Emerson's Wife by Florence Finch Kelly

Nick Ellhorn awoke and looked around the room with curiosity and interest, but without surprise. He had no recollection of having entered it the night before, and he was lying across the bed fully clothed. But he had long ago ceased to feel surprise over a matter of that sort. His next movement was to reach for his revolver, and he gave a grunt of satisfaction on finding that it hung, as usual, from his cartridge belt. He was aware of a deep, insistent thirst, and as he sat up on the edge of the bed he announced aloud, in a tone of conviction, "I sure need a cocktail!"

Glancing out of the window, he saw a little plaza, fresh in the morning sunlight with its greening grass and budding trees, and beyond it the pink walls and portalled front of a long adobe building. He nodded approvingly.

"I reckon I pulled my freight from Albuquerque all right. And I had a good load too," he reflected with a chuckle. "And I reckon I sure bunched myself all right into Santa Fe; for if this ain't the Plaza Hotel, I 'm drunker 'n a feller has any right to be who 's been total abstainin' ever since last night. But I 've sure got to have a cocktail now, if it busts a gallus!"

He stared wistfully at the door; but drunken lethargy was still upon him, and his disinclination to move was stronger than his thirst. His eyes, roving along the wall, fell upon the electric call button. Stretching a sinewy arm to its full length he made dumb show of pressing it, as he said, "One push, one cocktail; two pushes, two cocktails!" Then he shook his head despairingly. "Too far, can't reach it," he muttered. But his face brightened as his hand accidentally touched his revolver. Out it flashed, and there was no tremor in the long brown hand that held it in position. Bang! Bang! Bang! went the gun, three shots in quick succession, and then three more. "Six pushes, six cocktails!" he announced, triumphantly.

The button had been driven into the wall, and several holes hovered close upon its wreck. A clatter of hurrying feet on the stairway and the din of excited voices told him that his summons had at least attracted attention. "Push button's a sure handy thing!" he exclaimed aloud as he fell back on the bed, laughing drunkenly.

The footsteps halted outside and the voices sunk to whispers. Presently Ellhorn, gazing expectantly at the door, saw a pair of apprehensive eyes peering through the transom. At sight of the face he waved his hand, which still grasped the gun, and called out, "Say, you, I want six cocktails!" The face quickly dodged downward and the feet and the whispering voices moved farther away. Then came the sound of a rapid stride down the hall and a deep voice bellowed, "Nick, let me in!"

Nick called out "Tommy Tuttle!" and in walked a big bulk of a man, six feet and more tall, with shoulders broad and burly and legs like tree trunks. Ellhorn turned toward him a beaming face and broke into a string of oaths. But his profanity was cordial and joyous. It bloomed with glad welcome and was fragrant with good fellowship and brotherly love.

"Nick, you 're drunk," said Tuttle reprovingly.

"You 're away off, Tom! I was yesterday, but I 've been teetotallin' ever since I came into this room last night, and the whole Arizona desert ain't in it with my throat this mornin'! I want six cocktails!"

"No, you don't," the other interrupted decisively. "You-all can have some coffee," and he stepped back to the door and gave the order.

Ellhorn sat up and looked with indignant surprise at his friend. "Tom Tuttle—" he began.

"Shut up!" Tuttle interrupted. "Come and soak your head."

Ellhorn submitted to the head-soaking without protest, but drank his coffee with grumblings that it was not coffee, but cocktails, that he wanted.

"Nick, ain't you-all ashamed of yourself?" Tuttle asked severely. But it was anxiety rather than reproof that was evident in his large, round face and blue eyes. His fair skin was tanned and burned to a bright red, and against its blazing color glowed softly a short, tawny mustache.

"No, Tommy, not yet," Nick replied cheerfully. "It's too soon. It's likely I will be to-morrow, or mebbe even this afternoon. But not now. You-all ought to be more reasonable."

"To think you 'd pile in here like this, when I 'm in a hole and need you bad," Tuttle went on in a grieved tone.

The fogs had begun to clear out of Ellhorn's head, and he looked up with quick concern. "What's up, Tom?"

"The Dysert gang 's broke loose again, and Marshal Black 's in San Francisco, and Sheriff Williamson 's gone to Chicago. I 've got to ride herd on 'em all by myself."

