THE TWO-GUN MAN
BY CHARLES ALDEN SELTZER
Author of "The Range Riders," "The Coming of the Law," etc.
A. L. BURT COMPANY
PUBLISHERS ———— NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY
OUTING PUBLISHING COMPANY
ENTERED AT STATIONERS' HALL, LONDON, ENGLAND
All rights reserved
I. THE STRANGER AT DRY BOTTOM
II. THE STRANGER SHOOTS
III. THE CABIN IN THE FLAT
IV. A "DIFFERENT GIRL"
V. THE MAN OF DRY BOTTOM
VI. AT THE TWO DIAMOND
VII. THE MEASURE OF A MAN
VIII. THE FINDING OF THE ORPHAN
IX. WOULD YOU BE A "CHARACTER"?
X. DISAPPEARANCE OF THE ORPHAN
XI. A TOUCH OF LOCAL COLOR
XII. THE STORY BEGINS
XIII. "DO YOU SMOKE?"
XIV. ON THE EDGE OF THE PLATEAU
XV. A FREE HAND
XVI. LEVIATT TAKES A STEP
XVII. A BREAK IN THE STORY
XVIII. THE DIM TRAIL
XIX. THE SHOT IN THE DARK
XX. LOVE AND A RIFLE
XXI. THE PROMISE
XXII. KEEPING A PROMISE
XXIII. AT THE EDGE OF THE COTTONWOOD
XXIV. THE END OF THE STORY
THE TWO-GUN MAN
THE STRANGER AT DRY BOTTOM
From the crest of Three Mile Slope the man on the pony could see the
town of Dry Bottom straggling across the gray floor of the flat, its
low, squat buildings looking like so many old boxes blown there by an
idle wind, or unceremoniously dumped there by a careless fate and left,
regardless, to carry out the scheme of desolation.
Apparently the rider was in no hurry, for, as the pony topped the rise
and the town burst suddenly into view, the little animal pricked up its
ears and quickened its pace, only to feel the reins suddenly tighten
and to hear the rider's voice gruffly discouraging haste. Therefore,
the pony pranced gingerly, alert, champing the bit impatiently, picking
its way over the lumpy hills of stone and cactus, but holding closely
to the trail.
The man lounged in the saddle, his strong, well-knit body swaying
gracefully, his eyes, shaded by the brim of his hat, narrowed with
slight mockery and interest as he gazed steadily at the town that lay
"I reckon that must be Dry Bottom," he said finally, mentally taking in
its dimensions. "If that's so, I've only got twenty miles to go."
Half way down the slope, and still a mile and a half from the town, the
rider drew the pony to a halt. He dropped the reins over the high
pommel of the saddle, drew out his two guns, one after the other,
rolled the cylinders, and returned the guns to their holsters. He had
heard something of Dry Bottom's reputation and in examining his pistols
he was merely preparing himself for an emergency. For a moment after
he had replaced the weapons he sat quietly in the saddle. Then he
shook out the reins, spoke to the pony, and the little animal set
forward at a slow lope.
An ironic traveler, passing through Dry Bottom in its younger days,
before civic spirit had definitely centered its efforts upon things
nomenclatural, had hinted that the town should be known as "dry"
because of the fact that while it boasted seven buildings, four were
saloons; and that "bottom" might well be used as a suffix, because, in
the nature of things, a town of seven buildings, four of which were
saloons, might reasonably expect to descend to the very depths of moral
The ironic traveler had spoken with prophetic wisdom. Dry Bottom was
trying as best it knew how to wallow in the depths of sin. Unlovely,
soiled, desolate of verdure, dumped down upon a flat of sand in a
treeless waste, amid cactus, crabbed yucca, scorpions, horned toads,
and rattlesnakes. Dry Bottom had forgotten its morals, subverted its
principles, and neglected its God.
As the rider approached to within a few hundred yards of the edge of
town he became aware of a sudden commotion. He reined in his pony,
allowing it to advance at a walk, while with alert eyes he endeavored
to search out the cause of the excitement. He did not have long to
watch for the explanation.
A man had stepped out of the door of one of the saloons, slowly walking
twenty feet away from it toward the center of the street. Immediately
other men had followed. But these came only to a point just outside
the door. For some reason which was not apparent to the rider, they
were giving the first man plenty of room.
The rider was now able to distinguish the faces of the men in the
group, and he gazed with interested eyes at the man who had first
issued from the door of the saloon.
The man was tall—nearly as tall as the rider—and in his every
movement seemed sure of himself. He was young, seemingly about
thirty-five, with shifty, insolent eyes and a hard mouth whose lips
were just now curved into a self-conscious smile.
The rider had now approached to within fifty feet of the man, halting
his pony at the extreme end of the hitching rail that skirted the front
of the saloon. He sat carelessly in the saddle, his gaze fixed on the
The men who had followed the first man out, to the number of a dozen,
were apparently deeply interested, though plainly skeptical. A short,
fat man, who was standing near the saloon door, looked on with a
half-sneer. Several others were smiling blandly. A tall man on the
extreme edge of the crowd, near the rider, was watching the man in the
street gravely. Other men had allowed various expressions to creep
into their faces. But all were silent.
Not so the man in the street. Plainly, here was conceit personified,
and yet a conceit mingled with a maddening insolence. His expression
told all that this thing which he was about to do was worthy of the
closest attention. He was the axis upon which the interest of the
Certainly he knew of the attention he was attracting. Men were
approaching from the other end of the street, joining the group in
front of the saloon—which the rider now noticed was called the "Silver
Dollar." The newcomers were inquisitive; they spoke in low tones to
the men who had arrived before them, gravely inquiring the cause.
But the man in the street seemed not disturbed by his rapidly swelling
audience. He stood in the place he had selected, his insolent eyes
roving over the assembled company, his thin, expressive lips opening a
very little to allow words to filter through them.
"Gents," he said, "you're goin' to see some shootin'! I told you in
the Silver Dollar that I could keep a can in the air while I put five
holes in it. There's some of you gassed about bein' showed, not
believin'. An' now I'm goin' to show you!"
He reached down and took up a can that had lain at his feet, removing
the red lithographed label, which had a picture of a large tomato in
the center of it. The can was revealed, naked and shining in the white
sunlight. The man placed the can in his left hand and drew his pistol
with the right.
Then he tossed the can into the air. While it still rose his weapon
exploded, the can shook spasmodically and turned clear over. Then in
rapid succession followed four other explosions, the last occurring
just before the can reached the ground. The man smiled, still holding
the smoking weapon in his hand.
The tall man on the extreme edge of the group now stepped forward and
examined the can, while several other men crowded about to look. There
were exclamations of surprise. It was curious to see how quickly
enthusiasm and awe succeeded skepticism.
"He's done it, boys!" cried the tall man, holding the can aloft.
"Bored it in five places!" He stood erect, facing the crowd. "I
reckon that's some shootin'!" He now threw a glance of challenge and
defiance about him. "I've got a hundred dollars to say that there
ain't another man in this here town can do it!"
Several men tried, but none equaled the first man's performance. Many
of the men could not hit the can at all. The first man watched their
efforts, sneers twitching his lips as man after man failed.
Presently all had tried. Watching closely, the rider caught an
expression of slight disappointment on the tall man's face. The rider
was the only man who had not yet tried his skill with the pistol, and
the man in the street now looked up at him, his eyes glittering with an
insolent challenge. As it happened, the rider glanced at the shooter
at the instant the latter had turned to look up at him. Their eyes met
fairly, the shooter's conveying a silent taunt. The rider smiled,
slight mockery glinting his eyes.
Apparently the stranger did not care to try his skill. He still sat
lazily in the saddle, his gaze wandering languidly over the crowd. The
latter plainly expected him to take part in the shooting match and was
impatient over his inaction.
"Two-gun," sneered a man who stood near the saloon door. "I wonder
what he totes them two guns for?"
The shooter heard and turned toward the man who had spoken, his lips
"I reckon he wouldn't shoot nothin' with them," he said, addressing the
man who had spoken.
Several men laughed. The tall man who had revealed interest before now
raised a hand, checking further comment.
"That offer of a hundred to the man who can beat that shootin' still
goes," he declared. "An' I'm taking off the condition. The man that
tries don't have to belong to Dry Bottom. No stranger is barred!"
The stranger's glance again met the shooter's. The latter grinned
felinely. Then the rider spoke. The crowd gave him its polite
"I reckon you-all think you've seen some shootin'," he said in a
steady, even voice, singularly free from boast. "But I reckon you
ain't seen any real shootin'." He turned to the tall, grave-faced man.
"I ain't got no hundred," he said, "but I'm goin' to show you."
He still sat in the saddle. But now with an easy motion he swung down
and hitched his pony to the rail.
THE STRANGER SHOOTS
The stranger seemed taller on the ground than in the saddle and an
admirable breadth of shoulder and slenderness of waist told eloquently
of strength. He could not have been over twenty-five or six. Yet
certain hard lines about his mouth, the glint of mockery in his eyes,
the pronounced forward thrust of the chin, the indefinable force that
seemed to radiate from him, told the casual observer that here was a
man who must be approached with care.
But apparently the shooter saw no such signs. In the first glance that
had been exchanged between the two men there had been a lack of
ordinary cordiality. And now, as the rider slid down from his pony and
advanced toward the center of the street, the shooter's lips curled.
Writhing through them came slow-spoken words.
"You runnin' sheep, stranger?"
The rider's lips smiled, but his eyes were steady and cold. In them
shone a flash of cold humor. He stood, quietly contemplating his
Smiles appeared on the faces of several of the onlookers. The tall man
with the grave face watched with a critical eye. The insult had been
deliberate, and many men crouched, plainly expecting a serious outcome.
But the stranger made no move toward his guns, and when he answered he
might have been talking about the weather, so casual was his tone.
"I reckon you think you're a plum man," he said quietly. "But if you
are, you ain't showed it much—buttin' in with that there wise
observation. An' there's some men who think that shootin' at a man is
more excitin' than shootin' at a can."
There was a grim quality in his voice now. He leaned forward slightly,
his eyes cold and alert. The shooter sneered experimentally. Again
the audience smiled.
But the tall man now stepped forward. "You've made your play,
stranger," he said quietly. "I reckon it's up to you to make good."
"Correct," agreed the stranger. "I'm goin' to show you some real
shootin'. You got another can?"
Some one dived into the Silver Dollar and returned in a flash with
another tomato can. This the stranger took, removing the label, as the
shooter had done. Then, smiling, he took a position in the center of
the street, the can in his right hand.
He did not draw his weapon as the shooter had done, but stood loosely
in his place, his right hand still grasping the can, the left swinging
idly by his side. Apparently he did not mean to shoot. Sneers reached
the faces of several men in the crowd. The shooter growled,
There was a flash as the can rose twenty feet in the air, propelled by
the right hand of the stranger. As the can reached the apex of its
climb the stranger's right hand descended and grasped the butt of the
weapon at his right hip. There was a flash as the gun came out; a gasp
of astonishment from the watchers. The can was arrested in the first
foot of its descent by the shock of the first bullet striking it. It
jumped up and out and again began its interrupted fall, only to stop
dead still in the air as another bullet struck it. There was an
infinitesimal pause, and then twice more the can shivered and jumped.
No man in the crowd but could tell that the bullets were striking true.
The can was still ten feet in the air and well out from the stranger.
The latter whipped his weapon to a level, the bullet striking the can
and driving it twenty feet from him. Then it dropped. But when it was
within five feet of the ground the stranger's gun spoke again. The can
leaped, careened sideways, and fell, shattered, to the street, thirty
feet distant from the stranger.
Several men sprang forward to examine it.
"Six times!" ejaculated the tall man in an awed tone. "An' he didn't
pull his gun till he'd throwed the can!"
He approached the stranger, drawing him confidentially aside. The
crowd slowly dispersed, loudly proclaiming the stranger's ability with
the six-shooter. The latter took his honors lightly, the mocking smile
again on his face.
"I'm lookin' for a man who can shoot," said the tall man, when the last
man of the crowd had disappeared into the saloon.
The stranger smiled. "I reckon you've just seen some shootin'," he
The tall man smiled mirthlessly. "You particular about what you shoot
at?" he inquired.
The stranger's lips straightened coldly. "I used to have that habit,"
he returned evenly.
"Hard luck?" queried the tall man.
"I'm rollin' in wealth," stated the stranger, with an ironic sneer.
The tall man's eyes glittered. "Where you from?" he questioned.
"You c'n have three guesses," returned the stranger, his eyes narrowing
with the mockery that the tall man had seen in them before.
The tall man adopted a placative tone. "I ain't wantin' to butt into
your business," he said. "I was wantin' to find out if any one around
here knowed you."
"This town didn't send any reception committee to meet me, did they?"
smiled the stranger.
"Correct," said the tall man. He leaned closer. "You willin' to work
your guns for me for a hundred a month?"
The stranger looked steadily into the tall man's eyes.
"You've been right handy askin' questions," he said. "Mebbe you'll
answer some. What's your name?"
"Stafford," returned the tall man. "I'm managin' the Two Diamond, over
on the Ute."
The stranger's eyelashes flickered slightly. His eyes narrowed
quizzically. "What you wantin' of a gun-man?" he asked.
"Rustler," returned the other shortly.
The stranger smiled. "Figger on shootin' him?" he questioned.
Stafford hesitated. "Well, no," he returned. "That is, not until I'm
sure I've got the right one." He seized the stranger's arm in a
confidential grip. "You see," he explained, "I don't know just where
I'm at. There's been a rustler workin' on the herd, an' I ain't been
able to get close enough to find out who it is. But rustlin' has got
to be stopped. I've sent over to Raton to get a man named Ned
Ferguson, who's been workin' for Sid Tucker, of the Lazy J. Tucker
wrote me quite a while back, tellin' me that this man was plum slick at
nosin' out rustlers. He was to come to the Two Diamond two weeks ago.
But he ain't showed up, an' I've about concluded that he ain't comin'.
An' so I come over to Dry Bottom to find a man."
"You've found one," smiled the stranger.
