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WYOMING: A STORY OF THE OUTDOOR WEST By William MacLeod Raine

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7/31/2019 WYOMING: A STORY OF THE OUTDOOR WEST By William MacLeod Raine http://slidepdf.com/reader/full/wyoming-a-story-of-the-outdoor-west-by-william-macleod-raine 1/133 WYOMING:ASTORYOFTHEOUTDOORWEST By WilliamMacLeodRaine TABLEOFCONTENTS 1.ADESERTMEETING 2.THEKINGOFTHEBIGHORNCOUNTRY 3.ANINVITATIONGIVENANDACCEPTED 4.ATTHELAZYDRANCH 5.THEDANCEATFRASER'S 6.APARTYCALL 7.THEMANFROMTHESHOSHONEFASTNESSES 8.INTHELAZYDHOSPITAL 9.ARESCUE 12.MISTRESSANDMAID 13.THETWOCOUSINS 14.FORTHEWORLD'SCHAMPIONSHIP 15.JUDDMORGANPASSES 16.HUNTINGBIGGAME 17.RUNTOEARTH 18.PLAYINGFORTIME 19.WESTPOINTTOTHERESCUE 20.TWOCASESOFDISCIPLINE 21.THESIGNALLIGHTS 22.EXITTHEKING 23.JOURNEYSENDINLOVERS'MEETING. CHAPTER1.ADESERTMEETING Anautomobileshotoutfromagashinthehillsandslippedswiftlydown tothebutte.Hereitcametoahaltonthewhite,dustyroad,while itsoccupantgazedwitheager,unsatedeyesonthegreatpanoramathat stretchedbeforeher.Theearthrolledinwaveslikeamightyseato thedistanthorizonline.Fromawonderfulblueskypoureddownupon thelandabathofsunbeat.Theairwaslikewine,pureandstrong,and abovethedesertswamtherare,untemperedlightofWyoming.Surelyhere wasapeaceprimeval,asilenceunbrokensincethebirthofcreation. Itwasallnewtoher,andwonderfullyexhilarating.Theinfiniteroll ofplain,thedistantshiningmountains,themultitudinousvoicesofthe desertdrownedinasunlitseaofspace--theywerealldetailsofthe situationthatministeredtoalargeserenity. Andwhileshebreatheddeeplythesatisfactionofit,anexplodingrifle echoshatteredthestillness.Withexcitedsputteringcametheprompt answerofafusillade.ShewasnewtotheWest;butsomeinstinct strongerthanreasontoldthegirlthatherewasnoplayfulpuncher shootingupthescenerytoventilatehisexuberance.Herimagination conceivedsomethingmoredeadly;asinisterpictureofmenpumpinglead inagrim,close-lippedsilence;alustyplainsman,withmurderin hisheart,crumplingintoalifelessheap,whilethethinsmoke-spiral curledfromhishotrifle.
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    WYOMING:ASTORYOFTHEOUTDOORWEST

    By

    WilliamMacLeodRaine

    TABLEOFCONTENTS

    1.ADESERTMEETING2.THEKINGOFTHEBIGHORNCOUNTRY3.ANINVITATIONGIVENANDACCEPTED4.ATTHELAZYDRANCH5.THEDANCEATFRASER'S6.APARTYCALL7.THEMANFROMTHESHOSHONEFASTNESSES8.INTHELAZYDHOSPITAL9.ARESCUE12.MISTRESSANDMAID13.THETWOCOUSINS14.FORTHEWORLD'SCHAMPIONSHIP15.JUDDMORGANPASSES16.HUNTINGBIGGAME17.RUNTOEARTH

    18.PLAYINGFORTIME19.WESTPOINTTOTHERESCUE20.TWOCASESOFDISCIPLINE21.THESIGNALLIGHTS22.EXITTHEKING23.JOURNEYSENDINLOVERS'MEETING.

    CHAPTER1.ADESERTMEETING

    Anautomobileshotoutfromagashinthehillsandslippedswiftlydown

    tothebutte.Hereitcametoahaltonthewhite,dustyroad,whileitsoccupantgazedwitheager,unsatedeyesonthegreatpanoramathatstretchedbeforeher.Theearthrolledinwaveslikeamightyseatothedistanthorizonline.Fromawonderfulblueskypoureddownuponthelandabathofsunbeat.Theairwaslikewine,pureandstrong,andabovethedesertswamtherare,untemperedlightofWyoming.Surelyherewasapeaceprimeval,asilenceunbrokensincethebirthofcreation.

    Itwasallnewtoher,andwonderfullyexhilarating.Theinfiniterollofplain,thedistantshiningmountains,themultitudinousvoicesofthedesertdrownedinasunlitseaofspace--theywerealldetailsofthesituationthatministeredtoalargeserenity.

    Andwhileshebreatheddeeplythesatisfactionofit,anexplodingrifleechoshatteredthestillness.Withexcitedsputteringcamethepromptanswerofafusillade.ShewasnewtotheWest;butsomeinstinctstrongerthanreasontoldthegirlthatherewasnoplayfulpunchershootingupthescenerytoventilatehisexuberance.Herimaginationconceivedsomethingmoredeadly;asinisterpictureofmenpumpingleadinagrim,close-lippedsilence;alustyplainsman,withmurderinhisheart,crumplingintoalifelessheap,whilethethinsmoke-spiralcurledfromhishotrifle.

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    Sothegirlimaginedthesceneassheranswiftlyforwardthroughthepinestotheedgeofthebuttebluffwhenceshemightlookdownuponthecouleethatnestledagainstit.Norhadshegreatlyerred,forherfirstsweepingglanceshowedherthethingshehaddreaded.

    Inasemicircle,wellbackfromthefootofthebutte,halfadozenmencrouchedinthecoverofthesage-brushandascatteredgroupofcottonwoods.Theywereperhapsfiftyyardsapart,andtheattentionofallofthemwasfocusedonaspotdirectlybeneathher.Evenasshelooked,inthatfirstswiftmomentofapprehension,aspurtofsmokecamefromoneoftheriflesandwasflungbackfromtheforkedpineatthebottomofthemesa.Shesawhimthen,kneelingbehindhisinsufficientshelter,atrappedmanmakinghislaststand.

    Fromwhereshestoodthegirldistinguishedhimveryclearly,andunderthefield-glassesthatsheturnedonhimthedetailsleapedtolife.Tall,strong,slender,withthelean,cleanbuildofagreyhound,heseemedaswaryandalertasapanther.Thebroad,softhat,thescarlethandkerchieflooselyknottedabouthisthroat,thegrayshirt,spursandoveralls,proclaimedhimastockman,justashisdeadhorseattheentrancetothecouleetoldofanaccidentalmeetinginthedesertandahurriedrunforcover.

    Thathehadnochancewasquiteplain,butnoplainerthanthecool

    vigilancewithwhichheproposedtomakethempay.Eveninthematterofdefensehewasworseoffthantheywere,butheknewhowtomakethemostofwhathehad;knewhowtoavailhimselfofeveryinchofsagebrushthathelpedtorenderhimindistincttotheireyes.

    Oneoftheattackers,eagerforaclearershot,exposedhimselfatrifletoofarintakingaim.Withoutanylossoftimeinsighting,swiftasalightning-flash,theriflebehindtheforkedpinespoke.Thatthebulletreacheditsmarkshesawwithagaspofdismay.Forthemansuddenlyhuddleddownandrolledoveronhisside.

    Hiscomradesappearedtotakewarningbythisexample.Themenatbothendsofthecrescentfellback,andforaminutethegirl'sheartleaped

    withthehopethattheywereabouttoabandonthesiege.Apparentlythemaninthescarletkerchiefhadnosuchexpectation.Hedesertedhispositionbehindthepineandranback,crouchinglowinthebrush,toanotherlittleclumpoftreesclosertothebluff.Thereasonforthiswasatfirstnotapparenttoher,butsheunderstoodpresentlywhenthemenwhohadfallenbackbehindtherollinghillocksappearedagainwellintotheedgeofthebluff.Onlybyhistimelyretreathadthemansavedhimselffrombeingoutflanked.

    Itwasveryplainthattheattackersmeanttotaketheirtimetofinishhiminperfectsafety.Hewassurroundedoneverysidebyacordonofrifles,exceptwherethebarefaceofthebuttehungdownbehindhim.Toattempttoscaleitwouldhavebeentoexposehimselfasamarkfor

    everyguntocertaindeath.

    Itwasnowthatsheheardthemanwhoseemedtobedirectingtheattackcallouttoanotheronhisright.Shewastoofartomakeoutthewords,buttheireffectwascleartoher.Hepointedtothebrowofthebutteabove,andapuncherinwhitewoolenchapsdroppedbackoutofrangeandswungtothesaddleupononeoftheponiesbunchedintherear.Hecanteredroundinawidecircleandmadeforthebutte.Hispurposewasobviouslytocatchtheirvictimintheunprotectedrear,andfiredownuponhimfromabove.

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    Theyoungwomanshoutedawarning,buthervoicefailedtocarry.Foramomentshestoodwithherhandspressedtogetherindespair,thenturnedandswiftlyscuddedtohermachine.Shesprangin,sweptforward,reachedtherimofthemesa,andplungeddown.Neverbeforehadsheattemptedsoprecariousadescentinsuchwildhaste.Thecarfairlyleapedintospace,andafteritstruckswayeddizzilyasitshotdown.Thegirlhungon,herfacewhiteandset,thepulseinhertemplebeatingwildly.Shecoulddonothing,asthemachinerockeddown,buthopeagainstmanychancesthatinstantdestructionmightbeaverted.

    Utterlybeyondhercontrol,themotor-carthundereddown,reachedthefootofthebutte,andsweptoveralittlehillinitswildflight.Sherushedbyamountedhorsemaninthethousandthpartofasecond.Shewasstillspeedingatatremendousvelocity,butasecondhillreducedthissomewhat.Shehadnotyetrecoveredcontrolofthemachine,but,thoughhereyesinstinctivelyfollowedthewhiteroadthatflashedpast,sheagainhadphotographedonherbrainthesceneoftheturbidtragedyinwhichshewasintervening.

    Atthefootofthebuttetheroadcircledanddippedintothecoulee.Shebracedherselffortheshock,but,thoughthewheelsskiddedtillherheartwasinherthroat,theautomobile,hangingonthebalanceofdisaster,sweptroundinsafety.

    Herhornscreamedaninstantwarningtothetrappedman.Shecouldnotseehim,andforaninstantherheartsankwiththefearthattheyhadkilledhim.Butshesawthenthattheywerestillfiring,andshecontinuedherhonkinginvitationasthecarleapedforwardintothezoneofspittingbullets.

    Bythistimeshewasrecoveringcontrolofthemotor,andshedarednotletherattentionwander,butoutofthecornerofhereyesheappreciatedthesituation.Temporarily,outofsheeramazeatthisapparitionfromtheblue,thegunsceasedtheirsniping.Shebecameawarethatalightcurlyhead,crouchedlowinthesage-brush,wasmovingrapidlytomeetheratrightangles,andindoingsowas

    approachingdirectlythelineoffire.Shecouldseehimdodgingtoandfroashemovedforward,fortherifleswereagainbarking.

    Shewaswithintwohundredyardsofhim,stillgoingrapidly,butnotwiththesameheadlongrushasbefore,whenthecurlyheaddisappearedinthesage-brush.Itwasupagainpresently,butshecouldseethatthemancamelimping,andsouncertainlythattwicehepitchedforwardtotheground.Incautiouslyoneofhisassailantsranforwardwithashoutthesecondtimehisheadwentdown.Crack!Theunerringriflerangout,andtheimpetuousonedroppedinhistracks.

    Assheapproached,theyoungwomanslowedwithoutstopping,andasthecarsweptpastCurlyHeadflunghimselfinheadlong.Hepickedhimself

    upfromherfeet,creptpasthertotheseatbeyond,andalmostinstantlywhippedhisrifletohisshoulderinpromptdefianceofthefirethatwasnowconvergedonthem.

    Yetinafewmomentsthesounddiedaway,foravoicemidwayinthecrescenthadshoutedanamazeddiscovery:

    "ByGod,it'sawoman!"

    Thecarskimmedforwardovertheunevengroundtowardtheendofthe

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    semicircle,andpassedwithinfiftyyardsofthesecondmanfromtheend,theoneshehadpickedoutastheleaderoftheparty.Hewasablack,swarthyfellowinplainleatherchapsandblueshirt.Astheypassedhetookalong,steadyaim.

    "Duck!"shoutedthemanbesideher,anddraggedherdownontheseatsothathisbodycoveredhers.

    Apuffofwindfannedthegirl'scheek.

    "Nearthing,"hercompanionsaidcoolly.Helookedbackattheswarthymanandlaughedsoftly."Somedayyou'llmebbewishyouhadsentyourpillsstraighter,Mr.JuddMorgan."

    Yetafewwheel-turnsandtheyhaddippedforwardoutofrangeamongthegreatlandwavesthatseemedtostretchbeforethemforever.Theunexpectedhadhappened,andshehadachievedarescueinthefaceoftheimpossible.

    "Hurtbadly?"thegirlinquiredbriefly,herdark-blueeyesmeetinghisasfranklyasthoseofaboy.

    "Noneedforanundertaker.IreckonI'llsurvive,ma'am."

    "Whereareyouhit?"

    "Ijustgotatelegramfrommyanklesayingtherewasacargoofleadarrivedthereunexpected,"hedrawledeasily.

    "Hurtsagooddeal,doesn'tit?"

    "Nomorethanisneedfultokeepmymemoryjoggedup.It'sasortofaforget-me-notsouvenir.Foragoodboy;complimentsofMr.JimHenson,"heexplained.

    Herdarkglanceswepthimsearchingly.Shedisapprovedtheassuranceofhismannerevenwhiletheyouthinherapplaudedhisreckless

    sufficiency.Hisgaycourageheldherunconsentingadmirationevenwhilesheresentedit.Hewasatrifletoomuchathiseaseforonewhohadjustbeensnatchedfromdireperil.Yeteveninhisinsouciancetherewassomethingengaging;somethingalmostofdistinction.

    "Whatwasthetrouble?"

    Mirthbubbledinhisgrayeyes."Igathered,ma'am,thattheywantedtocollectmyscalp."