"What have they done?"

"Old man Paxton was found dead by his front gate yesterday morning. He 'd been killed by a knife-thrower, and a boss one at that—cut right across his jugular. I went straight for Felipe Vigil, and last night I got a clue from him, and he promised to tell me more to-day. But this morning he was found dead under the long bridge with his tongue cut out. That's enough for 'em; not another Greaser will dare open his mouth now. I wired you yesterday at Plumas to come as quick as you could."

"Then what you gruntin' about, Tom? I left Plumas before your wire got there, and how could I be any quicker 'n that?"

"I wish Emerson was here. I 'd like to have his judgment about this business. Emerson 's always got sure good judgment."

"Send for him, then," was Nick's prompt rejoinder.

Tuttle looked at him with surprise and disapproval. "Nick, are you drunker than you look? You-all know he 's just got back from his wedding trip."

"But he 's back, all right, ain't he! Neither one of us has ever got into a hole yet that Emerson did n't come a-runnin', and fixed for whatever might happen. And he's never needed us that we did n't get there as quick as we could. You-all don't reckon, Tom, that Emerson Mead's liver 's turned white just because he 's got a wife!"

Tom Tuttle fidgeted his big bulk and cleared his throat. Words did not come so easily to him as deeds, but Ellhorn's way of putting it made explanation necessary. "I don't mean it that way, Tom. Once, last year, down in Plumas, when Emerson would n't let us shoot into that crowd that wanted to hang him, I wondered for just a second if he was afraid, and it made me plumb sick. But I saw right away that it was just Emerson's judgment that there ought n't to be any shootin' right then, and he was plumb right about it. No, Tom, I sure reckon there ain't a drop of blood in Emerson's veins that would n't be ready for a fight any minute, if 't was his judgment that there ought to be a fight, even if he has got married. But we-all must remember that he 's got a wife now, and can't cut out from his family and go rushin' round the country like a steer on the prod every time you get drunk and raise hell, or every time I need help. We 'll have to pull together after this, Tom, and leave Emerson out. It would be too much like stackin' the cards against Mrs. Emerson if we didn't."

As Tuttle ended he saw a gleam in the other's eyes that caused him to add with emphasis, "And I 'm not goin' to call him up here, and don't you do it, either!"

Nick got up, shook himself, and winked at the hole in the wall where had been the electric button. He was a handsome man, as tall as Tuttle, but more slenderly built, with clean-cut features, dancing black eyes, and a black mustache that swept in an upward curve over his tanned cheek. His friend scrutinized him anxiously as he slid cartridges into the empty chambers of his revolver.

"Sure you 're sober, Nick?"

Ellhorn laughed. "How the devil can I tell? I can walk straight and see straight and shoot straight; and if that ain't sober enough to tackle any four-spot Greaser, I might just as well get drunk again!"

"Well, I reckon you 're sober enough to jump into this job with me now; and if you stay sober, it's all right. But if I catch you drinkin' another drop till we get through with this business, I 'll run you back into this room and sit on your belly till you 're ready to holler quits!"

It was a dangerous solidarity of crime and mutual protection against which the two deputy marshals started out alone. The Dysert gang had been organized originally as a secret society to further the political ambitions of men who were not overscrupulous as to instruments or methods. But gradually it had drifted into a means of wreaking private revenge and compelling money tribute. Those of its early members who were of the law abiding sort had left it long before, and its membership had dwindled to a handful of Mexicans of the recklessly criminal sort. They were credited, in the general belief, with thefts, assaults, and murders; but so closely had they held together, so potent was their influence with men in public station, and so general was the fear of the bloody revenges they did not hesitate to take, that not one of them had yet been convicted of crime.

Faustin Dysert, who had organized the society and was still its head, combined in himself the worst tendencies of both Mexicans and Americans, his mother having been of one race and his father of the other, and both of the sort that reflect no credit upon their offspring. But he owned the house in which he lived and two or three other adobes which he rented, and was therefore lifted above the necessity of labor and held in much regard by his fellow Mexicans. The combination of that influence and the favor of the political boss of his party, to whom he had been of use, had made him chief of police of Santa F and had kept him in that office for several years. And he had been careful to recruit his force from the membership of his society.

