mischief?" 

" I knowed that parson wouldn't have no good effect 
too you," growled Arch, " seein' how strong he affected 


me widi my strong mind What you want to know for ? 
Found somethin' for my idle hands to do? " 

^'Arnold needs a good man out here steady; two of 
*em to start with, an' mebby anodier later on. I told 
him that you wasn't worth a cuss ; but bein* stubborn he 
says mebby you'll do/* 

** I ain't heard no offer yet,'* grinned Ardiy impa* 

*' You ought to be glad that folks will let you hang 
around," retorted Johnny. "What were you gettin* 
on th' Cirde 4?" 

" Forty-five," answered Arch. " I ain't no kid, an* 
I asks for fifty. They couldn't see it; so here I am.'* 

" Fifty is yours ; but you better see Arnold *first. 
Are you goin' down to Highbank tomorrow?'* 

"I am, an' I'm shore set on it," answered Arch, 
firmly, "An* when I'm set, I'm set solid. I'm goin'; 

"I'm glad of it,^' chuckled Johnny. "You bring 
back three stampin' irons for this ranch; an' be shore 
that you can get both ends of 'em on a cow at th' same 

"If I'm totin' 'em with me on my boss, you can 
gamble they won't be no pets of Larry's," laughed 
Arch. "Anybody goin' to be in town tonight ? " 

" I reckon so. I'm dead shore that Fraser will be 
there. He's got a plumb affectionate disposition. He's 
been foUerin' me around steady since Wolf cashed in. 
He's over there in that patch of scrub right now — don't 

"I ain't lookin', you ignoramus 1" retorted Arch, 


indignantly. " Pm comin' In to have a little of Dave^s 
fire water tonight, an' sleep in a bed once more. It 
looks like rain," he observed, scanning the cloudless sky, 
**an' I shore hate a blanket an' slicker roll when it 

* If 

** So I see," gravely rejoined Johnny. " I don't care 
^where you go, of course, if you don't crowd me. I 
like plenty of elbowroom when I'm millin' around 
indoors keepin' out of th' rain. But I don't figger 
there'll be any trouble tonight." 

" You'll have plenty of room," promised Arch. " In 
case you ain't got enough, sing out an' we'll bust th' 
front out of th' Palace." He considered a moment 
** Mebby it'll be just as well to have a couple of friends 
bangin' 'round outside in th' dark watchin' th' weather. 
Dave hardly ever pulls down his curtains." 

** It won't be needed — not tonight, anyhow," smiled 
Johnny, his heart warming to the cocky youngster. 
*^ I'm thankin' you just th' same, you flathead. Well, 
•o-longi" and Johnny rode toward town. After he 
had spoken to Slim about the herd to be collected he 
sent Pepper into a pace that defied any horse on that 
range to equal. There was to be no third man present 
when he visited the Doc. 

Arch looked carelessly over the range, stretched the 
kinks out of his back and let his gaze rest idly for a 
moment on the distant clump of scrub timber. ^* You 
pore jackass," he muttered. ** You'll mebby be another 
one of them fellers that didn't know it was loaded.'^ 

The Doc glanced idly out of the door and rnamei 


his paddng. Big Tom had promised to send the chudc 
wagon for his effects on the morrow and to give him 
the extra room in the ranchhouse. The offer had been 
accepted with reluctance, for the Doc did not like to 
live in the same house with another, especially if the 
other was the boss of the house. Visiting was all very 
well, but he yearned for privacy, and there was good 
reason for it besides a natural inclination. He had 
little in common with the minds about him on the 
range, for he was a student and a reader, and his book 
shelves held a literature far above the understanding 
of those around him. He had no choice, however, for 
the time had come to get out of an impending storm. 
Being energetic, and impatient to finish a disagreeable 
task, he had kept at it and there now remained only a 
few odds and ends to be collected. He drew the comers 
of an old blanket over the bundle of clothing, extra bed- 
ding, and miscellaneous linen, pulled them tightly 
together and knelt on the bundle, straining at the rope. 
He had just finished the knot when a moving shadow 
on the east wall caught his attention and made him 
reach instinctively for the gun In its shoulder holster; 
but he checked his hand in mid-air, and just in time. 
There was only one man whom he had reason to fear, 
and that man had killed Wolf Forbes under the noses 
of his own outfit and in an even break ; and what chance 
had he, a novice, against such gunplay? He let his 
hand drop to his side and slowly looked around. 

'^That was shore dose. Doc," remarked a quiet but 
not unfriendly voice. *' You don^t never need to reach 
for no gun for me if you acts square. I ain*t on th' 



^warpath) at all ; I'm peaceful, I am ; an* I come down 
^o ask you somethin' that nobody but you can tell me/' 

(The Doc arose, anger glinting in his eyes from the 
memory of a former indignity. '' Well, what do you 
iKrant?" he growled. ** Framing up another kidnap- 

'* There you go," accused Johnny in great disgust 
You shore hop on th' prod as quick as any man I ever 
knowed. I only come down to ask you how soon 
Arnold can get out of bed an' get some use of that laig 
of his'n." 

" I don't know," replied the Doc " Not knowing, 
I wouldn't care to say. I've not been out there since." 

" He's all ribbed to get up," continued Johnny. "An' 
there's this about things: Folks that act square with 
me alius find that I act square with them. An' I'm 
tellin' you that them fellers will mebby be plumb lucky 
durin' th' next few weeks. I've been f oolin' a lot down 
here — holdin' back, sort of; but I quit f oolin' th' day 
I went down an' dug Wolf out of his outfit. I'm aimin' 
to be serious these days. You said you don't know 
about Arnold — but it ain't much of a job to make 
shore, is it ? You only got to take th^ rough goin' dead 
east of this shack for a little ways until you get into 
Green Valley — an' from there on th' ridin' is easy. 
There's too much confusion along th' reg'lar trail with 
them touchy Double X punchers ridin' around up there. 
An* if you left right away you could get back in plenty 
of time for yore supper. Looks like yo're moyin' ? " 

'* I am," replied the other. ^* I might go down to 
Highbank, and start practicing." 


"You might,'' admitted Johmiy; "but Fm sayin* 
that you don't have to go to th' Bar H ranchhouse to 
keep out of trouble. I've passed you my word — you 
play square with me an' you'll mebby find this shack b 
safer for you than that ranchhouse ever will be if you 
don't play square. I'm meanin' this, Doc." 

" I don't see where the question of safety comes in 
at all. I've found this place pretty lonely, sometimes, 
and I'm getting tired of it. What's more, I'm squat- 
ting on the SV range." 

"I'm glad to hear you say that last, an' I redcoit 
mebby it is lonely," replied Johnny, "'though it 
shouldn't be. Yo're only a. couple of miles from town, 
an' you got a good cayuse. There's some good boys up 
in town, too. You ought to ride in more often an' get 
friendly 'stead of holin' up like a bear dodgin' th' win- 
ter. An' as for squattin', why I'll say th' SV won't say 
nothin' at all to you about that, 'specially after you tells 
some of th' boys in town that you are only squattin* 
down here an' don't lay no claim to this land. Doc, 
th' time is shore comin' when nearly everybody on this 
range will be choosin' sides or settin' on th' fence — an' 
them as takes to th' fence should set awful tight an' 
stilL But gettin' back to my reason for visitin' you: 
I reckon Arnold is plumb sick of layin' abed; I'm 
shore /'d be. You can't say when he should get up ? " 

The Doc was looking at him intently and his frown 
had slowly disappeared. He was no fool, had no real 
affection for Big Tom, and he was beginning to see a 
great light He turned deliberately, yanked the knot 
loose and let the blanket open and spread out over the 


floor. Picking up his bag, he considered a moment. 
** Hazarding a guess, I'd say that he has another week 
in bed. Did you notice any fever, any flush, or any* 
thing else that seemed abnormal to you ? '' he asked. 

^^Nothin' but stubbornness an' a grouch like a she 
bear with cubs," answered Johnny. " I reckon he stays 
on th' prod purty much when there ain't no strangers 
around. He must make life excitin' for his family. 
Now that he's gettin' ambitious, he'll be worse." 

"Well, I'll go prepared for anything, anyhow. If 
yoa are riding down this way tonight drop in and I'll 
tell you how I found him. It was a clean break and 
everything was in his favor." 

" I reckon I'll be too busy in town tonight," replied 
Johnny. " I got a job to do. If you ain't got nothin* 
special to keep you here an' feel like seein' th' boys, 
ride up an' spend th' evenin' with us. We'll be glad 
to see you." 

The Doc listened intently. ^^ Who's that riding up. 
the trail ? " he asked. 

Johnny looked deep into his eyes, smiled cjrnically, 
banished his suspicions, and glanced out of the window. 
" I reckoned so," he muttered. " That's Fraser, goin' 
bad: to look for somethin' he's lost He'll mebby find 
it tonight up in Dave's, if he looks hard enough. Times 
are shore changin' down here." 

The Doc stepped forward and passed out " When 

yoQ leave, dose the door behind you. The dust gets 

on my nerves and there will be plenty of it flying with 

diis wind," and he walked briskly to the little corral. 

Johnny watched him bridle and saddle the horse, 


mounts and canter away straight for the roug^ going 
east of the traiL Pulling the door shut behind him, he 
walked to the brush-filled hollow where he had left his 
horse^ mounted, and set off at a lope for Gunsight 

^ Mebby he means it," he soliloquized. '* If he does, 
aD right I gave him a chance to go for that shoulder 
holster when I looked out to see who was ridin' up tfa* 
trail, but that don't mean much, for he might have 
figgered it was too risky. Mebby he's aimin* to set on 
th' fence waitin' to see how things'U settle down. That's 
all right, too — it's his natural play — but I'm keepin* 
cases on him just th' same. He's had his wamin' " — 
he shrugged his shoulders expressively and looked up 
the trail where he thought he could distinguish Fraser*s 
horse in front of the Palace. *'An' thafs all right, 
too,'* he growled, " he's where he'll be handy." After 
a moment he slapped Pepper's shoulder. ** Sorry, little 
boss," he growled, ^^ but mebby you'll have to play padc 
animal for a while if I'm goin' to watch them mavericks 
until after McCuUough gets that Bar H herd. Didn't 
I tell you we'd likely be popular, an' unpopular? Well, 
k's shore comin' true." 





DAILEY, seated at a table, the everlasting pack 
of cards in front of him, beamed upon Fanning 
and Johnny as they entered. " Thought mebby nobody 
was goin' to show up tonight,'' he said. " Dave's scared 
of me." 

^* I never did care much for wild animals," retorted 
Dave. *'An' I says that you shore go wild when you 
sees a deck of cards. If you'd only win somethin' once 
in a while, I wouldn't have a word to say." 

"That's what makes him wild," chuckled Fanning. 

Ben, how much has Nelson taken away from you?'* 
Not very much, an' I more than got it back from 
th' others," retorted Dailey. " If I only had his luck 
with my skill — but what's th' use?" he asked, shrug- 
ging his shoulders. 

" You shore has got to have plenty of luck with yor^ 
skill," jibed Dave, " or you wouldn't even have a shirti 

" Lemme ask you something seein* that you know s6 
much about poker," said Fanning. " How far should 
a man back two pairs ? " 

"Them assassins? You get up to this table, you 
scoffin' innocent, an' I'll show you when you ought to 
let loose of two pair," chuckled Dailey. " Who's this 
comin*? Eraser! Come over here. Bill, an' help me 



rope a couple of tenderfeet into a little game of draw. 
They're shy tonight" 

"Who's th' other, besides me?" inquired Fraser, 
leaning against the bar. 

'' Huh I " snorted Dailey. ''All right, then; help me 
rope in th' other two." 

''If I'm goin' to be yore come-on, what do I get out 
of it? " laughed Fraser. 

" Every cussed thing you can get an' hold onto, but 
you'd better sand yore hands. Here's another sheep: 
Hello, Gurleyl Yo're just in time to get a seat — I 
alius did like a five-handed game. Come on I Come 
on 1 Don't be afraid of th' iron ! " 

"Make it four-handed for a little while," said 
Johnny. " That'll give Dailey a chance to stack it up 
in front of him all ready for me. I ain't as good at 
draw as some down here, but I can alius take it away 
from Ben, somehow. How's things on th' Triangle, 

" Slowin' fast since th^m Double X fellers moved off. 
They made me wear out four cayuses a day. When 
will they finish up?" 

" Purty soon, I reckon," answered Johnny, turning 
to Fraser. "You fellers are lucky. You don't get 
many strays over th' mountain, or through that canyon, 
I reckon." 

" Not any that I've noticed," replied Fraser. " But 
we've been plumb lazy in our round-ups. We got an 
awful sight of brandin' to do next time." 

" That so ? " asked Johnny. " Been takin' life easy 
an' lettin' 'em go?" 


*' Shore ; that northwest section is so rough an* full 
of brush that it's near impossible to get 'em out. Xhere 
must be an awful lot of unmarked animals over there. 
VTc're goin' to have our hands full with 'em." 

*^Aimin' to tackle it this fall?" asked Johnny, care- 

** Mebby ; mebby not McCullough will save us from 
goin* up th' trail this year, so we might run a special 
combin' up out there." 

*^I'm runnin' one right here I" exclaimed Dailey, 
banging his fist on the table. '' I'll run a brand on you 
fellers that'll smart so you can't sleep. Come on, let's 
get a-goin*. Hot iron I Hot iron I Ropers up I " 

" I'll just take a bite out of you," said Fraser. "Any- 
body else hungry ? " 

"I just ain't never had enough to eat," chuckled 
Fanning, dragging up a chair, " not since I was a growin' 
kid — an' I ain't nowise shore that I had enough then." 

" Which I says is frank, comin' from th' keeper of a 
hotel," laughed Gurley. " I've often felt th' same way 
when I ate in town. Turn it loose. I'm on." 

" Let me see," pondered Dailey, " we deals five cards, 
don't we ? " 

" We do ; but only one at a time," replied Fanning 
patiently. " Don't turn no trump." 

"It's sorta comin' back to me," smiled Dailey, 
spreading out the cards to be cut to see who dealt " It's 
sorta comin' back," he repeated. 

" Then I'm sayin' It's due to be laig weary, for it's 
goin' to have a long journey," remarked Dave. He 
looked up. " Cuss it I Here's th' Doc ! Hello, stranger I 


Shorci this it Gnnstght Hey, DaSeyl he*s got a whole 
satchel full ; ring him into th' game.** 

'* Bet he*f got a wad of wool soaked with diat diere 
chloryfoam. Somebody ride herd on him/* laughed 
Fraseri but he was tense. It was the first time anyone 
had seen the Doc and Johnny together since the kid- 
napping had been explained, and anything was possible. 