    "Dowhat?"shefrowned.

    "Bumpmeoff--sendmeacrossthedivide."

    "Oh,Iknowthat.Butwhy?"

    Heseemedtoreproachhimself."NowhowcouldIbesoneglectful?Icleanforgottoask."

    "That'sridiculous,"washersharpverdict.

    "Yes,ma'am,plumbridiculous.MyonlyexcuseisthattheybeganscatteringleadsosuddenIdidn'thavetimetoaskmany'Whyfors.'I

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    reckonwe'lljusthavetocallitaWyomingdifferenceofopinion,"heconcludedpleasantly.

    "Whichmeans,Isuppose,thatyouarenotgoingtotellme."

    "Igotsomuchelsetotelly'uthat'saheapmoreimportant,"helaughed."Y'usee,I'menjoyin'myfirstautomobileride.Itwascertainlythoughtfulofy'utoaskmetogoridingwithy'u,MissMessiter."

    "Soyouknowmyname.MayIaskhow?"washerastonishedquestion.

    Hegavethelowlaughthatalwaysseemedtosuggestaprivatesourceofamusementofhisown."IsuspicionedthatmightbeyournamewhenIsayy'ucomea-sailin'downfromheaventogathermeuplikeEnoch."

    "Why?"

    "Well,ma'am,IhappenedtodriftintoGimletButtetwoorthreedaysago,andwhileIwasupatthedepotlookingforsomefreightatrainsashaidinandsidetrackedaflatcar.TherewasanautomobileonthatcaraddressedtoMissHelenMessiter.Now,automobilesareawfulseldominthiscountry.Idon'tseemtorememberhavingseenonebefore."

    "Isee.You'requiteaSherlockHolmes.Doyouknowanythingmoreaboutme?"

    "Iknowy'uhavejustfallenheirtotheLazyD.Theysayy'uareaschoolmarm,butIdon'tbelieveit."

    "Well,Iam."Then,"Whydon'tyoubelieveit?"sheadded.

    Hesurveyedherwithhissmileaudacious,lethisamusedeyeswanderdownfromthemobilefacewiththewild-rosebloomtotheslimyoungfiguresolongandsupple,thenserenelymetherfrown.

    "Y'udon'tlookit."

    "No?Areyoutheownerofacompositephotographoftheteachersofthecountry?"

    Heenjoyedagainhisprivatemirth."Ishouldlikerightwelltohavethepicturesofsomeofthem."

    Sheglancedathimsharply,buthewasgazingsoinnocentlyatthepurpleShoshonesinthedistancethatshecouldnotgivehimthesnubshethoughtheneeded.

    "Youareright.MynameisHelenMessiter,"shesaid,bywayofstimulatingacounterfundofinformation.For,thoughshewasayoung

    womannotmuchgiventocuriosity,shewasawareofaninterestinthisspare,broad-shoulderedyouthwhowassuchanincarnationofbronzedvigor.

    "Gladtomeety'u,MissMessiter,"heresponded,andofferedhisfirmbrownhandinWesternfashion.

    Butsheobservedresentfullythathedidnotmentionhisownname.Itwasimpossibletosupposethatheknewnobetter,andshewasdriventoconcludethathewassilentofsetpurpose.Verywell!Ifhedidnot

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    wanttointroducehimselfshewasnotgoingtourgeituponhim.Inabusinesslikemannershegaveherattentiontoeatingupthedustymiles.

    "Yes,ma'am.IreckonIneverwasmoregladtodeathtomeetaladythanIwastomeetupwithy'u,"hecontinued,cheerily."Y'usurelookedgoodtomeasy'ucomea-foggin'downtheroad.Ifairhadbeenyearnin'forcompanybutwassomediscouragedforfeartheinvitationhadmiscarried."Hebrokeoffhissardonicrailleryandlethislevelgazepossessherforalongmoment."MissMessiter,I'mcertainlyunderanobligationtoy'uIcan'trepay.Y'usavedmylife,"hefinishedgravely.

    "Nonsense."

    "Fact."

    "Itisn'tapersonalmatteratall,"sheassuredhim,withatouchofimpatienthauteur.

    "It'saheappersonaltome."

    Inspiteofherhealthyyoungresentmentshelaughedatthewayinwhichhedrawledthisout,andwithaswiftsweepherboyisheyestookinagainhiscompellingdevil-may-carecharm.Shewasatenderfoot,but

    intuitionaswellasexperiencetaughtherthathewasunusualenoughtobeoneoftenthousand.NoyoungGreekgod'sheadcouldhaverisenmoresuperblyabovethebrick-tannedcolumnoftheneckthanthisclose-croppedcurlyone.Grayeyes,deepandunwaveringandmasterful,lookedoutofafaceasbrownasWyoming.Hewasgotupwithnothoughtofeffect,butthetigerishlitheness,thepicturesquecompetencyofhim,spakelouderthancostuming.

    "Aren'tyoureallyhurtworsethanyoupretend?I'msureyourankleoughttobeattendedtoassoonaspossible."

    "Don'ttellmeyou'realadydoctor,ma'am,"heburlesquedhisalarm.

    "Canyoutellmewherethenearestranchhouseis?"sheasked,ignoringhisdiversion.

    "TheLazyDisthenearest,Ireckon."

    "Whichdirection?"

    "Northbyeast,ma'am."

    "ThenI'lltakethemostdirectroadtoit.

    "InthatcaseI'llthanky'uformyrideandgetouthere."

    "But--why?"

    Hewavedajauntyhandtowardtherecentbattlefield."TheLazyDliesrightbackofthathill.Iexpect,mebbe,thosewolvesmighthowlagainifwewentback."

    "Where,then,shallItakeyou?"

    "Ihatetotroubley'utogooutofyourway.

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    "Idaresay,butI'mgoingjustthesame,"shetoldhim,dryly.

    "Ifyou'rerightdetermined--"Heinterruptedhimselftopointtothesouth."Doy'useethatcamel-backpeakoverthere?"

    "Theonewiththesunshineonitsloweredge?"

    "That'sit,MissMessiter.TheycallthosetwohumpstheAntelopePeaks.Ify'ucandropmesomewherenearthereIthinkI'llmanageallright."

    "I'mnotgoingtoleaveyoutillwereachahouse,"sheinformedhimpromptly."You'renotfittowalkfiftyyards."

    "That'srightkindofy'u,butIcouldnotthinkofaskingsomuch.Myfriendswillfindmeify'uleavemewhereIcanworkaheliograph."

    "Oryourenemies,"shecutin.

    "Ihopenot.I'dnotlikelyhavethelucktogetanotherinvitationrightthentogoridingwithafriendlyyounglady."

    Shegavehimdirect,cool,black-blueeyesthatmetandsearchedhis."I'mnotatallsuresheisfriendly.IshallwanttofindoutthecauseofthetroubleyouhavejusthadbeforeImakeupmymindastothat."

    "Ijudgepeoplebytheiractions.Y'udidn'twaittofindoutbeforebringingtheambulanceintoaction,"helaughed.

    "Iseeyoudonotmeantotellme."

    "You'requitealawyer,ma'am,"heevaded.

    "Ifindyouaveryslipperywitness,then."

    "Askanythingy'ulikeandI'lltellyou."

    "Verywell.Whowerethosemen,andwhyweretheytryingtokillyou?"

    "TheyturnedtheirwolflooseonmebecauseIshotuponeofthemyesterday."

    "Dearme!Isityourbusinesstogoaroundshootingpeople?That'sthreeIhappentoknowthatyouhaveshot.Howmanymore?"

    "Nomore,ma'am--notrecently."

    "Well,threeisquiteenough--recently,"shemimicked."Youseemtomeagooddealofadesperado."

    "Yes,ma'am."

    "Don'tsay'Yes,ma'am,'likethat,asifitdidn'tmatterintheleastwhetheryouareornot,"sheordered.

    "No,ma'am."

    "Oh!"Shebrokeoffwithagestureofimpatienceathisburlesqueofobedience."YouknowwhatImean--thatyououghttodenyit;oughttobefuriousatmeforsuggestingit."

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    "OughtI?"

    "Ofcourseyouought."

    "There'saheapofwaysIain'tuptospecifications,"headmitted,cheerfully.

    "Andwhoarethey--thementhatwereattackingyou?"

    Therewasagleamofirrepressiblehumorintheboldeyes."Yourcow-punchers,ma'am."

    "Mycow-punchers?"

    "Theyce'tainlybelongtotheLazyDoutfit."

    "Andyousaythatyoushotoneofmymenyesterday?"Hecouldseehergettingreadyforadeclarationofwar.

    "DownbyWillowCreek--Yes,ma'am,"heanswered,comfortably.

    "Andwhy,mayIask?"sheflamed

    "That'salongstory,MissMessiter.Itwouldn'tbesquareformetoget

    myversioninbeforeyourboys.Y'uaskthem."Hepermittedhimselfagenialsmile,somewhatironic."Ishouldn'twonderbutwhatthey'llgivemeagiltedgedtestimonialasanunhangedhorsethief."

    "Isn'ttheresuchathingaslawinWyoming?"thegirldemanded.

    "Lotsofit.Y'ucanbuyjustasgoodlawrighthereasinKalamazoo."

    "IwishIknewwheretofindit."

    "Liketoputmeinthecalaboose?"

    "Inthepenitentiary.Yes,sir!"Amomentlaterthequestionthatwasin

    herthoughtsleapedhotlyfromherlips."Whoareyou,sir,thatdaretocommitmurderandboastofit?"

    Shehadflickedhimontherawatlast.Somethingthatwasneartopainrestedforasecondinhiseyes."Murderisahardname,ma'am.AndIdidn'tsayhewasdaid,oranyofthethree,"camehisgentleanswer.

    "YouMEANTtokillthem,anyhow."

    "DidI?"Therewastheghostofasadsmileabouthiseyes.

    "Thewayyouact,apersonmightthinkyouoneofNedBannister'smen,"shetoldhim,scornfully.

    "Iexpectyou'reright."

    Sherepentedheralittleatachargesounjust."Ifyouarenotashamedofyournamewhyareyousoloathtopartwithit?"

    "Y'udidn'taskmemyname,"hesaid,adarkflushsweepinghisface.

    "Iaskitnow."

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    Likethelightfromasnuffedcandletheboyishrecklessnesshadgoneoutofhisface.Hisjawsweresetlikeaviseandhelookedhardashammeredsteel.

    "MynameisBannister,"hesaid,coldly.

    "NedBannister,theoutlaw,"sheletslip,andwasawareofastrangesinkingoftheheart.

    Itseemedtoherthatsomethingsinistercametothesurfaceinhishandsomeface."Ireckonwemightaswellletitgoatthat,"hereturned,withbitterbriefness.

    CHAPTER2.THEKINGOFTHEBIGHORNCOUNTRY

    TwomonthsbeforethistimeHelenMessiterhadbeenserenelyteachingasecondgradeatKalamazoo,Michigan,notwithstandingtheearnesteffortsofseveralyouthsofthatcitytoinducehertoretiretodomesticity"What'stheuseofbeingaschoolmarm?"hadbeentheburdenoftheirplaint."AnyspinstercanteachkidsC-A-T,Cat,butonlyoneinseveralthousandcanbetheprettiestbrideinKalamazoo."Noneofthem,however,hadbeenabletodrivethepointsufficientlyhome,andit

    isprobablethatshewouldhavecontinuedtodevoteherselftoYoungAmericaifanuncleshehadneverseenhadnotdiedwithoutawillandleftheraranchinWyomingyclepttheLazyD.

    WhenherlawyerproposedtoputtheranchonthemarketMissHelenhadawordtosay.

    "Ithinknot.I'llgooutandseeitfirst,anyhow,"shesaid.

    "Butreally,mydearyounglady,itisn'tatallnecessary.Factis,I'vealreadyhadanofferofahundredthousanddollarsforit.Now,Ishouldjudgethatafairprice."

    "Verylikely,"hisclientinterrupted,quietly."But,yousee,Idon'tcaretosell."

    "Thenwhatintheworldareyougoingtodowithit?"

    "Runit."

    "But,mydearMissMessiter,itisn'tanautomobileoranyotherkindoftoy.Youmustrememberthatittakesabusinessheadandagreatdealofexperiencetomakesuchaninvestmentpay.Ireallythink--"

    "MyschoolendsonthefourteenthofJune.I'llgetasubstituteforthelasttwomonths.IshallstartforWyomingontheeighteenthofApril."

    Themanoflawgasped,explainedthedifficultiesagaincarefullyastoachild,foundthathewaswastinghisbreath,andwiselygaveitup.

    MissMessiterhadstartedontheeighteenthofApril,asshehadannounced.WhenshereachedGimletButte,thenearestrailroadpointtotheLazyD,shefoundagroupofcurious,weatherbeatenindividualsgatheredroundamachineforeigntotheirexperience.Itwasonaflatcar,andthegeneralopinionranthegamutfromanewfangledsewingmachinetoathresher.Intothisguessingcontestcameitsownerwith

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    sobriskandbusinesslikeanenergythatinsideoftwohoursshewastestingitupanddownthewidestreetofGimletButte,tothewonderanddelightofanaudiencetowhicheachoneoftheelevensaloonsofthecityhadcontributeditsadmiringquota.

    Meanwhiletheyoungwomanattendedstrictlytobusiness.ShehaddisappearedforhalfanhourwithasuitcaseintotheElkHouse;andwhenshereturnedinashort-skirtedcorduroysuit,leggingsandwide-brimmedgrayStetsonhat,allGimletButtetookanabsorbinginterestinthedetailsofthisdelightfuladventurethathadhappenedtothetown.Thepopulationwasoutenmassetowatchherslipdowntheroadonatrialtrip.

    Presently"Soapy"Sothern,driftinginonhisbuckskinfromtheHoodooPeakcountry,whereforprivatereasonsofhisownhehadbeenforthepastmonthasojourner,reportedthathehadseentheprettiestsightintheStateclimbingunderagasolinebroncwithamonkey-wrenchinherhand.Where?Rightoverthehillontheedgeoftown.Theimmediatestampedeforthecowponieswasavertedbyawarningchug-chugthatsoundeddowntheroad,followedbytheappearanceofaflashingwhirthatmadetheponiesdanceontheirhindlegs.