Tuttle knew that he could not count on any open help or sympathy from the public, for no one would dare to invite thus frankly the disfavor of the gang. And he knew, too, that he could expect to get no more information from leaky members of the society or their friends, since that swift punishment had been meted out to the wagging tongue of Felipe Vigil. He was well aware also that his chief, the United States Marshal, had not been zealous in the pursuit of Dysert's criminals, and that Black's friend, Congressman Dellmey Baxter, was known to have under his protection several members of the society. Therefore, if he bungled the job, he was likely to lose his official head; and if he were not swift and sure in his movements against the gang, his physical head would not be worth the lead that would undoubtedly come crashing into it from behind, before the end of the week.

"The thing for us to do, Tommy," advised Ellhorn, "is to take in all the gang we can get hold of. We 'll herd 'em all into jail first, and get the evidence afterwards. There 'll be some show to get it then, and there ain't now. We 'll load up with warrants, and arrest every kiote that's thought to be a member of the gang; and we 'll start in with Faustin Dysert himself!"

Tuttle looked perplexed. He had in his veins a strain of German blood, which showed in his frank, sincere, blonde countenance and in his direct and unimaginative habit of mind. But Ellhorn supplemented his solidity and straightforwardness with an audacity of initiative and a disregard of consequences that told of Celtic ancestry as plainly as did the suggestion of a brogue that in moments of excitement touched his soft Southern speech.

"Marshal Black would be dead agin goin' at it that way," said Tuttle doubtfully.

"Of course he would! But he ain't here, and we 'll run this round-up to suit ourselves; and if we don't bunch more bad steers than was ever got together in this town before, I 'll pull my freight for hell without takin' another drink!"

"Mebbe you 're right," said Tuttle slowly, "and I think likely that would be Emerson's judgment too. If he hadn't got married we 'd be all right. Us three could go up agin the whole lot of 'em and win out in three shakes!"

"Then let's send for him, and see if he 'll come!"

But Tuttle shook his head. "No," he said positively, "that would n't be a square deal for Mrs. Emerson, and we won't do it. We 'll stack up alone against this business, Nick. We 'll put on all the guns we 've got and keep together. We might get Willoughby Simmons—he 's deputy sheriff now; but he 's got no judgment, and he 's likely to get rattled and shoot wild if things get excitin'. We 'll get the warrants and start out right away, for we 've got to keep the thing quiet and nab 'em before they find out we 're on the warpath. You-all remember you 're sure goin' to keep sober!"

"Well," said Nick with a laugh, "I 'll be sober enough to stack up with any measly kiote that's pirootin' around this town!"

Tuttle went for the warrants, and Ellhorn said he would get some breakfast. But first he waited until his friend was out of sight and then paid a visit to the bar-room. Next he went to the telegraph office. The message that he sent was addressed to Emerson Mead, Las Plumas, New Mexico, and it read:

"Tommy and me are up against the Dysert gang alone, and I 'm drunk. Nick."

He came out of the telegraph office smiling joyously and humming under his breath the air of "Bonnie Dundee." "I did n't ask him to come," he said to himself, "and if he wants to now, that's his affair. Well, I reckon he ain't any more likely to have daylight let through him now than he was before he got married; and nobody's gun has made holes in him yet!"

It was early afternoon when the two friends started out on their round-up of bad men. To attract as little notice as possible they took a closed hack and drove rapidly toward the Mexican quarter. Nick's manner showed such recklessness and high spirits that Tuttle regarded him with anxiety and began to wonder if it would not be wiser to carry out his threat of the morning before attempting anything else. But he caught sight of two Mexicans coming toward them, one handsome and well built and the other slouching and ill-favored.

"There come two of 'em now! Liberate Herrera and Pablo Gonzalez!" he exclaimed, with sudden concentration of interest and attention. "Liberate is a boss knife-thrower, and I think likely he 's the one that did the business for old man Paxton. Look out for 'im, Nick!"