Stafford drew out a handful of double eagles and pressed them into the
other's hand. "I'm goin' over to the Two Diamond now," he said.
"You'd better wait a day or two, so's no one will get wise. Come right
to me, like you was wantin' a job."
He started toward the hitching rail for his pony, hesitated and then
"I didn't get your name," he smiled.
The stranger's eyes glittered humorously. "It's Ferguson," he said
Stafford's eyes widened with astonishment. Then his right hand went
out and grasped the other's.
"Well, now," he said warmly, "that's what I call luck."
Ferguson smiled. "Mebbe it's luck," he returned. "But before I go
over to work for you there's got to be an understandin'. I c'n shoot
some," he continued, looking steadily at Stafford, "but I ain't runnin'
around the country shootin' men without cause. I'm willin' to try an'
find your rustler for you, but I ain't shootin' him—unless he goes to
crowdin' me mighty close."
"I'm agreein' to that," returned Stafford.
He turned again, looking back over his shoulder. "You'll sure be
over?" he questioned.
"I'll be there the day after to-morrow," stated Ferguson.
He turned and went into the Silver Dollar. Stafford mounted his pony
and loped rapidly out of town.
THE CABIN IN THE FLAT
It was the day appointed by Ferguson for his presence at the Two
Diamond ranch, and he was going to keep his word. Three hours out of
Dry Bottom he had struck the Ute trail and was loping his pony through
a cottonwood that skirted the river. It was an enchanted country
through which he rode; a land of vast distances, of white sunlight,
blue skies, and clear, pure air. Mountains rose in the distances,
their snowcapped peaks showing above the clouds like bald rock spires
above the calm level of the sea. Over the mountains swam the sun, its
lower rim slowly disappearing behind the peaks, throwing off broad
white shafts of light that soon began to dim as vari-colors, rising in
a slumberous haze like a gauze veil, mingled with them.
Ferguson's gaze wandered from the trail to the red buttes that fringed
the river. He knew this world; there was no novelty here for him. He
knew the lava beds, looming gray and dead beneath the foothills; he
knew the grotesque rock shapes that seemed to hint of a mysterious
past. Nature had not altered her face. On the broad levels were the
yellow tinted lines that told of the presence of soap-weed, the dark
lines that betrayed the mesquite, the saccatone belts that marked the
little guillies. Then there were the barrancas, the arid stretches
where the sage-brush and the cactus grew. Snaky octilla dotted the
space; the crabbed yucca had not lost its ugliness.
Ferguson looked upon the world with unseeing eyes. He had lived here
long and the country had not changed. It would never change. Nothing
ever changed here but the people.
But he himself had not changed. Twenty-seven years in this country was
a long time, for here life was not measured by age, but by experience.
Looking back over the years he could see that he was living to-day as
he had lived last year, as he had lived during the last decade—a hard
life, but having its compensations.
His coming to the Two Diamond ranch was merely another of those
incidents that, during the past year, had broken the monotony of range
life for him. He had had some success in breaking up a band of cattle
thieves which had made existence miserable for Sid Tucker, his
employer, and the latter had recommended him to Stafford. The promise
of high wages had been attractive, and so he had come. He had not
expected to surprise any one. When during his conversation with the
tall man in Dry Bottom he had discovered that the latter was the man
for whom he was to work he had been surprised himself. But he had not
revealed his surprise. Experience and association with men who kept
their emotions pretty much to themselves had taught him the value of
repression when in the presence of others.
But alone he allowed his emotions full play. There was no one to see,
no one to hear, and the silence and the distances, and the great,
swimming blue sky would not tell.
Stafford's action in coming to Dry Bottom for a gunfighter had puzzled
him not a little. Apparently the Two Diamond manager was intent upon
the death of the rustler he had mentioned. He had been searching for a
man who could "shoot," he had said. Ferguson had interpreted this to
mean that he desired to employ a gunfighter who would not scruple to
kill any man he pointed out, whether innocent or guilty. He had had
some experience with unscrupulous ranch managers, and he had admired
them very little. Therefore, during the ride today, his lips had
curled sarcastically many times.
Riding through a wide clearing in the cottonwood, he spoke a thought
that had troubled him not a little since he had entered Stafford's
"Why," he said, as he rode along, sitting carelessly in the saddle,
"he's wantin' to make a gunfighter out of me. But I reckon I ain't
goin' to shoot no man unless I'm pretty sure he's gunnin' for me." His
lips curled ironically. "I wonder what the boys of the Lazy J would
think if they knowed that a guy was tryin' to make a gunfighter out of
their old straw boss. I reckon they'd think that guy was loco—or a
heap mistaken in his man. But I'm seein' this thing through. I ain't
ridin' a hundred miles just to take a look at the man who's hirin' me.
It'll be a change. An' when I go back to the Lazy J——"
It was not the pony's fault. Neither was it Ferguson's. The pony was
experienced; behind his slant eyes was stored a world of horse-wisdom
that had pulled him and his rider through many tight places. And
Ferguson had ridden horses all his life; he would not have known what
to do without one.
But the pony stumbled. The cause was a prairie-dog hole, concealed
under a clump of matted mesquite. Ferguson lunged forward, caught at
the saddle horn, missed it, and pitched head-foremost out of the
saddle, turning completely over and alighting upon his feet. He stood
erect for an instant, but the momentum had been too great. He went
down, and when he tried to rise a twinge of pain in his right ankle
brought a grimace to his face. He arose and hopped over to a flat
rock, near where his pony now stood grazing as though nothing had
Drawing off his boot, Ferguson made a rapid examination of the ankle.
It was inflamed and painful, but not broken. He believed he could see
it swelling. He rubbed it, hoping to assuage the pain. The woolen
sock interfered with the rubbing, and he drew it off.
For a few minutes he worked with the ankle, but to little purpose. He
finally became convinced that it was a bad sprain, and he looked up,
scowling. The pony turned an inquiring eye upon him, and he grinned,
suddenly smitten with the humor of the situation.
"You ain't got no call to look so doggoned innocent about it," he said.
"If you'd been tendin' to your business, you wouldn't have stepped into
no damned gopher hole."
The pony moved slowly away, and he looked whimsically after it,
remarking: "Mebbe if I'd been tendin' to my business it wouldn't have
happened, either." He spoke again to the pony. "I reckon you know
that too, Mustard. You're some wise."
The animal was now at some little distance from the rock upon which he
was sitting. He arose, hobbling on one foot toward it, carrying the
discarded boot in his hand. He thought of riding with the foot bare.
At the Two Diamond he was sure to find some sort of liniment which,
with the help of a bandage, would materially assist nature in——
He was passing a filmy mesquite clump—the bare foot swinging wide.
There was a warning rattle; a sharp thrust of a flat, brown head.
Ferguson halted in astonishment, almost knocked off his balance with
the suddenness of the attack. He still held the boot, his fingers
gripping it tightly. He raised it, with a purely involuntary motion,
as though to hurl it at his insidious enemy. But he did not. The arm
fell to his side, and his face slowly whitened. He stared dully and
uncomprehendingly at the sinuous shape that was slipping noiselessly
away through the matted grass.
Somehow, he had never thought of being bitten by a rattler. He had
seen so many of them that he had come to look upon them only as targets
at which he might shoot when he thought he needed practice. And now he
was bitten. The unreality of the incident surprised him. He looked
around at the silent hills, at the sun that swam above the mountain
peaks, at the great, vast arc of sky that yawned above him. Hills,
sky, and sun seemed also unreal. It was as though he had been suddenly
thrust into a land of dreams.
But presently the danger of the situation burst upon him, and he lived
once more in the reality. He looked down at his foot. A livid,
pin-point wound showed in the flesh beside the arch. A tiny stream of
blood was oozing from it. He forgot the pain of the sprained ankle and
stood upon both feet, his body suddenly rigid, his face red with a
sudden, consuming anger, shaking a tense fist at the disappearing
"You damned sneak!" he shouted shrilly.
In the same instant he had drawn one of his heavy guns and swung it
over his head. Its crashing report brought a sudden swishing from
beneath the grass, and he hopped over closer and sent three more
bullets into the threshing brown body. He stood over it for a moment,
his teeth showing in a savage snarl.
"You won't bite any one else, damn you!" he shouted.
The impotence of this conduct struck him immediately. He flushed and
drooped his head, a grim smile slowly wearing down his expression of
panic. Seldom did he allow his emotions to reveal themselves so
plainly. But the swiftness of the rattler's attack, the surprise when
he had not been thinking of such a thing, the fact that he was far from
help and that his life was in danger—all had a damaging effect upon
his self-control. And yet the smile showed that he was still master of
Very deliberately he returned to the rock upon which he had been
sitting, ripping off his coat and tearing away the sleeve of his
woollen shirt. Twisting the sleeve into the form of a rude rope, he
tied it loosely around his leg, just above the ankle. Then he thrust
his knife between the improvised rope and the leg, forming a crude
tourniquet. He twisted the knife until tears of pain formed in his
eyes. Then he fastened the knife by tucking the haft under the rope.
His movements had been very deliberate, but sure, and in a few minutes
he hobbled to his pony and swung into the saddle.
He had seen men who had been bitten by rattlers—had seen them die.
And he knew that if he did not get help within half an hour there would
be little use of doing anything further. In half an hour the virus
would have so great a grip upon him that it would be practically
useless to apply any of the antidotes commonly known to the inhabitants
of the country.
Inquiries that he had made at Dry Bottom had resulted in the discovery
that the Two Diamond ranch was nearly thirty miles from the town. If
he had averaged eight miles an hour he had covered about twenty-four
miles of the distance. That would still leave about six. And he could
not hope to ride those six miles in time to get any benefit from an
His lips straightened, he stared grimly at a ridge of somber hills that
fringed the skyline. They had told him back in Dry Bottom that the Two
Diamond ranch was somewhere in a big basin below those hills.
"I reckon I won't get there, after all," he said, commenting aloud.
Thereafter he rode grimly on, keeping a good grip upon himself—for he
had seen men bitten by rattlers who had lost their self-control—and
they had not been good to look upon. Much depended upon coolness;
somewhere he had heard that it was a mistake for a bitten man to exert
himself in the first few minutes following a bite; exertion caused the
virus to circulate more rapidly through the system. And so he rode at
an even pace, carefully avoiding the rough spots, though keeping as
closely to the trail as possible.
"If it hadn't been a diamond-back—an' a five-foot one—this rope that
I've got around my leg might be enough to fool him," he said once,
aloud. "But I reckon he's got me." His eyes lighted savagely for an
instant. "But I got him, too. Had the nerve to think that he could
get away after throwin' his hooks into me."
Presently his eyes caught the saffron light that glowed in the western
sky. He laughed with a grim humor. "I've heard tell that a snake
don't die till sundown—much as you hurt him. If that's so, an' I
don't get to where I c'n get some help, I reckon it'll be a stand off
between him an' me as to who's goin' first."
A little later he drew Mustard to a halt, sitting very erect in the
saddle and fixing his gaze upon a tall cottonwood tree that rose near
the trail. His heart was racing madly, and in spite of his efforts, he
felt himself swaying from side to side. He had often seen a rattler
doing that—flat, ugly head raised above his coiled body, forked tongue
shooting out, his venomous eyes glittering, the head and the part of
the body rising above the coils swaying gracefully back and forth.
Yes, gracefully, for in spite of his hideous aspect, there was a
certain horrible ease of movement about a rattler—a slippery, sinuous
motion that partly revealed reserve strength, and hinted at
Many times, while watching them, he had been fascinated by their grace,
and now, sitting in the saddle, he caught himself wondering if the
influence of a bite were great enough to cause the person bitten to
imitate the snake. He laughed when this thought struck him and drove
his spurs sharply against Mustard's flanks, riding forward past the
cottonwood at which he had been staring.
"Hell!" he ejaculated, as he passed the tree, "what a fool notion."
But he could not banish the "notion" from his mind, and five minutes
later, when he tried again to sit steadily, he found the swaying more
pronounced. The saddle seemed to rock with him, and even by jamming
his uninjured foot tightly into the ox-bow stirrup he could not stop
"Mebbe I won't get very far," he said, realizing that the poison had
entered his system, and that presently it would riot in his veins, "but
I'm goin' on until I stop. I wouldn't want that damned rattler to know
that he'd made me quit so soon."
He urged Mustard to a faster pace, even while realizing that speed was
hopeless. He could never reach the Two Diamond. Convinced of this, he
halted the pony again, swaying in the saddle and holding, for the first
time, to the pommel in an effort to steady himself. But he still
swayed. He laughed mockingly.
"Now, what do you think of that?" he said, addressing the silence.
"You might think I was plum tenderfoot an' didn't know how to ride a
He urged the pony onward again, and for some little time rode with
bowed head, trying to keep himself steady by watching the trail. He
rode through a little clearing, where the grass was matted and some
naked rocks reared aloft. Near a clump of sage-brush he saw a sudden
movement—a rattler trying to slip away unnoticed. But the snake slid
into Ferguson's vision and with a sneer of hate he drew one of his
weapons and whipped it over his head, its roar awakening echoes in the
wood. Twice, three times, the crashing report sounded. But the
rattler whisked away and disappeared into the grass—apparently
For an instant Ferguson scowled. Then a grin of mockery reached his
"I reckon I'm done," he said. "Can't even hit a rattler no more, an'
him a brother or sister of that other one." A delirious light flashed
suddenly in his eyes, and he seemed on the point of dismounting. "I'll
cert'nly smash you some!" he said, speaking to the snake—which he
could no longer see. "I ain't goin' to let no snake bite me an' get
away with it!"
But he now smiled guiltily, embarrassment shining in his eyes. "I
reckon that wasn't the snake that bit you, Ferguson," he said. "The
one that bit you is back on the trail. He ain't goin' to die till
sundown. Not till sundown," he repeated mechanically, grimly;
"Ferguson ain't goin' to die till sundown."
He rode on, giving no attention to the pony whatever, but letting the
reins fall and holding to the pommel of the saddle. His face was
burning now, his hands were twitching, and an unnatural gleam had come
into his eyes.