'* Tm not collecting buttons/* retorted the Doc, smil- 
ing. *' Hello, boysl Hello, Dave I Say, Fraser, I 
wish you would tell Big Tom not to send in the wagon 
for me ; Fve changed my mind. I got a hurt leg, and 
it won't be right for nearly a week. Set out a round on 
me, Dave; Fll drink mine and hurry along. I just 
rode up to get word to Tom. Dave, you should use 
something milder when you load this whiskey — ever 
try nitric?*' 

"Don't you do it, Dave!" expostulated Dailey In 
alarm. " I can't hardly taste it now." 

The Doc looked at him, shook his head sadly, said 
good night, and went out. 

"He didn't act like his lalg was hurt," remarked 
Fraser wonderlngly. ** But you can't never tell nothin' 
about him ; he's a queer bird. An' changeable ? There 
ain't no cussed word for it." 

" Fve often wondered how he made a llvin*,*' said 
Johnny curiously. 

** Well, Fll be cussed I ** snorted Dailey incredulously. 
** You have been here all this time an' don't know that? 
Huh I Th* Doc Is a sort of self-actin' remittance man. 
He's got a wad banked back East, an' once a month 
I cash a check for him." 


'* Two pairs," muttered Fanning, scratching his head^ 
and telling the truth to mislead his opponents. *^ That 
^was what I was askin' about. Well, I'll see it an' add 
a blue." 

*^Any time you raise a blue, you got two pairs, all 
right I" snorted Dailey. "Two pairs, deuces up!" 
He held up a finger warningly. " I hears bosses' f eets," 
he chuckled. " Move over, Gurley, an' give th' visitors 
a chance to edge in." 

The sounds grew louder and soon stopped outside, 
and a laughing voice said, "There's Dailey, th' boss 
thief, tryin' to learn th' game. He's a persistent dummy, 
for he's alius tryin'." 

" He don't know one card from another," laughed a 
second voice. 

" Hey 1 " shouted Dailey. " Come in here, you f eU 
lers, an' I'll show you how much I know I " 

Slim appeared, followed closely by Larry and Arch« 

" They ought to make you roll up yore sleeves, yoa 
mosshead," said Larry, grinning. 

" Sit down there I " ordered Dailey, " an' I'll have 
you roUin' up th' bottoms of yore pockets I " 

" Wimmin' an children first," quoth Fanning. " Come 
on, Larry." 

"Did you hear that?" snorted Larry, staring at 
him. " I shore will, now I** 

" This is goin' to be pay*day for me," said Dailey in 
great content. "Where th' devil are we at, anyhow?" 

Over at the bar Johnny and Slim were carrying on 
ft low-voiced conversation and figuring on a piece of 
paper, while Arch and Dave entertained each other at 


the other end of the counter. After a few miniites 
Johnny nodded his head in quiet satisfaction, put the 
paper in his pocket and, going up for a few words with 
Arch and Dave, wandered over to the table and sat 
down close to it, leaning back to enjoy the fight He 
always found keen enjoyment in watching the store- 
keeper play, for Dailey's red-brown face was suffused 
with wrinkles of good nature, quite independent of 
how his fortune tended ; his high, shining forehead and 
the bald spot above and behind it reflected the light and 
glistened. The eternal cigar he chewed on, cold, stale, 
and odorous, bobbed animatedly and his shrewd black 
eyes peered out from under bushy eyebrows, glittering, 
glinting, and alive with his emotions, like twin mirror^ 
on which were reflected the subtle complexities of a 
nature enriched by a life crowded with experiences. 
He had no poker face, but knowing the sad fact, he 
had made an adept liar out of the one to which Nature 
had given so much expression. 

He glanced at Johnny, his eyes dancing. *'Yo*re 
comin' nearer th' candle all th' time, little moth,'' he 
laughed. "I'll singe them wings of youm — you seel 
My flush takes this game. Deal 'em up, Dailey," he 
grunted, raking in chips and cards. 

'* Come on. Nelson," said Fanning. " Better get in 
this. Th' old boss thief is stackin' 'em up for you." 

" Huh I " Johnny remarked. " It ain't as big a pile 
as I was hopin'. Oh, well," he sighed, " I'm like th* 
SV round-up : I take 'em as they come." 

"How'd they come to start that so early?" asked 
Fanning. " It's plumb warm for woikin' hard" 


"Wanted to know how many head they had,** an* 
twered Johnny. "An' what do you know about workin* 

" He's seen me lots of times»" cut in Dailey. " Did 
they find out?" 

"Shore. They've got twelve hundred an' twenty, 
which would be fourteen hundred an' fifty-five, if Ar- 
nold hadn't sold two hundred an* thirty-five head.** 

"That's good, considerin* how things has been let 
slide over there," remarked Fraser. 

" Th' old figgers of three years ago," said Johnny, 
"when Arnold took possession, were sixteen hundred 
an' eighty-five, in th' fall. Now, lemme see — do I 
need two or three ? " he mused. " Reckon there ain't 
no use of throwin* away a nice, high card, so I'll take 
two. I'm plumb fond of holdin' up a sider." He 
glanced at the two cards, slipped them into his hand 
and looked around. " Now, I was askin' th' Double X 
what factor they used to figger natural increase — an' 
they says one to five. That right?" 

" That's alius been sort of gospel down here,** said 
Fanning. " For th' Lord's sake I " he snorted, in play* 
f ul pretense. " You takin' eight cards again ? " 

" You ain't got no right to ask nobody but th' dealer 
how many cards he takes," retorted Dailey. "As a 
matter of fact, I only took seven. I'm h — 1-bent to 
get me a pair." 

" You are dealing,** declared Gurley. " How many 
did you take ? " 

"Three jacks," answered Dailey. "If I only had 
th* other three mebby I'd have a pair.** 


"Which same I calls enlighteain' an* 'luddatln',** 
muttered Gurley. "I demands a count of th' detk. 
But, speakin' of factors, I'd say one to nine was nearer 
right, over on th' SV." 

*' Let him count th' deck," growled Fanning, " before 
he gets worse. One to nine I I'm sayin' one to five is 
close whittlin' down on this range. It'll come right 
eight out of ten. Weill well I" he chuckled, as he 
looked at his card. " Welcome, welcome, litde stranger ; 
how I wondered what you was I But I'm not pressin' 
my luck too hard. I sees, an' trails." 

"I'm passin'," sighed Johnny. "Now I says that 
th' natural increase of them sixteen hundred an' eighty- 
five cows th' next year would be three hundred an* 
thirty-nine, usin' that gospel factor. Th* herd would 
finish th* second year with two thousand an' twenty- 
four. Usin* that gospel factor again, it would increase 
four hundred an* five, an' finish th' third year with 
twenty-four hundred an' twenty-nine. This is the sum- 
mer of that third year, an' that twenty-four hundred 
an' twenty-nine ain't there. There's only twelve hun- 
dred an* twenty, which added to them that Arnold 
sold, makes fourteen hundred an' fifty-five. Now I 
figgers that fourteen hundred an' fifty-five from twenty* 
four hundred an' twenty-nine leaves nine hundred an* 
seventv.fnur head That's what is missin' — nine hun- 
nrenty-four head. Call it nine hundred 
imarron O.K.*s th' last tally figgers. 
3ut th' Bar H allows one to five is right 
hem cattle goto?" 
[rowled Gurley. *' Kings ap I " 


*' You can't never trust assassins/' chuckled Dailey, 
laying down three tens. 

"An' three tens ain't no good tonight," said Fan* 
ning, revealing an eight-full. " Two pair ain't no good 
to bet on hard, but they're plumb fine to draw to. What 
you got, Fraser?" he demanded. 

''A headache," grunted Fraser, throwing down his 

" Deal 'em up, Fanning," said Dailey. " Where did 
they go to ? " he asked Johnny. 

" I've gone over everythin' I can think of," replied 
Johnny, leaning back. '^I've figgered hard winters* 
wolves, fever — there wasn't none of them. Strayed 
off ? Where to ? Would they leave Clear River for an 
arid stretch forty miles wide — an' stay away? They 
have to drink, don't they? QuicksancU? Those that 
wandered in wouldn't be many, an' them that was drove 
in we'll count part of that nine seventy. Where did 

*^ Mebby they heard them angd voices callin'," said 
Fanning, grinning. 

" I'm sayin' somethin' is plumb wrong down here," 
replied Johnny. "Somebody has been ridin' th' line 
careless, an' a lot of mavericks has got across. Fraser, 
how many riders has Big Tom kept on his northwest 


Fraser looked serious and pretended to ponder 
deeply. "Only one — Wolf. PixC he was alius payin* 
more attention to th' west line, f acin' th' Snake Buttes 
country than he was to th' north line, though. All he 
could think of was rustlers. Cussed if he didn't near 


•leq> ^di 'em, he had ^cm in his mind so strong.** He 
did not see Slim*s sneering smile or the look he ex- 
changed with ArdL Slim was beginning to regard that 
outfit very moch in that light 

" That's what I thought," replied Johnny, triumph- 
andy. *^He wasn't ridin' sign at all — he was only 
lookin' for rustlers. An' while he was prandn* along 
that west line lookin' for Nevada, them maveridcs was 
driftin' off th' SV to get in that brush where th' flies 
wouldn't bother 'em so much. That accounts for a lot 
of them unmarked cows you was speakin' about" 

" Does look like mebby there's somethin' in that," 
cogitated Eraser. ^^As I said, we never paid much 
attention to th' catde out there ; but it don't sound rea- 
sonable that all them SV mavericks would drift over 
onto us. An' why only mavericks ? " He thought for 
a moment *' I'm sayin' nothin', but there's somethin' 
plumb wrongf somewhere. Want me to ask Big Tom 
about it? Mebby it was rusders — they're plumb 

Johnny considered. ^^Well, you might," he said, 
slowly, leaning slighdy forward in his chair. " Tell you 
what, Eraser ; I'm dead shore about them nine hundred 
seventy. Suppose you tell him to brand that many 
mavericks, takin' 'em as they come, with th' SV mark, 
an' throw 'em over to Arnold when he holds his fall 
round-up ? Th' SV will provide stampin' irons, an' a 
couple of men to help. As to rustlers, they'd have to 
drive across th' Bar H an' th' Double X to get to 
Arnold's ranch— any rustlin' that was done would be 
done on th' fringes of th' Double X. Why, you fellers 


a,in't never been raided; an' to get to th' SV would be 
^virorse than gettin' to th' Bar H. That's what we'll do ; 
^we'll have him throw over nine hundred an' seventy 
liead this fall, an' that'll make things right." 

Fraser boiled inwardly, but controlled himself. There 
liad been no accusation, nothing to call for defense, and 
to take it angrily or as an accusation he felt would be 
to play into Johnny's hands. Being guilty of the very 
thing which the other had gone so carefully around, 
made him find the hidden meaning in the heavy cir- 
cumlocution, and keep quiet about it for fear of reveal- 
ing the real meaning of the words to the others in the 
room. He knew how Big Tom would take it, for he 
knew that his foreman was smouldering like a volcano, 
charged with the cumulative anger caused by recent 
events; and he felt sure that the news he would take 
back to the ranch that night would cause an eruption, 
and a great one. This was another reason for remain- 
ing calm: not knowing what Big Tom might decide 
to do, it would be well to give Johnny no cause to 
exercise any unusual caution, or to strike hard and 
suddenly. So he growled a little as he resumed the 

" That's shore a whole lot of cattle to throw over to 
anybody, free, but, h — 1 1 " he said, " it ain't no funeral 
of mine. It's Big Tom's business, 'though I reckon 
it'll sort of take his breath. Did Arnold say that ? " 

"He's sayin' it through me," answered Johnny 
quietly. "I'm workin' for him, an' actin' for him, an' 
I'm usin' my own judgment." 

Slim lounged into an easier position against the bar 


and grunted. " Well," he drawled, " wcVe comin* to 
th' conclusion that th' round-ups down here has got to 
be general, spring an* fall. This here maverick busi- 
ness alius is a bad proposition, an' it's worse in th' kind 
of country that's plentiful on parts of this range. Sher- 
wood is standin* out, set for a general drive. He says 
for all th' ranches to join hands, sweep th' whole range, 
do our brandin' an' divide up an' brand th' mavericks 
accordin' to some fair plan. I suggests dividin' 'em in 
proportion to th' number of cattle on each ranch, but 
that's only my idea. He goes even further, an' says 
that th' runnin' Iron an' this brush brandin' we all have 
been doin' down here has got to be done away with, 
on th' Double X an' every other ranch in this section. 
Anybody knows that chutin' 'em, an' stampin' on th' 
brand is easier, an' that there ain't no honest reason for 
th' straight iron no more. Texas threw it into th' dis* 
card ten years ago or more. We're discardin' it, an* 
we're goin' to raise th' devil with any outfit that don't 
foUer suit That's flat, an' goes as it lays, regardless, 
to th' SV, th' Triangle, an' th' Bar H, with Sherwood's 

'* What about that nine hundred an' seventy, then?" 
asked Gurley. 

" We've got nothin' to say about them, but if they are 
throwed over, th' rest will be divided," answered Slim. 
'* Bein' th' biggest ranch out here, we stand to lose more 
than any other by throwin' over them cows to th' SV ; 
but we admits its tide to 'em. Tell Big Tom to think 
it over, an' see us about it before fall." 

^* One to five is figgerin' too strong," remarked Gur« 


Icy, thoughtfully. ''One to nine is nearer th* real 

''There ain*t no reason that I can see to change 
figgers that have proved themselves, time an* time again, 
down here," replied Slim. 

" Havin' been talked plumb weak," growled Dailey, 
*' suppose we rest ourselves with a nice, quiet game? 
It's yore deal, Fraser. Comin' in. Slim ? " 

" No, I ain't ; I'm goin' out," answered Slim. " I got 
more than twenty miles an' I'm tired Comin', you 
fellers ? " he asked Larry and Arch. 

"Shore," said Larry, arising. "Glad to escape. 
Better come along, Arch — what's a few more miles? " 

" I'd like to," replied Arch. " Cuss it, I wiU 1 lean 
go to town th' next day. Good night, fellers." 

They made a noisy exit and soon their banter and 
laughter grew silent down the trail. Fraser stretched, 
and yawned prodigiously, and his friend Gurley be- 
came resdess. 

Dailey, sensing the break-up of his beloved pastime, 
made an effort to save it. " Don't bust up th' game, 
boys," he begged. "I got a feelin' comin' over me 
that I can clean up th' whole pack of you. Let's see if 
I'm right" 

"Try it on th* rest of th' boys," growled Fraser. 
" I'm cashin' in what's left, an' dustin' up th' trail for 
my little bunk. Comin', Gurley?" 

"As far as th' partin' of th' ways," smiled the Tri- 
angle puncher, ^ unless you aim's to ride home by way 
of our house, so I won't be lonesome. It's only a few 
nules out of yore way." 


" Fm likely to/* retorted Fraser. " So-long, f ellcw," 
and he preceded his friend to the horse raiL 

The remaining four smoked and talked for a little 
while and then Johnny arose. ^* Put them supplies in 
th' shed, Dailey ? '' he asked. 