The carriage came abreast of the two men and Tuttle jumped out, with Ellhorn close behind him. But quick as they were, Herrera, the handsome one of the two, understood what was happening and leaped to one side, a long knife flashing from his sleeve, before Tuttle's hand could descend upon him. The other was slower and Ellhorn had him by the arm before he could thrust his hand into his pocket for his revolver. Herrera's knife slid into position against his wrist and Tuttle's revolver clicked. The Mexican looked dauntlessly into its black muzzle, but saw that his companion was submitting, and that both were covered by the guns of the officers.

"It's all right, Seor Tuttle," he said coolly. "You 've got the best of me. I give up."

They drove back to the adobe jail; and while Tuttle was turning his prisoners into the custody of Willoughby Simmons, the deputy sheriff, Ellhorn slipped out, crossed the street, and went into a saloon. The men already there had watched the arrival of the hack and the two prisoners at the jail, and two of them, when they saw Nick coming, hurried into the back room, leaving the door open.

"What's up, Nick?" the proprietor asked as he poured the whiskey Ellhorn had ordered.

"Tommy and me," answered Nick jauntily, pushing his glass across the bar to be filled a second time. "We 're on top now, and I sure reckon we 're goin' to stay there!"

"After the Dysert gang?"

"You bet! Hot and heavy! We'll have 'em all bunched in the jail by night!"

Ellhorn stood with his back toward the middle door; and the two men in the rear room cautiously made their way into the front again, revolvers in their hands. Nick turned and found himself facing Faustin Dysert and Hippolito Chavez, a policeman and member of Dysert's society. His two revolvers flashed out, the triggers clicked, and he stood waiting for the next move of the others, for he saw at once that they did not intend to shoot at that moment.

"You 'll have to give me your guns, Nick," said Dysert. "You 're drunk and disorderly, and I 'm going to arrest you."

"Want my guns?" shouted Nick derisively. "Then come and take 'em!"

"I 'm going to take them, and I 'll give you two minutes in which to decide whether or not you 'll give them up peaceably."

"You will, will you! Let me tell you, it's yourself that's goin' to be taken, dead or alive, and not for any common 'drunk and disorderly,' either! You-all are goin' to swing, you are! Whoo-oo-ee-ee!"

Across the street, Tuttle had come out of the jail and was looking for his friend. Ellhorn's peculiar yell came bellowing from the saloon, and he knew that trouble of some sort was brewing. Dysert and Chavez saw him leaping across the street, and rushed into the back room and slammed the door as he entered at the front. With a glance Tuttle took in the group of men with tense, excited faces, gathered at one side of the room, Ellhorn, with a revolver in each hand, at the other, and the saloon-keeper emerging from underneath the bar.

"Nick, you 're drinkin' again! Put up your guns!" Tom exclaimed angrily.

"After 'em, Tommy! They went in there! Whoo-oo-ee-ee!" yelled Nick, rushing toward the middle door. It gave before his weight and he dashed in. Tuttle followed, not knowing what was happening, yet sure that his friend was daring some danger. But the room was empty. Through the back door Dysert and his companion had gained a corral, into which opened several other houses, and in some one of these had disappeared and found concealment.

"Huh!" grunted Nick. "Tom, if you'd only had sense enough to stay away a minute longer I 'd have got both of 'em myself!"

They started forth on another raid, but the members of the Dysert gang seemed to have vanished from the face of the earth. Neither in the streets, the plaza, their homes, nor their usual haunts could the officers of the law find one of those for whom they had warrants.

"It's what I was afraid of," said Tuttle. "The hint got out too quick for us, and now they 're all hiding."

"They've holed up somewhere, all in a bunch, and we 've got to smoke 'em out. Whoo-oo-ee-ee!"

The several whiskies with which Nick had succeeded in eluding his friend's vigilance were beginning to have manifest effect, and Tuttle decided that, whatever became of the Dysert gang, there was only one thing to do with Nick Ellhorn, and that would have to be done at once. He drove back to the Plaza Hotel, took Nick to his room, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket.

"Now, Nick, you-all don't get out of here till you 're plumb sober—sober enough to be sorry!"