"Ferguson got hooked by a rattler!" he suddenly exclaimed, hilarity in
his voice. "He run plum into that reptile; tried to walk on him with a
bare foot." The laugh was checked as suddenly as it had come, and a
grim quality entered his voice. "But Ferguson wasn't no tenderfoot—he
didn't scare none. He went right on, not sayin' anything. You see, he
was reckonin' to be man's size."
He rode on a little way, and as he entered another clearing a rational
gleam came into his eyes. "I'm still a-goin' it," he muttered.
A shadow darkened the trail; he heard Mustard whinny. He became aware
of a cabin in front of him; heard an exclamation; saw dimly the slight
figure of a woman, sitting on a small porch; as through a mist, he saw
her rise and approach him, standing on the edge of the porch, looking
He smiled, bowing low to her over his pony's mane.
"I shot him, ma'am," he said gravely, "but he ain't goin' to die till
As from some great distance a voice seemed to come to him. "Mercy!" it
said. "What is wrong? Who is shot?"
"Why, the snake, ma'am," he returned thickly. He slid down from his
pony and staggered to the edge of the porch, leaning against one of the
slender posts and hanging dizzily on. "You see, ma'am, that damned
rattler got Ferguson. But Ferguson ain't reckonin' on dyin' till
sundown. He couldn't let no snake get the best of him."
He saw the woman start toward him, felt her hands on his arms, helping
him upon the porch. Then he felt her hands on his shoulders, felt them
pressing him down. He felt dimly that there was a chair under him, and
he sank into it, leaning back and stretching himself out full length.
A figure flitted before him and presently there was a sharp pain in his
foot. He started out of the chair, and was abruptly shoved back into
it, Then the figure leaned over him, prying his jaws apart with some
metal like object and pouring something down his throat. He clicked as
he swallowed, vainly trying to brush away the object.
"You're a hell of a snake," he said savagely. Then the world blurred
dizzily, and he drifted into oblivion.
A "DIFFERENT GIRL"
Ferguson had no means of knowing how long he was unconscious, but when
he awoke the sun had gone down and the darkening shadows had stolen
into the clearing near the cabin. He still sat in the chair on the
porch. He tried to lift his injured foot and found to his surprise
that some weight seemed to be on it. He struggled to an erect
position, looking down. His foot had been bandaged, and the weight
that he had thought was upon it was not a weight at all, but the hands
of a young woman.
She sat on the porch floor, the injured foot in her lap, and she had
just finished bandaging it. Beside her on the porch floor was a small
black medicine case, a sponge, some yards of white cloth, and a tin
wash basin partly filled with water.
He had a hazy recollection of the young woman; he knew it must have
been she that he had seen when he had ridden up to the porch. He also
had a slight remembrance of having spoken to her, but what the words
were he could not recall. He stretched himself painfully. The foot
pained frightfully, and his face felt hot and feverish; he was woefully
weak and his nerves were tingling—but he was alive.
The girl looked up at his movement. Her lips opened and she held up a
"You are to be very quiet," she admonished.
He smiled weakly and obeyed her, leaning back, his gaze on the
slate-blue of the sky. She still worked at the foot, fastening the
bandage; he could feel her fingers as they passed lightly over it. He
did not move, feeling a deep contentment.
Presently she arose, placed the foot gently down, and entered the
house. With closed eyes he lay in the chair, listening to her step as
she walked about in the house. He lay there a long time, and when he
opened his eyes again he knew that he must have been asleep, for the
night had come and a big yellow moon was rising over a rim of distant
hills. Turning his head slightly, he saw the interior of one of the
rooms of the cabin—the kitchen, for he saw a stove and some kettles
and pans hanging on the wall and near the window a table, over which
was spread a cloth. A small kerosene lamp stood in the center of the
table, its rays glimmering weakly through the window. He raised one
hand and passed it over his forehead. There was still some fever, but
he felt decidedly better than when he had awakened the first time.
Presently he heard a light step and became aware of some one standing
near him. He knew it was the girl, even before she spoke, for he had
caught the rustle of her dress.
"Are you awake," she questioned.
"Why, yes, ma'am," he returned. He turned to look at her, but in the
darkness he could not see her face.
"Do you feel like eating anything?" she asked.
He grinned ruefully in the darkness. "I couldn't say that I'm exactly
yearnin' for grub," he returned, "though I ain't done any eatin' since
mornin'. I reckon a rattler's bite ain't considered to help a man's
He heard her laugh softly. "No," she returned; "I wouldn't recommend
He tried again to see her, but could not, and so he relaxed and turned
his gaze on the sky. But presently he felt her hand on his shoulder,
and then her voice, as she spoke firmly.
"You can't lie here all night," she said. "You would be worse in the
morning. And it is impossible for you to travel to-night. I am going
to help you to get into the house. You can lean your weight on my
He struggled to an erect position and made out her slender figure in
the dim light from the window. He would have been afraid of crushing
her could he have been induced to accept her advice. He got to his
uninjured foot and began to hop toward the door, but she was beside him
"Stop!" she commanded firmly. "If you do that it will be the worse for
you. Put your hand on my shoulder!"
In the darkness he could see her eyes flash with determination, and so
without further objection he placed a hand lightly on her shoulder, and
in this manner they made their way through the door and into the cabin.
Once inside the door he halted, blinking at the light and undecided.
But she promptly led him toward another door, into a room containing a
bed. She led him to the bedside and stood near him after he had sunk
down upon it.
"You are to sleep here to-night," she said. "To-morrow, if you are
considerably better, I may allow you to travel." She went out,
returning immediately with a small bottle containing medicine. "If you
feel worse during the night," she directed, "you must take a spoonful
from that bottle. If you think you need anything else, don't hesitate
to call. I shall be in the next room."
He started to voice his thanks, but she cut him short with a laugh.
"Good-night," she said. Then she went out and closed the door after
He awoke several times during the night and each time took a taste of
the medicine in the bottle. But shortly after midnight he fell into a
heavy sleep, from which he did not awaken until the dawn had come. He
lay quiet for a long time, until he heard steps in the kitchen, and
then he rose and went to the door, throwing it open and standing on the
She was standing near the table, a coffee pot in her hand. Her eyes
widened as she saw him.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "You are very much better!"
He smiled. "I'm thankin' you for it, ma'am," he returned. "I cert'nly
wouldn't have been feelin' anything if I hadn't met you when I did."
She put the coffee pot down and looked gravely at him.
"You were in very bad shape when you came," she admitted. "There was a
time when I thought my remedies would not pull you through. They would
not had you come five minutes later."
He had no reply to make to this, and he stood there silent, until she
poured coffee into a cup, arranged some dishes, and then invited him to
sit at the table.
He needed no second invitation, for he had been twenty-four hours
without food. And he had little excuse to complain of the quality of
the food that was set before him. He ate in silence and when he had
finished he turned away from the table to see the girl dragging a
rocking chair out upon the porch. She returned immediately, smiling at
"Your chair is ready," she said. "I think you had better not exert
yourself very much to-day."
"Why, ma'am," he expostulated, "I'm feelin' right well. I reckon I
could be travelin' now. I ain't used to bein' babied this way."
"I don't think you are being 'babied,'" she returned a trifle coldly.
"I don't think that I would waste any time with anyone if I thought it
wasn't necessary. I am merely telling you to remain for your own good.
Of course, if you wish to disregard my advice you may do so."
He smiled with a frank embarrassment and limped toward the door. "Why,
ma'am," he said regretfully as he reached the door, "I cert'nly don't
want to do anything which you think ain't right, after what you've done
for me. I don't want to belittle you, an' I think that when I said
that I might have been gassin' a little. But I thought mebbe I'd been
enough trouble already."
It was not entirely the confession itself, but the self-accusing tone
in which it had been uttered that brought a smile to her face.
"All the same," she said, "you are to do as I tell you."
He smiled as he dropped into the chair on the porch. It was an odd
experience for him. Never before in his life had anyone adopted toward
him an air of even partial proprietorship. He had been accustomed to
having people—always men—meet him upon a basis of equality, and if a
man had adopted toward him the tone that she had employed there would
have been an instant severing of diplomatic relations and a beginning
But this situation was odd—a woman had ordered him to do a certain
thing and he was obeying, realizing that in doing so he was violating a
principle, though conscious of a strange satisfaction. He knew that he
had promised the Two Diamond manager, and he was convinced that, in
spite of the pain in his foot, he was well enough to ride. But he was
not going to ride; her command had settled that.
For a long time he sat in the chair, looking out over a great stretch
of flat country which was rimmed on three sides by a fringe of low
hills, and behind him by the cottonwood. The sun had been up long; it
was swimming above the rim of distant hills—a ball of molten silver in
a shimmering white blur. The cabin was set squarely in the center of a
big clearing, and about an eighth of a mile behind him was a river—the
river that he had been following when he had been bitten by the rattler.
He knew from the location of the cabin that he had not gone very far
out of his way; that a ride of an eighth of a mile would bring him to
the Two Diamond trail. And he could not be very far from the Two
Diamond. Yet because of an order, issued by a girl, he was doomed to
delay his appearance at the ranch.
He had seen no man about the cabin. Did the girl live here alone? He
was convinced that no woman could long survive the solitude of this
great waste of country—some man—a brother or a husband—must share
the cabin with her. Several times he caught himself hoping that if
there was a man here it might be a brother, or even a distant relative.
The thought that she might have a husband aroused in him a sensation of
He heard her moving about in the cabin, heard the rattle of dishes, the
swish of a broom on the rough floor. And then presently she came out,
dragging another rocker. Then she re-entered the cabin, returning with
a strip of striped cloth and a sewing basket. She seated herself in
the chair, placed the basket in her lap, and with a half smile on her
face began to ply the needle. He lay back contentedly and watched her.
Hers was a lithe, vigorous figure in a white apron and a checkered
dress of some soft material. She wore no collar; her sleeves were
shoved up above the elbows, revealing a pair of slightly browned hands
and white, rounded arms. Her eyes were brown as her hair—the latter
in a tumble of graceful disorder. Through half closed eyes he was
appraising her in a riot of admiration that threatened completely to
bias his judgment. And yet women had interested him very little.
Perhaps that was because he had never seen a woman like this one. The
women that he had known had been those of the plains-town—the
unfortunates who through circumstances or inclination had been drawn
into the maelstrom of cow-country vice, and who, while they may have
found flattery, were never objects of honest admiration or respect.
He had known this young woman only a few hours, and yet he knew that
with her he could not adopt the easy, matter-of-fact intimacy that had
answered with the other women he had known. In fact, the desire to
look upon her in this light never entered his mind. Instead, he was
filled with a deep admiration for her—an admiration in which there was
a profound respect.
"I expect you must know your business, ma'am," he said, after watching
her for a few minutes. "An' I'm mighty glad that you do. Most women
would have been pretty nearly flustered over a snake bite."
"Why," she returned, without looking up, but exhibiting a little
embarrassment, which betrayed itself in a slight flush, "I really think
that I was a little excited—especially when you came riding up to the
porch." She thought of his words, when, looking at her accusingly, he
had told her that she was "a hell of a snake," and the flush grew,
suffusing her face. This of course he had not known and never would
know, but the words had caused her many smiles during the night.
"You didn't show it much," he observed. "You must have took right
a-hold. Some women would have gone clean off the handle. They
wouldn't have been able to do anything."
Her lips twitched, but she still gave her attention to her sewing,
treating his talk with a mild interest.
"There is nothing about a snake bite to become excited over. That is,
if treatment is applied in time. In your case the tourniquet kept the
poison from getting very far into your system. If you hadn't thought
of that it might have gone very hard with you."
"That rope around my leg wouldn't have done me a bit of good though,
ma'am, if I hadn't stumbled onto your cabin. I don't know when seein'
a woman has pleased me more."
She smiled enigmatically, her eyelashes flickering slightly. But she
did not answer.
Until noon she sewed, and he lay lazily back in the chair, watching her
sometimes, sometimes looking at the country around him. They talked
very little. Once, when he had been looking at her for a long time,
she suddenly raised her eyes and they met his fairly. Both smiled, but
he saw a blush mantle her cheeks.
At noon she rose and entered the cabin. A little later she called to
him, telling him that dinner was ready. He washed from the tin basin
that stood on the bench just outside the door, and entering sat at the
table and ate heartily.
After dinner he did not see her again for a time, and becoming wearied
of the chair he set out on a short excursion to the river. When he
returned she was seated on the porch and looked up at him with a demure
"You will be quite active by to-morrow," she said.
"I ain't feelin' exactly lazy now," he returned, showing a surprising
agility in reaching his chair.
When the sun began to swim low over the hills, he looked at her with a
curiously grim smile.
"I reckon that rattler was fooled last night," he said. "But if
foolin' him had been left to me I expect I'd have made a bad job of it.
But I'm thinkin' that he done his little old dyin' when the sun went
down last night. An' I'm still here. An' I'll keep right on, usin'
his brothers an' sisters for targets—when I think that I'm needin'
"Then you killed the snake?"
"Why sure, ma'am. I wasn't figgerin' to let that rattler go a-fannin'
right on to hook someone else. That'd be encouragin' his trade."
She laughed, evidently pleased over his earnestness. "Oh, I see," she
said. "Then you were not angry merely because he bit you? You killed
him to keep him from attacking other persons?"
He smiled. "I sure was some angry," he returned. "An' I reckon that
just at the time I wasn't thinkin' much about other people. I was
havin' plenty to keep me busy."
"But you killed him. How?"
"Why I shot him, ma'am. Was you thinkin' that I beat him to death with
Her lips twitched again, the corners turning suggestively inward. But
now he caught her looking at his guns. She looked from them to his
face. "All cowboys do not carry two guns," she said suddenly.
He looked gravely at her. "Well, no, ma'am, they don't. There's some
that claim carryin' two guns is clumsy. But there's been times when I
found them right convenient."
She fell silent now, regarding her sewing. A quizzical smile had
reached his face. This exchange of talk had developed the fact that
she was a stranger to the country. No Western girl would have made her
remark about the guns.
He did not know whether or not he was pleased over the discovery.