*' Shore ; in a strong sack, like you said,'' replied the 
storekeeper. ** I put in a few more cans of tomatoes, 
seein' as they're handy when there ain't no drinkin' 
water near." 

**Yo're usin' yore head," conmiended Johnny, and 
turned to Dave. *^ I'm goin' to th SV to let Cimarron's 
boys know that there's trouble comin', shore. You 
don't know when I'll be back or where I'm goin' ; but 
I reckon mebby th' whole town will hear me, when I 
(do come back. Somethin's goin' to bust loose tomor- 
row. I ain't no blind fooL Goodnight" 



THERE was movement on the Gunsight trail at 
an early morning hour. Five men rode to within 
half a mile of the town and then halted for a final con- 
sultation, which was soon over. Three rode westward 
at a walk, another went on, bearing slightly to the east, 
while the fifth, dismounting, led his horse from the 
trail, picketed it in a steep-walled ravine and went north 
on foot. 

The eastern sky paled, grew silvery, and then became 
tinted with red and gold. A man crouched behind the 
hotel shed, swearing softly because he heard no sounds 
of a horse within it. He snuggled close to a knothole, 
peering at the hotel wall not far from him, and the 
rifle in his hand was full cocked. Behind the saloon 
shed another man had thrust his rifle through a crack 
and as the light increased, he cuddled his cheek against 
the stock and peered along the sights into an open 
window in the rear wall«of the hotel. Lying in a clump 
of weeds north of the saloon and near the trail was 
another rifleman, who could see Dave's north wall and 
the front of the saloon as well. A fourth had settled 
down in the end of a shallow gully across the trail from 
Dailey's store, his Winchester needing but to move over 
a short arc to cover the door of the saloon. It was 
point-blank range for him, and in this matter he was no 



better off than his three friends. The fifth, the angry 
and determined foreman of the Bar H, not finding cover 
as close as he would have liked, was forced to ensconce 
himself over two hundred yards from the front of the 
hotel, and a little to the right of Jerry's shop, where he 
kq)t turning problems over in his mind Desperate ail- 
ments called for desperate cures, and if Gunsight ob- 
jected as to methods, then it would have to object in 
the persons of the three easy-going inhabitants who 
were likely to be offended. The actions of the Double 
X were far more serious, but had to be risked if life 
were to be worth living for the outfit of the Bar H. 
With the coming of dawn Big Tom pondered less and 
looked more, his rifle at his shoulder, ready for instant 

Back on the trail there was silent movement as an in- 
distinct and bootless figure crossed it and paused, wait- 
ing for light. The darkness thinned and the figure 
moved forward again, bent over dose to the boot marks 
on the ground, which it followed with slow sureness. 
The stockinged feet made no sound, avoiding twigs and 
dead leaves, and not an out-thrust branch whipped or 
scraped as the man worked forward. He carried a 
heavy Sharp's, the heel of his hand over the cocked 
hammer, his fingers covering the trigger guard as an 
extra precaution against accidental discharge. 

The few buildings in Gunsight appeared as though 
a curtain were slowly rising and finally stood revealed 
in their entirety, .The sun rose and threw soft, delicate 
shadows from the bases of all standing objects, too 
weak to mark their patterns far, melting into oblivion. 


lA. door slammed, sounding irreverent and out of place, 
and from the hotel chimney curled a timid wisp of 
smoke, this way and that, finally climbing straight up 
and losing its identity against the gray-blue of the sky, 
while its supporting colunm twisted and turned and 
danced as it hurried to self-effacement. Dailey's chim- 
ney sent up a skirmishing film, which died out ; and then, 
as if in stalwart support of the fainting advance, there 
€ame a darker, thicker column, telling all who cared to 
read that Dailey put his trust in kerosene. The hotel 
door opened, causing a quick movement of Big Tom's 
rifle, and George, sleepy and unpleasant in looks and 
disposition, glanced idly around and went back again. 
From far off in the west the quavering, long-drawn wail 
of a coyote, mercifully tempered by distance, arose to 
greet the rising sun. Birds sang with delirious abandon 
and the soft noises in grass and sand and brush told 
of a waking world. In the vague grayness of the hotel, 
framed by the open door, something moved, steadily 
growing plainer and soon took the form of a towel in 
the hands of George, who drove winged pests before 
him and, with a final, frenzied waving, took hold of the 
door and slammed it shut. As it closed Big Tom re- 
laxed, eased his hold on the rifle and reached back to 
remove a stone which was beginning to assert its pres- 
ence under him to his growing discomfort. Turning 
his head, he looked back, and froze, his groping fingers 
rigid Ten feet behind him and to his right was the 
black muzzle of a heavy rifle, and behind that a pair 
of gray-blue eyes regarded him malevolendy through 
narrow slits in the bronzed face. For a tense, appre- 


ciable interval eyes looked into eyes, and then the 
foreman squirmed 

^' Don't move, only as I tell you, an' slow/' said 
Johnny's clear, low voice. ^* I got you just th' way I 
want you — ambushin' I Don't touch that gun, an' don't 
make no noise. First, put yore hands up even with yore 
armpits, palms down, on th' ground. Now inch back, 
away from that gun. Keep on — more — more 
-^— all right — stop! Slide 'em forward, straight out 
ahead of you, an' then lay stilL You can admire Fan* 
nin's front door, an' imagine me in it, careless an' easy 
prey for a pot-shooter, if it'll do you any good. Don't 
look around till I tell you to, an' don't make a sound, 
blast you I " 

Not being able to do anything else, Big Tom obeyed 
and soon felt his Colt leave its holster. A hand felt up 
under his coat, to see if the back-strap of his trousers 
held a gun. Being right-handed, the foreman would 
hardly choose to carry a six-gun there under ordinary 
circumstances, but this situation was not in that cate- 
gory. The back-strap was guildess. 

*' Roll over on yore back," came the next command, 
and when it had been obeyed the same inquiring hand 
passed lightly and quickly over waist-band and shirt 
bosom, the left hand holding a six-gun now instead of 
the rifle. *^A11 right, wiggle down In that gully, and 
then head for where you left yore cayuse, keepin' low 
down, like yore nature, an' out of sight of town." 

"What do you think yo're doin'?" wrathfully in^ 
quired Big Tom, but obeying as he protested. 

'* Huntin' for an excuse to blow you apart, you am* 


bushin* dog,'* came the metallic reply. *^Shut yore 
mouth, an' keep on goin'. I'll give you a chance to ulk 
later. Any harm that comes to you will be of yore own 
maKin • iveep on I 

They reached the brush at the edge of the trail, 
waited a moment, and then crossed swiftly, and when 
they stopped again it was at Pepper's side. Johnny 
quickly mounted and urged his captive on again. Com* 
ing to a picketed Bar H horse he ordered the foreman 
to mount it, and as the helpless man obeyed Johnny 
revealed their objective. 

'* Head for yore ranchhouse," he said. ** Ride on 
my right side, yore stirrup even with my pommel, where 
my Colt will have a fair view of you from under my 
coat. If we meet anybody, pass 'em on yore side, an* 
don't make no remarks that ain't needed. We go at a' 
lope; hit it up I" 

And so they rode, except at a few places in the canyon, 
where the narrowness of the twisting trail made Big 
Tom go ahead. Arriving at the ranchhouse they rode 
around on its further side, tied the horses to a stake,, 
and went indoors. 

** Sit down," commanded Johnny, indicating a chair 
in the middle of the room. '' Here, look at this," and 
he handed the foreman a piece of paper which was 
covered with sprawled figures. '' I don't know what 
Fraser forgot, or what he got tangled up, so I'll go 
over it again. Them top figgers are based on th' tally 
sheets of th' SV in th' fall of th' year that Arnold took 
possession. They ain't like th' figgers 01' Simon could 
'a' showedf for th' ranch had been on th' slide for somcf 


yoirt, an' plenty of its cows went on th' drive trail to 
give monejr to di' heirs. Th* lowest figgen are based 
on th* tally Cimarron finished yesterday. Natural in- 
crease, figgered as one to five, shows what they oug|it to 
be, minus them that Arnold had to sell to get grub. It^s 
aU there." 

"Th* h — 1 with *eml*' blazed* the foreman, crush- 
ing the sheet in his hand and hurling it from hinu 
** What do / care about any figgers belongin' to th* SV ? 
Take yore figgers an' get out — I'm advisin' you to 
leave this part of th' country, an' cussed quick. I ain't 
playin' godfather to th' SV, an' I'm runnin' this ranch 
without no help from you, Sherwood, or anybody else." 

*^ When I leave this range I'll go of my own accord, 
an' there won't be no pushin'," retorted Johnny. *^ Sher- 
wood can 'tend to his own business; I'll 'tend to mine; 
but I've got time to look after a little of youm. If yoo 
ain't godfather to th' SV, yo're shore goin' to act like 
one. There's nine hundred an' seventy head clean 
missin' from it, an' there's plenty of big ranches down 
Texas way that would yell for th' rangers, an' holler 
calamity if they had lost that many. For a little ranch 
to lose 'em it is shore enough calamity. If anybody 
would put that many cows on th' trail for me I'd show 
'em a lot of money at th' other end." 

*^ SV calamities don't mean nothin' to me," rejoined 
Big Tom. ''It was allowed to run itself, an' it run 
itself into th' ground. Why wouldn't it lose a lot of 

'* It shore might do just that," conceded Johnny, '* if 
it wasn't for one thing. Yo're an old hand in th' catde 


business, an' you know that a bunch of cattle can run 
-wild an' grow amazin'. An' they'd shore do it on a 
range like th' SV with that valley an' them brush-filled 
draws for winter shelter. There ain't no natural enemies 
to cut down th' calves — an' that ranch is good grazin' 
all year 'round There wasn't cows enough to eat it 

"There's them quicksands, an' there was a lot of 
gray wolves runnin' down here th' last couple of years 1 '^ 
shouted Big Tom, red with anger. " They never even 
kept up th' wire fence around th' quicksands. Why 
wouldn't they lose cows?" 

** The quicksands would get a few," rejoined Johnny. 
" They would get more if th' cows was drove into 'em 
like I caught Lang doin' — an' them will be figgered in 
th' herd to be throwed back. I've asked about wolves 
an' everythin' else — there wasn't nothin' to keep 'em 
down. An' as for that fence, th' less you, or any of 
yore gang have to say about that, th' better it'll be for 

" Then yo're callin' me a liar," blazed the foreman. 
" There was wolves down here I An' I never touched 
that fence, neither." 

" Mebby you didn't personal ; an' I ain't callin' you 
a liar while you ain't got a gun," retorted Johnny. " But 
I am admittin' that yo're plumb mistaken. Comin' down 
to cases, pleasant an' friendly, I'm sayin' that th' Bar H 
owes the SV nine hundred an' seventy head of catde, 
as they come in a round-up, all kinds an' conditions* 
When do you aim to start deliverin' ? " 
The foreman sprang to his feet " When do I aint 


to start ddiverin' ? ** he shouted, staring into the cahn, 
gray eyes of the man whose Colt covered him. ** When 
do I aim to start deliverin'?" he repeated, his neck 
swelling. ** I ain't aimin* to at all I Nine hundred an* 
seventy I That would plumb ruin us 1 '* 

" It ain't ruined th' SV," replied Johnny evenly. " Not 
quite, anyhow," he added. ^'An' it won't ruin you, 
because they can all be figgered as extras. We all know 
they ain't never been put on th' tally sheets with th' 
other cattle, for th' owners to know about. They're 
strays, you might say, that have been eatin' up yore 
grazin' scandalous. They've wandered over on you an' 
are likely to eat you into some kind of ruin. You ought 
to be able to do better without 'em, an' you shore ought 
to be glad to get rid of such a hungry bunch of catde 
that you can't prove title to." 

"I've got all th' title / need — they're on my ranch, 
an' that's good enough," shouted Big Tom. " It's good 
enough for me, an' it's good enough for everybody 
else, you included." 

** Not for nobody else," corrected Johnny, "me least 
of all. That title is questioned now by more than a 
dozen men. You can't keep 'em, nohow, for th' general 
round-up will cut 'em four ways. Th' times are changin' 
down here like they changed some years back on th' 
older ranges. Th' runnin' iron is dyin' fast, an' for 
good reasons. Maverickin' is goin' out of style — an' 
nothin' can stop it An' with it goes that title you was 
mentionin'. Why not get ahead of 'em, an' throw them 
cows over onto th' SV before anybody gets insuldn' 


** I'll have somethin- to say about any styles changin* 
down here/' retorted the jEoreman. ''Mebby more 
than some folks think." 

^' You ain't got a chance, not a chance," Johnny as- 
sured him. ^^ You'll be like th' Injun that tried to push 
back th' first, an' last, engine he ever saw. It was goin' 
strong when he tried it." 

"An' I ain't got th' authority to give away a cow, not 
even a single dogie — not to mention a herd. I'm not 
ownin' this ranch; I'm workin' for it. How can I 
straighten out my tally sheets to cover th' loss of a herd 
like that? They don't belong to me — they belong to 
th' ranch, to th' owners." He was wasting as much 
time in argument as he knew how in the hope that his 
outfit would return. 

" Pshaw I " laughed Johnny. " They can all be ac- 
counted for. Didn't I just say that they never got on 
th' tally sheets at all ? You shore found you had been 
feedin' a hull passel of cows that didn't belong to th' 
ranch in case they did get on th' tally sheets. You 
found it out, an' it was so plumb careless of yore line 
riders that you up an' fired them that was responsible. 
That won't bother you, because you got three names off 
yore pay-roll right now. There ain't nothin' we can't 
get around if we pull together." 

"But th' title to 'em wouldn't stick," objected the 
baited foreman. "Every one of them cows could be 
took away from Arnold. I ain't got th' authority to 
make it stick. An' th' only reason. I'm wastin' time 
talkin' to you over a fool thing like this is because you 
got a gun on me, an' I can't help myself.'* His brain 


seized upon and rejected scheme after scheme for get« 
dng out of the situation, one of which he recalled and 
examined anew. It was not a bad one, if bad came to 
worse, and he nursed it, sorry that so much time would 
have to elapse before he could carry it out. 

'* I just said we could get around anythin*,'* replied 
Johnny, pleasantly. '^ There's an awful lot of mavericks 
runnin' around on this ranch, most of 'em under four 
years old. They wouldn't show any Bar H brand. 
They'd only have a SV. There wouldn't even be a 
vent brand to single 'em out; an' cattle ain't tellin' 
where they come from, or we'd 'a' heard a lot of scan- 
dals long ago." 

^* Nine hundred an' seventy mavericks I " snorted Big 
Tom. "A fine chance I'd have of roundin' up that 
many I Yo'rc plumb loco." 

** That is a lot, I'll admit," conceded Johnny, appar- 
ently balked. ^' Of course, if you owned this ranch, you 
could make it up with Bar H brands. But you don't 
You can't give away nothin' that you don't own. I can 
see where that would put you. Anythin' that was yours 
you could give away ; but not no Bar H belongin's. [That 
yore idea?" 