Nick protested, but Tuttle threw him down on the bed and then deliberately sat down on his chest. Ellhorn swore valiantly and threatened many and dire revenges. But Tom sat still, in unheeding silence, and after a little Nick shut his mouth with a snap and gazed sullenly at the ceiling. He labored for breath for a while, and at last broke the silence by asking impatiently: "Say, Tom, how long you goin' to make an easy chair of me?"

"You know, without askin'!"

Nick relapsed into silence again until his face grew purple and his breath came in gasps. "Tom," he began, and there was no backbone left in his voice, "what do you-all want me to promise?"

"Not to drink another drop of whiskey, beer, wine, brandy, or anything intoxicatin', till we get the Dysert gang corralled—or they get us."

"All right, Tommy. I promise."

Tattle got up and looked at his friend with an expression of mingled apology and triumph on his big, red face. "I 'm sorry I had to do it. Nick. You-all know that. But I had to, and you know that, too. We can't do another thing now till to-morrow, and you 're sober again. I don't see," he went on grumblingly, "as long as they were goin' to kill old man Paxton anyway, why they did n't do it before Emerson got married!"

Nick had been soaking his head in the wash-bowl and he wheeled around with the water streaming over his face. "Tom, I sure reckon Emerson would come if you 'd send for him!"

"Mebbe he would, Nick, but I ain't goin' to do it. For he sure had n't ought to go and get himself killed now, just on our account. But if he was here," Tommy went on wistfully, "we 'd wipe up the ground with that Dysert gang too quick!"

Nick rolled over on the bed, sleep heavy on his eyelids. "Well, I gave Emerson the chance this mornin' to let us know whether he 's goin' to keep on bein' one of us, or whether he 's goin' to bunch alone with Mrs. Emerson after this!"

Tuttle gazed in open-mouthed and wide-eyed astonishment. "What—what—do you mean, Nick? You did n't wire him to come?"

"No, I did n't! I told him you and me was up against the Dysert gang—" Nick's voice trailed off into a sleepy murmur—"alone, and I—was drunk—and likely to get—disorderly."

"You measly, ornery—" Tuttle began. But he saw that Ellhorn was already asleep and he would not abuse his friend unless Nick could hear what he said. So he shut his mouth and considered the situation. He knew well enough that in the days before Emerson's marriage any such message would have brought Mead to their aid as fast as steam could carry him. But now, if he did not come—well, what Nick had said was true, and they would know that the end of the old close friendship had come. But, for the young wife's sake, if he should come, he and Nick must not let him do anything foolhardy and they must try to keep him out of danger.

Tuttle waited up for the midnight train, on which, if Mead heeded Nick's telegram, he would be likely to arrive. In the meantime, he did some spying out of the land and learned that Dysert and some of his followers had hidden themselves, with arms, ammunition, and provisions, in an empty adobe house belonging to the head of the band. The deputy marshal knew this meant that the criminals would resist to the last, and that any attempt to take them would be as perilous an adventure as he and his friends had ever faced. If Emerson came and anything happened to him—and it was very unlikely, if they carried the thing through, that any one of them would come out of it without at least serious injury—then he and Ellhorn would feel that they had been the cause of the young wife's bereavement. And yet, with Mead's help, they might succeed. And success in this enterprise would be the biggest, the crowning achievement in all their experience as officers of the law.

As midnight approached, Tuttle scarcely knew whether he more hoped or dreaded that Mead would come. He had faced the muzzle of loaded guns with less trepidation and anxiety than he felt as he stepped out on the sidewalk when he heard the rattle of the omnibus. A tall figure, big and broad-shouldered, swung down from the vehicle.

"Emerson—Emerson—" Tuttle stammered, his voice shaking and dying in his throat into something very like a sob. Then he gripped Mead's hand and said casually, "How 's Mrs. Emerson?"

Mead replied merely, "She's well"; but Tom caught an unwonted intonation of tenderness in his voice and saw his face soften and glow for an instant before he went on anxiously, "What's up?—and where 's Nick?"

Tuttle wavered a little the next morning in his purpose of attacking the Dysert retreat. He took Ellhorn aside and asked his opinion about letting the matter rest until the return of Marshal Black and Sheriff Williamson.