Certain subtle signs about her had warned him in the beginning that she
was different from the other women of his acquaintance, but he had not
thought of her being a stranger here, of her coming here from some
other section of the country—the East, for instance.
Her being from the East would account for many things. First, it would
make plain to him why she had smiled several times during their talks,
over things in which he had been able to see no humor. Then it would
answer the question that had formed in his mind concerning the fluency
of her speech. Western girls that he had met had not attained that
ease and poise which he saw was hers so naturally. Yet in spite of
this accomplishment she was none the less a woman—demure eyed, ready
to blush and become confused as easily as a Western woman. Assured of
this, he dropped the slight constraint which up till now had been plain
in his voice, and an inward humor seemed to draw the corners of his
mouth slightly downward.
"I reckon that folks where you come from don't wear guns at all,
ma'am," he said slowly.
She looked up quickly, surprised into meeting his gaze fairly. His
eyes did not waver. She rocked vigorously, showing some embarrassment
and giving undue attention to her sewing.
"How do you know that?" she questioned, raising her head and looking at
him with suddenly defiant eyes. "I am not aware that I told you that I
was a stranger here! Don't you think you are guessing now?"
His eyes narrowed cunningly. "I don't think I need to do any guessin',
ma'am," he returned. "When a man sees a different girl, he don't have
to guess none."
The "different" girl was regarding him with furtive glances, plainly
embarrassed under his direct words. But there was much defiance in her
eyes, as though she was aware of the trend of his words and was
determined to outwit him.
"I think you must be a remarkable man," she said, with the faintest
trace of mockery in her voice, "to be able to discover such a thing so
quickly. Or perhaps it is the atmosphere—it is marvelous."
"I expect it ain't exactly marvelous," he returned, laboring with the
last word. "When a girl acts different, a man is pretty apt to know
it." He leaned forward a little, speaking earnestly. "I know that I'm
talkin' pretty plain to you, ma'am," he went on. "But when a man has
been bit by a rattler an' has sort of give up hope an' has had his life
saved by a girl, he's to be excused if he feels that he's some
acquainted with the girl. An' then when he finds that she's some
different from the girls he's been used to seein', I don't see why he
hadn't ought to take a lot of interest in her."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, her eyes drooping. And then, her eyes dancing as
they shot a swift glance at him—"I should call that a pretty speech."
He reddened with embarrassment. "I expect you are laughin' at me now,
ma'am," he said. "But I wasn't thinkin' to make any pretty speeches.
I was tellin' you the truth."
She soberly plied her needle, and he sat back, watching her.
"I expect you are a stranger around here yourself," she said presently,
her eyes covered with drooping lashes. "How do you know that you have
any right to sit there and tell me that you take an interest in me?
How do you know that I am not married?"
He was not disconcerted. He drawled slightly over his words when he
"You wouldn't listen at me at all, ma'am; you cert'nly wouldn't stay
an' listen to any speeches that you thought was pretty, if you was
married," he said. Plainly, he had not lost faith in the virtue of
"But if I did listen?" she questioned, her face crimson, though her
eyes were still defiant.
He regarded her with pleased eyes. "I've been lookin' for a weddin'
ring," he said.
She gave it up in confusion. "I don't know why I am talking this way
to you," she said. "I expect it is because there isn't anything else
to do. But you really are entertaining!" she declared, for a parting
Once Ferguson had seen a band of traveling minstrels in Cimarron.
Their jokes (of an ancient vintage) had taken well with the audience,
for the latter had laughed. Ferguson remembered that a stranger had
said that the minstrels were "entertaining." And now he was
entertaining her. A shadow passed over his face; he looked down at his
foot, with its white bandage so much in evidence. Then straight at
her, his eyes grave and steady.
"I'm glad to have amused you, ma'am," he said. "An' now I reckon I'll
be gettin' over to the Two Diamond. It can't be very far now."
"Five miles," she said shortly. She had dropped her sewing into her
lap and sat motionless, regarding him with level eyes.
"Are you working for the Two Diamond?" she questioned.
"Lookin' for a job," he returned.
"Oh!" The exclamation struck him as rather expressionless. He looked
"Do you know the Two Diamond folks?"
"Of course," he repeated, aware of the constraint in her voice. "I
ought to have known. They're neighbors of your'n."
"They are not!" she suddenly flashed back at him.
"Well, now," he returned slowly, puzzled, but knowing that somehow he
was getting things wrong, "I reckon there's a lot that I don't know."
"If you are going to work over at the Two Diamond," she said coldly,
"you will know more than you do now. My——"
Evidently she was about to say something more, but a sound caught her
ear and she rose, dropping her sewing to the chair. "My brother is
coming," she said quietly. Standing near the door she caught
Ferguson's swift glance.
"Then it ain't a husband after all," he said, pretending surprise.
THE MAN OF DRY BOTTOM
A young man rode around the corner of the cabin and halted his pony
beside the porch, sitting quietly in the saddle and gazing inquiringly
at the two. He was about Ferguson's age and, like the latter, he wore
two heavy guns. There was about him, as he sat there sweeping a slow
glance over the girl and the man, a certain atmosphere of deliberate
certainty and quiet coldness that gave an impression of readiness for
whatever might occur.
Ferguson's eyes lighted with satisfaction. The girl might be an
Easterner, but the young man was plainly at home in this country.
Nowhere, except in the West, could he have acquired the serene calm
that shone out of his eyes; in no other part of the world could he have
caught the easy assurance, the unstudied nonchalance, that seems the
inherent birthright of the cowpuncher.
"Ben," said the girl, answering the young man's glance, "this man was
bitten by a rattler. He came here, and I treated him. He says he was
on his way over to the Two Diamond, for a job."
The young man opened his lips slightly. "Stafford hire you?" he asked.
"I'm hopin' he does," returned Ferguson.
The young man's lips drooped sneeringly. "I reckon you're wantin' a
job mighty bad," he said.
Ferguson smiled. "Takin' your talk, you an' Stafford ain't very good
friends," he returned.
The young man did not answer. He dismounted and led his pony to a
small corral and then returned to the porch, carrying his saddle.
For an instant after the young man had left the porch to turn his pony
into the corral Ferguson had kept his seat on the porch. But something
in the young man's tone had brought him out of the chair, determined to
accept no more of his hospitality. If the young man was no friend of
Stafford, it followed that he could not feel well disposed to a puncher
who had avowed that his purpose was to work for the Two Diamond manager.
Ferguson was on his feet, clinging to one of the slender porch posts,
preparatory to stepping down to go to his pony, when the young woman
came out. Her sharp exclamation halted him.
"You're not going now!" she said. "You have got to remain perfectly
quiet until morning!"
The brother dropped his saddle to the porch floor, grinning mildly at
Ferguson, "You don't need to be in a hurry," he said. "I was intending
to run your horse into the corral. What I meant about Stafford don't
apply to you." He looked up at his sister, still grinning. "I reckon
he ain't got nothing to do with it?"
The young woman blushed. "I hope not," she said in a low voice.
"We're goin' to eat pretty soon," said the young man. "I reckon that
rattler didn't take your appetite?"
Ferguson flushed. "It was plum rediculous, me bein' hooked by a
rattler," he said. "An' I've lived among them so long."
"I reckon you let him get away?" questioned the young man evenly.
"If he's got away," returned Ferguson, his lips straightening with
satisfaction, "he's a right smart snake."
He related the incident of the attack, ending with praises of the young
The young man smiled at the reference to his sister. "She's studied
medicine—back East. Lately she's turned her hand to writin'. Come
out here to get experience—local color, she calls it."
Ferguson sat back in his chair, quietly digesting this bit of
information. Medicine and writing. What did she write? Love stories?
Fairy tales? Romances? He had read several of these. Mostly they
were absurd and impossible. Love stories, he thought, would be easy
for her. For—he said, mentally estimating her—a woman ought to know
more about love than a man. And as for anything being impossible in a
love story. Why most anything could happen to people who are in love.
"Supper is ready," he heard her announce from within.
Ferguson preceded the young man at the tin wash basin, taking a fresh
towel that the young woman offered him from the doorway. Then he
followed the young man inside. The three took places at the table, and
Ferguson was helped to a frugal, though wholesome meal.
The dusk had begun to fall while they were yet at the table, and the
young woman arose, lighting a kerosene lamp and placing it on the
table. By the time they had finished semi-darkness had settled.
Ferguson followed the young man out to the chairs on the porch for a
They were scarcely seated when there was a clatter of hoofs, and a pony
and rider came out of the shadow of the nearby cottonwood, approaching
the cabin and halting beside the porch. The newcomer was a man of
about thirty-five. The light of the kerosene lamp shone fairly in his
face as he sat in the saddle, showing a pair of cold, steady eyes and
thin, straight lips that were wreathed in a smile.
"I thought I'd ride over for a smoke an' a talk before goin' down the
crick to where the outfit's workin'," he said to the young man. And
now his eyes swept Ferguson's lank figure with a searching glance.
"But I didn't know you was havin' company," he added. The second
glance that he threw toward Ferguson was not friendly.
Ferguson's lips curled slightly under it. Each man had been measured
by the other, and neither had found in the other anything to admire.
Ferguson's thoughts went rapidly back to Dry Bottom. He saw a man in
the street, putting five bullets through a can that he had thrown into
the air. He saw again the man's face as he had completed his
exhibition—insolent, filled with a sneering triumph. He heard again
this man's voice, as he himself had offered to eclipse his feat:—
"You runnin' sheep, stranger?"
The voice and face of the man who stood before him now were the voice
and face of the man who had preceded him in the shooting match in Dry
Bottom. His thoughts were interrupted by the voice of his host,
explaining his presence.
"This here man was bit by a rattler this afternoon," the young man was
saying. "He's layin' up here for to-night. Says he's reckonin' on
gettin' a job over at the Two Diamond."
The man on the horse sneered. "Hell!" he said; "bit by a rattler!" He
laughed insolently, pulling his pony's head around. "I reckon I'll be
goin'," he said. "You'll nurse him so's he won't die?" He had struck
the pony's flanks with the spurs and was gone into the shadows before
either man on the porch could move. There was a short silence, while
the two men listened to the beat of his pony's hoofs. Then Ferguson
turned and spoke to the young man.
"You know him?" he questioned.
The young man smiled coldly. "Yep," he said; "he's range boss for the
AT THE TWO DIAMOND
As Ferguson rode through the pure sunshine of the morning his thoughts
kept going back to the little cabin in the flat—"Bear Flat," she had
called it. Certain things troubled him—he, whose mind had been always
untroubled—even through three months of idleness that had not been
"She's cert'nly got nice eyes," he told himself confidentially, as he
lingered slowly on his way; "an' she knows how to use them. She sure
made me seem some breathless. An' no girl has ever done that. An' her
hair is like"—he pondered long over this—"like—why, I reckon I
didn't just ever see anything like it. An' the way she looked at me!"
A shadow crossed his face. "So she's a writer—an' she's studied
medicine. I reckon I'd like it a heap better if she didn't monkey with
none of them fool things. What business has a girl got to——" He
suddenly laughed aloud. "Why I reckon I'm pretty near loco," he said,
"to be ravin' about a girl like this. She ain't nothin' to me; she
just done what any other girl would do if a man come to her place bit
by a rattler."
He spurred his pony forward at a sharp lope. And now he found that his
thoughts would go back to the moment of his departure from the cabin
that morning. She had accompanied him to the door, after bandaging the
ankle. Her brother had gone away an hour before.
"I'm thankin' you, ma'am," Ferguson said as he stood for a moment at
the door. "I reckon I'd have had a bad time if it hadn't been for you."
"It was nothing," she returned.
He had hesitated—he still felt the thrill of doubt that had assailed
him before he had taken the step that he knew was impertinent. "I'll
be ridin' over here again, some day, if you don't mind," he said.
Her face reddened a trifle. "I'm sure brother would like to have you,"
"I don't remember to have said that I was comin' over to see your
brother," was his reply.
"But it would have to be he," she said, looking straight at him. "You
couldn't come to see me unless I asked you."
And now he had spoken a certain word that had been troubling him. "Do
you reckon that Two Diamond range boss comes over to see your brother?"
She frowned. "Of course!" she replied. "He is my brother's friend.
But I—I despise him!"
Ferguson grinned broadly. "Well, now," he said, unable to keep his
pleasure over her evident dislike of the Two Diamond man from showing
in his eyes and voice, "that's cert'nly too bad. An' to think he's
wastin' his time—ridin' over here."
She gazed at him with steady, unwavering eyes. He could still remember
the challenge in them. "Be careful that you don't waste your time!"
was her answer.
"I reckon I won't," was his reply, as he climbed into the saddle. "But
I won't be comin' over here to see your brother!"
"Oh, dear!" she said, "I call that very brazen!"
But when he had spurred his pony down through the crossing of the river
he had turned to glance back at her. And he had seen a smile on her
face. As he rode now he went over this conversation many times, much
pleased with his own boldness; more pleased because she had not seemed
angry with him.
It was late in the morning when he caught sight of the Two Diamond
ranch buildings, scattered over a great basin through which the river
flowed. Half an hour later he rode up to the ranchhouse and met
Stafford at the door of the office. The manager waved him inside.
"I'm two days late," said Ferguson, after he had taken a chair in the
office. He related to Stafford the attack by the rattler. The latter
showed some concern over the injury.
"I reckon you didn't do your own doctorin'?" he asked.
Ferguson told him of the girl. The manager's lips straightened. A
grim humor shone from his eyes.
"You stayed there over night?" he questioned.
"I reckon I stayed there. It was in a cabin down at a place which I
heard the girl say was called 'Bear Flat.' I didn't ketch the name of
Stafford grinned coldly. "I reckon they didn't know what you was
comin' over here for?"
"I didn't advertise," returned Ferguson quietly.
"If you had," declared Stafford, his eyes glinting with a cold
amusement, "you would have found things plum lively. The man's name is
Ben Radford. He's the man I'm hirin' you to put out of business!"
For all Stafford could see Ferguson did not move a muscle. Yet the
news had shocked him; he could feel the blood surging rapidly through
his veins. But the expression of his face was inscrutable.