    "Thegasolinebroncladysuremakesahitwithme,"announced"Texas,"gravely."IallowI'llrustleajobwiththeLazyDoutfit."

    "Shece'tainlyridesherdonthatmachinelikeachampeen,"admittedSoapy."IreckonI'lldriftovertotheLazyDwithyoutolookafteryoreremains,Tex,whenthelightninghitsyou."

    MissMessiterswungtheautomobileroundinaswiftcircle,cametoanabrupthaltinfrontofthehotel,andalightedwithoutdelay.Asshepassedinthroughthehalfscoreofadmirersshehadwon,herdarkeyessweptsmilinglyoverassembledCattleland.Shehadalreadymetmostofthematthelaunchingofthemachinefromtheflatcar,andhaddirectedtheirperspiringenergiesastheylaboredtofollowherorders.Nowshenoddedarecognitionwithalittlerippleofgaylaughter.

    "I'mdelightedtobeabletocontributetotheentertainmentofGimletButte,"shesaid,asshesweptin.ForthisyoungwomanwaspossessedofWesternadaptation.Itgavehernoconscientiousqualmstoexchangeconversationfraternalwiththesegenialsavages.

    TheElkHousedidnotrejoiceinaprivatediningroom,andcompetitionstrenuousensuedastowhoshouldhavethepleasureofsittingbesidetheguestofhonor.Toavoidillfeeling,thematterwasdeterminedbyagameoffreeze-out,inwhichTexasandamaturegentlemannamed,fromhiscomplexion,"Beet"Collins,weretheluckyvictors.Texasimmediatelyrepairedtothegeneralstore,wherehepurchasedanewscarletbandannafortheoccasion;alsoacakeofsoapwithwhichtoroutthealkalidustthathadfilteredintoeveryporeofhishandsand

    facefromalongrideacrossthedesert.

    CamesupperandTexassimultaneously,thecow-puncher'sfacescrubbedtoanappleshine.AtthelastmomentCollinsdefaulted,hisnervecompletelygone.Since,however,hewasathriftysoul,hesoldhisplacetoSoapyfortendollars,andproceededtoinvesttheproceedsinanimmediatedrunk.

    DuringthefirsttenminutesofsupperMissMessiterdidnotappear,andthetwoguardianswhoflankedherchairsolicitouslyweretheobjectof

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    muchbadinage.

    "ShegotoneglimpseofthatredhaidofTexandtheporelady'stooktothesage,"explainedYorky.

    "AndhimscrubbedsoshinyfusttimesinceChristmasbeforethebigblizzard,"sighedDocRogers.

    "Shucks!Sheain'tscaredofnosawed-off,hammered-downruntlikeTexas,No,siree!MissMessiter'sontheabsentlist'causeshe'safraidshecayn'tresisttheblandishmentsofSoapy.Didyo'everhearaboutSoapyandthatCasparhashslinger?"

    "Forgetit,Slim,"advisedSoapy,promptly.HehadbeenengagedinloftyandobliviousconversationwithTexas,buthedidnotintendtoallowreminiscencestogetunderwayjustnow.

    Atthisopportunejuncturearrivedthemistressofthe"gasolinebronc,"neatlycladinasimplewhitelawnwithbluetrimmings.Shelookedlikeagleamofsunshineinherfresh,sweetyouth;andnoteveninherownschoolroomhadsheeverfoundherselfthefocusofacleaner,moreunstintedadmiration.FortheoutdoorsWesttakesoffitshatreverentlytowomenworthyofrespect,especiallywhentheyareyoungandfriendly.

    HelenMessiterhadcometoWyomingbecausethecallofadventure,thedesireforexperienceoutsideofruttedconvention,werestirringherwarm-bloodedyouth.Shehadseenenoughoflifelivedinaparlor,andwhentherecameknockingatherdoorachancetoknowthebig,untamedoutdoorsatfirsthandshehadatonceembraceditlikealover.Shewaseagerforhernewlife,andshesetoutskillfullytomakethesementellherwhatshewantedtoknow.Tothem,ofcourse,itwasanoldstory,andwhateverofromanceitheldwasunconscious.ButsinceshewantedtotalkoftheWesttheyweremorethanreadytopleaseher.

    Soshelistened,anddrewthemoutwithadroitquestionswhenitwasnecessary.Shemadethemtalkoflifeontheopenrange,ofrustlersandthosewholivedoutsidethelawintheupperShoshonecountry,ofthe

    deadlywarwagingbetweenthecattleandsheepindustries.

    "ArethereanysheepneartheLazyDranch?"sheasked,intenselyinterestedinSoapy'staleofhowcattleandsheepcouldnomorebegottomixthanoilandwater.

    Foraninstantnobodyansweredherquestion;thenSoapyreplied,withwhatseemedelaboratecarelessness:

    "NedBannisterrunsabunchofabouttwelvethousandnotmore'nfifteenortwentymilesfromyourplace."

    "Andyousaytheyarespoilingtherange?"

    "They'rece'tainlyspoilingitforcows."

    "Butcan'tsomethingbedone?IfmycowsweretherefirstIdon'tseewhatrighthehastobringhissheepthere,"thegirlfrowned.

    Theassembledcompanyattendedstrictlytosupper.Thegirl,surprisedatthestillness,lookedround."Well?"

    "Nowyou'reshouting,ma'am!That'swhatwesay,"enthusedTexas,

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    spurringtotherescue.

    "Itdoesn'tmuchmatterwhatyousay.Whatdoyoudo?"askedHelen,impatiently."DoyouliedownandletMr.Bannisterandhiskinddrivetheirsheepoveryou?"

    "Dowe,Soapy?"grinnedTexas.Yetitseemedtoherhissmilewasnotquitecarefree.

    "I'mnotacowmanmyself,"explainedSoapytothegirl."NordoIrunsheep.I--"

    "TellMissMessiterwhatyorebusinessis,Soapy,"advisedYorkyfromtheendofthetable,withamouthfulofbiscuitswellinghischeeks.

    SoapycrushedtheirrepressibleYorkywithalook,butthatyoungmanhitbacksmilingly.

    "Soapy,hesellssoap,ma'am.He'sasortercitysalesman,Ireckon."

    "Ishouldneverhaveguessedit.Mr.SotherndoesnotLOOKlikeasalesman,"saidthegirl,withaglanceathisshrewd,hard,expressionlessface.

    "Yes,ma'am,he'safirst-classsellerofsoap,isMr.Sothern,"chuckledthecow-puncher,kickinghisfriendsgaylyunderthetable.

    "YoucanseeIneversoldHIMany,MissMessiter,"camebackSoapy,sorrowfully.

    AllthiswasGreektotheyoungladyfromKalamazoo.HowwasshetoknowthatMr.Sothernhadvendedhissoapinsmallcubesonstreetcorners,andthathewrappedbanknotesofvariousdenominationsinthebars,whichsamewereretailedtoeagercustomersforthesmallsumoffiftycents,afteraguaranteethatthesoapwasgood?Hiscustomersrarelypatronizedhimtwice;andfrequentlytheyusedbadlanguagebecausethesoapwrappingwasnotasvaluableastheyhadexpected.Thiswas

    manifestlyunfair,forMr.Sothern,whomadenoclaimstophilanthropy,oftenwarnedthemthatthesoapshouldbeboughtonitsmerits,andnotwithaneyesingletothepremiumthatmightormightnotaccompanythepackage.

    "Istartedtotellyou,ma'am,whenthatinfantinterrupted,thatthecowmendon'taimtoquitbusinessyetawhile.They'vedrawnadead-line,MissMessiter."

    "Adead-line?"

    "Yes,ma'am,beyondwhichnosheepherderistorunhisbunch."

    "Andifhedoes?"thegirlasked,openeyed.

    "Hedon'tdoittwict,ma'am.Whydon'tyoupassthefritterstoMissMessiter,Slim?"

    "AndaboutthisBannisterWhoishe?"

    Herinnocentquestionseemedtoringabellforsilence;seemedtocarrywithitsomehiddenportentthatstoppedidleconversationasastrikingclockthatmarksthehourofanexecution.

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    Thesmilethathadbeengaygrewgrim,andmenforgotthesubjectoftheirlight,casualtalk.ItwasSothernthatansweredher,andsheobservedthathisvoicewasgrave,hisfacestudiouslywithoutexpression.

    "Mr.Bannister,ma'am,isasheepman."

    "SoIunderstood,but--"Hereyestraveledswiftlyroundthetable,andappraisedthesuddensenseofresponsibilitythathadfallenonthesereckless,carelessfrontiersmen."Iamwonderingwhatelseheis.Really,heseemstobethebogeymanofGimletButte."

    Therewasanotherinstantsilence,andagainitwasSoapythatliftedit."Iexpaictyou'lllikeWyoming,MissMessiter;leastwaysIhopeyouwill.There'sarightsmartofcountryhere."Hisgazewentoutoftheopendoortothevastseaofspacethatswaminthefinesunsetlight."Yes,mostfolksthatain'tplumbspoiltwithcitywayslikesit."

    "Sureshe'lllikeit.Y'uwanttogetagood,easy-ridinghawss,MissMessiter,"advisedSlim.

    "Andarifle,"addedTexas,promptly.

    Itoccurredtoherthattheywereallworkingtogethertodrifttheconversationbacktoasafetopic.Shefollowedtheleadgivenher,butshemadeuphermindtoknowwhatitwasaboutherneighbor,Mr.Bannister,thesheepherder,thatneededtobehandledwithsuchwarinessandcircumspectionofspeech.

    Herchancecamehalfanhourlater,whenshestoodtalkingtothelandladyonthehotelporchinthemellowtwilightthatseemedtorestonthelandlikeamoonlitaura.Forthemomenttheywerealone.

    "WhatisitaboutthismanBannisterthatmakesmenafraidtospeakofhim?"shedemanded,withswiftimpulse.

    Herlandlady'sstartledeyeswentalertlyroundtoseethattheywerealone."Hush,child!Youmustn'tspeakofhimlikethat,"warnedtheolderwoman.

    "Whymustn'tI?That'swhatIwanttoknow."

    "Isisn'thealthy."

    "Whatdoyoumean?"

    Againthatanxiouslookflashedroundinthedusk."TheBannisteroutfitistheworstintheland.NedBannisteriskingofthewholeBigHorncountryandbeyondthattotheTetons."

    "Andyoumeantotellmethateverybodyisafraidofhim--thatmenlikeMr.Sotherndarenotsaytheirsoulistheirown?"thenewcomerasked,contemptuously.

    "Notsoloud,child.HehasspieseverywhereThat'sthetrouble.Youdon'tknowwhoisinwithhim.He'sgotthewholeregionterrified."

    "Ishesobad?"

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    "Heisadevil.LastyearheandhishellriderssweptdownonTopazandkilledtwobartendersjusttoseethemkick,NedBannistersaid.Folksallowtheyknewtoomuch."

    "Butthelaw--theGovernment?Haven'tyouasheriffandofficers?"

    "Bannisterhas.Heelectsthesheriffinthiscounty."

    "Aren'ttheremorehonestpeopleherethanvillains?"

    "Tentimesasmany,butthetroubleisthatthehonestfolkscan'ttrusteachother.Yousee,ifoneofthemmadeamistakeandconfidedinthewrongman--well,somefinedayhewouldgoridingherdandwouldnotturnupatnight.Nextweek,ornextmonth,maybe,oneofhispartnersmightfindapileofbonesinanarroyo.

    "HaveyoueverseenthisBannister?"

    "YouMUSTspeaklowerwhenyoutalkofhim,MissMessiter,"thewomaninsisted."Yes,Isawhimonce;atleastIthinkIdid.Mightyfewfolksknowforsurethattheyhaveseenhim.Heisamystery,andhetravelsundermanynamesanddisguises."

    "Whenwasityouthinkyousawhim?"

    "TwoyearsagoatAyr.Thebankwaslootedthatnightandrobbedofthirtythousanddollars.Theyrousedthecashierfromhisbedandmadehimgivethecombination.Hedidn'twantto,andNedBannister"--hervoicesanktoatremulouswhisper--"putred-hotrunning-ironsbetweenhisfingerstillheweakened.Itwasamoonlightnight--muchsuchanightasthis--andafteritwasdoneIpeepedthroughtheblindofmyroomandsawthemrideaway.Herodeinfrontofthemandsanglikeanangel--diditoutofdaredeviltrytomockthepeopleofthetownthathadn'tnerveenoughtoshoothim.Yousee,heknewthatnobodywoulddarehurthim'countoftherevengeofhismen."

    "Whatwashelike?"themistressoftheLazyDasked,strangelyawedat

    thisrecitaloftranscendentvillainy.

    "'Coursehewasmasked,andIdidn'tseehisface.ButI'dknowhimanywhere.He'salong,slimfellow,builtlikeamountainlion.Youcouldn'tlookathimandeverforgethim.He'soneofthesegraceful,easymenthatgosofurwithfoolwomen;oneofthekindthathalfshutshisdark,devileyesandmastersthemwithoutseemingtotry."

    "Sohe'sawomankiller,too,ishe?AnymoreoutstandinginconsistenciesinthisversatileJesseJames?"

    "He'splumbcrazyaboutmusic,theysay.HasapianoandplaysGriggandChopping,andallthatclassicalkindofmusic.Hewentcleardownto

    DenverlastyeartohearMrs.Shoemansing."

    Helensmiled,guessingatSchumann-Heinkasthesingerinquestion,andGriegandChopinasthecomposersnamed.Herinterestwasincrediblyaroused.ShehadexpectedtheWestanditsproductstoexhilarateher,butshehadnotlookedtofindsofinishedaMephistoamongitsvaunted"badmen."Hewasprobablyoverrated;consideredawonderbecausehisaccomplishmentsoutsteppedthoseoftherange.ButHelenMessiterhadquitedeterminedononething.Shewasgoingtomeetthisredoubtablevillainandmakeuphermindforherself.Already,beforeshehadbeen

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    inWyomingsixhours,thisemancipatedyoungwomanhaddecidedonthat.