Nick was quite sober again and looked back over his misdeeds of the day before with a jaunty smile and a penitent shake of the head. "Sure, Tom," he said, and the Irish roll in his voice showed that his contrition was sincere enough to move him deeply, "sure and I was a measly, beastly, ornery kiote to go back on you like that, and you 'd have served me right if you 'd set on me twice as long as you did!"

But against Tuttle's suggestion of postponing the conflict he presented a surprised and combative front. "What you-all thinkin' of, Tom? Why, we 've got 'em holed up now, and all that's to do is to smoke 'em out!"

"It's Emerson I 'm thinkin' of—and Mrs. Emerson. He—he wrote her a letter this mornin', and put it in his pocket, and asked me if anything happened to him to see that she got it. Nick, I—I don't like to think about that! If we put this thing off, he 'll go home, and then we-all can fight it through without him, mebbe. Nick, you was a sure kiote to send for him yesterday."

"Yes, I sure was," said Nick with sorrowful conviction. Then he added, with an air of cheerful finality, "Well, I would n't 'a' done it if I had n't been drunk! But you 're right, Tommy. It ain't the square deal to Mrs. Emerson for us to take him into this business. It 'll be a fight to a finish, for one side or the other, and it's just as likely to be us as them."

At that moment Mead came up, saying briskly, "Well, boys, had n't we better be starting out?"

Like his two friends, Emerson Mead was Texan born and bred; but a New England strain in his blood, with its potent strength and sanity, had given him such poise and force of character as had made him the leader of the three through their long and intimate friendship and strenuous life.

"I 've just been sayin' to Nick," Tom replied, his eyes evading those of his friend, "that mebbe we 'd better let this thing slide till Black and Williamson get back."

"Well, Tom, this is your shindy, and whatever you say goes. But I sure think that if you really want to get this Dysert gang, the thing to do is to trot in and get 'em, right now. You know yourself that Black ain't any too warm about it, and Williamson is so under Dell Baxter's thumb that he 's more likely to trip you up, if he can, than he is to help. You-all won't get another chance as good as this!"

Ellhorn's martial ardor, and his buoyant belief that Mead's marriage had in no wise lessened his immunity from bullets, obscured for the moment his anxiety about Mrs. Mead. He slapped his thigh, exclaiming, "Them's my sentiments, boys! Come on! Let's pull our freight!"

Tuttle's manner still showed some reluctance, but he said no more, and the three Texans, each of them six feet three or more in his stockings, broad-shouldered, and straight as an arrow, swung into the street.

They took with them Willoughby Simmons, the deputy sheriff for whose judgment Tom had so little esteem. Tuttle sent him to guard the rear of the house, a small, detached adobe, in which Dysert and an unknown number of his followers had fortified themselves. Some twenty feet in front and toward one corner of the house grew a large old apple tree, its leaves and pink-nosed buds just beginning to make themselves manifest, and underneath it were some piles of wood. It was the only position that offered cover. Tuttle asked Mead to station himself there, where he could command one end of the house, a view toward the rear, and the whole front. Ellhorn he placed similarly at the other front corner. His own position he took midway between the two, facing the door and two small windows that blinked beneath the narrow portal.

Mead saw that he was the only one for whom protection was possible, and exclaimed, "Say, Tom, this ain't fair!"

But Tuttle paid no attention to his protest, and began to call loudly:

"Dysert! Faustin Dysert! We know you 're in there, you and your men, and if you 'll give yourselves up you won't get hurt. But we 're goin' to take you, dead or alive! If there 's anybody in there that don't belong in your gang, send 'em out, and we 'll let 'em go away peaceable!"

There was no reply from the house. Evidently those within meant to play a waiting game until they could get the officers of the law under their hands, or perhaps take them unawares. Tuttle glanced at Mead and saw that he was standing apart from the tree and the piles of wood. Tom thought of the letter in his friend's pocket and remembered the look that had crossed his face at the mention of his wife. Great beads of sweat broke out on Tom's forehead. With his lips set and his eyes on those squinting front windows he walked across to his friend and said in a low tone:

"I reckon, Emerson, we 'd better just stand here and guard the place till they see they 'll starve to death if they don't give up."