"Well, now," he said, "that sure would have made things interestin'.
An' so that's the man you think has been stealin' your cattle?" He
looked steadily at the manager. "But I told you before that I wasn't
doin' any shootin'."
"Correct," agreed the manager. "What I want you to do is to prove that
Radford's the man. We can't do anything until we prove that he's been
rustlin'. An' then——" He smiled grimly.
"You reckon to know the girl's name too?" inquired Ferguson.
"It's Mary," stated the manager. "I've heard Leviatt talk about her."
Ferguson contemplated the manager gravely. "An' you ain't sure that
Radford's stealin' your cattle?"
Stafford filled and lighted his pipe. "I'm takin' Dave Leviatt's word
for it," he said.
"Who's Leviatt?" queried Ferguson.
"My range boss," returned Stafford.
"He's been ridin' sign on Radford an' says he's responsible for all the
stock that we've been missin' in the last six months."
Ferguson rolled a cigarette. He lighted it and puffed for a moment in
silence, the manager watching him.
"Back at Dry Bottom," said Ferguson presently, "there was a man
shootin' at a can when I struck town. He put five bullets through the
can. Was that your range boss?"
Stafford smiled. "That was Leviatt—my range boss," he returned. "We
went over to Dry Bottom to get a gunfighter. We wanted a man who could
shoot plum quick. He'd have to be quick, for Radford's lightnin' with
a six. Leviatt said shootin' at a can would be a good way to find a
man who could take Radford's measure—in case it was necessary," he
Ferguson's face was a mask of immobility. "Where's Leviatt now?" he
"Up the Ute with the outfit."
"How far up?"
Ferguson's eyelashes flickered. "Has Leviatt been here lately?" he
"Not since the day before yesterday."
"When you expectin' him back?"
"The boys'll be comin' back in a week. He'll likely come along with
"U—um. You're giving me a free hand?"
Ferguson lounged to the door. "I'm lookin' around a little," he said,
"to kind of size up things. I don't want you to put me with the
outfit. That strike you right?"
"I'm hirin' you to do a certain thing," returned Stafford. "I ain't
tellin' you how it ought to be done. You've got till the fall roundup
to do it."
Ferguson nodded. He went to the corral fence, unhitched his pony, and
rode out on the plains toward the river. Stafford watched him until he
was a mere dot on the horizon. Then he smiled with satisfaction.
"I kind of like that guy," he said, commenting mentally. "There ain't
no show work to him, but he's business."
THE MEASURE OF A MAN
During the week following Ferguson's arrival at the Two Diamond ranch
Stafford saw very little of him. Mornings saw him proceed to the
corral, catch up his pony, mount, and depart. He returned with the
dusk. Several times, from his office window, Stafford had seen him
ride away in the moonlight.
Ferguson did his own cooking, for the cook had accompanied the wagon
outfit down the river. Stafford did not seek out the new man with
instructions or advice; the work Ferguson was engaged in he must do
alone, for if complications should happen to arise it was the manager's
business to know nothing.
The Two Diamond ranch was not unlike many others that dotted the grass
plains of the Territory. The interminable miles that separated
Stafford from the nearest, did not prevent him from referring to that
particular owner as "neighbor", for distances were thus determined—and
distances thus determined were nearly always inaccurate. The traveler
inquiring for his destination was expected to discover it somewhere in
the unknown distance.
The Two Diamond ranch had the enviable reputation of being
"slick"—which meant that Stafford was industrious and thrifty and that
his ranch bore an appearance of unusual neatness. For example,
Stafford believed in the science of irrigation. A fence skirted his
buildings, another ran around a large area of good grass, forming a
pasture for his horses. His buildings were attractive, even though
rough, for they revealed evidence of continued care. His ranchhouse
boasted a sloped roof and paved galleries.
A garden in the rear was but another instance of Stafford's industry.
He had cattle that were given extraordinary care because they were
"milkers," for in his youth Stafford had lived on a farm and he
remembered days when his father had sent him out into the meadow to
drive the cows home for the milking. There were many other things that
Stafford had not forgotten, for chickens scratched promiscuously about
the ranch yard, occasionally trespassing into the sacred precincts of
the garden and the flower beds. His horses were properly stabled
during the cold, raw days that came inevitably; his men had little to
complain of, and there was a general atmosphere of prosperity over the
But of late there had been little contentment for the Two Diamond
manager. For six months cattle thieves had been at work on his stock.
The result of the spring round-up had been far from satisfactory. He
knew of the existence of nesters in the vicinity; one of
them—Radford—he had suspected upon evidence submitted by the range
boss. Radford had been warned to vacate Bear Flat, but the warning had
But one other course was left, and Stafford had adopted that. There
had been no hesitancy on the manager's part; he must protect the Two
Diamond property. Sentiment had no place in the situation whatever.
Therefore toward Ferguson's movements Stafford adopted an air of
studied indifference, not doubting, from what he had seen of the man,
that he would eventually ride in and report that the work which he had
been hired to do was finished.
Toward the latter end of the week the wagon outfit straggled in. They
came in singly, in twos and threes, bronzed, hardy, seasoned young men,
taciturn, serene eyed, capable. They continued to come until there
were twenty-seven of them. Later in the day came the wagon and the
From a period of calm and inaction the ranch now awoke to life and
movement. The bunkhouse was scrubbed;—"swabbed" in the vernacular of
the cowboys; the scant bedding was "cured" in the white sunlight; and
the cook was adjured to extend himself in the preparation of "chuck"
(meaning food) to repay the men for the lack of good things during a
fortnight on the open range with the wagon.
At dusk on the first day in Rope Jones, a tall, lithe young puncher,
whose spare moments were passed in breaking the wild horses that
occasionally found their way to the Two Diamond, was oiling his saddle
leathers. Sitting on a bench outside the bunkhouse he became aware of
Stafford standing near.
"Leviatt come in?" queried the manager.
The puncher grinned. "Nope. Last I seen of Dave he was hittin' the
breeze toward Bear Flat. Said he'd be in later." He lowered his voice
significantly. "Reckon that Radford girl is botherin' Dave a heap."
Stafford smiled coldly and was about to answer when he saw Ferguson
dropping from his pony at the corral gate. Following Stafford's gaze,
Rope also observed Ferguson. He looked up at Stafford.
"New man?" he questioned.
Stafford nodded. He had invented a plausible story for the presence of
Ferguson. Sooner or later the boys would have noticed the latter's
absence from the outfit. Therefore if he advanced his story now there
would be less conjecture later.
"You boys have got enough to do," he said, still watching Ferguson.
"I've hired this man to look up strays. I reckon he c'n put in a heap
of time at it."
Rope shot a swift glance upward at the manager's back. Then he grinned
furtively. "Two-gun," he observed quietly; "with the bottoms of his
holsters tied down. I reckon your stray-man ain't for to be monkeyed
But Stafford had told his story and knew that within a very little time
Rope would be telling it to the other men. So without answering he
walked toward the ranchhouse. Before he reached it he saw Leviatt
unsaddling at the corral gate.
When Ferguson, with his saddle on his shoulder, on his way to place it
on its accustomed peg in the lean-to adjoining the bunkhouse, passed
Rope, it was by the merest accident that one of the stirrups caught the
cinch buckle of Rope's saddle. Not observing the tangle, Ferguson
continued on his way. He halted when he felt the stirrup strap drag,
turning half around to see what was wrong. He smiled broadly at Rope.
"You reckon them saddles are acquainted?" he said.
Rope deftly untangled them. "I ain't thinkin' they're relations," he
returned, grinning up at Ferguson. "Leastways I never knowed a 'double
cinch' an' a 'center fire' to git real chummy."
"I reckon you're right," returned Ferguson, his eyes gleaming
cordially; "an' I've knowed men to lose their tempers discussin'
whether a center fire or a double cinch was the most satisfyin'."
"Some men is plum fools," returned Rope, surveying Ferguson with
narrow, pleased eyes. "You didn't observe that the saddles rode any
easier after the argument than before?"
"I didn't observe. But mebbe the men was more satisfied. Let a man
argue that somethin' he's got is better'n somethin' that another
fellow's got an' he falls right in love with his own—an' goes right on
fallin' in love with it. Nothin' c'n ever change his mind after an
"I know a man who's been studyin' human nature," observed Rope,
"An' not wastin' his time arguin' fool questions," added Ferguson.
"You sure ain't plum greenhorn," declared Rope admiringly.
"Thank yu'," smiled Ferguson; "I wasn't lookin' to see whether you'd
cut your eye-teeth either."
"Well, now," remarked Rope, rising and shouldering his saddle, "you've
almost convinced me that a double cinch ain't a bad saddle. Seems to
make a man plum good humored."
"When a man's hungry an' right close to the place where he's goin' to
feed," said Ferguson gravely, "he hadn't ought to bother his head about
"You're settin' at my right hand at the table," remarked Rope,
delighted with his new friend.
Several of the men were already at the washtrough when Rope and
Ferguson reached there. The method by which they performed their
ablutions was not delicate, but it was thorough. And when the dust had
been removed their faces shone with the dusky health-bloom that told of
their hard, healthy method of living. Men of various ages were
there—grizzled riders who saw the world through the introspective eye
of experience; young men with their enthusiasms, their impulses;
middle-aged men who had seen much of life—enough to be able to face
the future with unshaken complacence; but all bronzed, clear-eyed,
When Ferguson and Rope entered the bunkhouse many of the men were
already seated. Ferguson and Rope took places at one end of the long
table and began eating. No niceties of the conventions were observed
here; the men ate each according to his whim and were immune from
criticism. Table etiquette was a thing that would have spoiled their
joy of eating. Theirs was a primitive country; their occupation
primitive; their manner of living no less so. They concerned
themselves very little with the customs of a world of which they heard
Nor did they bolt their food silently—as has been recorded of them by
men who knew them little. If they did eat rapidly it was because the
ravening hunger of a healthy stomach demanded instant attention. And
they did not overeat. Epicurus would have marveled at the simplicity
of their food. Conversation was mingled with every mouthful.
At one end of the table sat an empty plate, with no man on the bench
before it. This was the place reserved for Leviatt, the range boss.
Next to this place on the right was seated a goodlooking young puncher,
whose age might have been estimated at twenty-three. "Skinny" they
called him because of his exceeding slenderness. At the moment
Ferguson settled into his seat the young man was filling the room with
rapid talk. This talk had been inconsequential and concerned only
those small details about which we bother during our leisure. But now
his talk veered and he was suddenly telling something that gave promise
of consecutiveness and universal interest. Other voices died away as
"Leviatt ain't the only one," he was saying. "She ain't made no
exception with any of the outfit. To my knowin' there's been Lon
Dexter, Soapy, Clem Miller, Lazy, Wrinkles—an' myself," he admitted,
reddening, "been notified that we was mavericks an' needed our ears
marked. An' now comes Leviatt a-fannin' right on to get his'n. An' I
reckon he'll get it."
"You ain't tellin' what she said when she give you your'n," said a
There was a laugh, through which the youth emerged smiling broadly.
"No," he said, "I ain't tellin'. But she told Soapy here that she was
lookin' for local color. Wanted to know if he was it. Since then
Soapy's been using a right smart lot of soap, tryin' to rub some color
into his face."
Color was in Soapy's face now. He sat directly opposite the slender
youth and his cheeks were crimson.
"I reckon if you'd keep to the truth——" he began. But Skinny has
passed on to the next.
"An' there's Dexter. Lon's been awful quiet since she told him he had
a picturesque name. Said it'd do for to put into a book which she's
goin' to write, but when it come to choosin' a husband she'd prefer to
tie up to a commoner name. An' so Lon didn't graze on that range no
"This country's goin' plum to——" sneered Dexter. But a laugh
silenced him. And the youth continued.
"It might have been fixed up for Lazy," he went on, "only when she
found out his name was Lazy, she wanted to know right off if he could
support a wife—providin' he got one. He said he reckoned he could,
an' she told him he could experiment on some other woman. An' now
Lazy'll have to look around quite a spell before he'll get another
chancst. I'd call that bein' in mighty poor luck."
Lazy was giving his undivided attention to his plate.
"An' she come right out an' told Wrinkles he was too old; that when she
was thinkin' of gettin' wedded to some old monolith she'd send word to
Egypt, where they keep 'em in stock. Beats me where she gets all them
"Told me she'd studied her dictionary," said a man who sat near
The young man grinned. "Well, I swear if I didn't come near forgettin'
Clem Miller!" he said. "If you hadn't spoke up then, I reckon you
wouldn't have been in on this deal. An' so she told you she'd studied
her dictionary! Now, I'd call that news. Some one'd been tellin' me
that she'd asked you the meanin' of the word 'evaporate.' An' when you
couldn't tell her she told you to do it. Said that when you got home
you might look up a dictionary an' then you'd know what she meant.
"An' now Leviatt's hangin' around over there," continued the youth.
"He's claimin' to be goin' to see Ben Radford, but I reckon he's got
the same kind of sickness as the rest of us."
"An' you ain't sayin' a word about what she said to you," observed
Miller. "She must have treated you awful gentle, seein' you won't
"Well," returned the young man, "I ain't layin' it all out to you. But
I'll tell you this much; she said she was goin' to make me one of the
characters in that book she's writin'."
"Well, now," said Miller, "that's sure lettin' you down easy. Did she
say what the character was goin' to be?"
"I reckon she did."
"An' now you're goin' to tell us boys?"
"An' now I'm goin' to tell you boys," returned Skinny. "But I reckon
there's a drove of them characters here. You'll find them with every
outfit, an' you'll know them chiefly by their bray an' their long,
The young man now smiled into his plate, while a chorus of laughter
rose around him. In making himself appear as ridiculous a figure as
the others, the young man had successfully extracted all the sting from
his story and gained the applause of even those at whom he had struck.
But now a sound was heard outside, and Leviatt came into the room. He
nodded shortly and took his place at the end of the table. A certain
reserve came into the atmosphere of the room. No further reference was
made to the subject that had aroused laughter, but several of the men
snickered into their plates over the recollection of Leviatt's
connection with the incident.