" Yo're gettin' th' drift, slow but shore," sarcastically 
rejoined the foreman. "Anythin' I own I can give 
away ; but not nothin' I don't own. A kid can under- 
stand that. An' there ain't that many mavericks on 
this ranch." 

" I still say we can get around anythin' an' I ain't no 
kid," muttered Johnny. "Lemmesee: First, we'll con- 
sider cash. Got any ? " 


^* Nothin' but my wages/^ answered the foreman, a 
sarcastic smile playing around his lips. 

^^Too bad," mused Johnny, ''wages ain't a patch. 

we could have you ownin' a nice pile of money — but 
can get money I '^ 

" Look here I " snapped Big Tom, aggressively. " I 
can't sign no checks over a certain amount a year — th' 
bank wouldn't cash 'em. An' they've all been signed 
for this year, all but th' pay-roll. An' I don't own that 
money, neither. That belongs to th' ranch.'* 

"Well, failin' in cash," said Johnny, crisply, "I'll 
take a note. Will you gimme one ? " 

"I will; you can have it," nodded Big Tom, his pet 
scheme coming more vividly into his mind. " I'll make 
it out right here, an' now." 

" I don't want yore note," obj ected Johnny. " What 
good is it? Now, if it was endorsed by somebody that 
could make it good, why that would be different. You 
said you'd gimme a note ; then gimme that one for three 
thousand dollars, of Arnold's, that is endorsed by some- 
body that can make it good. An' also a receipt for it 
That'll cut down that nine hundred an' seventy an 
amazin' lot Th' difference won't be too many to get 
right here on th' Bar H, an' all of 'em mavericks." 

Big Tom was staring at him as if doubting his 
senses. His face flushed and the veins on his neck and 
forehead stood out like serpents. He stepped forward 
involuntarily, but the gun stopped him. He was in- 
capable of speech for the moment and could only make 
inarticulate sounds. 

** That'll help a lot,*' said Johnny, ligfady balanced 


and leaning sligfady forward '' Well let th* Double X 
say how many cattle, takin' *em as they come, they 
would sell for three thousand dollars. Then we'll take 
that many away from that nine seventy. You can easy 
round-up what are needed to make up th' difference, 
brand *em with th' SV stampin' irons, an' throw 'em 
over where they belong. I'll take th' note now.'* 

" You'll take h— -1 1 " yeUed the foreman. " You'll 
take h— II" 

"You'll pet h — 1!" snapped Johnny, his eyes nar* 
rowing; ^^ an' you'll get it pronto/ Hunt up that note, 
an' without no more cussed nonsense. It's yore play, 
an' you shore want to play fast I " 

*'You won't get no notel" shouted Big Tom, his 
face twitching with rage. He seemed about to spring. 

''Don';/" ordered Johnny, softly, but with a cold 
ferocity in his voice that carried conviction. " I'll shoot 
you like I would a coyote, you pot-shooter, for you are 
a coyote I Get that note ! " 

Big Tom, seething with rage, swayed in agonizing 
hesitation. He had courage, plenty of it; but he also 
had common sense. Unarmed, he could do nothing 
against the gun which had killed his two-gun man in an 
even break; and his common sense came to his rescue, 
and barely in time. Glancing out of the window, he 
detected no signs of his outfit on the trail, and craftily 
attempted to begin the argument all over again. 

"That'll do," said Johnny. "We've finished that 
My time is valuable, even if I ain't lookin' for com- 
pany; an' if they come, you'll be th' first to go under. 
Get — that — notel" 


Shrugging his shoulders, the foreman stepped for* 
^wardy but Johnny slipped aside and snarled a warning, 
so venomous and tense that Big Tom gave up the des- 
perate idea, and slowly turned, a beaten man. He 
walked toward a metal-bound box in a comer of the 
room, Johnny dose at his heels, the gun against the 
foreman's back. Unlocking it, he slowly raised the lid, 
and felt Johnny's breath on his neck, the gun pressing 
solidly against his spine. As the cover went up it re- 
vealed a derringer lying on top of a few papers, and 
the foreman's hand slowly passed by it and fumbled 
among the contents, reluctantly withdrawing with an 
unsealed envelope. Shutting down the lid he turned the 
key, and arose to his feet as his captor, alert as a cat, 
stepped aside. 

Johnny took the envelope, backed off a little farther, 
opened it, glanced at the note and nodded. He looked 
around the room and then ordered Big Tom to the 
table. Taking the pen and ink from a shelf, he placed 
them before the foreman and then handed him the 
envelope, telling him what to write. When the pen 
ceased scratching he took the receipt, read it, and held 
it out a moment for it to dry. 

"This saves you a lot of brandin',^' he remarked. 
** Somewhere around two-thirds, I redcon, 'though th' 
Double X will set its value in cattle. Now, you listen 
dose. There ain't goin' to be any round-up or brandin' 
on th' northwest section of this ranch till th' SV gets 
its herd. When we know how many will be needed you 
will have till th' general round-up to use th' SV irons. 
Send for 'em when you get ready, an' an SV puncher 


will come with *em. I'm warnin* you fair : A Sharp^s 
will talk to anybody nmnin* a brand or round-up out 
there unless a SV man is on th' spot. An' there's goin' 
to be some S V men right soon — good ones — an' theyll 
be plumb touchy about wire fences comin' down. Now 
I'm takin' you for a little ride with me, so you won't be 
tempted to smoke up out of a window while I'm ridin' 
ofif. Come on ; I'm shore in a hurry." 

In a few moments they rode westward, Big Tom 
leading the way, and it was not until more than an hour 
had passed that he was free to ride back again, or to 
Gunsight for his outfit, as his fancy dictated. 

He chose to return to the ranch and while he 
rode he elaborated the plan which had come to him, 
and rubbed his hands as its details unfolded. Since 
Nelson had admitted being the man who was responsible 
for the mysterious events which had puzzled the coun< 
tiyy Big Tom had remembered Lang's report about 
having seen Margaret and Johnny riding together. 
The foreman had not given her up, although pretend* 
ing to have no interest in her. Having lost the note 
he had to change his plans, and go about it in a different 
way. Now his rage and jealousy fanned the flame of 
his impatience, gave a keener edge to his scheming 
wits, and added zest to what he purposed to do; and 
before he knew it he arrived at the house. Entering, 
he saw the crumpled piece of paper and, kicking it 
across the room, laughed sneeringly. 

" You've been proddin' th' wrong man, Mr. Nelson," 
he growled. *' I'm slow to start; but when I do, there 
ain't nothin' that'll stop me." 



ON THE day following Johnny's message to Big 
Tom, Gunsight had awakened expectant, and had 
remained so all the morning, but to no end. Not a 
Bar H man had come in, so far as they knew, and the 
trio in Dave's changed from the belief each had retired 
with and discussed the situation from a different point 
of view. 

" Big Tom is a wise ol' owl," said Dailey. " He'll 
move when he gets ready. Just now he's on a nest, 
katchin' out somethin' that is mebby tender, bein' so 
young. He ain't layin' down so easy. I know him.'* 

''He reckons, mebby, that th' man that dealt th' 
hands has got an ace in a hole," replied Fanning. " It's 
an old sayin' that you never want to buck another man's 
game. I don't know that Nelson has got an ace laid 
away, but he don't have to have any ; Big Tom figgers 
he has, mebby, because them Double X hombres are so 
friendly with him ; an' it's what Big Tom thinks that 
counts with him. Mebby somethin' will happen today, 
an' mebby it won't; but it's goin' to happen, just th' 
same, some time." 

" I'm f avorin' th' ace Idea," said Dave, thoughtfully. 
'* If I was Big Tom I'd be plumb suspicious of any man 
that made th' suggestion that Nelson made when he 
knew there was an outfit ag'in' him. I'd figger he was 



dther a cussed fool or knowcd just exactly what he was 
doin\ an' all th' time. Nobody down here believes that 
he is a fool, not now, anyhow; an' Fm dead shore he 
wasn't bluffin'. He's got an ace, all right — an' I'm 
admirin' Big Tom's waitin' game. ' When he thinks he's 
figgered out how far th' Double X will go we'll hear 
his answer. Besides, th' Bar H has got to round up 
an' brand that herd for McCullough. That may be 
holdin' him back some." 

'* Slim's remarks slid in like they was made to fit," 
commented Dailey. ^'An' he wasn't bluflin', neither. 
If th' Double X is backin' Nelson, all th' way, he'll win; 
if they ain't, he won't But I'm shore waidn' to see, 
an' hear.'* 

Down on the Bar H dinner was over before the 
foreman had much to say, and he was careful not to 
reveal his personal experiences of the morning. He 
counseled patience, and gave good reasons for it. They 
had until fall to start on the SV herd, and many things 
could, and would, occur before then. The first thing 
to do was to get ready for the round-up of the trail 
herd, and in order to lull suspicions they would not 
work on the tabooed section. There was to be no 
branding done out there, and in order to show their 
fairness in not too noticeable a way, they would help 
the Triamgle with its five hundred head. This over 
with, the Triangle punchers would have to hold the 
herd together until McCullough came along and, not 
being able to call on them for aid, the Bar H would 
have to appeal to the Double X for the loan of some 
of its men, who thus would be on the ground and see 


Tirhat cattle were to be cat out for tlie traiL Nebon 
-was to be ignored until the herd was sold and the 
money put in the bank at Shemuu, after which he 
'would be taken care of. 

^^ Nelson is a good man,** Big Tom assured them; 
^' but he ain't good enough not to never make mistakes, 
an* no man can take every trid^ He*s goin* to miss 
one, th' last he'll ever miss, or win, for that matter, 
but there ain't no use of any of us gettin* killed unless 
we have to. We can get him without it, an' mthout 
gettin' any of his sudden new friends on th' prod. I 
promise that I know how we're goin' to play it — an' 
it's so easy it makes me laugh. He's a good man ; but 
there are older heads than his'n. You f oiler my orders 
an' set tight I'll handle this when th' time comes, an' 
it ain't here yet Stay out of Gunsight unless you can 
go in peaceful, keep yore mouths tight shut, an' stay 
sober. I've said enough about him. 

" Now, we got work ahead of us, an' we start at it 
on th' Triangle day after tomorrow. I'm goin' over 
to see Hank Lewis now. There'll be somebody from 
Twitchell an' Carpenter comin' up any day now to 
select th' cattle an' stay with 'em till McCuUough counts 
'em into his herd. After I see Hank I'm ridin' to town 
to leave word at Dave's for Sherwood to see if I can 
borrow some of his boys when we start our own 
round-up. Look over yore gear an' be ready for 

His prophecy regarding the representatives of 
Twitchell and Carpenter was fulfilled at mid-afternoon, 
when two strangers rode up to the bunkhouse and 


inquired for him and, being told that he could very 
likely be found in town, they explained who they were 
and rode on to Gunsight, accompanied by Eraser. To 
the saddle of each were fastened three stamping irons 
bearing their road brand. 

Big Tom was in Dave's when they arrived and after 
a few rounds of drinks they setded down to discuss 
the herds and range topics in general. 

44 -pj^* -p j^j^i Q 3g„ ji,j» many over th' trails this year ? " 

Dave asked during a lull in the talk. 

** Shore," replied the older and taller visitor, who 
answered to the name of Ridley. " WeVe been busy 
since winter. We looked over a big herd of beeves 
south of th' Grande for th' first herd. There was over 
thirty-five hundred head and they was three- an' four- 
year-olds. They went up north of th' Yellowstone, 
on government contract. Another herd of three thou- 
sand two- an' three-year-olds went past th' Platte, bound 
west for new ranges. There was two more big herds 
went up to Dodge — one of 'em bcin' sold without th' 
new owners even seein' 'em. This bunch is goiit to 
new range north of here, some of 'enu I don't reckon 
there'll be many more this yeat. There ain't an animal 
in them that McCuUough's bringin' up that's more 
than two years old, an' those are th' ones goin' to 
range. We took 'em from four different ranches to 
get 'em choice, an' they're all long-laigged longhoms 
an' a purty sight to a cowman. I'm bettin' Mac won't 
lose a single head neither. He's a trail boss that is a 
trail boss. He knows every river an' ford, water hole 
an' dry section from here to Montanny. He took that 


first herd north this springi mn* here he is back in time 
to swing this drive. He has a knadc of piddn* good 
men for his trail outfits, an' he's daddy to 'em all from 
th' jump, without nobody knowin' it" 

Big Tom arose. *' Well, friends," he said, shaking 
hands, ^^yo're welcome to stay at either ranch while 
yo're here; but I reckon Fanning can make you more 
comfortable. We start on th' Triangle day after 
tomorrow — come down when you get ready. I told 
you how to get to th' Double X. If you go over there 
before any of 'em come to town, let 'em know that 
I'm countin' on usin' three of their men when I start 
my own round-up. See you later." 

Dawn found activity on the range. The Double X, 
having rounded up its hundred head the day before, 
with a few additional to make up for possible rejec« 
tions, held them apart from the SV herd, which also 
had extra cattle to offset any not up to the required 
standard. The majority of them, those which were 
certain to be accepted, had already been branded. The 
C and T inspectors watched the cutting out and indi- 
cated their choices as the cattle left the round-up herd, 
those rejected being turned aside and allowed to go 
back to freedom on the range, while those accepted 
were driven to the beef cut, which grew rapidly. A 
hundred and five finally were accepted, the odd five to 
make up for possible losses on the trail. Then the SV 
herd went through the same proceeding until four hun« 
dred and ten had been thrown into the beef cut Because 
of Cimarron's discriminating judgment in making up 
the herd there were but few rejections ; and, besides, the 


Standard was not high, for, broadly, a tow was a cow. 
The remaining SV cattle were not returned to their 
ranch, but were set free to wander where they would. 
{The general round-up would find them later and throw 
them back then if Arnold wished, although with the 
coming of the new round-up conditions there would be 
no great reason to throw them over — the brand would 
protect his interests, no matter where it was found. 
There was some talk about the SV cattle, but Johnny 
was credited as representing Arnold, and the matter 
was settled by agreeing that the T and C should pay 
Arnold, direct Then the road branding began, and 
when it was over the consolidated herd was held to 
await the arrival of McCullough. It was then that 
Sherwood turned to three of his men. 

it 'p|j» Triangle ain't asked for no help, but you boys 
go down an' give 'em a hand," he said. " We're intro- 
ducin' th' comin' of th' general round-up out in this 
country, an' we're doin' it gradual. There won't be 
no thought of us watchin' out for Arnold's interests 
over there, because these inspectors will do that any- 
how. Go down an' show that we're friendly; an' from 
there go to th' Bar H. 

On the Triangle the following morning things were 
running in full blast After a breakfast eaten by fire- 
light, the outfit was in the saddle at the first flush of 
dawn, and rode far out on the range. At an agreed- 
upon point it spread out in a thin line, the riders spaced 
at irregular intervals, depending upon the nature of 
the ground, and as they turned and moved back in the 
direction of Rock Creek they were joined by the Bar H 



contingent, which took up its position on one end of; 
the line. 