    CHAPTER3.ANINVITATIONGIVENANDACCEPTED

    Andalreadyshehadmethim.Notonlymethim,butsavedhimfromthejustvengeanceabouttofalluponhim.Shehadnotyetseenherownranch,hadnotspokentoasingleoneofheremployees,forithadbeenapartofherplantodropinunexpectedandexaminethesituationbeforeherforemanhadachancetoputhisbestfootforward.SoshehadstartedalonefromGimletButtethatmorninginhermachine,andhadcomealmostinsightoftheLazyDranchhouseswhenthebattleinthecouleeinvitedhertotakeahand.

    Shehadactedongenerousimpulse,andtheunforeseenresulthadbeentosavethisdesperadofromjustice.Buttheworstofitwasthatshecouldnotfinditinherhearttoregretit.Grantedthathewasavillain,double-dyedandbeyondhope,yethewasthehomeofsuchcourage,suchvirility,thatherunconsentingadmirationwentoutinspiteofherself.Hewas,atanyrate,aMAN,square-jawed,resolute,implacable.Inthesinuoustrailofhislifemightliearson,robbery,murder,buthestillheldtothatdynamicsparkofself-respectthatisakintothedivine.Norwasitpossibletobelievethatthoseunblinkinggrayeyes,with

    thecapabilityofalatentsadnessofdespairinthem,expressedasoulentirelywithoutnobility.Hehadacertaingallantease,acertainattractivecandor,thatdidnotconsistwithvillainyunadulterated.

    ItwascharacteristicevenofherimpulsivenessthatHelenMessitercurbedtheswiftcondemnationthatleapedtoherlipswhensheknewthatthemansittingbesideherwasthenotoriousbanditoftheShoshonefastnesses.Shewasnotintheleastafraid.Asureinstincttoldherhewasnotthekindofamanofwhomawomanneedhavefearsolongasherownanchorheldfast.Ingoodtimeshemeanttolethimhaveherunvarnishedopinionofhim,butshedidnotmeanittobeanunconsideredone.Whereforeshedrovethemachineforwardtowardthecamelbackedpeakhehadindicated,hereyesstraightbeforeher,afrown

    corrugatingherforehead.

    Forhim,havingmadehisdramaticannouncement,heseemedcontentforthepresentwithsilence.Heleanedbackinthecarandappreciatedherwithacoolnessthatjustmissedimpudence.Certainlyherappearanceproclaimedherverymuchworthwhile.Todwellonthelonglinesofhersuppleyoungbody,theexquisitethroatandchincurve,wasapleasurewithathrilltoit.Asaphysicalcreation,amereinnocentyounganimal,hethoughtherperfect;attunedtoafineharmonyofgraceandcolor.Butitwastheanimatingvitalityofher,thelightnessofmotion,thefireandsparkleofexpressionthatgaveherthecaptivatingcharmshepossessed.

    Theyweretwomilesnearerthecamel-backedpeakbeforehebrokethesilence.

    "Beatsabroncoforgettingovertheground.ThinkI'llhavetogetone,"hemusedaloud.

    "WiththemoneyyoutookfromtheAyrbank?"sheflashed.

    "Imightdriveoffsomeofyourcowsandsellthem,"hecountered,promptly."Abouthowmuchwilltheyholdmeupforamachinelikethis?"

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    "Thisisonlyarunabout.Youcangetonefortwelveorfourteenhundreddollarsofanybody'smoney."

    "Ofyours?"helaughed.

    "Ihaven'tthatmuchwithme.Ifyou'llcomeoverandholduptheranchperhapswemightraiseitamongus,"shejeered.

    Hismirthwasgenuine."ButrightnowIcouldn'tgetmorethanhowmuchoffy'u?"

    "Sixty-threedollarsisallIhavewithme,andIcouldn'tgiveyoumore--NOTEVENIFYOUPUTREDHOTIRONSBETWEENMYFINGERS."Shegaveittohimstraight,herblueeyesfixedsteadilyonhim.

    Yetshewasnotpreparedfortheeffectofherwords.Thelastthingshehadexpectedwastoseethebloodwashoutofhisbronzedface,toseehissensitivenostrilstwitchwithpain.Hemadeherfeelasifshehadinsultedhim,asifshehadbeenneedlesslycruel.Andbecauseofitshehardenedherheart.Whyshouldshesparehimthementionofit?Hehadnothesitatedattheshamelessdeeditself.Whyshouldsheshrinkbeforethatwoundedlookthatleapedtohisfineeyesinthatflashoftimebeforehehardenedthemtosteel?

    "Youdidit--didn'tyou?"shedemanded.

    "That'swhattheysay."Hisgazemetherdefiantly.

    "Anditistrue,isn'tit?"

    "Oh,anythingistrueofamanthatherdssheep,"hereturned,bitterly.

    "IfthatistrueitwouldnotbepossibleforyoutounderstandhowmuchIdespiseyou."

    "Thankyou,"heretorted,ironically.

    "Idon'tunderstandatall.Idon'tseehowyoucanbethemantheysayyouare.BeforeImetyouitwaseasytounderstand.Butsomehow--Idon'tknow--youdon'tLOOKlikeavillain."Shefoundherselfstrangelyvoicingthedeephopeofherheart.Itwassurelyimpossibletolookathimandbelievehimguiltyofthethingsofwhich,hewasaccused.Andyetheofferednodenial,suggestednodefense.

    Hertroubledeyeswentoverhisthin,sunbakedfacewithitstouch,ofbitterness,andshedidnotfinditpossibletodismissthesubjectwithoutgivinghimachancetosethimselfright.

    "Youcan'tbeasbadastheysay.Youarenot,areyou?"sheasked,

    naively.

    "Whatdoy'uthink?"heresponded,coolly.

    Sheflushedangrilyatwhatsheacceptedashisinsolence."Amanofanydecencywouldhavejumpedatthechancetoexplain."

    "Butifthereisnothingtoexplain?"

    "Youarethenguilty."

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    Theireyesmet,andneitherofthemquailed.

    "IfIpleadednotguiltywouldy'ubelieveme?"

    Shehesitated."Idon'tknow.HowcouldIwhenitisknownbyeverybody?Andyet--"

    Hesmiled."WhyshouldItroubley'u,then,withexplanations?Ireckonwe'llletitgoatguilty."

    "Isthatallyoucansayforyourself?"

    Heseemedtohangindoubtaninstant,thenshookhisheadandrefusedtheopening.

    "IexpectifwechangedthesubjectIcouldsayagooddealfory'u,"hedrawled."Ineversawanythingpluckierthanthewayy'uflewdownfromthemesaandconductedthecutting-outexpedition.Y'usuredrilledthroughyourpuncherslikeastreakoflightning."

    "Ididn'tknowwhoyouwere,"sheexplained,proudly.

    "Wouldithavemadeanydifferenceify'uhad?"

    Againtheangryflushtouchedhercheeks."Notabit.Iwouldhavesavedyouinordertohaveyouproperlyhangedlater,"shecutbackpromptly.

    Heshookhisheadgayly."I'mce'tainlygoingtodisappointy'usome.Yourenterprisingpunchersmaycollectmeyet,butnotalive,Ireckon."

    "I'llgivethemstrictorderstobringyouinalive."

    "Didyoueverwantthemoonwheny'uwasalittlekid?"heasked.

    "We'llsee,Mr.OutlawBannister."

    Helaughedsoftly,inthequiet,indolentfashionthatwouldhavebeenpleasantifithadnotbeenather."It'srightkindofyoutotakesomuchinterestinme.I'dmostbewillingtoobligebylettingyourboysropemetorenewthisacquaintance,ma'am."Then,"IgetouthereMissMessiter,"headded.

    Shestoppedontheinstant.Plainlyshecouldnotgetridofhimtoosoon."Haven'tyouforgotonething?"sheasked,ironically.

    "Yes,ma'am.Tothankyouproperforwhaty'udidforme."Helimpedgingerlydownfromthecarandstoodwithhishandononeofthetires."Ihavebeentryingtothinkhowtosayitright;butIguessI'llhavetogiveitup.AllisthatifIevergetachancetoeventhescore--"

    Shewavedhisthanksasideimpatiently"Ididn'tmeanthat.Youhaveforgottentotakemypurse."

    Hisgravitywasbrokenontheinstant,andhislaughterwascertainlydelightfullyfresh."Icleanforgot,butIexpectI'lldropovertotheranchforitsomeday."

    "We'lltrytomaketomakeyouwelcome,Mr.Bannister."

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    "Don'tputyourselfoutatall.I'lltakepot-luckwhenIcome."

    "Howmanyofyoumayweexpect?"sheasked,defiantly.

    "Oh,Iallowtocomealone."

    "You'llverylikelyforget."

    "No,ma'am,Idon'tknowsomanyladiesthatI'mliabletosuchanoversight.

    "Ihaveheardadifferentstory.Butifyoudoremembertocome,andwillletusknowwhenyouexpecttohonortheLazyD,I'llhavemessengerssenttomeetyou."

    Heperfectlyunderstoodhertomeanleadenones,andthehumorousgleaminhiseyesparkledinappreciationofherspirit."Idon'twantallthatfussmadeoverme.IreckonI'lldropinunexpected,"hesaid.

    Shenoddedcurtly."Good-bye.Hopeyouranklewon'ttroubleyouverymuch."

    "Thanky'u,ma'am.Ireckonitwon't.Good-bye,MissMessiter."

    OutofthetailofhereyeshesawhimbowinglikeanItalianoperasinger,asimpudentlyinsouciant,asgracefullygracelessasanystagevillaininhermemory.Onceagainshesawhim,whenhermachinesweptroundacurveandshecouldlookbackwithoutseemingtodoso,limpingacrossthroughthesagebrushtowardalittlehillockneartheroad.Andasshelookedthebare,curlyheadwasinclinedtowardherinanotherlow,mockingbow.Hewascertainlythegallantestvagabondunhanged.

    CHAPTER4.ATTHELAZYDRANCH

    HelenMessiterwasayoungwomanverymuchalive,whichimpliesthatshe

    wasgiventoemotions;andashermachineskimmedoverthegroundtotheLazyDshehadthemtospare.Forfromthefirstthisyoungmanhadtakenhereye,andithadcomeuponherwithadistinctshockthathewasthenotoriousscoundrelwhowasterrorizingthecountryside.Shetoldherselfalmostpassionatelythatshewouldneverhavebelieveditifhehadnotsaidsohimself.Sheknewquitewellthatthecoldnessthathadclutchedherheartwhenhegavehisnamehadhadnothingtodowithfear.Therehadbeenchagrin,disappointment,butnothingintheleastliketheterrorshemighthaveexpected.Thesimpletruthwasthathehadseemedsomuchamanthatithadhurthertofindhimalsoawildbeast.

    Deepinherheartsheresentedtheconvictionforceduponher.Reckless

    heundoubtedlywas,atoddswiththelawsurely,butitwashardtoadmitthatattractivepersonalitytobethemaskoffiendishcrueltyandsinistermalice.Andyet--thefactsspokeforthemselves.Hehadnotevenattemptedadenial.Stilltherewasamysteryabouthim,elsehowwasitpossiblefortwosodistinctpersonalitiestodwelltogetherinthesamebody.

    Shehatedhimwithallherlustyyoungwill;notonlyforwhathewas,butalsoforwhatshehadbeendisappointedinnotfindinghimafterherfirstinstinctiveliking.Yetitwaswithanoddlittlethrillthat

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    sherandownagainintothecouleewhereherprosaiclifehadfounditsfirstrealadventure.Hemightbealltheysaid,butnothingcouldwipeoutthefactsthatshehadofferedherlifetosavehis,andthathehadlentherhisbodyasalivingshieldforoneexhilaratingmomentofdanger.

    Asshereachedthehillsummitbeyondthecoulee,HelenMessiterwasawarethatariderinungainlychapsofwhitewoolwasrapidlyapproaching.Hedippeddownintothenextdepressionwithoutseeingher;andwhentheycamefacetofaceatthetopoftherisetheresultwasinstantaneous.Hisponydidananimatedtwo-stepnotontheprogramme.Ittookoneglanceatthediabolicalmachine,andwentuponitshindlegs,preliminarytogivinganelaborateexhibitionofpitching.Theriderindulgedinvividprofanityandpliedhisquirtvigorously.Butthebronco,withthefearofthisunknownevilonitssoul,varieditsbuckingsoeffectivelythatthepuncherastrideitshurricanedeckwasforced,inthelanguageofhiskind,to"takethedust."

    Hisredheadsailedthroughtheairandlandedinthewhitesandatthegirl'sfeet.Foramomenthesatintheroadandgazedwithchagrinafterthevanishingheelsofhismount.Thenhiswrathfuleyescameroundtotheownerofthemachinethathadcausedtheeruption.Hismouthhadopenedtogiveadequateexpressiontohisfeelings,whenhediscoveredanewtheforgottenfactthathewasdealingwithawoman.

    Hisjawhungopenforaninstantinamaze;andwhenherememberedtheuneditedvocabularyhehadturnedlooseontheworldafloodofpurpleswepthistannedface.

    Shewantedtolaugh,butwiselyrefrained."I'mverysorry,"waswhatshesaid.

    Hestaredinsilenceasheslowlypickedhimselffromtheground.Hisredhairroselikethequillsofaporcupineaboveafacethathadtheappearanceofbeingunfinished.Neithernosenormouthnorchinseemedtobequitedefiniteenough.

    Shechokeddownhergayetyandofferedrenewedapologies.

    "Iwasgoingforadoc,"heexplained,bywayofopeninghisshareoftheconversation.

    "ThenperhapsyouhadbetterjumpinwithmeandridebacktotheLazyD.Isupposethat'swhereyoucamefrom?"

    Hescratchedhisvividheadhelplessly."Yes,ma'am."

    "Thenjumpin."

    "IwasgoingtoBearCreek,ma'am,"headdeddubiously.

    "Howfarisit?"

    "'Bouttwenty-fivemiles,andthensome."

    "Youdon'texpecttowalk,doyou?"

    "No;Iallowed--"

    "I'lltakeyoubacktotheranch,whereyoucangetanotherhorse."

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    "Ireckon,ma'am,I'drutherwalk."

    "Nonsense!Why?"

    "Iain'tusedtothemgaswagons."

    "It'squitesafe.Thereisnothingtobeafraidof."