As the meal continued Leviatt's gaze wandered over the table, resting
finally upon Ferguson. The range boss's face darkened.
Ferguson had seen Leviatt enter; several times during the course of the
meal he felt Leviatt looking at him. Once, toward the end, his glance
met the range boss's fairly. Leviatt's eyes glittered evilly;
Ferguson's lips curled with a slight contempt.
And yet these men had met but twice before. A man meets another in
North America—in the Antipodes. He looks upon him, meets his eye, and
instantly has won a friend or made an enemy. Perhaps this will always
be true of men. Certainly it was true of Ferguson and the range boss.
What force was at work in Leviatt when in Dry Bottom he had insulted
Ferguson? Whatever the force, it had told him that the steady-eyed,
deliberate gun-man was henceforth to be an enemy. Enmity, hatred, evil
intent, shone out of his eyes as they met Ferguson's.
Beyond the slight curl of the lips the latter gave no indication of
feeling. And after the exchange of glances he resumed eating,
apparently unaware of Leviatt's existence.
Later, the men straggled from the bunkhouse, seeking the outdoors to
smoke and talk. Upon the bench just outside the door several of the
men sat; others stood at a little distance, or lounged in the doorway.
With Rope, Ferguson had come out and was standing near the door,
The talk was light, turning to trivial incidents of the day's
work—things that are the monotony of the cowboy life.
Presently Leviatt came out and joined the group. He stood near
Ferguson, mingling his voice with the others. For a little time the
talk flowed easily and much laughter rose. Then suddenly above the
good natured babble came a harsh word. Instantly the other voices
ceased, and the men of the group centered their glances upon the range
boss, for the harsh word had come from him. He had been talking to a
man named Tucson and it was to the latter that he had now spoken.
"There's a heap of rattlers in this country," he had said.
Evidently the statement was irrelevant, for Tucson's glance at
Leviatt's face was uncomprehending. But Leviatt did not wait for an
"A man might easily claim to have been bit by one of them," he
continued, his voice falling coldly.
The men of the group sat in a tense silence, trying to penetrate this
mystery that had suddenly silenced their talk. Steady eyes searched
out each face in an endeavor to discover the man at whom the range boss
was talking. They did not discover him. Ferguson stood near Leviatt,
an arm's length distant, his hands on his hips. Perhaps his eyes were
more alert than those of the other men, his lips in a straighter line.
But apparently he knew no more of this mystery than any of the others.
And now Leviatt's voice rose again, insolent, carrying an unmistakable
"Stafford hires a stray-man," he said, sneering. "This man claims to
have been bit by a rattler an' lays up over night in Ben Radford's
cabin—makin' love to Mary Radford."
Ferguson turned his head slightly, surveying the range boss with a
cold, alert eye.
"A little while ago," he said evenly, "I heard a man inside tellin'
about some of the boys learnin' their lessons from a girl over on Bear
Flat. I reckon, Leviatt, that you've been over there to learn your'n.
An' now you've got to let these boys know——!"
Just a rustle it was—a snake-like motion. And then Ferguson's gun was
out; its cold muzzle pressed deep into the pit of Leviatt's stomach,
and Ferguson's left hand was pinning Leviatt's right to his side, the
range boss's hand still wrapped around the butt of his half-drawn
weapon. Then came Ferguson's voice again, dry, filled with a quiet
"I ain't goin' to hurt you—you're still tenderfoot with a gun. I just
wanted to show these boys that you're a false alarm. I reckon they
know that now."
Leviatt sneered. There was a movement behind Ferguson. Tucson's gun
was half way out of its holster. And then arose Rope's voice as his
weapon came out and menaced Tucson.
"Three in this game would make it odd, Tucson," he said quietly. "If
there's goin' to be any shootin', let's have an even break, anyway."
Tucson's hand fell away from his holster; he stepped back toward the
door, away from the range boss and Ferguson.
Leviatt's face had crimsoned. "Mebbe I was runnin' a little bit
wild——" he began.
"That's comin' down right handsome," said Ferguson.
He sheathed his gun and deliberately turned his back on Leviatt. The
latter stood silent for a moment, his face gradually paling. Then he
turned to where Tucson had taken himself and with his friend entered
the bunkhouse. In an instant the old talk arose and the laughter, but
many furtive glances swept Ferguson as he stood, talking quietly with
The following morning Stafford came upon Rope while the latter was
throwing the saddle on his pony down at the corral gate.
"I heard something about some trouble between Dave Leviatt an' the new
stray-man," said Stafford. "I reckon it wasn't serious?"
Rope turned a grave eye upon the manager. "Shucks," he returned, "I
reckon it wasn't nothin' serious. Only," he continued with twitching
lips, "Dave was takin' the stray-man's measure."
Stafford smiled grimly. "How did the stray-man measure up?" he
inquired, a smile working at the corners of his mouth. "I reckon he
wasn't none shy?"
Rope grinned, admiration glinting his eyes. "He's sure man's size," he
returned, giving his attention to the saddle cinch.
THE FINDING OF THE ORPHAN
During the few first days of his connection with the Two Diamond
Ferguson had reached the conclusion that he would do well to take
plenty of time to inquire into the situation before attempting any
move. He had now been at the Two Diamond for two weeks and he had not
even seen Radford. Nor had he spoken half a dozen words with Stafford.
The manager had observed certain signs that had convinced him that
speech with the stray-man was unnecessary and futile. If he purposed
to do anything he would do it in his own time and in his own way.
Stafford mentally decided that the stray-man was "set in his ways."
The wagon outfit had departed,—this time down the river. Rope Jones
had gone with the wagon, and therefore Ferguson was deprived of the
companionship of a man who had unexpectedly taken a stand with him in
his clash with Leviatt and for whom he had conceived a great liking.
With the wagon had gone Leviatt also. During the week that had elapsed
between the clash at the bunkhouse and the departure of the wagon the
range boss had given no sign that he knew of the existence of Ferguson.
Nor had he intimated by word or sign that he meditated revenge upon
Rope because of the latter's championship of the stray-man. If he had
any such intention he concealed it with consummate skill. He treated
Rope with a politeness that drew smiles to the faces of the men. But
Ferguson saw in this politeness a subtleness of purpose that gave him
additional light on the range boss's character. A man who held his
vengeance at his finger tips would have taken pains to show Rope that
he might expect no mercy. Had Leviatt revealed an open antagonism to
Rope, the latter might have known what to expect when at last the two
men would reach the open range and the puncher be under the direct
domination of the man he had offended.
There were many ways in which a petty vengeance might be gratified. It
was within the range boss's power to make life nearly unbearable for
the puncher. If he did this it would of course be an unworthy
vengeance, and Ferguson had little doubt that any vengeance meditated
by Leviatt would not be petty.
Ferguson went his own way, deeply thoughtful. He was taking his time.
Certain things were puzzling him. Where did Leviatt stand in this
rustling business? That was part of the mystery. Stafford had told
him that he had Leviatt's word that Radford was the thief who had been
stealing the Two Diamond cattle. Stafford had said also that it had
been Leviatt who had suggested employing a gunfighter—had even gone to
Dry Bottom with the manager for the purpose of finding one. And now
that one had been employed Leviatt had become suddenly antagonistic to
And Leviatt was in the habit of visiting the Radford cabin. Of course
he might be doing this for the purpose of spying upon Ben Radford, but
if that were the case why had he shown so venomous when he had seen
Ferguson sitting on the porch on the evening of the day after the
latter had been bitten by the rattler?
Mary Radford had told him that Leviatt was her brother's friend. If he
was a friend of the brother why had he suggested that Stafford employ a
gunfighter to shoot him? Here was more mystery.
On a day soon after the departure of the wagon outfit he rode away
through the afternoon sunshine. Not long did his thoughts dwell upon
the mystery of the range boss and Ben Radford. He kept seeing a young
woman kneeling in front of him, bathing and binding his foot. Scraps
of a conversation that he had not forgotten revolved in his mind and
brought smiles to his lips.
"She didn't need to act so plum serious when she told me that I didn't
know that I had any right to set there an' make pretty speeches to her.
. . . She wouldn't need to ask me to stay at the cabin all night. I
could have gone on to the Two Diamond. I reckon that snake bite wasn't
so plum dangerous that I'd have died if I'd have rode a little while."
As he came out of a little gully a few miles up the river and rode
along the crest of a ridge that rose above endless miles of plains, his
thoughts went back to that first night in the bunkhouse when the outfit
had come in from the range. Satisfaction glinted in his eyes.
"I reckon them boys didn't make good with her. An' I expect that some
day Leviatt will find he's been wastin' his time."
He frowned at thought of Leviatt and unconsciously his spurs drove hard
against the pony's flanks. The little animal sprang forward, tossing
his head spiritedly. Ferguson grinned and patted its flank with a
"Well, now, Mustard," he said, "I wasn't reckonin' on takin' my spite
out on you. You don't expect I thought you was Leviatt." And he
patted the flank again.
He rode down the long slope of the rise and struck the level, traveling
at a slow lope through a shallow washout. The ground was broken and
rocky here and the snake-like cactus caught at his stirrup leathers. A
rattler warned from the shadow of some sage-brush and, remembering his
previous experience, he paused long enough to shoot its head off.
"There," he said, surveying the shattered snake, "I reckon you ain't to
blame for me bein' bit by your uncle or cousin, or somethin', but I
ain't never goin' to be particular when I see one of your family
swingin' their head that suggestive."
He rode on again, reloading his pistol. For a little time he traveled
at a brisk pace and then he halted to breathe Mustard. Throwing one
leg over the pommel, he turned half way around in the saddle and swept
the plains with a casual glance.
He sat erect instantly, focusing his gaze upon a speck that loomed
through a dust cloud some miles distant. For a time he watched the
speck, his eyes narrowing. Finally he made out the speck to be a man
on a pony.
"He's a-fannin' it some," he observed, shading his eyes with his hands;
"hittin' up the breeze for fair." He meditated long, a critical smile
reaching his lips.
"It's right warm to-day. Not just the kind of an atmosphere that a man
ought to be runnin' his horse reckless in." He meditated again.
"How far would you say he's off, Mustard? Ten miles, I reckon you'd
say if you was a knowin' horse."
The horseman had reached a slight ridge and for a moment he appeared on
the crest of it, racing his pony toward the river. Then he suddenly
Ferguson smiled coldly. Again his gaze swept the plains and the ridges
about him. "I don't see nothin' that'd make a man ride like that in
this heat," he said. "Where would he have come from?" He stared
obliquely off at a deep gully almost hidden by an adjoining ridge.
"It's been pretty near an hour since I shot that snake. I didn't see
no man about that time. If he was around here he must have heard my
gun—an' sloped." He smiled and urged his pony about. "I reckon we'll
go look around that gully a little, Mustard," he said.
Half an hour later he rode down into the gully. After going some
little distance he came across a dead cow, lying close to an
overhanging rock rim. A bullet hole in the cow's forehead told
eloquently of the manner of her death.
Ferguson dismounted and laid a hand on her side. The body was still
warm. A four-months' calf was nudging the mother with an inquisitive
muzzle. Ferguson took a sharp glance at its ears and then drove it off
to get a look at the brand. There was none.
"Sleeper," he said quietly. "With the Two Diamond ear-mark. Most
range bosses make a mistake in not brandin' their calves. Seems as if
they're trustin' to luck that rustlers won't work on them. I must have
scared this one off."
He swung into the saddle, a queer light in his eyes. "Mustard, old
boy, we're goin' to Bear Flat. Mebbe Radford's hangin' around there
now. An' mebbe he ain't. But we're goin' to see."
But he halted a moment to bend a pitying glance at the calf.
"Poor little dogie," he said; "poor little orphan. Losin' your
mother—just like a human bein'. I call that mean luck."
Then he was off, Mustard swinging in a steady lope down the gully and
up toward the ridge that led to the river trail.
WOULD YOU BE A "CHARACTER"?
The sun was still a shimmering white blur in the great arc of sky when
Ferguson rode around the corner of the cabin in Bear Flat, halted his
pony, and sat quietly in the saddle before the door. His rapid eye had
already swept the horse corral, the sheds, and the stable. If the
horseman that he had seen riding along the ridge had been Radford he
would not arrive for quite a little while. Meantime, he would learn
from Miss Radford what direction the young man had taken on leaving the
Ferguson was beginning to take an interest in this game. At the outset
he had come prepared to carry out his contract. In his code of ethics
it was not a crime to shoot a rustler. Experience had taught him that
justice was to be secured only through drastic action. In the criminal
category of the West the rustler took a place beside the horse thief
and the man who shot from behind.
But before taking any action Ferguson must be convinced of the guilt of
the man he was hunting, and nothing had yet occurred that would lead
him to suspect Radford. He did not speculate on what course he would
take should circumstances prove Radford to be the thief. Would the
fact that he was Mary Radford's brother affect his decision? He
preferred to answer that question when the time came—if it ever came.
One thing was certain; he was not shooting anyone unless the
provocation was great.
His voice was purposely loud when he called "Whoa, Mustard!" to his
pony, but his eyes were not purposely bright and expectant as they
tried to penetrate the semi-darkness of the interior of the cabin for a
glimpse of Miss Radford.
He heard a movement presently, and she was at the door looking at him,
her hands folded in her apron, her eyes wide with unmistakable pleasure.
"Why, I never expected to see you again!" she exclaimed.
She came out and stood near the edge of the porch, making a determined
attempt to subdue the flutter of excitement that was revealed in a pair
of very bright eyes and a tinge of deep color in her cheeks.
"Then I reckon you thought I had died, or stampeded out of this
country?" he answered, grinning. "I told you I'd be comin' back here."
But the first surprise was over, and she very properly retired to the
shelter of a demurely polite reserve.
"So you did!" she made reply. "You told me you were comin' over to see
my brother. But he is not here now."
Had he been less wise he would have reminded her that it had been she
who had told him that he might come to see her brother. But to reply
thus would have discomfited her and perhaps have brought a sharp reply.