Mead turned upon him a look of supreme astonishment. "It's your fight, Tom," he answered coolly, "and if you-all think that's the best way of fightin' it, I 'll stand by and help as long as I 'm needed. But I did n't come up here expectin' to take part in any cold-feet show!"

Tuttle wiped his face vigorously and did not answer. "I think there's only one thing to do," Mead went on, "and that is to rush 'em and make 'em show their hand!"

Tuttle shook his head. "No, no," he exclaimed hurriedly, "that wouldn't do at all, Emerson!"

Mead left him and, keeping the front of the house in the tail of his eye, hurried across the yard to Ellhorn. "Nick," he demanded, "what's the matter with Tommy? Does he want to take these Greasers or not?"

"Well, Emerson," said Nick hesitatingly, "I sure reckon the truth is that he's afraid you 'll get hurt!"

The ruddy tan of Mead's face deepened to purple, and a yellow light blazed in his brown eyes. He strode back to where Tuttle had resumed his post, his fist shot out, and Tom went staggering backward. "So you-all think I 'm a coward, do you?" he shouted. Then, wheeling, with a revolver in each hand, he rushed toward the front door. Nick saw what he purposed to do, and dashed after him with a wild "Whoo-oo-ee!"

Tuttle was left without support. For a moment he was so dazed by Mead's blow that he stared about him bewilderedly. The men inside the house were quick to take advantage of so unexpected a situation. The windows flashed fire and Tom heard the thud of bullets against the ground at his feet. One bit his cheek. With loud and angry oaths he dropped to one knee, rifle in hand, and sent bullets and insults hurtling together through the crashing windows. Springing to his feet he ran a few steps forward, dropped to his knee again, and with bullets pattering all around him emptied the magazine of his rifle.

Mead and Ellhorn were trying to batter down the door, but it was strongly built and had not yielded to their shoulders. Throwing down his empty rifle, Tuttle ran into the portal, thrust Ellhorn to one side as if he had been a boy, and lunged against the door with all his ox-like weight. Mead threw himself against it at the same instant, and it cracked, split, and flew into splinters.

The three big Texans, each with a revolver in either hand, surged through the opening. The Mexicans met them in mid-floor, and the room was full of the whirr of flying bullets, the thud of bullets against the walls, the spat of bullets upon human flesh. The officers rushed forward, their guns blazing streams of fire, and Dysert and his men backed toward the corner. Mead emptied both of his revolvers and, pressing the leader closely, raised one of them to batter him over the head. Dysert threw up his hands, exclaiming, "We give up!" and the battle was over.

On the floor were the bodies of four Mexicans, either dead or badly wounded. Dysert and three of his followers were still alive, although each had been hurt. Tuttle, besides the gash in his cheek, had a bullet in his left arm, and Ellhorn a wound in his thigh. Mead's hat and clothing had been pierced, but his body was untouched.

They sent for physicians to attend to the wounded Mexicans and, having handcuffed their prisoners, hurried them to the jail. As Simmons led the men from the sheriff's office and the three friends were left alone, Mead turned to Tuttle.

"Tom," he said, "I 'm sure sorry I struck you just now. I was so mad I hardly knew what I was doing. You 'd been acting queer, and when I found it was because you thought I was afraid, I just boiled over. I had no business to do it, Tom, and I 'm sorry."

The red of Tom's face went a shade deeper, and he fidgeted uneasily. "No, Emerson, you 're wrong," he protested. "I did n't think you was afraid. You-all ought to know better than that. But—well—the truth is, Emerson, I could n't help thinkin' what hard lines it would be for Mrs. Emerson if anything—should happen to you."

The tears came into Mead's eyes, and he turned away as Tuttle went on: "I told Nick not to send for you, but the darned kiote went and done it without me knowing it!"

"No, I didn't," Nick exclaimed. "I just told him we was in a hole and I was drunk! And, anyway, it's a good thing I did; for now we 've got the Dyserts, and Emerson did n't get a scratch!"

"Boys," said Mead, and his voice was thick in his throat, "you 're the best friends any fellow ever had; but you-all don't know what a brick Marguerite is! She 'd rather die than come between us, I know she would! She would n't have any more use for me if she thought I 'd kept a whole skin by going back on you! It's the truth, boys, and don't you forget it!"