    Reluctantlyhegotinbesideher,ashappyasacalfinabrandingpen.

    "AreyoutheladythatsashaidoffwithNedBannister?"heaskedpresently,afterhehadhadtimetosmothersuccessivelysomeofhisfear,wonderanddelightattheirsmooth,swiftprogress.

    "Yes.Why?"

    "Theboysallowyouhadn'toughterhavedoneit."Then,toplacetheresponsibilityproperlyonshouldersbroaderthanhisown,headded:"That'swhatJuddsays."

    "AndwhoisJudd?"

    "Judd,he'stheforemanoftheLazyD."

    Belowthemappearedthecorralsandhousesofaranchnestlinginalittlevalleyflankedbyhills.

    "Thisyere'stheLazyD,"announcedtheyouth,withpride,andinthespiritoffriendlinesssuggestedacaution."Judd,he'ssomepeppery.Youwantersmoothhimdownsome,seeingashe'sriledupto-day."

    Aflickerofsteelcameintotheblueeyes."Indeed!Well,hereweare."

    "Ifitain'tReddy,ANDtheladywiththeflyingmachine,"murmuredafreckledyouthnamedMcWilliams,emergingfromthebunkhousewithapanofwaterwhichhadbeenusedtobathethewoundofoneofthepuncturedcombatants.

    "What'sthat?"snappedavoicefromwithin;andimmediatelyitsownerappearedinthedoorwayandboredwithnarrowedblackeyestheyoungwomaninthemachine.

    "Whoareyou?"hedemanded,brusquely.

    "Yourtarget,"sheanswered,quietly."Wouldyouliketotakeanothershotatme?"

    Thefreckledladbrokeoutintoagurgleoflaughter,atwhichtheblack,swarthymanbesidehimwheeledroundinarage."Whatyoucacklin'at,Mac?"hedemanded,inalowvoice.

    "Oh,thethingsInotice,"returnedthatyouthjauntily,meetingtheother'sangerwithouttheflickerofaneyelid.

    "Itain'thealthytobesonoticin',"insinuatedtheother.

    "Y'udon'tsay,"cametheprompt,sarcasticretort."Ifyou'resuchadarnedgoodjudgeofhealth,y'ubetterbeattendingtosomeofyourpatients."Hejerkedacasualthumboverhisshouldertowardthebunksonwhichlaythewoundedmen.

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    "Ishouldn'twonderbutwhattheremightbeanotherpatientformetoattendto,"snarledtheforeman.

    "Thatso?Well,turnyourwolfloosewheny'ugettofeelin'realdevilish,"jeeredtheundismayedone,strollingforwardtoassistMissMessitertoalight.

    ThemistressoftheLazyDhadbeenawareofthebyplay,butshehadcaughtneitherthewordsnortheirimport.Shetooktheofferedbrownhandsmilingly,forhereagainshelookedintothefrankeyesoftheWest,unafraidandsteady.Shejudgedhimnotmorethantwenty-two,buttheschoolwherehehadlearnedoflifehadheldopenandstrenuoussessioneverydaysincehecouldremember.

    "Gladtomeety'u,ma'am,"heassuredher,inthecurrentphraseofthesemi-aridlands.

    "I'msureIamgladtomeetYOU,"sheanswered,heartily."CanyoutellmewhereistheforemanoftheLazyD?"

    Heintroducedwithasmiletheswarthymaninthedoorway."Thisishimma'am--Mr.JuddMorgan."

    NowithappenedthatMr.JuddMorganwassimmeringwithsuppressedspleen.

    "AllI'vegottosayisthatyouhadnobusinessmixingupinthatshootin'affairbackthere.Perhapsyoudon'tknowthatthemanyousavedisNedBannister,theoutlaw,"washissurlygreeting.

    "Oh,yes,Iknowthat."

    "Thenwhatd'yemean--Whoareyou,anyway?"Hisinsolenteyescoastedmalevolentlyoverher.

    "HelenMessiterismyname."

    Itwasludicroustoseethechangethatcameovertheman.Hehadbeenpreparedtobullyher;andwithawordshehadprickedthebubbleofhisarrogance.Heswallowedhisangerandgotamechanicalsmileinworkingorder.

    "Gladtoseeyouhere,MissMessiter,"hesaid,hissinistergazeattemptingtomeethersfrankly"Ibeenlookingforyoueveryday."

    "Buty'umanagedtosurprisehim,afterallma'am,"chuckledMac.

    "Where'syo'hawss,Reddy?"inquiredatallyoungman,whohadappearedsilentlyinthedoorwayofthebunkhouse.

    Reddypinkedviolently."Ihadanaccident,Denver,"heexplained."Thisladyyereshe--"

    "Scoopedy'urightoffyorehawss.Y'udon'tsay,"sympathizedMacsobreathlesslythatevenReddyjoinedinthechorusoflaughterthatwentupathisexpense.

    Theyoungwomanthoughttomakeiteasyforhim,andsuggestedanexplanation.

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    "Hishorseisn'tusedtoautomobiles,andsowhenitmetthisone--"

    "Igotoff,"interposedReddyhastily,displayingacomplexionlikeaboiledbeet.

    "Hegotoff,"Macexplainedgravelytotheincreasingaudience.

    Denvernoddedwithanimperturbableface."Hegotoff."

    MacintroducedMissMessitertosuchofheremployeesaswereonhand."ShakehandswithMissMessiter,Missou,"wastheformula,thenamealonevaryingtosuittheembarrassedgentlemeninleathers.Eachoftheminturnpresentedahugehand,inwhichherlittleonedisappearedforthetime,andwassawedupanddownintheairlikeapump-handle.Yetifshewasamusedshedidnotshowit;andherpleasureatmeetingthesimple,elementalproductsoftheplainsoutweighedagreatdealhersenseoftheludicrous.

    "Howareyourpatientsgettingalong?"shepresentlyaskedofherforeman.

    "Ireckonallright.IsentReddyforadoc,but--"

    "Hegotoff,"murmuredMacpensively.

    "I'llgoropeanotherhawss,"putinthemanwhohadgotoff.

    "Getajumponyou,then.MissMessiter,wouldyouliketolookovertheplace?"

    "Notnow.Iwanttoseethementhatwerehurt.PerhapsIcanhelpthem.OnceItookafewweeksinnursing."

    "Bullyforyou,ma'am,"whoopedMac."I'veanotionthoseboysaresufferin'forawomantoputthediamond-hitchonthembandages."

    "Bringthatsuit-casein,"shecommandedDenver,inthegentlestvoicehehadeverheard,aftershehadmadeahastyinspectionofthefirstwoundedman.

    Fromthesuit-caseshetookalittleleathermedicine-case,thekindthatcanbeboughtalreadypreparedforuse.Itheldamongotherthingsarollofmedicatedcotton,someantiseptictablets,andalittlesteelinstrumentforprobing.

    "Somewarmwater,please;andhavesomeboilingontherange,"werehernextcommands.

    Macflewtoexecutethem.

    Itwasapleasuretoseeherwork,sodeftlytheskillfulhandsaccomplishedwhatherbraintoldthem.Inadmiringawethepunchersstoodawkwardlyaroundwhileshewashedanddressedthehurts.Twoofthebulletshadgonethroughthefleshypartofthearmandleftcleanwounds.Inthecaseofthethirdmanshehadtoprobeforthelead,butfortunatelyfounditwithlittledifficulty.Meanwhileshesoothedthevictimwithgentlewomanlysympathy.

    "Iknowithurtsagooddeal.JustaminuteandI'llbethrough."

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    Hishandsclutchedtightlytheedgesofhisbunk."That'sallright,doc.YouattendtoropingthatpillandI'llendurethegrief."

    Alongsighofreliefwentupfromtheassembledcowboyswhenshedrewthebulletout.

    Thesinewyhandsfastenedonthewoodenbunkrelaxedsuddenly.

    "'Frisco'sdaid,"gaspedthecook,whoborethetitleofWunHopfornoreasonexceptthathewasanIrishmaninaplaceformerlyheldbyaChinese.

    "Hehasonlyfainted,"shesaidquietly,andcontinuedwiththeantisepticdressing.

    Whenitwasallover,thebig,tannedmengatheredattheentrancetothecalfcorralandexpandedinadmirationoftheirnewboss.

    "She'sapureforfair.Shegradesupanyoldwayyuhtakehertothebestcorn-fedarticleonthemarket,"pronouncedDenver,withenthusiasm.

    "Igottoridetheboundary,"sighedMissou."Ikinderhatetogoright

    now."

    "Here,too,"acquiescedanother."Igotaround-uponWindCreektocutoutthemtwo-year-olds.If'twasmysay-so,I'dorderMaconthatjob."

    "Rightkindofy'u.Seemstome"--Mac'ssarcasticeyetrailedaroundtoincludeallthosewhohadbeensingingherpraises--"thenewqueenofthishaciendawon'thavenotroubleatallpickingaprinceconsortwhenshegetsroundtoit.Here'sWunHop,notwhaty'umightcallanxious,butce'tainlywilling.ThenDenver'ssomeintheturtle-dovebusiness,accordingtothathash-slingerinCheyenne.Missoumightbeinducedtoacceptifitwasofferedhimproper;andIallowJimain'tturnedthecolorofRedtop'shairjestforinstance.Idon'twanttoleaveout

    'FriscoandtheotherboyscarryingBannister'spills--"

    "NorMcWilliams.I'dadmiretoincludehim,"murmuredDenver.

    Thatsunburned,nonchalantyouthlaughedmusically."Surething.I'dhatetobeleftout.Theonlydifferenceis--"

    "Well?"

    Hisrovingeyecircledblandlyround."Istandaboutoneshowinamillion.Y'uroughnecksaredeadonesalready."

    WithwhichcoldcomforthesaunteredawaytojoinMissMessiterand

    theforeman,whonowappearedtogetheratthedooroftheranchhouse,preparedtomakeatourofthebuildingsandtheimmediatecorrals.

    "Isn'tthereawomanontheplace?"shewasaskingMorgan.

    "No'm,thereain't.Henderson'sdaughterwouldcomeandstaywithy'uawhileIreckon."

    "Pleasesendforheratonce,then,andaskhertocometo-day."

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    "Allright.I'llsendoneoftheboysrightaway."

    "Howdidy'uleave'Frisco,ma'am?"askedMac,bywayofincludinghimselfeasily.

    "He'srestingquietly.Unlessblood-poisoningsetsintheyoughtalltodowell."

    "It'srightluckyforthemy'uhappenedalong.Thisisthehawsscorral,ma'am,"explainedtheyoungmanjustasMorganopenedhisthinlipstotellher.

    Juddcontrivedtogetridofhimpromptly."Slaponasaddle,Mac,andrunuptheremudasoMissMessitercanseethehawssesforherself,"heordered.

    "Mebbeshe'dratherridedownandlookatthebunch,"suggestedthecapableMcWilliams.

    Asitchanced,shedidprefertoridedownthepastureandlookovertheplacefromonhorseback.Shewasinlovewithherranchalready.Itsspaciousdistances,thethousandsofcattleandthehorses,thesepicturesqueretainerswhoservedhereventothesheddingofanenemy'sblood;theyallstruckanansweringechoinhergallantyoungheart

    thatnothinginKalamazoohadbeenabletostir.Shebubbledoverwithenthusiasm,thewhileMorgancovertlysneeredandMcWilliamswarmedtotheuntamedyouthinher.

    "WhataboutthismanBannister?"sheflungoutsuddenly,aftertheyhadcanteredbacktothehousewhentheremudahadbeeninspected.

    Herabruptquestionbroughtagaintheshort,tensesilenceshehadbecomeusedtoexpect.

    "Herunssheepabouttwentyorthirtymilessouthwestofhere,"explainedMcWilliams,inacarefullycasualtone.

    "Soeverybodytellsme,butitseemstomehespillsagooddealofleadonmymen,"sheansweredimpatiently."What'sthetrouble?"

    "Lastweekhecrossedthedead-linewithabunchoffivethousandsheep."

    "Whodrawsthisdead-line?"

    "Thecattlemengottogetheranddrewit.Yourunclewasoneofthosethatmarkeditoff,ma'am."

    "AndBannistercrossedit?"

    "Yes,ma'am.Yesterday'Friscocomeonhimandoneofhisherderswithabigbunchofthemlessthanfifteenmilesfromhere.Hedidn'tknowitwasBannister,andtookapot-shotathim.'CourseBannistercamebackathim,andhegotFriscointhelaig."

    "Didn'tknowitwasBannister?WhatdifferenceWOULDthatmake?"shesaidimpatiently.

    Maclaughed."Whatdifferencewoulditmake,Judd?"

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    Morganscowled,andtheyoungmanansweredhisownquestion."Wedon'tanyofusgooutofourwaymore'namiletocrossBannister'strail,"hedrawled.

    "Doyouwearthisforanornament?Areyouupholsteredwithhardwaretocatchtheeyesofsomegirl?"sheasked,touchingwiththeendofherwhiptherevolverintheholsterstrappedtohischaps.

    Hisserene,gaysmileflashedather."Arey'uorderingmetogooutandgetNedBannister'sscalp?"

    "No,Iamnot,"sheexplainedpromptly."WhatIamtryingtodiscoveriswhyyouallseemtobeafraidofoneman.Heisonlyaman,isn'the?"

    Aveiloficeseemedtofallovertheboyishfaceandleaveitchiseledmarble.Hisunspeakingeyesrestedontheswarthyforemanasheanswered:

    "Idon'tknowwhatheis,ma'am.Hemaybeoneman,orhemaybeahundred.What'smore,Iain'tparticularlysufferingtofindout.Factis,Ihaven'tlostanyBannisters."

    Thegirlbecameawarethatherforemanwaslookingatherwithawarysilentvigilancesinisterinitsintensity.

    "Inshort,you'reliketherestofthepeopleinthissection.You'reafraid."

    "Nowy'u'reshoutin',MissMessiter.Isureamwhenitcomestoshootin'offmymouthaboutBannister."

    "Andyou,Mr.Morgan?"

    Itstruckherthattheyoungpuncherwaitedwithacuriousinterestfortheansweroftheforeman.

    "DiditlooklikeIwasafraidthismawnin',ma'am?"heasked,with

    narrowedeyes.