He had no doubt that some of the other Two Diamond men had made similar
mistakes, but not he. He smiled broadly. "Mebbe I did," he said;
"sometimes I'm mighty careless in handlin' the truth. Mebbe I thought
then that I'd come over to see your brother. But we have different
thoughts at different times. You say your brother ain't here now?"
"He left early this morning to go down the river," she informed him.
"He said he would be back before sun-down."
His eyes narrowed perceptibly. "Down" the river meant that Radford's
trail led in the general direction of the spot where he had seen the
fleeing horseman and the dead Two Diamond cow with her orphaned calf.
Yet this proved nothing. Radford might easily have been miles away
when the deed had been done. For the present there was nothing he
could do, except to wait until Radford returned, to form whatever
conclusions he might from the young man's appearance when he should
find a Two Diamond man at the cabin. But anxiety to see the brother
was not the only reason that would keep him waiting.
He removed his hat and sat regarding it with a speculative eye. Miss
Radford smiled knowingly.
"I expect I have been scarcely polite," she said. "Won't you get off
"Why, yes," he responded, obeying promptly; "I expect Mustard's been
doin' a lot of wonderin' why I didn't get off before."
If he had meant to imply that her invitation had been tardy he had hit
the mark fairly, for Miss Radford nibbled her lips with suppressed
mirth. The underplay of meaning was not the only subtleness of the
speech, for the tone in which it had been uttered was rich in
interrogation, as though its author, while realizing the pony's dimness
of perception, half believed the animal had noticed Miss Radford's
lapse of hospitality.
"I'm thinkin' you are laughin' at me again, ma'am," he said as he came
to the edge of the porch and stood looking up at her, grinning.
"Do you think I am laughing?" she questioned, again biting her lips to
keep them from twitching.
"No-o. I wouldn't say that you was laughin' with your lips—laughin'
regular. But there's a heap of it inside of you—tryin' to get out."
"Don't you ever laugh inwardly?" she questioned.
He laughed frankly. "I expect there's times when I do."
"But you haven't lately?"
"Well, no, I reckon not."
"Not even when you thought your horse might have noticed that I had
neglected to invite you off?"
"Did I think that?" he questioned.
"Of course you did."
"Well, now," he drawled. "An' so you took that much interest in what I
was thinkin'! I reckon people who write must know a lot."
Her face expressed absolute surprise. "Why, who told you that I
wrote?" she questioned.
"Nobody told me, ma'am. I just heard it. I heard a man tell another
man that you had threatened to make him a character in a book you was
Her face was suddenly convulsed. "I imagine I know whom you mean," she
said. "A young cowboy from the Two Diamond used to annoy me quite a
little, until one day I discouraged him."
His smile grew broad at this answer. But he grew serious instantly.
"I don't think there is much to write about in this country, ma'am," he
"You don't? Why, I believe you are trying to discourage me!"
"I reckon you won't listen to me, ma'am, if you want to write. I've
heard that anyone who writes is a special kind of a person an' they
just can't help writin'—any more'n I can help comin' over here to see
your brother. You see, they like it a heap."
They both laughed, she because of the clever way in which he had turned
the conversation to his advantage; he through sheer delight. But she
did purpose to allow him to dwell on the point he had raised, so she
adroitly took up the thread where he had broken off to apply his
"Some of that is true," she returned, giving him a look on her own
account; "especially about a writer loving his work. But I don't think
one needs to be a 'special' kind of person. One must be merely a keen
He shook his head doubtfully. "I see everything that goes on around
me," he returned. "Most of the time I can tell pretty near what sort a
man is by lookin' at his face and watching the way he moves. But I
reckon I'd never make a writer. Times when I look at this country—at
a nice sunset, for instance, or think what a big place this country
is—I feel like sayin' somethin' about it; somethin' inside of me seems
kind of breathless-like—kind of scarin' me. But I couldn't write
She had felt it, too, and more than once had sat down with her pencil
to transcribe her thoughts. She thought that it was not exactly fear,
but an overpowering realization of her own atomity; a sort of cringing
of the soul away from the utter vastness of the world; a growing
consciousness of the unlimited bigness of things; an insight of the
infinite power of God—the yearning of the soul for understanding of
the mysteries of life and existence.
She could sympathize with him, for she knew exactly how he had felt.
She turned and looked toward the distant mountains, behind which the
sun was just then swimming—a great ball of shimmering gold, which
threw off an effulgent expanse of yellow light that was slowly turning
into saffron and violet as it met the shadows below the hills.
"Whoever saw such colors?" she asked suddenly, her face transfixed with
"It's cert'nly pretty, ma'am."
She clapped her hands. "It is magnificent!" she declared
enthusiastically. She came closer to him and stretched an arm toward
the mountains. "Look at that saffron shade which is just now blending
with the streak of pearl striking the cleft between those hills! See
the violet tinge that has come into that sea of orange, and the purple
haze touching the snow-caps of the mountains. And now the flaming red,
the deep yellow, the slate blue; and now that gauzy veil of lilac,
rose, and amethyst, fading and dulling as the darker shadows rise from
Her flashing eyes sought Ferguson's. Twilight had suddenly come.
"It is the most beautiful country in the world!" she said positively.
He was regarding her with gravely humorous eyes. "It cert'nly is
pretty, ma'am," he returned. "But you can't make a whole book out of
Her eyes flashed. "No," she returned. "Nor can I make a whole book
out of only one character. But I am going to try and draw a word
picture of the West by writing of the things that I see. And I am
going to try and have some real characters in it. I shall try to have
them talk and act naturally."
She smiled suddenly and looked at him with a significant expression.
"And the hero will not be an Easterner—to swagger through the pages of
the book, scaring people into submission through the force of his
compelling personality. He will be a cowboy who will do things after
the manner of the country—a real, unaffected care-free puncher!"
"Have you got your eye on such a man?" he asked, assuring himself that
he knew of no man who would fill the requirements she had named.
"I don't mind telling you that I have," she returned, looking straight
It suddenly burst upon him. His face crimsoned. He felt like bolting.
But he managed to grin, though she could see that the grin was forced.
"It's gettin' late, ma'am," he said, as he turned toward his pony. "I
reckon I'll be gettin' back to the Two Diamond."
She laughed mockingly as he settled into the saddle. There was a
clatter of hoofs from around the corner of the cabin.
"Wait!" she commanded. "Ben is coming!"
But there was a rush of wind that ruffled her apron, a clatter, and she
could hear Mustard's hoofs pounding over the matted mesquite that
carpeted the clearing. Ferguson had fled.
DISAPPEARANCE OF THE ORPHAN
During the night Ferguson had dreamed dreams. A girl with fluffy brown
hair and mocking eyes had been the center of many mental pictures that
had haunted him. He had seen her seated before him, rapidly plying a
pencil. Once he imagined he had peered over her shoulder. He had seen
a sketch of a puncher, upon which she appeared to be working,
representing a man who looked very like himself. He could remember
that he had been much surprised. Did writers draw the pictures that
appeared in their books?
This puncher was sitting in a chair; one foot was bandaged. As he
watched over the girl's shoulder he saw the deft pencil forming the
outlines of another figure—a girl. As this sketch developed he saw
that it was to represent Miss Radford herself. It was a clever pencil
that the girl wielded, for the scene was strikingly real. He even
caught subtle glances from her eyes. But as he looked the scene
changed and the girl stood at the edge of the porch, her eyes mocking
him. And then to his surprise she spoke. "I am going to put you into
a book," she said.
Then he knew why she had tolerated him. He had grown hot and
embarrassed. "You ain't goin' to put me in any book, ma'am," he had
said. "You ain't givin' me a square deal. I wouldn't love no girl
that would put me into a book."
He had seen a sudden scorn in her eyes. "Love!" she said, her lips
curling. "Do you really believe that I would allow a puncher to make
love to me?"
And then the scene had changed again, and he was shooting the head off
a rattler. "I don't want you to love me!" he had declared to it. And
then while the snake writhed he saw another head growing upon it, and a
face. It was the face of Leviatt; and there was mockery in this face
also. While he looked it spoke.
"You'll nurse him so's he won't die?" it had said.
When he awakened his blood was surging with a riotous anger. The dream
was bothering him now, as he rode away from the ranchhouse toward the
gully where he had found the dead Two Diamond cow. He had not reported
the finding of the dead cow, intending to return the next morning to
look the ground over and to fetch the "dogie" back to the home ranch.
It would be time enough then to make a report of the occurrence to
It was mid-morning when he finally reached the gully and rode down into
it. He found the dead cow still there. He dismounted to drive away
some crows that had gathered around the body. Then he noticed that the
calf had disappeared. It had strayed, perhaps. A calf could not be
depended upon to remain very long beside its dead mother, though he had
known cases where they had. But if it had strayed it could not be very
far away. He remounted his pony and loped down the gully, reaching the
ridge presently and riding along this, searching the surrounding
country with keen glances. He could see no signs of the calf. He came
to a shelf-rock presently, beside which grew a tangled gnarl of
scrub-oak brush. Something lay in the soft sand and he dismounted
quickly and picked up a leather tobacco pouch. He examined this
carefully. There were no marks on it to tell who might be the owner.
"A man who loses his tobacco in this country is mighty careless," he
observed, smiling; "or in pretty much of a hurry."
He went close to the thicket, looking down at it, searching the sand
with interest. Presently he made out the impression of a foot in a
soft spot and, looking further, saw two furrows that might have been
made by a man kneeling. He knelt in the furrows himself and with one
hand parted the brush. He smiled grimly as, peering into the gully, he
saw the dead Two Diamond cow on the opposite side.
He stepped abruptly away from the thicket and looked about him. A few
yards back there was a deep depression in the ridge, fringed with a
growth of nondescript weed. He approached this and peered into it.
Quite recently a horse had been there. He could plainly see the
hoof-prints—where the animal had pawed impatiently. He returned to
the thicket, convinced.
"Some one was here yesterday when I was down there lookin' at that
cow," he decided. "They was watchin' me. That man I seen ridin' that
other ridge was with the one who was here. Now why didn't this man
He stood erect, looking about him. Then he smiled.
"Why, it's awful plain," he said. "The man who was on this ridge was
watchin'. He heard my gun go off, when I shot that snake. I reckon he
figgered that if he tried to ride away on this ridge whoever'd done the
shootin' would see him. An' so he didn't go. He stayed right here an'
watched me when I rode up." He smiled. "There ain't no use lookin'
for that dogie. The man that stayed here has run him off."
There was nothing left for Ferguson to do. He mounted and rode slowly
along the ridge, examining the tobacco pouch. And then suddenly he
discovered something that brought an interested light to his eyes.
Beneath the greasy dirt on the leather he could make out the faint
outlines of two letters. Time had almost obliterated these, but by
moistening his fingers and rubbing the dirt from the leather he was
able to trace them. They had been burned in, probably branded with a
"D. L," he spelled.
He rode on again, his lips straightening into serious lines.
He mentally catalogued the names he had heard since coming to the Two
Diamond. None answered for the initials "D. L." It was evident that
the pouch could belong to no one but Dave Leviatt. In that case what
had Leviatt been doing on the ridge? Why, he had been watching the
rustler, of course. In that case the man must be known to him. But
what had become of the dogie? What would have been Leviatt's duty,
after the departure of the rustlers? Obviously to drive the calf to
the herd and report the occurrence to the manager.
Leviatt may have driven the calf to the herd, but assuredly he had not
reported the occurrence to the manager, for he had not been in to the
ranchhouse. Why not?
Ferguson pondered long over this, while his pony traveled the river
trail toward the ranchhouse. Finally he smiled. Of course, if the man
on the ridge had been Leviatt, he must have been there still when
Ferguson came up, or he would not have been there to drive the Two
Diamond calf to the herd after Ferguson had departed. In that case he
must have seen Ferguson, and must be waiting for the latter to make the
report to the manager. But what motive would he have in this?
Here was more mystery. Ferguson might have gone on indefinitely
arranging motives, but none of them would have brought him near the
He could, however, be sure of three things. Leviatt had seen the
rustler and must know him; he had seen Ferguson, and knew that he knew
that a rustler had been in the gully before him; and for some
mysterious reason he had not reported to the manager. But Ferguson had
one advantage that pleased him, even drew a grim smile to his lips as
he rode on his way. Leviatt may have seen him near the dead Two
Diamond cow, but he certainly was not aware that Ferguson knew he
himself had been there during the time that the rustler had been at
Practically, of course, this knowledge would avail Ferguson little.
Yet it was a good thing to know, for Leviatt must have some reason for
secrecy, and if anything developed later Ferguson would know exactly
where the range boss stood in the matter.
Determined to investigate as far as possible, he rode down the river
for a few miles, finally reaching a broad plain where the cattle were
feeding. Some cowboys were scattered over this plain, and before
riding very far Ferguson came upon Rope. The latter spurred close to
"I'm right glad to see you," said the puncher. "You've been keepin'
yourself pretty scarce. Scared of another run-in with Leviatt?"
"Plum scared," returned Ferguson. "I reckon that man'll make me
nervous—give him time."
"Yu' don't say?" grinned Rope. "I wasn't noticin' that you was
worryin' about him."
"I'm right flustered," returned Ferguson. "Where's he now?"
"Gone down the crick—with Tucson."
Ferguson smoothed Mustard's mane. "Leviatt been with you right along?"
"He went up the crick yesterday," returned Rope, looking quickly at the
"Went alone, I reckon?"
"With Tucson." Rope was trying to conceal his interest in these
But apparently Ferguson's interest was only casual. He turned a
quizzical eye upon Rope. "You an' Tucson gettin' along?" he questioned.
"Me an' him's of the same mind about one thing," returned Rope.
"Well, now." Ferguson's drawl was pregnant with humor. "You surprise
me. An' so you an' him have agreed. I reckon you ain't willin' to
tell me what you've agreed about?"
"I'm sure tellin'," grinned Rope. "Me an' him's each dead certain that
the other's a low down horse thief."
The eyes of the two men met fairly. Both smiled.
"Then I reckon you an' Tucson are lovin' one another about as well as
me an' Leviatt," observed Ferguson.
"There ain't a turruble lot of difference," agreed Rope.