DrawSi brush, and coulees shed cattle before the 
advance. A cow with a big, husky, and friskily inde* 
pendent calf arose to its feet and looked wonderingly 
at the disturbance. Gardner espied her and galloped 
forward, shouting and waving his hat as he rode. 
" G'wan, you ! Get goin' ! " 

The cow stood irresolute, debating between the les« 
sons of experience and her own wishes, and the pug« 
nacious counseling of her indignant offspring. Deciding 
in favor of the former, she wheeled and moved away, 
the rebellious calf protesting by kicking up its heels and 
by the defiant erectness of its tail. 

'^Th' devil you sayl" grinned Gardner, watching 
them depart. "Yo're big enough to be weaned, you 
overgrown baby — an* yoVe shore goin* to be, for yore 
ma*s goin* north." 

Out of a clump of brush popped a group of two* 
year-olds, heads up, curious and mildly frightened. 
They stood defiant until Gardner was nearly upon them, 
and then his sudden whoop sent them whirling and off 
toward Rock Creek, discretion overbalancing valor. 
He gave them no further thought, for they would con« 
tinue to travel unless crowded too much, and he was 
too old a hand to do that. A cow with a dogie he let 
slip through, pity joining hands with common sense in 
their behalf. It was not his purpose to bother with 
sickly, stunted youngsters, nor to take from them the 
maternal care so necessary to their sense of security. 

By this time the outpouring of catde had pat 4 


respectable number in front of him, and as others were 
routed out they more willingly went forward, for the 
gregarious spirit urged them to join the little herd. 
Occasionally one having more spirit than the others 
would wheel around and attempt to escape, but in all 
instances, except one, the speedy dash of the trained 
cow-horse headed them off and sent them on the about« 
face. The exception was a five-year-old steer, crusty 
and sullen, his hide bearing mute witness to his com« 
bativeness. He planted himself on rigid legs, lowered 
his sweeping horns and without even a grunt of wanK 
ing charged straight for the watchful horseman. * 

'* Blasted mosshead," muttered Sam, avoiding the 
rush, and watching some of the cattle which had turned 
to see how the affair came out before making up their 
minds to duplicate it. Too old for the drive, Sam 
would have let him go, except for the bad effect it might 
have on the rest of the cattle, and except for his own 
aroused spirit He swung his rope and it darted up 
and out, and caught a hind leg of the ^* mosshead '* as 
the pony settled back. There was a blur of over* 
turning steer, a bellow of rage, injury, and surprise, 
and a resounding thump. Riding forward and taking 
up the slack as he went, Sam suddenly took two quick 
turns of the rope around his pommel, checked the horse, 
and grinned. Down went the mosshead again with 
another thump, and before the animal could get on its 
feet the rope was slipped off his leg, and when he arose 
he found himself alone. Gardner had seen the waverers 
start back to freedom and had to leave die craggy 
fighter to check a catastrophe. Hard riding won out 


for him tnd again he went forward. Several weaners 
shot out of a draw and took great credit to themselves 
for outwitting the puncher; but Sam saw no use of 
collecting infants only to have them turned loose at 
the cut-out. One cow arose, spread its feet apart and 
moved its low-held head slowly from side to side. He 
gave it a pitying glance and let it alone. ** Locoed,** 
he muttered, and as he spoke it shied at a weed swaying 
in the wind and went cautiously around it There came 
a sudden bellowing ahead and he dashed forward at 
the pair of bulls who were pawing streams of dirt into 
the air as they met in the dust cloud, head on, and locked 
for the fight, their great, muscular backs bowed under 
the power of straining legs. This was no time for 
masculine duels and he broke it up with quirt and hat, 
driving the testy combatants apart and sending them 
on their ways. Dust arose over the moving herd, under 
which was turmoil, confusion, the lowing of cows, and 
the bawling of calves ; but it rolled steadily westward, 
slowly but surely. A rattler coiled swiftly and launched 
its venomous, dart-shaped head at the horse, which 
reared up with a snort of terror. Sam, stirred to sudden 
anger and recklessness, spumed a gun, and leaned over 
as the horse dropped to all four feet. His quirt whizzed 
viciously and a headless, splotched body writhed in the 

•* Pm purty bad, myself, when Fm riled," he told it, 
and rode on. Shortly afterward a gray streak flashed 
from a heavy bit of brush, and Sam's Colt leaped into 
action, but in vain. The coyote punched a hole in the 
air and disappeared almost as tiiough it had shrunk 


into nothing. He grinned: "That slug will catch you 
when you stop, less'n you turns out," he said 

Rode Creek coming into view, the long line of horse- 
men became a crescent, the ends moving forward at 
the center slowed, and soon a circle of riders held the 
herd on all «des. It slowed, grew compact, and 
stopped, shifting like a kaleidoscope, the different colon 
weaving in and out like patches of some animated, 
changing crazy-quilt. There was good grass here, 
plenty of water, and no more urging riders. Calves 
went bawling their panicky ways in frantic search for 
lost mothers, butting and worrying through the herd, 
receiving rebuffs and impersonal chastisements as they 
disturbed their elders. One stood outside' the press 
and bawled like a spoiled child, its defiant tail as high as 
iti sinewy neck and more erect. There came an answer- 
ing call from thcherd and a frantic mother shot out, 
nosed the squaller, and then both grew instantly silent, 
contented, and at peace with the turbulent world. 

'* G'wan bade 1 " ordered Lefferts, grinning from ear 
to ear. "I'm sayin* that it's a great thing to have a 
ma, you bellerin' cry-baby." 

The round-up had taken less time than had been 
expected and it was decided to go ahead with the cut- 
ting out The riders took turns in going to the horse 
wrangler's flimsy rope corral, made by lariats strung 
wheels of the chuck wagon to the pommels of 
1 the backs of old, docile, and well-trained 
Selecting from their best cutting-out animals, 
ere hastily changed, a quick meal eaten, and 
nen rode back to the herd to relieve others, 


who duplicated die performance. The herd was gendy 
made more compact so as to cover less ground and need 
fewer riders to loaf in their saddles and hold it, the 
inspectors rode out in front of it and the cutters-out 
went to worki trying to pick from the outer fringe of 
catde. Cows and steers lumbered from the press and 
went either to the beef cut, or to freedom, according 
to the signal of the inspector. Quickly the round-up 
herd shrunk and the beef cut grew. At first there was 
some trouble to get the chosen catde to ka vc the herd — « 
diey tried to rejoin it ; but as the beef cut grew it drew 
more and more until it was hardly more than neces- 
sary to start the individual catde for it. When night 
fell the original herd had disappeared, its more for- 
tunate units ranging free upon the ranch. The beef 
cut, allowed to graze and not bothered more than 
necessary, was headed for a rise, where in due dme 
it bedded down and prepared to spend a quiet, peaceful 

A passtr-by would have come upon a picturesque 
scene on the banks of Rock Creek that night. The 
cook's fire, blazing high, was surrounded by the men 
off watch, squatted, seated, or reclining as they swapped 
stories and told jokes. The chuck wagon was mag- 
nified and made grotesque by the firelight and shadows, 
saddled horses tied to it or picketed a short distance 
away, and the flimsy rope corral running from wagon 
wheek to stakes driven in the ground, was ready to 
hold a change of mounts in case of a sudden need. In 
the distance was the bedded herd, lying on the top of 
a rise wheie it could catch any passing breeze, the 


oitde chewing their cuds and blowing and granting 

A yearling bummed among them, filled with the 
mischievous deviltry of youth, making life mberable 
for its elders as it stumbled and butted its erratic way. 
It left a fight or two in its wake and finally fled, aban- 
doning all dignity when a crusty steer arose to chastise 
it But the chip on its shoulder remained there until it 
tried to butt a calf from its warm bed, whereupon the 
indignant mother scrambled to all fours and sent the 
disturber on the run for safety. The calf was there 
because it bore no brand, which would be taken care of 
on the morrow. The bummer had no excuse to create 
any trouble over a warmed bed because the night was 
warm. Finally, the edge gone from its esniberant dev- 
iltry, it began to look for a place to sleep — and after 
barely escaping several thrashings it worked out of the 
herd and sought a place by itself, doubtless to ruminate 
upon the cruelties and indignities endured by yearlings. 

The four night riders of the first shift went slowly, 
lazily around the herd, keeping a score or more yards 
from it, singing and carrying on chanted conversations 
as they met and passed each other. Gone was the dust 
and turmoil of tiie day and in its place had come rest 
and quiet. Over all the crescent moon, n^htly to gron; 
fuller, worked its alchemy on earth and cattle, shedding 
its soft silvery li^t The distant camp fire gre^v; 
steadily lower and finally glowed like the tnd of M 
great cigar, winking as gentle breezes fanned its cmbeni 
and passed on. Somewhere out on the silvery range M 
kmely coyote poured a burbling plaint to the moon and 


passed on like a shadow in search of food to stop the 
clamoring ache of an empty stomach, gradually ap- 
proaching the winking fire, where choice titbits might 
perhaps be found. 

'* I want a big chew of tobacco/' chanted Gardner, 
as he drew nearer to Reilly, ''An' I want it bad, for 
mine's all gone." 

" It alius is," sang Reilly. " Don't bother that ^N>^ 
ted yearlin' over by them boshes. He's finally quit his 
bummin' an' has bedded down all by hissdf outside th' 
herd. You'll know where he is even if yon went blind. 
He's real friendly an' lonesome, an' likes to comrene 
with everythin' that passes." 

" I know th' scamp," sang Gardner, retnming the 
plug. ''He's had one gosh-awfol time today keqMO* 
out of a lickin'. I'm sayin' he earned a dozcn.^ Soon 
he made out Lefferts' song, who moonied a loog^ott 

Her hair was tV color of 'lasses. 

As soft as a bundle of wire; 
^Aff birds made their nests in its fastness: 

If they didf^t I share am a Uar. 

Gardner was stirred by die roAod^ and botnt wto 

jong out of sympathy: 

Her eyes was as hri^hias old saddles, 
Aif crossed on ilf end of her nose; 

Her hands was as shapely as faddles 
Aff hmrnf down almost to her toes^ 


LeSertB retmluted p r omptly: 

Her cheeks toss ss smooth ms M cactus, 

Aif pink MS abi^ hunk of mud; 
At primpii^ she wus alius in practice, 

Aif she was daimtUy shaped, like a tub. 

From across the herd came ReUly's natural tenor, 
a little ragged, but still a tenor: 

Her voice loas as sweet as a longhom^s. 

It sounded as soft as a scream; 
I'm scared to roll up in ay blankets 
For fear that of her I will dream. 
The song was too much for the coyote, and he 
paused to yield to the craving for hannony reawakened 
in him. 

"He's imitatin' you, Jim," chanted Gardner as he 
passed Lefferts. " Which same I says is well done." 

" Go to th' devil, an' join yore tribe," sang Jim in 
delicate repartee, and forthwith began the mournful 
lay of Clementine : 

In a hut a^mong th* bushes, all a4ong tV foamiW 

Lived a min-er, 'forty nin-er, aw* Ins daugh-ter, 

She was fatr-er than th' ros-es, ait her for-m-m, 

it was divine; 
Two drt-qoods box-es, without their top-ses, made 
rs for-r my Clementine. 
eleven Gardner rode in to the wagon, 
at shift, sought his blankets and wai 


sound asleep before his diree shift companioiis rcmd^d 
the camp. At three o'dock the secoad shift was re> 
lieved by the third, and last, which would stay with the 
herd until it was taken over by all the others, after 

The new day brou^t further developments. Sev- 
eral fires burned not far from the herd, irons projectiiic 
from them. The catde were again cot out and driven 
away to a new herd, one by one, but this time they were 
taken close to the fires, and because of dieir weigfit 
and strength two ropers joined in the efforts of brand- 
ing each animaL The Rowing iron bit deeply throogh 
hair and into the skin on the left flank, filling the aur 
with bellowing anguish, surprise, and indignation, and 
the odors of burning hair and flesh. There were figlrts, 
balkings, charges, but the hard-working, hard-riding 
punchers, the defdy cast ropes, and the trained horses, 
together with waving hats and an occasional revolver 
shot close to the nose of refractory, pugnadoos bolls, 
and an occasional waved slid^er or coat, won oat, and 
the work proceeded at a good pace in ^ite of the 
general and apparent confusion. But whatever aq>ect 
of confusion there was, very litde really existed except 
among the victims themsdves, for the men proceeded 
along well-established lines, and the work went on as 
though it were running in a groove. Horses were 
changed every hour or two, depending upon the rider's 
judgment, and the inspectors, with the Triangle fore- 
man, checked off the branded anhnak as dicy joined 
the road-branded herd. This herd grew rapidly and 
Its guards were increased as needed from the roper( 



and iron men at they became too tired to hold the pace 
set. All day long the busy scene continued in the dust 
and the heat of the sun, with a bedlam of noise, an end- 
leas weaving and shifting, with lathered horses, sweat- 
and-dust-grimed riders, shouts of **Hot iron I Hot 
iron I '* " TaUy one 1 " " Ropers up ! " and cries of 
warning and bursts of laughter. It were well that the 
Double X had sent three men to help ; ten would not 
have been too many. Even with their help there was 
only one pair of ropers working at the fires and only 
diree cutters-out, the rest being used to hold the two 
herds of restless cattle ; and when night finally put an 
end to the operations less than half of the trail herd 
had been branded. 

"Two more days," growled an inspector. "It's 
time you fellers throwed this worn-out, ancient way 
aside, an* got up even with th' times. You can build a 
chute that'll hold eight head an' by usin' stampin' irons 
you can turn out from sbcty to eighty, yes, sometimes 
even a hundred, an hour, after you get th' hang of it. 
This handful should 'a' been done by noon. If I was 
you, Huff," he said, turning to the Bar H foreman, 
" I'd get on th' jump an' make a couple of them chutes, 
an' lay in half a dozen irons. One iron will do two or 
three with one heatin'; sometimes, if th' iron handlers 
work fast, two irons will stamp th' whole eight. You'll 
laugh when you see 'em comin' out, all branded, eight 
to a clip ; an' th' work ain't near so hard. There ain't 
no holdin', nor ropin', nor throwin'. Here we've toted 
half a dozen Question Mark irons up here, an' they 
ain't hardly saved us any time. You've got plenty o£ 


nmc to pot op a cbhIc bcnic 

sand — if 700 dm't; vr*l be a 
^wcck's too loos." 

His cuin|wmiflw wwliird CBfrnataamf^ aad oCcfcd to 
sopcrmtcnd the vmk. ^ Sidcj cam hndk th* tdtyin* 
for OS out here Tkj^YV all been icIfitcJ, aa' oomia* 
as slow as tlicjr do, it ain't so tvooan job. Mdiby th* 
trouble X win lend a CDOfrfc more men to bc^ — they're 
finishin' a pair of cfaotes ap there, an' know what's 
^iranted. What yoasaj about it?** 

Big Tom consiclercd, and gmd^ng^ game his am* 
sent. Gos Thompscm, tired as he was, Tohmteered to 
gp to his ranch wtth the request, and started as soon as 
he had eaten. And bf the nigjht of the seomd day 
following, when the road-bruided Trian^e herd was 
being held to await the coming of McColloagh, two 
eight-oow dmtes were ready on the Bar H for the 
handling of its tfaoosand head. 