    "No,youallseemedbraveenoughthen,whenyouhadhimeighttoone."

    "Iwasn'tthere,"hastilyputinMcWilliams."Idon'tgogunningformymanwithoutgivinghimashow."

    "Ido,"retortedMorgancruelly."I'dgoifwewasfiftytoone.We'd'a'gothim,too,ifithadn'tbeenforMissMessiter.'Twasachanceweain'tlikelytogetagainforayear."

    "Itwasn'tyourfaultyoudidn'tkillhim,Mr.Morgan,"shesaid,lookinghardathim."Youmaybeinterestedtoknowthatyourlastshot

    missedhimonlyaboutsixinches,andmeaboutfour."

    "Ididn'tknowwhoyouwere,"hesullenlydefended.

    "Isee.Youonlyshootatwomenwhenyoudon'tknowwhotheyare."SheturnedherbackonhimpointedlyandaddressedherselftoMcWilliams."YoucantellthemenworkingonthisranchthatIwon'thaveanymoresuchattacksonthismanBannister.Idon'tcarewhatorwhoheis.Idon'tproposetohavehimmurderedbymyemployees.Letthelawtakehimandhanghim.Doyouhear?"

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    "Ice'tainlydo,andtheboyswillgetthewordstraight,"hereplied.

    "ItakeitsinceyuharegivingyourordersthroughMac,yuhdon'tneedmeanylongerforyourforeman,"bulliedMorgan.

    "Youtakeitright,sir,"camehercrispreply."McWilliamswillbemyforemanfromto-day."

    Theman'sface,malignantandwolfish,suddenlylostitsmask.Thatshewouldsopromptlycallhisbluffwasthelastthinghehadexpected."That'sallright.Ireckonyuhthinkyuhknowyourownbusiness,butI'llputittoyuhstraight.Longasyuhliveyou'llbesorryforthis."

    Andwiththathewheeledaway.

    Sheturnedtohernewforemanandfoundhimlessradiantthanshecouldhavedesired."I'mrightsorryy'udidthat.I'mafraidy'u'llmaketroubleforyourself,"hesaidquietly.

    "Why?"

    "Idon'tknowmyselfjustwhy."Hehesitatedbeforeadding:"TheysayhimandBannisteristhickerthanthey'doughttobe.It'sacinchthat

    he'sincahootssomehowwiththatShoshonebunchofbadmen."

    "But--why,that'sridiculous.OnlythismorninghewastryingtokillBannisterhimself."

    "That'swhatIdon'tjustsavvy.There'sawholelotaboutthatbusinessIdon'tgetnextto.IguessBannisterisattheheadofthem.Everybodyseemsagreedaboutthat.Butthewholethingisatangleofcontradictiontome.I'vemilleditoveraheapinmymind,too."

    "Whataresomeofthecontradictions?"

    "Well,here'sonerightoffthebat,asweusedtosaybackinthe

    States.Bannisterisagreatmusician,theyclaim;finesinger,andallthat.NowIhappentoknowhecan'tsinganymorethanabellowingyearling."

    "Howdoyouknow?"sheasked,hereyesshiningwithinterest.

    "BecauseIheardhimtryit.'TwasonedaylastsummerwhenIwasoutcuttingtrailofabunchofstraysdownbyDeadCowCreek.Thedaywashot,andIlaydownbehindacottonwoodanddroppedofftosleep.WhenIawakeneditdidn'ttakemelonger'nanhourtodiscoverwhathadwokeme.Somebodyontheothersideofthecreekwastryingtosing.Itwasce'tainlythelimit.PrettysoonhecomeoutofthebrushandIseenitwasBannister."

    "You'resureitwasBannister?"

    "Ifseeingisbelieving,I'msure."

    "Andwashissingingreallysobad?"

    "I'dhateevertohearworse."

    "Washesingingwhenyousawhim?"

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    "No,he'djustquit.Hecaughtsightofmyponygrazing,andhuntedcoverrealprompt."

    "Thenitmighthavebeenanothermansinginginthethicket."

    "Itmight,butitwasn't.Y'usee,I'dfollowedhimthroughthebushbyhissong,andheshowedupthemomentIexpectedhim."

    "Stilltheremighthavebeenanothermantheresinging."

    "Onechanceinamillion,"heconceded.

    Asuddenhopeflamedupliketowinherheart.Perhaps,afterall,NedBannisterwasnottheleaderoftheoutlaws.Perhapssomebodyelsewasmasqueradinginhisname,usingBannister'sunpopularityasashieldtocoverhisiniquities.Still,thiswasanunlikelyhypothesis,shehadtoadmit.Forwhyshouldheallowhisgoodnametobedraggedinthedustwithoutanyefforttosaveit?OnasuddenimpulsethegirlconfidedherdoubttoMcWilliams.

    "Youdon'tsupposetherecanbeanymistake,doyou?SomehowIcan'tthinkhimasbadastheysay.Helooksawfullyreckless,butonefeelsonecouldtrusthisface."

    "Samehere,"agreedthenewforeman."FirstoffwhenIsawhimmythinkwas,'I'dliketohavethatmanbackingmyplaywhenI'msittinginthegamewithOldManHardLuckreachingoutformybluechips.'"

    "Youdon'tthinkfaceslie,doyou?"

    "I'veseenthemthatdid,but,gen'rallyspeaking,tonguesareaheaplikeliertogettangledwiththetruth.ButIreckonthereain'tanydoubtaboutBannister.He'sknownoverallthisWesterncountry."

    Theyoungwomansighed."I'mafraidyou'reright."

    CHAPTER5.THEDANCEATFRASER'S

    "HeardtellyetofthedanceovertoFraser's?"

    HewasayoungmanofabrickredcountenanceandheworelooselyroundhisneckthebestpolkadotsilkhandkerchiefthatcouldbeboughtinGimletButte,alsosuchgalaattireaswasusuallyreservedonlyforeventsofimportance.Sittinghishorsecarelesslyintheplainsman'sindolentfashion,heaskedhisquestionofMcWilliamsinfrontoftheLazyDbunkhouse.

    "Nope.Whendoestheshindigcomeoff?"

    "Fridaynight.Bigthing.Y'uwanttobethere.Ally'ulads."

    "Mebbesomeofuswillrideover."

    Heofthepolkadotkerchiefdidnotappearquitesatisfied.Hisglancewanderedtowardthehouse,asithadbeendoingoccasionallysincethemomentofhisarrival.

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    "Y'ubetthisdanceisacehigh,Mac.Fancycostumesandmasks.Y'ucanrentthecostumesovertoSlauson'sforthreeper.Texas,he'sgoingtocallthedances.MusicfromGimletButte.Y'uwanttogetittuckedawayinyourthinkerthatthisdanceain'tontheorderofculls.No,sirree,it'scornfed."

    "Gladtohearofit.I'llcipheroutsomehowtobethere,Slim."

    Slim'sglancetookintheranchhouseagain.Hehadriddentwenty-threemilesoutofhiswaytocatchaglimpseofthenewlyarrivedmistressoftheLazyD,thereportofwhosegoodlooksandadventureshadtraveledhandinhandthroughmanycanonseventotheheartoftheTetons.IthadbeenonSkunkCreekthathehadheardofherthreedaysbefore,andnowhehadcometoverifythetongueofrumor,toseeherquitecasually,ofcourse,anddohisownappraising.Itbegantolookasifheweregoingtohavetorideoffwithoutaglimpseofher.

    Henoddedtowardthehouse,turningashademorepurplethanhisnativecholerichue."Y'uwanttobringyourbosswithy'u,Mac.Webeenhearingarightsmartlotaboutherandtheboyswouldadmiretohaveherpresent.It'sgoingtobestrictlyaccordingtoHoyle--norough-houseplaysgo,y'understand."

    "I'llspeaktoheraboutit."Mac'sdeepamusementdidnotreachthe

    surface.HewasquitewellawarethatSlimwasplayingfortimeandthathewastoobashfultoplumpoutthedesirethatwasinhim."Greatthewaycowsarejumpin',ain'tit?"

    "Sure.Well,I'llbemovin'alongtoSlauson's.Ijustdrappedinonmyway.Thoughtmebbey'uhadn'theardtellofthedance."

    "Muchobliged.WasitforoldmanSlausony'udugupallthemtogs,Slim?He'llce'tainlyadmiretoseey'uinthatsilktableclothy'ugotroundyourneck."

    Slim'spurpledeepenedagain."Y'ugotograss,Mac.Idon'taimtoasky'utobemyvalleyyetawhile."

    "C'rect.IwasjustwonderingdoalltheTriangleBarboysridetherangesohandsome?"

    "Don'ty'uworryabouttheTriangleBarboys,"advisedtheembarrassedSlim,gatheringuphisbridlereins.

    Withonemorereluctantglanceinthedirectionofthehouseherodeaway.Whenhereachedthecorralhelookedbackagain.Hisgazeshowedhimtheboyishforemandoubledupwithlaughter;alsothesweepofawhiteskirtdescendingfromthepiazza.

    "Now,ain'tthathoodooedluck?"theaggrievedrideroftheTriangleBar

    outfitdemandedofhimself,"Imademygetawayaboutthreeshakestoosoon,bygum!"

    HerforemanwasinthethroesofmirthwhenHelenMessiterreachedhim.

    "Includemeinthejoke,"shesuggested.

    "Oh,Iwasjustthinkin',"heexplainedinadequately.

    "Doesitalwaystakeyouthatway?"

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    "Abouttheseboysthatdropinsofrequentonbusinessthesedays.Funnyhowfondthey'regettingoftheLazyD.Therewasthatstockdetectivehappenedinyesterdaytoshowhowanxioushewasaboutyourcows.ThenthetwoWillowCreekridersthatwantedajobpunchingfory'u,nottomentionmentiontheShoshoneminerandthestorekeeperfromGimletButteandSoapySothernand--"

    "StillIdon'tquiteseethejoke."

    "Itain'tanyjokewiththem.Seriousbusiness,ma'am."

    "Whathappenedtostartyouonthisline?"

    "Theladridingdowntheroadonthatpiebaldpinto.Hecometwentymilesoutofhisway,plumbdressedforawedding,alltogivemeaninvitetoadanceatFraser's.Y'uwouldcallthatrealthoughtfulofhim,Iexpect."

    Shegaylysparkled."Arealranchdance--thekindyouhavebeentellingmeabout.AreIdaandIinvited?"

    "Invited?SlimhintedatalynchingifIcamewithouty'u."

    Shelaughedsoftly,merryeyesflashingswiftlyathim."HowgallantyouWesternersare,eventhoughyoudoturnitintoburlesque."

    Hisyounglaughechoedhers."Burlesquenothing.Mylifewouldn'tbeworthathingifIwentalone.Honest,Iwouldn'tdare."

    "Sincetheranchcan'taffordtoloseitsforemanIdaandIwillgoalong,"shepromised."Thatis,ifitisconsideredproperhere."

    "Proper.Goodgracious,ma'am!Everyladyforthirtymilesroundwillbethere,fromsixmonthsoldtoeightyoddyears.Itwouldn'tbePROPERtostayathome."

    TheforemandrovehertoFraser'sinasurreywithIdaHendersonandoneoftheLazyDpunchersonthebackseat.Thedrivewasovertwenty-fivemiles,butinthatsilentstarrynighteverymilewasadelight.Partofthewayledthroughabeautifulcanon,alongtherockymountainroadofwhichtheyoungmanguidedtherigwithunerringskill.Beyondthegorgethecountrydebouchedintoagrassyparkthatfellawayfromtheirfeetformiles.ItwasinthisbasinthattheFraserranchlay.

    Thestrainsofthefiddleandthethumpingoffeetcouldbeheardastheydroveup.Alreadytheroomsseemedtobeprettywellfilled,asHelennoticedwhentheyentered.Threesetswereonthefloorforaquadrilleandthehouseshookwiththeenergyofthedancers.Onbenchesagainstthewallswereseatedthespectators,andononeofthemstood

    Texascallingthedance.

    "Alemaneleft.Righthandt'yerpardnerandgrandrightandleft.Ev-v-rybodyswing,"chantedthecaller.

    Adozenroughyoungfellowswereclusterednearthefrontdoor,apparentlyafraidtoventurefartherlesttheirescapebecutoff.ThroughtheseMcWilliamspushedawayforhischarges,thecowboysfallingbackrespectfullyatoncewhentheydiscoveredthepresenceofMissMessiter.

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    InthebedroomwheresheleftherwrapsthemistressoftheLazyDfoundadozenormoreinfantsandseveraloftheirmothers.Inthekitchenwerestillotherwomenandbabies,someoftheformerveryoldandofthelatterveryyoung.Afewofthebabieswereasleep,butmostofthemwerestillverymuchalivetothissceneofunwontedhilarityintheiryounglives.

    AssoonassheemergedintothegeneralpublicityofthedancingroomherforemanpounceduponHelenandledhertoaplaceintheheadsetthatwasmakingup.Thefloorwasrough,themusicjerkyanduncertain,thequadrillinganexhibitionofjoyousandawkwardabandon;butitspicturesquelackofconventionappealedtothegirlfromMichigan.Itratherstartledhertobeswungsovigorously,butaglanceabouttheroomshowedthatthesehumorous-eyedWesternersweremerelylivinguptothedutyofthehourastheyunderstoodit.

    AtthecloseofthequadrilleHelenfoundherselfbeingintroducedto"Mr.Robins,"aliasSlim,whodrewoneofhisfeetbackinanembarrassedbow.

    "Ienjoytomeety'u,ma'am,"heassuredher,andsupplementedthiswitharequestforthenextdance,afterwhichhefellintosilencethatwaspainfulinitsintensity.

    Nearlyallthedancesweresquares,asfewofthosepresentunderstoodtheintricaciesofthewaltzandtwo-step.HenceithappenedthattheproficientMcWilliamssecuredthreerounddanceswithhismistress.

    Itwasduringthelunchofsandwiches,cakeandcoffeethatHelenperceivedanadditiontothecompany.Theaffairhadbeenadvertisedacostumeball,butmostofthosepresenthadconstruedthisveryliberally.Sheherself,tobesure,hadcomeasMaryQueenofScots,Macwasarrayedinthescarlettunicandtight-fittingbreechesoftheNorthwestMountedPolice,andperhapseightortenothershadmadesomeattemptatrepresentingsomeoneotherthantheywere.Shenowsawanother,apparentlyanewarrival,standinginthedoorwaynegligently.

    Aglancetoldherthathewasmadeupforaroadagentandthathisrevolversandmaskwereapartofthenecessarycostuming.

    Slowlyhisgazecircledtheroomandcameroundtoher.Hiseyeswerehardasdiamondsandasflashing,sothattheimpactoftheirmeetinglooksseemedtoshockherphysically.Hewasatallman,swarthyofhue,andhecarriedhimselfwithalighteasethatlookedsilkenstrong.Somethinginthebearingwasfamiliaryetnotquitefamiliareither.Itseemedtosuggestaresemblancetosomebodysheknew.AndinthenextthoughtsheknewthatthesomebodywasNedBannister.

    ThemanspoketoFraser,justthenpassingwithacupofcoffee,andHelensawthetwomenapproach.Thestrangerwascomingtobeformally

    introduced.

    "ShakehandswithMr.Holloway,MissMessiter.He'sfromupinthehillcountryandherodetoourfrolic.Y'u'vegotthreeguessestofigureoutwhathe'smadeupas."

    "Onewillbequiteenough,Ithink,"sheansweredcoldly.

    Fraserdepartedonhisdestinationwiththecoffeeandthenewcomersatdownonthebenchbesideher.

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    "One'senough,isit?"hedrawledsmilingly.

    "Quite,butI'msurprisedsofewcameincostume.Whydidn'tyou?ButIsupposeyouhadyourreasons."

    "Didn'tI?I'msupposedtobeabadmanfromthehills."

    Sheswepthimcasuallywithanindifferentglance."Andisn'tthatwhatyouareinreallife?"

    Hissharpscrutinychiseledintoher."What'sthat?"

    "Youwon'tmindifIforgetandcallyouMr.BannisterinsteadofMr.Holloway?"

    Shethoughthiscounterfeitastonishmentperfect.

    "SoI'mNedBannister,amI?"

    Theireyesclashed.

    "Aren'tyou?"

    Shefeltsureofit,andyettherewasalurkingdoubt.Fortherewasinhismannersomethingindescribablymoresinisterthanshehadfeltinhimonthatoccasionwhenshehadsavedhislife.Thenadebonairrecklessnesshadbeentheoutstandingnote,butnowtherewassomethingribaldandwickedinhim.

    "Sincey'uputitasaquestion,commonpolitenessdemandsananswer.NedBannisterismyname."

    "Youaretheterrorofthiscountry?"

    "Ishan'tbeaterrortoy'u,ma'am,ifIcanhelpit,"hesmiled.

    "Butyouarethemantheycalltheking?"

    "Ihavethathonor."

    "HONOR?"

    Atthesharpscornofheraccenthelaughed.

    "Doyoumeanthatyouareproudofyourvillainy?"shedemanded.

    "Y'u'vece'tainlygottheteacherhabitofaskingquestions,"herepliedwithalaughthatwasasneer.

    Ashadowfellacrossthemandavoicesaidquietly,"Shedidn'twaittoaskanywhenshesavedyourlifedowninthecouleebackoftheLazyD."

    TheshadowwasJimMcWilliams's,anditsownerlookeddownatthemanbesidethegirlwithsteady,hostileeyes.

    "Isthisyourputin,sir?"theotherflashedback.

    "Yes,seh,itis.Theboysdon'tquitelikeseeingyourhardwaresoprominentatasocialgathering.Inthiscommunitygunsdon'tcomeinto

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    thehouseataranchdance.I'macommitteetomentionthesubjectandtocollectyourthirty-eightsify'uagreewithus."

    "AndifIdon'tagreewithyou?"

    "There'salloutdoorsreadytoreceivey'u,seh.Itwouldbeapitytostayintheonespotwhereyourwelcome'sworethin."

    "StillImaychoosetostay."

    "Ce'tainly,butify'udecidethatwayy'ubetterstepoutontheporchandtalkitoverwithuswherethereain'tladiespresent."

    "Isn'tthisacostumedance?What'sthematterwithmyguns?I'manoutlaw,ain'tI?"

    "Idon'tknowwhethery'uareornot,seh.Ify'usayy'uarewe'rereadytotakeyourword.Thegunshavetobeshuckedify'ustayhere.Theymightgooffaccidentalandscaretheladies."

    Themanroseblackly."I'llrememberthis.Ify'uknewwhoy'uweregettingsogaywith--"

    "Icanguess,Mr.Holloway,thekindofanoutfity'ufreightwith,and

    IexpectIcouldputahandletoanothernameforyou."

    "ByGod,ify'udaretosay--"

    "Idon'tdare,especiallyamongsomanyladies,"cameMcWilliams'sjauntyanswer.

    Theeyesofthetwomengripped,afterwhichHollowayswungonhisheelandswaggereddefiantlyoutofthehouse.

    Presentlytherecamethesoundofapony'sfeetgallopingdowntheroad.IthadnotyetdiedawaywhenTexasannouncedthatthesupperintermissionwasover.

    "Pardnersforaquadrille.Ladies'choice."

    Thedancewasonagainfullswing.Thefiddlersweretuningupandcouplesgatheringforaquadrille.DenvercametoclaimMissMessiterforapartner.ApparentlyeventheexistenceofthevanishedHollowaywasforgotten.ButHelenrememberedit,andponderedovertheaffairlongafterdaylighthadcomeandbroughtwithitanendtothefestivities.

    CHAPTER6.APARTYCALL

    ThemistressoftheLazyD,justthroughwithhermorningvisittothehospitalinthebunkhouse,stoppedtoreadthegaudypostertackedtothewall.Itwasembellishedwiththedrawingofaplacidriderastridetheembodimentoffuryincarnate,underwhichwasthelegend:"SticktoYourSaddle."

    BIGFOURTHOFJULYCELEBRATIONATGIMLETBUTTE.ROPINGANDBRONCOBUSTINGCONTESTSFORTHECHAMPIONSHIPOFTHEWORLDANDBIGPRIZES,Including$1,000fortheBestRiderandtheSameforBestRoper.Cow

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    PonyRaces,Ladies'RacesandLadies'RidingContest,Fireworks,ANDFREEBARBECUE!!!!EVERYBODYCOMEANDTURNYOURWOLFLOOSE.

    Asuddenthudofpoundinghoofs,asnatchofragtime,andherforemansweptupinacloudofwhitedust.Hisponycamefromagalloptoaninstanthalt,andsimultaneouslyMaclandedbesideher,onehandholdingthewide-brimmedhathehadsnatchedoffinhisdescent,theotherhitchedbyacasualthumbtothebeltofhischaps.

    Shelaughed."Youreallydiditverywell."

    Macblushed.Hewasstillyoungenoughtotakeprideinhispicturesqueregalia,topreferthedramaticwayofdoingacommonplacething.But,thoughhelikedthisgirl'strickoflaughingathimwithaperfectlygravefaceoutofthosedark,long-lashedeyes,hewouldhavelikeditbetterifsometimestheyhadgivenbacktheapplausehethoughthislittletricksmerited.

    "Sho!That'sfoolishness,"hedeprecated.

    "Isupposetheygotyoutositforthispicture;"andsheindicatedtheposterwithawaveofherhand.

    "Thatain'tarealpicture,"heexplained,andwhenshesmiledadded,

    "asofcoursey'uknow.Nohawsseverpitchedthatway--andthesaddleain'tright.Factis,it'sallwrong."

    "Howdiditcomehere?Itwasn'therelastnight."

    "IreckonDenverbroughtitfromSlauson's.Hewasridin'thatcountryyesterday,andastheboyswasoutofsmokin'hecomehomethatway."

    "Isupposeyou'llallgo?"

    "Ireckon."

    "Andyou'llride?"

    "Iaimtositin."

    "Attheroping,too?"

    "No,m'm.Iain'tsomuchwiththerope.IttakesaMexicantosnakearope."

    "ThenI'llbeabletoborrowonlyathousanddollarsfromyoutohelpbuythatbunchofyoungcowswewerespeakingabout,"shemocked.

    "Onlyathousand,"hegrinned."Anditain'tacinchI'llwin.Therearethreeorfourstraightupridersonthisrange.Afellowcomefromthe

    Hole-in-the-Wallandwonoutlastyear."

    "Andwherewereyou?"

    "Oh,Itooksecondprize,"heexplained,withobviousindifference.

    "Well,youhadbettergetfirstthisyear.We'llhavetoshowthemtheLazyDhasn'tgonetosleep."

    "Surething,"heagreed.

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    "HasthatbuyerfromCheyenneturnedupyet?"sheasked,revertingtobusiness.

    "Notyet.Doy'uwantIshouldmakethecutsoonashecomes?"

    "Don'tyouthinkhispriceisalittlelow--twentydollarsfrombrandup?"

    "It'sascrubbunch.Wewanttogetridofthem,anyway.Butyou'rethedoctor,"heconcludedslangily.

    Shethoughtamoment."We'lllethimhavethem,butdon'tmakethecuttillIcomeback.I'mgoingtorideovertotheTwinButtes."

    Hisadmiringeyesfollowedherasshewenttowardtheponythatwaswaitingsaddledwiththereinthrowntotheground.Shecarriedherslim,lithefigurewithagrace,alightness,thatfewwomencouldhaverivaled.Whenshehadswungtothesaddle,shehalf-turnedinherseattocallanordertotheforeman.

    "Ithink,Mac,youhadbetterrunupthosehorsesfromEagleCreek.HaveDenverandMissoulookafterthem."

    "Sure,ma'am,"hesaidaloud;andtohimself:"She'sce'tainlyathoroughbred.Doeseverythingwellshetackles.Ineversawanythinglikeit.I'maChinkifshedoesn'trunthisranchlikeshehadbeenatitfortyyears.Samethingwithhergasolinebronc.Thatpinto,too.He'sgotabadeyeforfair,butshemakeshimeatoutofherhand.Ireckonthepintoisliketherestofus--cleanmashed."Heputhisarmsonthecorralfenceandgrewintrospective."BlamedifIknowwhatitisabouther.'Courseshe'sawinneronlooks,butthatain'titalone.Iguessit'sonaccountofherbeingsuchagamelittlegentleman.Whensheturnsthatsmilelooseonafellow--well,there'ssuresunshineintheair.Andgame--why,NedBannisterain'tgamerhimself."

    McWilliamshadclimbedlazilytothetopboardofthefence.Hewasan

    energeticyouth,buthelikedtodohisthinkingathisease.Now,ashisgazestillfolloweditslodestar,hesuddenlyslippedfromhisseatandranforward,pullingtherevolverfromitsscabbardasheran.Intohiseyeshadcreptatensealertness,theshiningwatchfulnessofthetigerreadyforitsspring.

    ThecauseofthechangeintheforemanoftheLazyDwasasimpleone,andonitsfaceinnocentenough.Itwasmerelythatastrangerhadswungincasuallyatthegateoftheshortstablelane,andwasduetomeetMissMessiterinabouttenseconds.Sofargoodenough.Adozentravelersdroppedineveryday,butthisparticularonehappenedtobeNedBannister.

    Fromthestabledoorashotrangout.Bannisterduckedandshoutedgenially:"Tryagain."

    ButHelenMessiterwhirledherponyasonahalf-dollar,andchargeddownonthestable.

    "Whofiredthatshot?"shedemanded,hereyesblazing.

    Thehorse-wranglershowedembarrassment.Hehadfoundtimeonlytoleantherifleagainstthewall.

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    "IreckonIdid,ma'am.Y'usee--"

    "Didyougetmyordersaboutthisfeud?"sheinterruptedcrisply.

    "Yes,ma'am,but--"

    "Thenyoumaycallforyourtime.WhenIgivemymenordersIexpectthemtoobey."

    "Iwouldn't'a'shotifI'dknowedy'uwassonearhim.Y'uwasbehindthatsummerkitchen,"heexplainedlamely.

    "YouonlyexpecttoobeyorderswhenI'minsight.Isthatit?"sheaskedhotly,andwithoutwaitingforananswerdeliveredherultimatum."Well,Iwon'thaveit.IrunthisranchaslongasIamitsowner.Doyouunderstand?"

    "Yes,ma'am.Ihadn'toughttohavedidit,butwhenIseenBannisteritcomeovermeIowedhimapillfortheonehesentmelastweekdowninthecoulee.SoIupandgrabbedtherifleandlethimhaveit."

    "ThenyoumayupandgrabyourtrunkforMedicineHill.Shortywilldriveyoutomorrow."

    Whenshereturnedtoherunexpectedguest,HelenfoundhiminconversationwithMcWilliams.Thelatter'sgunhadfoundagainitsholster,buthisbrown,gracefulhandhoveredclosetoitsbutt.

    "SeemslikealongtimesincetheLazyDhasbeenhonoredbyavisitfromMr.Bannister,"hewassaying,withgentleirony.

    "That'sright.SoIhavecometomakeupforlosttime,"cameBannister'squietretort.

    MissMessiterdidnotknowmuchaboutWyominghumannatureintheraw,butshehadlearnedenoughtobesurethatthesoftcourtesyofthese

    twoyouthscoveredastarkcouragethatmightleaptolifeanymoment.Whereforesheinterposed.

    "We'llbepleasedtoshowyouovertheplace,Mr.Bannister.Asithappens,weareclosetothehospital.Shallwebeginthere?"

    Hercool,silkendefianceearnedasmilefromthevisitor."Allyourcasesdoingwell,ma'am?"

    "It'sverykindofyoutoask.IsupposeyoutakeaninterestbecausetheyareYOURcases,too,inawayofspeaking?"

    "Mine?Indeed!"

    "Yes.IfitwerenotforyouI'mafraidourhospitalwouldbeempty."

    "ItmustberightpleasanttobenursedbyMissMessiter.Ireckontheboysaregratefultomeforscatteringmyleadsopromiscuous."

    "Iheardonesayhewouldliketolamyourhaidtenderly,"murmuredMcWilliams.

    "Withatwo-by-four,Isuppose,"laughedBannister.