The Toaad-vp on the Bar H went forward with a 
swing and iriien it came tmie for the road branding the 
chntes proyed their worth. The catde, driven op in 
groups of ei^it, were forced into the long, narrow 
boxes as fast as the bnmded groqp went oat at the other 
end. A bar dn^iped past the nose of the leader, and 
another bar dn^iped behind the last one in. Two men 
standing on a platform ronnii^ along the side of the 
chate, each was handed a freshly heated iron and hnr* 
ried from animal to animal, stanqnng the brand on each 
in torn. All monung die long chntes filled and emptied, 
die men changing places as they tired, die iron handlers 
to bodiered by die stmging odbr of bomii^ hair that 


none of them worked longer than two or three hours 
without being relieved 

** I'm backin' this here magazine-action brandin' with 
a hundred an' fifty pounds of fightin' Irish," declared 
Reilly, chuckling at the almost automatic working of 
the chutes. ^* Eight in, stamped an' out again while 
we'd be workin' on one slippery cuss. Seventy th' last 
hour for Sam's chute, an' Fraser crowdin' him close; 
an' us tcnderfcet at it — I'm bettin' th' last hour does 
ninety to th' chute. We're gettin' th' hang of it, an' 
gettin' it fast" 

*^ Slippin' along like water down hill," laughed Slim, 
borrowed from his bed and board to help the Bar H. 
•* Hey, Ridley I " he called to the busy inspector, " got 
any new-fangled improvements that'll make these chutes 
do it themselves, so th' hard-workin' punchers . won't 
have to loaf in their saddles, but can set around an' 
gamble? Holy Maverick! Look at him tallyin'! 
He's shore workin' harder than he was yesterday." 

''Who's loafin', you fool?" snorted Sam, taking 
breath while the chute was being refilled. 'Tve 
stamped close to eight thousand since I climbed up here, 
an'— Ho/ iron/ Hot iron!^* he yelled as the front bar 
dropped. " Wake up, you tramp 1 " 

" You've got a lot to say, you has 1 " snapped Lefferts, 
running up with the irons. ''AH you got to do is push 
'em ag'in' their hides — I'm near wore out 1 " 

"Why use any bars at all?" queried Reilly, grin- 
ning at the hard-working Sam. "Just let 'em filter 
through, stamping 'em on th' run. We're wastin' time, 
this way." 


*' You've got near as much tense as Sam has!** 
retorted Lefferts, stirring his fire. ** Which am't payin* 
neither of you no compliments/* he grunted 

Big Tom could not deny the advantage of chute and 
stamping irons, and the ocular demonstration took from 
him his last reasonable objection to them, although he 
found fault with them because the herd had to be driven 
to the same place each round-up, and because he did 
not believe them to be suitable for calf branding; but 
when it was pointed out that the cattle had to be driven 
somewhere before the herd would be worth bothering 
with, and might as well be driven to the chutes, and that 
it would be a saving of time to do that, or to build more 
chutes on the ranch rather than to revert to the old 
methods, he could not deny it. Regarding the branding 
of calves there was a division of opinion; but calf 
branding was not nearly as hard or slow as the branding 
of grown animals. He knew, however, that the styles 
were changing, and changing under his eyes, and that 
for him to become stubborn and set against the change 
would be to appear ridiculous, and to become a source 
from which much levity would spring. 

The branding done and the tallies compared, the 
visiting punchers departed for their ranches, the in- 
spectors accepting Big Tom's invitation to spend the 
night with him, and rode to the ranchhouse; and the 
herd, restless, sore, and in sullen mood, was watered 
well at the muddy pond and thrown upon the high bed 
ground, and would remain a herd until delivered to 
McCuUough, and for some weeks thereafter. 



AFTER breakfast the following morning Ridley 
and his companion saddled their horses to ride 
back to Higfabank, where they would wait for the trail 
boss. As they finished cinching up, Big Tom strolled 
into the corral and smilingly watched them. 

" I suppose you want Mac to bring you a check, as 
usual?" queried Ridley, swinging into the saddle. 

" This is th* one time I'd rather have cash," replied 
the foreman. "With cash, in th' next week, I can 
make a quick turnover." 

"Cash it is," said Ridley. "Gold or bills?" 
" Make it bills," answered Big Tom. " I'm glad I 
met you boys — come up again next year. If yo're 
lookin' for good cattle then I'll have plenty." 
"Then I reckon we'll be here. So-long." 
"So-long," replied the foreman, watching them ride 
away. As they dropped from sight over a rise he smiled 
cynically and went back to the ranchhouse. Pausing at 
the door, he looked out over the range in the direction 
of the northwest section and the Double X, and slowly 
turned his head, his gaze passing along the horizon, 
behind which lay Gunsight, Green Valley, and the SV 

asy," he growled. "Me throw over 
ed head of mavericks to Arnold, an* 


split up th' rest four ways ? It makes me laugh I An* 
when I hit Nelson he'll wonder what kind of brains he 
really has got There's a jolt comin' to this section, 
an* it*ll be Big Tom that springs it About one week 
more an' / play my hand I " 

Four days passed and then, in the afternoon of the 
fifthy a great dust doud appeared far down the High- 
bank trail. Fraser discovered it and called Big Tom 
from the ranchhouse. The foreman glanced south, told 
the puncher to ride off and get the herd started, and 
then hurried to his horse, sprang into the saddle, and 
rode toward McCuUough's sign. He had hardly more 
than gained the regular trail when he saw seven men 
riding toward him at a good pace, and no second glance 
was needed to identify the one who rode in the middle 
and slightly ahead. 

The trail boss was a character to demand attention 
wherever he might be. Over the medium height, he 
was so heavily and solidly built that he appeared to be 
well under it when standing alone ; he had the barrel* 
like chest that stands for strength, and his sloping 
shoulders were a little rounded from a careless saddle 
seat of many years. His rugged face was brown, the 
skin tough as parchment, and the faded blue eyes peered 
out in a direct, unwavering gaze between lids narrowed 
by the suns and winds, rains and dusts of a life spent in 
the open. His head was massive and the iron-gray 
hair, falling almost to his shoulders, gave it a leonine 
appearance. He wore no chaps, for his riding^ took 
him into few thickets and there was no reason for him 
to bear their discomforts. His clothing was simple 


and loose: blade* heavy, woolen trousers thrust into 
soft, high boots with moderate heels, and bearing no 
spurs, for he depended on his quirt; a blade, woolen 
vest, buttoned at the bottom, from an upper podeet of 
whidi protruded the well-diewed stem of a pipe; a 
heavy, faded, blue flannel shirt, open over the bronzed, 
hairy chest and throat ; a faded blue kerdiief , knotted 
loosely about his nedc; a heavy, gray sombrero, mod- 
erate in height of crown, but with a wide brim. He 
rode a Cheyenne saddle, devoid of ornamentation, its 
housings covering the horse from rump to withers, and 
the reins of the bridle, contrary to the prevailing fashion 
of that southern range at that time, were short A .44 
Winchester lay in its sheath under his right leg; a 
braided hair lariat was coiled at the pommel; a heavy, 
plain six-shooter rested in an open holster ; and behind 
him was rolled the everlasting yellow slicker. He r»de 
a magnificent bay horse whose spirit was shown in every 
movement, and which would follow him about like a 
dog. Over all was dust, gray, thick, impalpable dust 

" Hello, Huff I " he bellowed. " Come down to see 
if I got lost? Join up with us; Fm figgerin* that Tri- 
angle herd may be up at this end of th^ crick, an' if it 
is, it*s got to move. Them long-laigged cattle of mine 
ain*t had a drink since yesterday mornin', an' they'll 
shore rush that crick. We'll have some cuttin' out to 
do if th' other herd is in their path. How 'bout it? " 

" You can pull up, then," replied Big Tom. " They're 
well to th' south of th' bunkhouse — you got plenty of 
room for ten times that little bunch yo're so peart about 
I heard they are th' leavin's of four Greaser ranches." 



Glad to learn they ain^t there/* said McCuUough. 

*^ They're such leavin's an' scourin's/' smiled one of 

his companions, '' that I'm advisin' Mac to double th' 

night guard while he's within' forty miles of this bunch 

of ranches." 

** We'll count that Triangle bunch right away," said 
the trail boss. " Where's yourn ? " 

"It's on its way," answered Big Tom. "It'll be 
on hand soon enough. Goin' to count that, too, to- 

" Shore. An' throw 'em together, an' bed down on 
Clear River, so we can get a two-hour jump-off in th* 
mornin'. Is th' Double X holdin' its bunch in th' same 
old place?" 

"I reckon so," replied Big Tom, and soon they 
passed the Triangle ranchhouse, where Hank Lewis 
rode forth to join them. 

"Get yore boys, Lewis," shouted the trail boss. 
"We'll count that herd right away." 

"They're with it now," replied Lewis, as he drew 
nearer. " Glad you brought some of yore boys along-— 
I'm short-handed for quick work." 

It was not long before they reached the herd and it 
was slowly crowded into a more compact mass, and 
became wedge-shaped. McCullough, one of his men, 
and the two foremen stopped before the point, the 
trail boss and Huff on one side, the others not far away 
and facing them. The herd started slowly forward, 
narrowing to an animated ribbon which flowed between 
the two pairs of counters and kept them busy. McCul- 
lough and Lewis counted on knotted strings fastened 


to their pommelsy Huff used his fingers to check off 
the tally, fifty head to each digit, while the fourth man 
threw a coil of his rope over the pommel of his saddle 
at each hundred. The counting was finished well under 
ten minutes and the results compared* Lewis said five 
hundred and five, the other three announcing five hun- 
dred and six* 

The Triangle foreman laughed. " Here is where I 
get paid for a missin* cow." 

"Three to one bein' good enough for me," replied 
the trail boss, grinning, " I says you do. It's worth 
that to see you again; an' what^s a cow between 
friends ? " He turned in his saddle. " You might move 
'em up closer to th' trail, boys," he shouted, and added 
with a chuckle, " they'll disappear when my long-laigs 
come along." 

His prediction was justified, for the long-legs, having 
run the last mile or two with the scent of water in their 
red nostrils, poured into the creek and soaked them- 
selves inside and out. By the time McCuUough and his 
group reached the scene, the Bar H herd was crossing 
the trail. The counting was gone over again, the tal- 
lies agreeing to a single cow, and the Bar H herd was 
allowed to join the strangers along the creek. In due 
time the enlarged herd was thrown back on the trail, 
and when the Triangle five hundred joined it they were, 
indeed, swallowed up. 

The trail boss and Big Tom rode off to the Triangle 
ranchhouse, figured for a moment and then exchanged 
cash for a receipt. The foreman shoved the bills into 
his pockets and went with McCullough back to the herd. 


picked up the squad, and had the Double X contingent 
counted before the trail herd reached the river. 

As the herd came along it made a fine sight for a 
cowman to look upon, the cattle strung out for three^ 
quarters of a mile in length and spread well out on 
both sides of the trail, well watered and fed, and mak- 
ing under these conditions four miles an hour. The 
chuck wagon, drawn by four mules, rolled far ahead 
of it, the caviya of a hundred and thirty saddle horses 
to one side and also ahead. Each of the two point men 
was followed by four swing men, five to a side, and they 
had nothing to do now but look out for stragglers and 
to keep local cattle from joining the invading host. The 
bed ground was well chosen and the night promised to 
be a good one, notwithstanding that clouds were form-^ 
ing and the moon would be more or less obscured. 

After the Double X contingent had joined their trail 
mates for the long journey and the great herd had 
bedded down, half of the trail outfit, together with the 
punchers from the ranches, headed for town, McCul- 
lough electing to remain with the herd. Big Tom and 
Lewis shook hands with him and returned to their 
ranchhouses, riding together part of the way. 

Just before they separated Lewis looked up. *^I 
heard that Arnold was ridin' today — one of th' Double 
X boys met him at th* trail. I reckon it must feel good 
to be in th* saddle again after such a long siege In bed.'* 

" I*m bettin* it does,'* smiled Big Tom. " I had a 
dose of it when I was a young man, an* once is shore 

** He must think so, for he's aimin' to ride to town 


every day, an' spend some of his time getdn' acquainted 
with Dave an' his friends. Well, I'm leavin' you here. 
Good night" 

'^Good night," replied Big Tom, riding on with a 
sinister smile on his face. 

The following morning was cloudy, which suited the 
Bar H foreman, who had a long ride ahead of him. 
He opened the south door of the ranchhouse, looked 
out and caught sight of a movement near the right-hand 
comer. A full-grown rattler was crawling slowly across 
a sand patch, and the foreman watched it idly. Then 
he grinned. 

** Wonder how good my gunplay is these days ? " he 
muttered, and his Colt leaped from its holster and 
roared. The snake writhed swiftly into an agonized 
toil, its flat head moving back and forth, its tongue dart- 
ing angrily,* and its rattles buzzing steadily. Huff 
growled at himself and fired again. The flattened, 
venomous head sank down, twisting and turning on 
the writhing coils. 

" H — 1 1 " growled the marksman, walking slowly for- 
ward for a closer look, which showed him that his last 
shot had cut through the vertebra and half of one side 
of the neck. It was good enough, and he turned and 
walked along the side of the house. Passing a window, 
he suddenly stopped and looked closely at the ground 
just under Its sill, where boot prints were plainly visible. 
Before doing anything else he reloaded his gun, and 
then followed the prints with his eyes until the comer 
of the house cut them from sight. He stepped back 
until he could see the bunkhouse door to leam if anyone 


vrzs coming up to investigate the shots, and his gaze 
followed the prints straight toward it until they became 
lost on harder ground. No one being curious about 
the shooting, he went back to the window and peered 
in. He could see nothing because of the curtain, and 
had about decided that he had enjoyed secrecy the 
night before, when a sudden thought struck him. The 
interior, being dark now, was not right for a test, and 
he went around to the door, opened it, threw up the 
other shades, and hastily returned to the window, where 
he smothered a curse as a small hole in the curtain 
let him see quite plainly. Again returning to the 
house, he closed the door and slipped his extra Colt 
into the waist-band of his trousers, where one side of 
his open vest covered it, put on his coat and, going out 
the rear door, sauntered toward the bunkhouse, his 
eyes finding and losing the boot marks as the trail 
passed over varying ground. Before he reached the 
house his four men emerged from it and began the 
regular, humorous, morning wrangle as to preference 
in the use of wash basin and towel. They grinned at 
his approach and he smiled in return, his eyes missing 
nothing in their expressions, and it was Eraser at whom 
he looked longest when he spoke. 

^* Throw my saddle on th* big bay, Bill,'* he smiled^ 
pleasantly. "I'm goin' up to Sherman to fatten th^ 
balance at th' bank. I may be back tomorrow nighty 
but if I hear of any cattle that can be got cheap I may 
go on an' look 'em over. You boys have plenty of sup* 
plies, but if you run short go up to Dailey. If he's got 
any cigars, get a box — I reckon we can afford that 


much of a celebration, in view of that herd Bat don't 
•drink too much. You know why." 

Eraser got the saddle from die storeroom and went 
out to put it on the foreman's best horse. As he came 
out of the door he nodded toward the north. ** There's 
Mac's sign already; he must 'a' passed around Gim- 
sight. He's well on his way." 

The others looked at the faint thickening in the air 
beyond the town and [>ast the east end of Pine Moun- 
tain, where the dust from four thousand cattle rose 

"He's a wise bird, gettin' to th* crick last night," 
commented Carson. "He's been movin* since dawn; 
an* I bet he's glad it's cloudy, with that dry stretdi 
ahead of him." 

" Shucks 1 " snorted Dahlgren. " Thirty mile of dry 
trail ain't nothin'." 

" Not much," admitted Carson ; " but, still, it's better 
■cloudy than boilin' under th' sun." 

'* I reckon Mac ain't tbinkin' as much about it bein* 
-doudy as I am," smiled the foreman, turning to take the 
horse Fraser was leading to him. He had asked Fraser 
to get and saddle his horse in the hope that the puncher 
would stand on his dignity and, perhaps, provoke a 
4]uarrel, out of which anything might come; but Fraser 
paid no attention to the request, unusual as it was, and 
grinned as he stepped back. 

*' It-'s fifty miles to Sherman, an' I'd rather have it 
, all th' way," smiled Big Tom, mounting. " Well, 
;, boys I " and he was off. 
^se the trail over Pine Mountain, not so mudh 


for its saving in miles, but because it gave him a high». 
distant point from which to look back over his trail,, 
and it avoided the Doc^s shack and Gunsight as well. 
Reaching the top of the mountain, he turned and closely 
scrutinized the trail, finding nothing to bother him; 
but he was bothered, nevertheless, and he determined 
to pay as much attention to the trail he covered as to 
that which lay before him. Setting out again, he went 
well to the west of Gunsight and struck the Sherman 
trail ten miles beyond the town. 

Back on the Bar H, Eraser was thinking. He had 
been doing a lot of it the last week, and he had not 
been alone in it. When his foreman had ridden off he 
leaned against the door and watched him until he was 
lost to sight. Dahlgren and Carney passed out, joked 
with him and went to the corral, soon riding off to the 
south. Dick Carson passed out a little later, paused, 
retraced his steps and leaned against the other door 

"Wonder if yo*rc thinkin* th' same as me?" hr 
quietly asked. $ 

Eraser looked at him closely. " I don't know ; Tm 
tfainkin' of a gamble,'* he replied, hooking a thumb in 
an armhole of his vest 

" Shore ; so am I," nodded Carson, carelessly. " This^ 
here range is shot full of holes, for us.'* 

" It is," admitted Eraser. " We been driftin* them^ 
mavericks for three years — an' now they're goin* ta 
be throwed back, branded, an' th' rest cut four ways*. 
How are we goin' to stop it?" 


** Vm figgerin* on driftin* myself; bat I hate to drift 
•lone^ an' empty-handed,'* growled Carson. ** I come 
down here to work for Huff, for fifty a month, an* 
piddn's. I've been gettin' th' fifty — but there won't 
be no piddn's, less'n I run some off with me. I'm tired 
of this blasted country, anyhow. Why, I'd ruther take 
chances, like Nevada, than go on this way down here. 
H — II" he snorted in angry disgust. ''I'm sayin' I 
fair itches to gamble," he added. 

Fraser shifted to a more comfortable position. 

** What do you think th' boss has got in his pockets 
right now ? " he asked, cynically. 

*'A big, fat check, that won't do him nor us any 
good," replied Carson. 

** Check I " Fraser laughed sarcastically. ** Check ? 
He alius used to have a check, after delivery; but he 
ain't got one now. He's got bills, wads an' wads of 
bills. Quite some over six thousand, I redcon, in bills. 
I saw his pockets bulgin', an' I wondered why he didn't 
take a check, same as usual. I wanted to make shore, 
so I did some scoutin' up around th' ranchhouse last 
night — I saw 'em. Wads, an' wads. I was shore 

Carson was looking off toward Pine Mountain, an 
evil expression on his face, and he moved restlessly. 
*^ There's only one reason for that," he muttered, and 
turned to his companion. *'Are you still thinkin' of a 
gamble?" he demanded, all thought of cattle out of 
his mind. "Th' herd money is shore worth while — 
what you say about it?" 

" I was sort of tumin' it over in my head," Fraser 


admitted "It*s a lot of money; a powerful lot of 
money for one man to tote.** 

'' It'll still be a lot of money if it's split in two/' 
suggested Carson. *' Do you figger he's goin' to bank 
it? All that cash? Why didn't he take a check? Why 
did he change, just when things was gettin' worse down 
here all th' time?'' 

^'I don't know; but he's alius been purty white 
to me." 

*^ Has he been three thousand dollars' worth? " asked 
Carson, smiling evilly. "I'm figgerin' he's lettin' us 
hold th' sack, that's what /'m figgerin'. An' if he don't 
come back, who's goin' to sign checks for our pay? 
We're losin' our share of all them mavericks. There 
won't be no nice bunch of cattle goin' up th' trail for us 
fellers, not now. But there's one whoppin' big bunch 
of cash goin' up a trail for us, if we go after it How's 
yore nerve? What's th' use of playin' for buttons, 
when there's bilb to be had?" 

" If I reckoned he was goin' to bank that money I 
wouldn't touch it, not if I was shore he was comin* back 
to stick with th' ranch," muttered Eraser. "But I 
reckon he's throwed us down. I reckon we're holdin' 
th' sack, all right. An' if he aims to keep it, then we 
has as much right to it as he has. Cuss him I he's 
chickenJivered I Come on : I'm with you," and he led 
the way into the house to get some of his personal 

" He's got a start on us, an* a cussed good boss," 
growled Carson as they hastened to the corral. "We 
can't save nothin' by cuttin' across, neither." 

.» ♦» 


** No, we can't; but we can take a lead hoss apiece,** 
aaid his companion, " an* ride without carin' what hap- 
pens to th' ones we start on. He won't be pushin' 
hard — he don't like hard ridin', he thinks too much 
of his hoss, an' he ain't got no reason to be in any 
great hurry. He's serene as a snake full of birds, 
chucklin' at how easy it is." 

Down on the southern part of the ranch, in a draw, 
there was another conference, where Dahlgren and 
Carney also were mourning the deplorable state of 
affairs on the range. 

*^ Three years' work gone to blazes," grumbled Litde 
Tom, resentfully. ** I'm near on th' prod." 

"Gcttin' near on th* prod ain't worth nothin',^ 
replied Dahlgren. **It's gettin' on one, a good one, 
an' stayin' with it, that counts. I figgers we still got a^ 
lot of interest in them mavericks, an^ I'm dead shore 
there ain't nobody watchin' 'em this side of th' Double 
X line." < 

"There's a lot of 'em away south of there," said 
Carney. " There's a couple of herds hang out closer 
to th' water hole in West Arroyo. I've seen 'em often 
when I rode that way. We could round up near three 
hundred, hold 'em in that blind canyon till evenin', an' 
then run th' whole bunch over th' Double X southwest 
comer an' get 'em well away tonight. It's cloudy, an' 
there won't be much moon showin' — just enough light 
to see what we're doin', an' not enough to show us up 
for any distance. Th' four of us can swing that herd 
In bang*up style— an' Big Tom won't never catch us, 
once we get into th' Snake Buttes country. An' what's 


more, I know where unmarked cattle can be sold, with 
no questions an' at a fair price. .Th* game's up for U89 
down here, anyhow." 

'* You aimin' to let them two in on this?'' 

** I'd ruther let 'em in on it, an' swing more cattle, 
than have 'em trailin' us tomorrow. An' four ain't too 
many for drivin' through th' Buttes.*' 

" I don't like splittin' 'em four ways," growled Dahl« 
gren, but he grudgingly gave his consent ''All right 
Go up an' feel 'em out, while I start roundin' up. Don't 
give nothin' away before you know how they feel 
about it" 

'' I'm off. They wasn't goin' to ride out till late, an' 
mebby I'll catch 'em at th' house," and Carney was off 
like a shot He was not gone long, and when he 
returned he spread out his hands expressively. 

"They've pulled their stakes, I reckon," he reported. 
"Their blankets an' 'most everythin' they owned, of 
any account, was gone. My extra gun is missin', an' 
our stuff is spread all over th' place. I rusded some 
supplies, an' found they had been there, too. Let 
•em go I " 

"Cussed glad of it; now it's halves, instead of 
fourths," replied Dahlgren, cheerfully. "Come on; 
let's push this work. Don't get any more branded 
cattle than you can help; but we ain't goin' to waste 
no time cuttin' any out." 

Up on the Sherman trail Big Tom was swinging 
along within ten miles of town when, passing a par- 
ticularly high, abrupt hill, he turned out, rode along it 
and, dismounting, went up on foot until he could peer 


across the top of it He (Ud not have long to wait, for 
soon two horsemen appeared far back on the trail, 
where it crossed a wide, open space. Going back to his 
horse, he led it into a thicket and tied it to a bush, took 
his rifle and returned to the hill top, where he chose 
cover close to the bank at the trail's edge, and setded 
down comfortably to wait 

As the two riders drew nearer he recognized them 
by their ensemble, and by the way they sat their saddles, 
and it was not long before he could make out detaib. 
iThey were riding hard, both keenly alert, peering along 
the trail ahead of them. Nearer and nearer they came, 
pushing ahead at a fast, hard pace, eager to overtake 
him before he reached the town. Sweeping past the 
steep bank, they shot around a bend and went on. 

Big Tom watched them until they had passed from 
isight, and then arose and nodded ** It's a good thing 
for you that you missed me 1 " he growled. *' I hate 
to lose th' pay-roll money; but what's got to be done 
has got to be done. My interest in Sherman has plumb 
faded. Now for a smash at Nelson that'll hurt him 
to his dyin' day, d — n him I " 

Darkness had fallen on the range and the night riders 
of the west section of the Double X were Slim Hawkes, 
Tom Wilkes, and Cimarron, who had the first shift 
They were back on the old three-shift plan and would 
be of! duty at half-past eleven. Cimarron had ridden 
south and had reached the end of his beat, die north 
side of a shallow arroyo. He softly gave the night's 
signal and, receiving no repiy, decided to wait for a 


^while, for Slim was due to reach and stop at the other 
Mde of the arroyo at any minute. He could faintly 
discern the outlines of objects at quite a respectable 
distance and wondered how soon the moon would break 
through the filmy douds. Suddenly he listened dosdy 
and thought he detected the noise made by a herd. 
Slimes signal came faintly to him and he replied to it 
with a double one. In a few minutes Slim loomed up 
out of the dark. 

*'Are you hearin* that, too ? '* asked Slim in a whisper. 

**I am," replied Cimarron. "That's a herd, an* 
there's work for me an' you. It's comin' up from th' 
south, bearin' a little west, I reckon. How do you 

" West, bearin' a little north," answered Slim. " But 
it's shore comin' from our range, which is enough for 
us. I'm askin' no questions tonight Th' last time I 
sung out Nevada shot me up. I'm doin' my talkin' 
tonight with my gun. An' I'm hopin' it's Nevada, per- 
sonal : I owe him somethin'." 

" Don't separate, or we'll mebby shoot each other," 
growled Cimarron. " If we hit 'em from this side we'll 
mebby turn th' herd so it'll stampede back where it 
belongs ; an' if it does, th' fellers on th' other side will 
have plenty to do for a couple of minutes, an' give us 
a chance to get to 'em. It's closer. Are you ready?" 

Slim loosened his left foot from the stirrup and then 
lay forward along the neck of his horse, Cimarron doing 
likewise; and then the two animals moved forward at 
a walk, innocent of any silhouetted figures sticking up 
ki the saddles. Louder and louder grew the sound and 


soon the two clinging riders could plainly disdnguish 
the rattle of horns from the hoofbeats. A few minutes 
more, and then a mounted figure became vaguely out- 
lined. The herd was being moved at a walk, possibly 
to avoid greater noise until it was well across the 
Double X line, and now its bulk could be guessed at. 

The herder leaned forward suddenly to scrutinize two 
moving blots he barely could make out against a rise 
of ground behind them, and the movement was the 
beginning of the end, for him. A sudden stream of 
fire poured from the left-hand blot and he slid from 
his saddle without a sound. The blots let out yells and 
dashed for the front ranks of the herd, which wheeled 
like a flash and thundered across the range over a 
course at right angles to the one which they had been 
following. The two night guards spurred towards the 
place where they hoped to come in contact with other 
rustlers, but found no one to oppose them, and they 
then set out to follow the herd. Far ahead of them 
they saw two flashes, followed at certain, agreed-upon 
intervals by another and then a fourth. Cimarron fired 
once, counted twelve and then sent two more shots 
into the air as close together as he could make them, 
which left nothing to be desired on that score. When 
he and Slim neared the herd again the moon shone 
down faintly and let them see what they were doing. 

" Whcre'd you get 'em ? '* yelled Matt Webb. " There 
ain't a brand on 'em, that I can see ; an' I can see plain 
enough for that." 

"Where do you suppose we got 'em?" retorted 
Cimarron, "from Europe?" He rode at one end of 



the front rank and had the satisfaction of seeing it 

** I see a Bar H mark! " shouted Rich Morgan. **An* 
they're stoppin', thank th' Lord 1 " 

In another ten minutes the herd started milling and 
soon afterward became sensible. 

**I say we have been made a present of some of 
/Huff's pets,'' chuckled Rich. '^ He says mavericks take 
title from th' ranch they're on ; an' I'm gamblin' these 
are on th' Double XI" 

" If they was ours I'd say to let *em wander," spoke 
up Cimarron. ^' Seein' as they ain't, I reckon it'll save 
a lot of work if we beds 'em down an' keeps 'em to- 
gether. I'll go on in an' let Lin know, so he can turn 
out th' off shift. We shot somebody out near that 
dividin' arroyo between Slim's section an' mine; you 
might take a look out that way. Slim's hopin' it was 
Nevada ; but I'm sayin' mebby he'll be surprised when 
he finds out who it is.'* 

^^Fm guessin' right about th' outfit he belongs to, 
anyhow," replied Slim. **An' I'm not goin' in till I sees 
which one he is. Comin', Matt? I'll ride out with 

Leaving Cimarron to go to the bunkhouse for the off 
shift. Slim and Matt rode rapidly toward the scene of 
the fight, and when they reached it they saw a figure on 
the ground. Dismounting they bent over it, and then 
looked at each other. 