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    "Shouldn'twonder.But,lookingy'uovercasual,itoccurstomehemightgetsickofhisjobbefo'heturnedy'uloose,"McWilliamsadmitted,withaglanceofadmirationatthecleanpowershowingintheother'ssupplelines.

    Norcouldeithertheforemanorhismistressdenythetributeoftheirrespecttothebravadoofthisscampwhosatsojauntilyhisseatregardlessofwhatthenextmomentmightbringforth.Threewoundedmenwereabouttheplace,allpresumablyquitewillingtogetacleanshotathimintheopen.Oneofthemhadtakenhischancealready,andmissed.Theirvisitorhadnowarrantforknowingthatasecondmightnotanyinstanttryhisluckwithbettersuccess.Yethelookedeveryinchthemanonhorseback,nowhitdisturbed,nottheleastconsciousofanydanger.Tall,spare,broadshouldered,thisberry-brownyoungman,crownedwithclose-croppedcurls,satatthegatesoftheenemyverymuchathisinsolentcase.

    "Icameovertopaymypartycall,"heexplained.

    "Itreallywasn'tnecessary.Aruninthemachineisnotaformalfunction."

    "MaybenotinKalamazoo."

    "Ithoughtperhapsyouhadcometogetmypurseandthesixty-threedollars,"shederided.

    "No,ma'am;noryettogetthatbunchofcowsIwasgoingtorustlefromyoutobuyanauto.Icametoaskyoutogoridingwithme."

    Theaudacityofittookherbreath.Ofalltheoutrageousthingsshehadeverheard,thiswasthecream.Anacknowledgedoutlaw,engagedinfeudwithherretainersoverthatdeadlyquestionoftherunoftherange,hehadsaunteredovertotheranchwherelivedadozenofhisenemies,threeofthemstillscarredwithhisbullets,merelytoaskhertogoridingwithhim.Themagnificenceofhisbravadoalmostobliteratedits

    impudence.Ofcourseshewouldnotthinkofgoing.Theidea!Buthereyesglowedwithappreciationofhiscourage,notthelessbecausetheconsciousnessofitwassoconspicuouslyabsentfromhismanner.

    "Ithinknot,Mr.Bannister"andherfacealmostimperceptiblystiffened."Idon'tgoridingwithstrangers,norwithmenwhoshootmyboys.AndI'llgiveyouapieceofadvice,sir.Thatis,toburnthewindbacktoyourhome.OtherwiseIwon'tanswerforyourlife.Mypunchersdon'tloveyou,andIdon'tknowhowlongIcankeepthemfromyou.You'renotwantedhereanymorethanyouwereatthedancetheotherevening."

    McWilliamsnodded."That'sright.Y'ubetterrollyourtrail,seh;and

    ify'utakemyadvice,you'llthrowgravellively.Iseentwooftheboyscuttingacrostthatpasturefiveminutesago.Theylookedasiftheymightbehaidedtocuty'uoff,andIallowitmaybetheirnighttohowl.MissMessiterdon'twanttoberesponsiblefory'ugettingleadpoisoning."

    "Indeed!"Theirvisitorlookedpolitelyinterested."Thissolicitudeformeisverytouching.Iobservethatbothofyouarecarefullyblockingmefromthebunkhouseinordertopreventanotherpractice-shot.IfIcan'tpersuadeyoutojoinmeinaride,MissMessiter,IreckonI'll

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    gowhileI'mstillunpunctured."Hebowed,andgatheredthereinsfordeparture.

    "Onemoment!Mr.McWilliamsandIaregoingwithyou,"thegirlannounced.

    "Changedyourmind?Thinkyou'lltakealittlepasear,afterall?"

    "Idon'twanttoberesponsibleforyourkilling.We'llseeyousafeofftheplace,"sheansweredcurtly.

    TheforemanfellinononesideofBannister,hismistressontheother.Theyrodeincloseformation,tolessenthechanceofanambuscade.Bannisteralonechattedathisdebonairease,ignoringtheresponsibilitytheyfeltforhissafety.

    "Igotmyride,afterall,"hepresentlychuckled."Tobesure,Iwasn'texpectingMr.McWilliamstochaperonus.Butthat'sanaddedpleasure."

    "Woulditbeanaddedpleasuretogetbumpedofftokingdomcome?"drawledtheforeman,givingareluctantadmirationtohisaplomb.

    "Thinkingofthosewillingboysofyoursagain,areyou?"laughedBannister."They'rece'tainlyaheapprevalentwiththeirhardware,but

    theirhuntingdon'tseemtobringhomeanymeat."

    "Bytheway,howISyourankle,Mr.Bannister?Iforgottoask."Thisshotfromtheyoungwoman.

    Heenjoyeditwithinternalmirth."Theydidhappenonthetargetthattime,"headmitted."Oh,it'sgettingalongfine,butIaimtodomostofmywalkingonhorsebackforawhile."

    Theysweptpastthefirstdangerousgroveofcottonwoodsinsafety,androundedtheboundaryfencecorner.

    "They'reinthatbunchofpinesoverthere,"saidtheforeman,aftera

    singlesweepofhiseyesinthatdirection.

    "Yes,Iseetheyare.Yououghtn'ttoletyourboyswearredbandannaswhentheygogunning,MissMessiter.It'sanawfulcarelesshabit."

    Helenherselfcouldseenosignoflifeinthegroupofpines,butsheknewtheirkeen,trainedeyeshadfoundwhatherscouldnot.Ridingwithoneoranotherofhercowboys,shehadoftennoticedhowinfalliblytheycouldreadthecountryformilesaround.Ascatteredpatchonadistanthillside,thoughitmightbeahalf-hour'sridefromthem,toldthemagreatdealmorethanseemedpossible.Toherthedarkspotssiftedonthatslopemeantscrubunderbrush,iftherewasanymeaningatallinthem.Butherriderscouldtellnotonlywhethertheywerealive,but

    coulddifferentiatebetweensheepandcattle.Indeed,McWilliamscouldnearlyalwaystellwhethertheywereHERcattleornot.Hewasunabletoexplaintoherhowhedidit.Byasortofinstinct,shesupposed.

    Thepineswerenegotiatedinsafety,andonthepartofthemenwithacarelessnessshecouldnotunderstand.Foraftertheyhadpassedtherewasaspotbetweenhershoulder-bladesthatseemedtotingleinexpectationofapossiblebulletboringitswaythrough.Butshewouldhavediedratherthanletthemknowhowshefelt.

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    PerhapsBannisterunderstood,however,forheremarkedcasually:"Iwouldn'tbeamblingpastsoleisurelyifIwasridingalone.Itmakesaheapofdifferencewhoyourcompanyis,too.Thosepuncherswouldn'ttakeachanceatmenowforamilliondollars."

    "No,they'resomehaidstrong,buttheyain'tplumblocoed,"agreedMac.

    FifteenminuteslaterHelendrewupatthelinecorner."We'llpartcompanyhere,Mr.Bannister.Idon'tthinkthereisanymoredangerfrommymen."

    "BeforewepartthereissomethingIwanttosay.Iholdthatamanhasasmuchrighttorunsheeponthesehillsascows.It'sgovernmentland,andneitheroneofusownsit.It'sboundtobeacaseofthesurvivalofthefittest.Ifsheeparehardierandmoreadaptedtothecountry,thencowshavegottovamos.That'snature,asitlookstome.Thebuffaloandtheantelopehavegone,andIguesscowshavegottotaketheirturn."

    Herscornfuleyesburnedhim."Youcametotellmethat,didyou?Well,Idon'tbelieveawordofit.I'llnotyieldmyrightswithoutafight.Youmaydependonthat."

    "Here,too,"noddedherforeman."I'mwithmybosscleardowntheline.

    Andassoonassheletsmeturnloosemysix-gun,you'llhearitpop,seh."

    "Ihavenotadoubtofit,Mr.McWilliams,"returnedthesheepmanblithely."InthemeantimeIwasgoingtosaythatthoughmostofmyinterestsareinsheepinsteadofcattle--"

    "Ithoughtmostofyourinterestswereinotherpeople'sproperty,"interruptedtheyoungwoman.

    "Itgoesintosheepultimately,"hesmiled."Now,whatIamtryingtogetatisthis:I'mindebttoyouaheap,MissMessiter,andsinceI'mnotallyellowcur,Iintendtoplayfairwithyou.Ihaveorderedmy

    sheepbackacrossthedeadline.Youcanhavethisrangetoyourselfforyourcattle.Thefight'soffsofaraswepersonallyareconcerned."

    Ahintofdeepercolortouchedhercheeks.Hermannerhadbeencavalieratbest;forthemostpartfranklyhostile;andallthetimethemanwasonanerrandofgood-will.Certainlyhehadscoredatherexpense,andshewasashamedofherself.

    "Y'umeanthatyou'regoingtorespectthedeadline?askedMacinsurprise.

    "Ididn'tsayquitethat,"explainedthesheepman."WhatIsaidwasthatImeanttokeeponmysideofitsofarastheLazyDcattleare

    concerned.I'llletyourrangealone."

    "Buty'umeantocrossitdownbelowwheretheBarDouble-Ecowsrun?"

    Bannister'sgaysmiletouchedthesardonicface."Doyouinvitethepublictoexamineyourhandwhenyousitintoagameofpoker,Mr.McWilliams?"

    "You'redeadright.It'snoneofmybusinesswhaty'udosolongasy'ukeepoffourrange,"admittedtheforeman."Andnexttimethe

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    conversationhappensonMr.Bannister,I'llputinmylittlesay-sothatheain'tallblack."

    "That'sverygoodofyou,sir,"wastheother'sironicalretort.

    Thegirl'sgauntletedhandoffereditselfimpulsively."Wecan'tbefriendsunderexistingcircumstances,Mr.Bannister.ButthatdoesnotalterthefactthatIoweyouanapology.Youcameasapeaceenvoy,andoneofmymenshotatyou.Ofcourse,hedidnotunderstandthereasonwhyyoucame,butthatdoesnotmatter.Ididnotknowyourreasonmyself,andIknowIhavebeenveryinhospitable."

    "AreyoushakinghandswithNedBannisterthesheepmanorNedBannistertheoutlaw?"askedtheownerofthatname,withaqueerlittlesmilethatseemedtomockhimself.

    "WithNedBannisterthegentleman.IfthereisanothersidetohimIdon'tknowitpersonally."

    Heflushedunderneaththetan,butveryplainlywithpleasure."YouropinionsarerightcontrarytoHoyle,ma'am.Aren'tyouawarethatasheepmanisthelowestthingthatwalks?AskMr.McWilliams."

    "Ihaveknownstockmenofthatopinion,but--"

    Theforeman'ssentencewasneverfinished.Fromaclumpofbushesahundredyardsawaycamethecrackofarifle.Abulletsangpast,cuttingalinethatleftononesideofitBannister,ontheotherMissMessiterandherforeman.Instantlythetwomenslidfromtheirhorsesonthefartherside,draggeddowntheyoungwomanbehindthecoverofthebroncos,andarrangedthethreeponiessoastogiveherthegreatestprotectionavailable.Somehowtheweaponsthatgarnishedthemhadleapedtotheirhandsbeforetheirfeettouchedtheground.

    "Thatcoyoteisn'toneofourmen.I'llbackthatopinionhigh,"saidMcWilliamspromptly.

    "Whoishe?"thegirlwhispered.

    "That'swhatwe'regoingtofindoutprettysoon,"returnedBannistergrimly."Chancesareit'smeheistryingtogather.Now,I'mgoingtomakeabreakforthatcottonwood.WhenIgo,youbetterrunupawhitehandkerchiefandmovebackfromthefiring-line.TurnBuckloosewhenyouleave.He'llstayaroundandcomewhenIwhistle."

    Hemadearunforit,zigzaggingthroughthesage-brushsoswiftlyastooffertheleastcertainmarkpossibleforasharpshooter.Yettwicetheriflespokebeforehereachedthecottonwood.

    MeanwhileMachadfastenedthehandkerchiefofhismistressontheend

    ofaswitchhehadpickedupandwasedgingoutofrange.Histense,narrowedgazeneverleftthebush-clumpfromwhichtheshotswerebeingpumped,andhewascarefulduringtheirretreattoremainonthedangersideoftheroad,inordertocoverHelen.

    "IguessBannister'sright.Hedon'twantus,whoeverheis."

    Andevenashemurmuredit,thewindofabulletliftedhishatfromhishead.Hepickeditupandexaminedit.Thecourseofthebulletwasmarkedbyaholeinthewidebrim,andtwomoreinthesideandcrown.

  • 7/31/2019 WYOMING: A STORY OF THE OUTDOOR WEST By William MacLeod Raine

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    "Hece'tainlyventilateditproper.Ireckon,ma'am,we'llmakearunforit.Lielowonthepinto'sneck,withyourhaidontheoffside.That'sright.Lethimout."

    AmileandahalffartheruptheroadMacreinedin,andmadetheIndianpeace-sign.TwodejectedfigurescameoverthehillandresolvedthemselvesintopunchersoftheLazyD.Eachofthemtrailedariflebyhisside.

    "You'reafinepairofring-tailedsnorters,ain'ty'u?"jeeredtheforeman."Gottogetgayandgoprojectin'roundontheshootaftery'ugotyourorderstostayhitched.Anythingtosayforyo'selves?"

    Iftheyhaditwassaidverysilently.

    "Now,MissMessiterisgoingtopassitupthistime,butfromnowony'udon'tgooffonanyprivatemassacreeswhiley'upunchattheLazyD.Gitthat?Thishyeristhelastcallforsupperinthedining-cah.Ify'umissit,y'u'llfeedatsomeotherchuckhouse."Suddenlythedrawlofhissarcasmvanished.Hisvoicecarriedtheringofperemptorycommand."Jim,y'ugobacktotheranchwithMissMessiter,ANDKEEPYOUREYESOPEN.Missou,Ineedy'u.We'regoingback.Ireckony'ubetterhangontothestirrup,forwegottotravelsome.Adios,

    senorita!"

    Hewasoffataslowlopeontheroadhehadjustcome,theothermanrunningbesidethehorse.Presentlyhestopped,asifthearrangementwerenotsatisfactory;andthesecondmanswungbehindhimonthepony.Later,whensheturnedinhersaddle,


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