'' Dahlgren I " breathed Slim. 

Matt nodded. ** They wasn't waitin* for their mav- 
ericks to be split four ways,'* he said, covering the up- 


turned face with the dead man's sombrero. "They 
was stealin' a march on Big Tom while he is up in Sher- 
man. Well, anyhow, he was on th' rustle — an* there 
ain't no harm done. Go on in, an' get yore sleep. As 
to th' herd, I reckon Arnold has got th' best title to it 
— but that's for Lin to say. If he does throw 'em over 
to th' SV it'll save Big Tom th' shame of doin' it hisself . 
Good -=-»•- " 



ARNOLD finished his breakfast and, telling Mar- 
garet that he was going to Gunsight to see Johnny 
and Dave, the hiring of another puncher being upper- 
most in his mind, went to the corral and soon was riding 
along the trail, gratified by the entire absence of pain 
in his leg and with the stimulation which came from the 
easy motion, the sun, and the crisp morning air. When 
Margaret turned back into the house her brother had 
slipped out of the front door and had gone, eager to 
shirk his few duties and play scout. Since he had found 
an old, broken rifle in the deserted and disused bunk- 
house it formed the foundation upon which he based his 
play. As she called to him, vexation in her voice, he 
was wriggling through a clump of brush not far away, 
this part of his scouting being earnest and real. Wiping 
dishes was woman's work, as he firmly believed, and 
he detested and scorned it. His pony had been saddled 
and picketed in a draw south of the house before break- 
fast, and when the opportunity offered he intended to 
get to it and ride off over the ranch until hunger forced 
him to return. Lying quietly in his cover he kept a 
keen watch until, the beds made, his sister should begin 
the kitchen work and give him a chance to cross the open 
space between him and the pony. He was growing more 
and more impatient when he caught sight of a horse- 



man riding down the slope of a hill north of the house, 
and his anger and curiosity flared up when he saw diat 
it was Big Tom. 

The Bar H foreman rode leisurely past the corral, 
noting the absence of Arnold's horse and the pony, 
and stopped before the door. Swinging from the saddle 
he sauntered up to the kitchen door and knocked. Mar- 
garet wondered who it could be, a sudden thought of 
injury to her father coming to her, and she hastened 
to answer it. When she saw who the visitor was she 
stopped and recoiled a little. 

" How-do-you-do ? " she said coldly. 

" Glad to see you. Ma'am,*' came the answer. " I 
rode over to see yore father about some mavericks of 
his that are eatin' up my grass." 

^' You have just missed him,'* replied Margaret. ** If 
you return by the way of Gunsight you can see him 

** Now, ain't that just my luck ? " regretted the fore- 
man, stepping inside. ** Might I have a drink of water. 
Ma'am? I wasn't aimin' to ride back that way. Of 
course there ain't no chance at all of his comin' back 
soon ? " 

**Why, no,'* answered Margaret, handing him the 
dipper. *^ He may not return until evening. But you 
can leave a message for him with me." 

** It's somethin' we has to talk over," Big Tom re- 
plied, giving her the empty dipper. As her hand 
touched it he grabbed her to him, her screams muffled 
by his hand. Struggle as she would she was helpless 
against his bearlike strength and soon was limp with 


exhaustion and partially suffocated. Holding her with 
one arm and hand he took a clothesline from a peg on 
the wall and quickly trussed her with it until she was 
powerless to move. Gagging her with a towel he car- 
rled her to the corral, caught her horse, and threw her 
on it and cinched up the saddle which lay at the gate. 
Hurrying back to the house he collected provisions and 
ran out again, and in another minute he rode rapidly 
for the brush and rough ground west of the house, 
leading her horse. Bound, gagged, and tied to the 
saddle she could do nothing, every beat of the horses* 
hoofs increasing her terror. 

Back at the house Charley wriggled around the cor- 
ner, his curiosity overcoming caution, and he stared in 
amazement as he saw them crossing the open, his sister 
bound with rope. Suddenly cursing the useless rifle in 
a burst of rage, he dashed for his horse, mounted and 
rode for town to tell his father, keeping to the low 
levels until the hills and brush formed a screen behind 
him. The little pony ran at top speed, shrewdly guided 
over the rough trail, and the nine miles did not take 
long. Dashing up to Dave's, Charley shouted at the 
top of his lungs and pulled up at the door. 

" Peggy's kidnapped 1 Dad I Peggy's kidnapped I " 

A chair crashed in Dave's and three men jammed in 
the doorway, Johnny forcing his two companions back 
as he fought his way past them. "What's that?" he 

"Big Tom's stole Peggy, d — n himl" shrilled the 
boy, tears of helpless rage in his eyes. 

Johnny needed no further proof than the words and 


Charley's earnestness. "Where was it? Which way 
did he go?'* he snapped, leaping to the black horse 
standing at the tie rail. 

"At th' ranch — they went west Oh, Peggy I" he 
sobbed. "Oh, Peggy 1" 

" Come a-runnin' 1 '' shouted Johnny over his shoul- 
der, wheeling his horse. He spoke to the black thor- 
oughbred and she struck Into a gait she could hold for 
hours, and one which was deceptive in its smoothness. 
As he rocked down the trail three Double X punchers 
rode in from the south. 

"Keep a-goinM" Dave yelled to them, apoplectic 
with his emotions. " Poller him/ Big Tom's run off 
with th' Arnold gal I *• 

Slim's brief remark is better left unrecorded. Three 
sets of hoofs rolled out of the town and sent the dust 
swirling high along the trail. The punchers overtook 
and passed Arnold, who cursed the slowness of his 
mount, shouted profane reassurance at him and left 
him their dust Dailey led Panning around the comer 
of the saloon and aroused surprised resentment in his 
horse, which heretofore had regarded him as a sane 
being. Panning's gray felt a touch of its youthful 
spirits return; if it had to race, all right; it wasn't much 
for speed, but it expected to be better than last at the 

Big Tom, having passed the boundaries of the ranch, 
pulled up long enough to remove the gag. "If you 
behave yoreself I'll untie you," he said. "You can't 
get away — if you try it you'll learn what a rope feels 


Margaret managed to nod and the rope came off of 

" 'Twon't do no good to yell," he told her, " nor to 
hold back. You won't be missed till supper time, an' 
then nobody will do much worryin' till dark. They'll 
search th' range first — an' by th' time they finish that 
we'll be so far away that they'll never find us. Yo'rc 
thinkin' they'll trail us ? Huh 1 Let 'em, then. Once 
we get into my country they can trail an' be d — d I You 
might as well make th' best of it. I got th' herd money 
in my pockets, an' we can have a nice little ranch an' live 
like th' story books say — happy ever after. Yo're 
goin' to live there with me. If yo're sensible you can 
do it as my wife. I'm going to give you that chance. 
But, yo're goin' to live there with me, just the same." 

" You are even more of a beast than I thought," she 
retorted. *' You'll never reach that ranch ; and if yoii 
do, I'll kill you while you sleep." 

" I'm chancin' th' last," he retorted. " Yo're thinkin* 
of that Nelson, huh ? " he grinned. '^ When Big Tom 
does play his cards it takes more'n a fool like him to 
win th' pot An' I'm sayin' I stacked this deck. I've 
been stackin' it for a long time, figgerin' everythin'. 
He's cold-decked. Ma'am ; beat clean when he'd reck- 
oned he'd won. Thinkin' they'll trail us, an' get us 
because we're not pushin' hard?" He laughed ironi* 
tally. " Didn't I say I've been plannin' this a long time 2 
There ain't no use of wearin' horses out when it ain't 
needed. With twenty hours, or more, start, ours will 
be fresh when we need speed — which we won't You'd 
do better to begin practicin' callin' yoreself Missus Huff 


«— it*ll come easy before you know it I'm givki* you 
that chance, an* I'll not bother you till a parson is handy. 
Then it will be yore move. You've got three days." 
Receiving no reply he looked around the range and 
thenceforth ignored her. 

A black thoroughbred swept across the little SV 
valley, passed the corral, and rocked westward along a 
plain trail. The rider, his sombrero jammed tightly 
down on his head to baffle the pull of the whistling 
wind, cold with a rage which had turned him into the 
personification of vengeance, felt an exultant thrill as 
the double trail sped past him, for his quarry had but 
eighteen miles start, and he felt sure that it had been 
cut down by the speed at which half of it had been cov- 
ered. There was nothing on hoofs on all that range 
that could keep an even lead against Pepper. She 
flashed past mesquite, around chaparrals, her great 
heart beating with a gameness which excelled even her 
love for the race ; her trim legs swinging rhythmically, 
the reaching of her free, beautiful stride eating up the 
range and sending it past like the speeding surface of 
some great rapids. A Gila monster moved from her 
course barely in time, and a rattler coiled and struck 
too late. Off in the brush a startled coyote changed 
its mind about crossing the open and slunk back into 
cover, following the black with suspicious gaze. The 
great muscles writhed and bunched, rippled and bulged 
under the satiny skin, the barrel-like chest rising and 
falling with a rhythm and smoothness which graphically 
told that it was a perfect part of a perfect running 
machine. Down the slopes at top speed, up thtns at a 


lope, the undulating range slipped swiftly past Brush 
and scattered mesquite, chaparrals and lone, sentinel 
cacti ; hollows, coulees, draws, and arroyos went behind 
in swift procession. Still the double trail lay ahead, 
now lost as it crossed hard ground, now plain with small, 
shallow basins where the sand had slid back and hidden 
the outlines of the roofs, and then clear and sharp 
and fresh in soils possessing claylike cohesion. 

The rider gave no thought to ambush. There was 
a time for ever3rthing, but hesitation or caution would 
not claim its turn until the ride was done. If an ambush 
lay ahead, what mattered it? Others were coming 
along that trail, and only one need survive. The picture 
which he carried in his brain was not one from which 
counselings of safety could arise. Its message was to 
ride, ride, ride; and kill, kill, kill; and it turned the 
thin-lipped, narrow-lidded rider into an agent of Df iath, 
merciless and untiring. The ages rolled back from 
around his soul and stripped it of the last, pulsating 
film of civilization's veneer. No gray wolf ever ran a 
trail, no wolverine hunted in its northern fastness that 
was more coldly savage or cruel than this man whose 
grim confidence gave no thought of failure. Mile after 
mile he rode, motionless in the saddle save for the 
rhythmic rise and swing of a saddle poise superb. 
Neither to right nor left he looked, nor back where the 
billowing dust swirled suddenly high to roll spreading 
over the drab earth, slowly settling. Straight ahead he 
set his gaze, to the fartherest new-made mark on the 
winding, twisting trail, a trail which twisted and wound 
as though vainly seeking a place to hide until that flying 

'35» 70HNNT ^NELSON 

Death were past. A high ridge of limestone poured 
into view and the swinging black was pulled to a walk, 
for a breathing spell wise in its length, and canny in its 
shortness. Then up slowly and off again on her far* 
reaching stride, the noonday sun blazing down un- 

To the west the ribbon-like trail was widening. Be- 
hind Johnny it was bigger by one more strand ; behind 
Slim, a furnace of rage, was another strand; Tom 
Wilkes, grimly determined, made another; half a milo 
behind him rocked Cimarron, vengeful and silent, and 
added the sixth. Certain memories, returning to the 
segundo, caused him to ride off and make a trail of his 
own, confident that it would be a chord in a great arc 
and lead him past his two ranch mates. There was a 
certain pass far to the northeast which he vaguely 
coupled to the Bar H foreman, and with three men 
ahead of him to follow the certainty of the tell-tale 
trail, he could afford to gamble. Two hours later Slim 
became indignant and wondered if Cimarron's black- 
and-white had grown wings, for his segundo*s dust did 
not suit his mouth and eyes. 

*' He can do it with me,*' muttered Slim, '* but that 
Pepper boss won't be seen by any of us till she stops. 
I hope Nelson ain't killin' her." 

liie Pepper horse was neither stopping nor being 
killed. She skimmed along with no faltering in her 
stride as though she remembered a day in a quicksand. 
There was a debt to be paid, and if heart held out and 
the heaving sides did not prove false to her thorough- 
bred courage, the lengthening shadows would see it 


(Canceled before they became lost in the day^s deepening 
twilight Down a narrow valley she sped, the hills 
rolling the tattoo of her drumming hoofs as though 
they liked the sound and were reluctant to let it die. 
Taking a brook at a bound and scorning her rising 
thirsty she swirled around a sharp bend, and twitched 
her ears suddenly forward, the quick pressure of her 
rider's knees telling her that he had seen. 

Johnny slipped his Sharp's from its long sheath and, 
holding it at the ready, stood up in his stirrups, his 
horse somewhere finding a reserve power that fairly 
hurled her forward, the trim black legs whirring under 
her like flashing spokes of jet The rider's lids nar- 
rowed to thin slits and the tight-pressed lips pressed 
tighter. Yard after yard he gained, second after second. 
|The half mile became a quarter, steadily lessened and 
then. Pepper pounding over a stretch of rocky ground 
where the hammering of her hoofs rang out loudly, 
there was a quick turning in the saddles ahead, and a 
roar from the saddle behind, a ragged cloud of acrid 
smoke tearing itself to filmy bits and blending with the 
suddenly tenuous dust cloud in the rear. 

Big Tom cursed in sudden rage and whirled his horse 
behind Margaret's, his rifle spitting past her shoulder. 
His shelter bolted from in front of him as a Sharp's 
Special stung the SV horse, its rider barely able to keep 
her seat during the convulsive lunge. Big Tom leaped 
down behind his mount and rested the gun across the 
saddle. Before he could pull the trigger another Special 
passed through the animal's abdomen and, its force 
spent, struck his belt and doubled him up, gasping for 



breath at the agonized animal leaped forward. The 
cantle of the saddle, striking the barrel of the Win- 
chester, tore the weapon from its owner's hands and 
left him, slowly straightening up, with a Colt for his 
only defense. 

Coming at him like a skimming swallow sped Pepper, 
her rider, having slipped the rifle bac^ into its long 
sheath, standing erect in the stirrups, each hand holding 
a Colt For a moment they were held aloft and then 
as the Bar H foreman drew his six-gun they chopped 
down and poured jets of flame and puffs of smoke over 
Pepper's head. The foreman twisted, fired aimlessly, 
lurched, fired again, and plunged forward, face down on 
the sand. Johnny slid his guns back into their holsters 
and raced for Margaret, who was fighting a pain-crazed 

Slim and Cimarron, neck and neck now, jumped the 
brookt sped along the little valley, keyed to fighting 
pitch by the sound of distant shots, and flashed around 
the bend, where they pulled up sharply and looked 
across the level pasture. 

**H — II" growled Cimarron. "I thought we was 
ridin' to a lynchin' I This here looks more like a wed- 
din*. Get back, around that bend, you fool I " 

'' It shore does," said Slim, grinning. **A weddin\ 
huh? Weill then, I says he's still a*rollin\"