"An' so Tucson's likin' you a heap," drawled Ferguson absently. He
gravely contemplated the puncher. "I expect you was a long ways off
yesterday when Leviatt an' Tucson come in from up the crick?" he asked.
"Not a turruble ways off," returned Rope. "I happened to have this end
an' they passed right close to me. They clean forgot to speak."
"Well, now," said Ferguson. "That was sure careless of them. But I
reckon they was busy at somethin' when they passed. In that case they
wouldn't have time to speak. I've heard tell that some folks can't do
more'n one thing at a time."
Rope laughed. "They was puttin' in a heap of their time tryin' to make
me believe they didn't see me," he returned. "Otherwise they wasn't
"Shucks!" declared Ferguson heavily. "I reckon them men wouldn't go
out of their way to drive a poor little dogie in off the range.
They're that hard hearted."
"Correct," agreed Rope. "You ain't missin' them none there."
Ferguson smiled, urging his pony about. "I'm figgerin' on gettin' back
to the Two Diamond," he said. He rode a few feet and then halted,
looking back over his shoulder. "You ain't givin' Tucson no chancst to
say you drawed first?" he warned.
Rope laughed grimly. "If there's any shootin' goin' on," he replied,
"Tucson ain't goin' to say nothin' after it's over."
"Well, so-long," said Ferguson, urging his pony forward. He heard
Rope's answer, and then rode on, deeply concerned over his discovery.
Leviatt and Tucson had ridden up the river the day before. They had
returned empty handed. And so another link had been added to the chain
of mystery. Where was the dogie?
A TOUCH OF LOCAL COLOR
A few months before her first meeting with Ferguson, Mary Radford had
come West with the avowed purpose of "absorbing enough local color for
a Western novel." Friends in the East had encouraged her; an uncle
(her only remaining relative, beside her brother) had assisted her. So
she had come.
The uncle (under whose care she had been since the death of her mother,
ten years before) had sent her to a medical college, determined to make
her a finished physician. But Destiny had stepped in. Quite by
accident Miss Radford had discovered that she could write, and the
uncle's hope that she might one day grace the medical profession had
gone glimmering—completely buried under a mass of experimental
He professed to have still a ray of hope until after several of the
magazines had accepted Mary's work. Then hope died and was succeeded
by silent acquiescence and patient resignation. Having a knowledge of
human nature far beyond that possessed by the average person, the uncle
had realized that if Mary's inclination led to literature it was worse
than useless to attempt to interest her in any other profession.
Therefore, when she had announced her intention of going West he had
interposed no objection; on the contrary had urged her to the venture.
What might have been his attitude had not Ben Radford been already in
the West is problematical. Very seldom do we decide a thing until it
Mary Radford had been surprised at the West. From Ben's cabin in the
flat she had made her first communion with this new world that she had
worshipped at first sight. It was as though she had stepped out of an
old world into one that was just experiencing the dawn of creation's
first morning. At least so it had seemed to her on the morning she had
first stepped outside her brother's cabin to view her first sunrise.
She had breathed the sweet, moisture-laden breezes that had seemed to
almost steal over the flat where she had stood watching the shadows
yield to the coming sun. The somber hills had become slowly outlined;
the snow caps of the distant mountain peaks glinted with the brilliant
shafts that struck them and reflected into the dark recesses below.
Nature was king here and showed its power in a mysterious, though
In the evening there would come a change. Through rifts in the
mountains descended the sun, spreading an effulgent expanse of yellow
light—like burnished gold. In the shadows were reflected numerous
colors, all quietly blended, making contrasts of perfect harmony.
There were the sinuous buttes that bordered the opposite shore of the
river—solemn sentinels guarding the beauty and purity of this virgin
land. Near her were sloping hills, dotted with thorny cactus and other
prickly plants, and now rose a bald rock spire with its suggestion of
grim lonesomeness. In the southern and eastern distances were the
plains, silent, vast, unending. It seemed she had come to dwell in a
land deserted by some cyclopean race. Its magnificent, unchanging
beauty had enthralled her.
She had not lacked company. She found that the Two Diamond punchers
were eager to gain her friendship. Marvelous excuses were invented for
their appearance at the cabin in the flat. She thought that Ben's
friendship was valued above that of all other persons in the
But she found the punchers gentlemen. Though their conversation was
unique and their idioms picturesque, they compared favorably with the
men she had known in the East. Did they lack the subtleties, they made
up for this by their unfailing deference. And they were never rude;
their very bashfulness prevented that.
Through them she came to know much of many things. They contrived to
acquaint her with the secretive peculiarities of the prairie dog,
and—when she would listen with more than ordinary attention—they
would loose their wonderful imaginations in the hope of continuing the
conversation. Then it was that the subject under discussion would
receive exhaustive, and altogether unnecessary, elucidation. The
habits of the prairie-dog were not alone betrayed to the ears of the
young lady. The sage-fowl's inherent weaknesses were paraded before
her; the hoot of the owl was imitated with ludicrous solemnity; other
fowl were described with wonderful attention to detail; and the
inevitable rattlesnake was pointed out to her as a serpent whose chief
occupation in life was that of posing in the shadow of the sage-brush
as a target for the revolver of the cowpuncher.
The quaintness of the cowboy speech, his incomparable bashfulness,
amused her, while she was strangely affected by his earnestness. She
attended to the chickens and immediately her visitors became interested
in them and fell to discussing them as though they had done nothing all
their days but build hen-houses and runways. But she had them on
botany. The flower beds were deep, unfathomable mysteries to them, and
they stood afar while she cultivated the more difficult plants and
encouraged the hardier to increased beauty.
But she had not been content to view this land of mystery from her
brother's cabin. The dignity of nature had cast its thrall upon her.
She was impressed with the sublimity of the climate, the wonderful
sunshine, the crystal light of the days and the quiet peace and beauty
of the nights. The lure of the plains had taken her upon long rides,
and the cottonwood, filling a goodly portion of the flat, was the scene
of many of her explorations.
The pony with which her brother had provided her was—Ben Radford
declared—a shining example of sterling horse-honesty. She did not
know that Ben knew horses quite as well as he knew men or she would not
have allowed him to see the skeptical glance she had thrown over the
drowsy-eyed beast that he saddled for her. But she was overjoyed at
finding the pony all that her brother had said of it. The little
animal was tireless, and often, after a trip over the plains, or to Dry
Bottom to mail a letter, she would return by a roundabout trail.
Meanwhile the novel still remained unwritten. Perhaps she had not yet
"absorbed" the "local color"; perhaps inspiration was tardy. At all
events she had not written a word. But she was beginning to realize
the possibilities; deep in her soul something was moving that would
presently flow from her pen.
It would not be commonplace—that she knew. Real people would move
among the pages of her book; real deeds would be done. And as the days
passed she decided. She would write herself into her book; there would
be the first real character. The story would revolve about her and
another character—a male one—upon whom she had not decided—until the
appearance of Ferguson. After he had come she was no longer
undecided—she would make him the hero of her story.
The villain she had already met—in Leviatt. Something about this man
was repellant. She already had a description of him in the note book
that she always carried. Had Leviatt read the things she had written
of him he would have discontinued his visits to the cabin.
Several of the Two Diamond punchers, also, were noted as being possible
secondary characters. She had found them very amusing. But the hero
would be the one character to whom she would devote the concentrated
effort of her mind. She would make him live in the pages; a real,
forceful magnetic human being that the reader would instantly admire.
She would bare his soul to the reader; she would reveal his mental
processes—not involved, but leading straight and true to——
But would she? Had she not so far discovered a certain craftiness in
the character of the Two Diamond stray-man that would indicate subtlety
This knowledge had been growing gradually upon her since their second
meeting, and it had become an obstacle that promised difficulties. Of
course she could make Ferguson talk and act as she pleased—in the
book. But if she wanted a real character she would have to portray him
as he was. To do this would require study. Serious study of any
character would inspire faithful delineation.
She gave much thought to him now, keeping this purpose in view. She
questioned Ben concerning him, but was unable to gain satisfying
information. He had been hired by Stafford, her brother told her,
holding the position of stray-man.
"I've seen him once, down the other side of the cottonwood," the young
man had said. "He ain't saying much to anyone. Seems to be a quiet
sort—and deep. Pretty good sort though."
She was pleased over Ben's brief estimate of the stray-man. It
vindicated her judgment. Besides, it showed that her brother was not
averse to friendship with him.
Leviatt she saw with her brother often, and occasionally he came to the
cabin. His attitude toward her was one of frank admiration, but he had
received no encouragement. How could he know that he was going to be
the villain in her book—soon to be written?
Shall we take a peep into that mysterious note book? Yes, for later we
shall see much of it.
"Dave Leviatt," she had written in one place. "Age thirty-five. Tall,
slender; walks with a slight stoop. One rather gets the impression
that the stoop is a reflection of the man's nature, which seems
vindictive and suggests a low cunning. His eyes are small, deep set,
and glitter when he talks. But they are steady, and cold—almost
merciless. One's thoughts go instantly to the tiger. I shall try to
create that impression in the reader's mind."
In another place she had jotted this down: "I shouldn't want anyone
killed in my book, but if I find this to be necessary Leviatt must do
the murder. But I think it would be better to have him employ some
other person to do it for him; that would give him just the character
that would fit him best. I want to make him seem too cowardly—no, not
cowardly, because I don't think he is a coward: but too cunning—to
take chances of being caught."
Evidently she had been questioning Ben, for in another place she had
"Ferguson. I must remember this—all cowboys do not carry two guns.
Ben does, because he says he is ambidextrous, shooting equally well
with either hand. But he does not tie the bottoms of his holsters
down, like Ferguson; he says some men do this, but usually they are men
who are exceptionally rapid in getting their revolvers out and that
tying down the bottoms of the holsters facilitates removing the
weapons. They are accounted to be dangerous men.
"Ben says when a man is quick to shoot out here he is called a gun-man,
and that if he carries two revolvers he is a two-gun man. Ben laughs
at me when I speak of a 'revolver'; they are known merely as 'guns' out
here. I must remember this. Ben says that though he likes Ferguson
quite well, he is rather suspicious of him. He seems to be unable to
understand why Stafford should employ a two-gun man to look up stray
Below this appeared a brief reference to Ferguson.
"He is not a bit conceited—rather bashful, I should say. But
embarrassment in him is attractive. No hero should be conceited.
There is a wide difference between impertinence and frankness.
Ferguson seems to speak frankly, but with a subtle shade. I think this
is a very agreeable trait for a hero in a novel."
There followed more interesting scraps concerning Leviatt, which would
have caused the range boss many bad moments. And there were
interesting bits of description—jotted down when she became impressed
with a particularly odd view of the country. But there were no more
references to Ferguson. He—being the hero of her novel—must be
THE STORY BEGINS
Miss Radford tied her pony to the trunk of a slender fir-balsam and
climbed to the summit of a small hill. There were some trees, quite a
bit of grass, some shrubbery, on the hill—and no snakes. She made
sure of this before seating herself upon a little shelf of rock, near a
Half a mile down the river she could see a corner of Ben's cabin, a
section of the corral fence, and one of the small outbuildings.
Opposite the cabin, across the river, rose the buttes that met her eyes
always when she came to the cabin door. This hill upon which she sat
was one that she saw often, when in the evening, watching the setting
sun, she followed its golden rays with her eyes. Many times, as the
sun had gone slowly down into a rift of the mountains, she had seen the
crest of this hill shimmering in a saffron light; the only spot in the
flat that rose above the somber, oncoming shadows of the dusk.
From here, it seemed, began the rose veil that followed the broad
saffron shaft that led straight to the mountains. Often, watching the
beauty of the hill during the long sunset, she had felt a deep awe
stirring her. Romance was here, and mystery; it was a spot favored by
the Sun-Gods, who surrounded it with a glorious halo, lingeringly,
reluctantly withdrawing as the long shadows of the twilight crept over
the face of the world.
It was not her first visit to the hill. Many times she had come here,
charmed with the beauty of the view, and during one of those visits she
had decided that seated on the shelf rock on the summit of the hill she
would write the first page of the book. It was for this purpose that
she had now come.
After seating herself she opened a small handbag, producing therefrom
many sheets of paper, a much-thumbed copy of Shakespeare, and a pencil.
She was tempted to begin with a description of the particular bit of
country upon which she looked, for long ago she had decided upon Bear
Flat for the locale of the story. But she sat long nibbling at the end
of the pencil, delaying the beginning for fear of being unable to do
justice to it.
She began at length, making several false starts and beginning anew.
Finally came a paragraph that remained. Evidently this was
satisfactory, for another paragraph followed; and then another, and
still another. Presently a complete page. Then she looked up with a
long-drawn sigh of relief. The start had been made.
She had drawn a word picture of the flat; dwelling upon the solitude,
the desolation, the vastness, the swimming sunlight, the absence of
life and movement. But as she looked, critically comparing what she
had written with the reality, there came a movement—a horseman had
ridden into her picture. He had come down through a little gully that
led into the flat and was loping his pony through the deep saccatone
grass toward the cabin.
It couldn't be Ben. Ben had told her that he intended riding some
thirty miles down the river and he couldn't be returning already. She
leaned forward, watching intently, the story forgotten.
The rider kept steadily on for a quarter of an hour. Then he reached
the clearing in which the cabin stood; she saw him ride through it and
disappear. Five minutes later he reappeared, hesitated at the edge of
the clearing and then urged his pony toward the hill upon which she
sat. As he rode out of the shadows of the trees within an eighth of a
mile of her the sunlight shone fairly upon the pony. She would have
known Mustard among many other ponies.
She drew a sudden, deep breath and sat erect, tucking back some stray
wisps of hair from her forehead. Did the rider see her?
For a moment it seemed that the answer would be negative, for he
disappeared behind some dense shrubbery on the plain below and seemed
to be on the point of passing the hill. But just at the edge of the
shrubbery Mustard suddenly swerved and came directly toward her.
Through the corners of her eyes she watched while Ferguson dismounted,
tied Mustard close to her own animal, and stood a moment quietly
"You want to look at the country all by yourself?" he inquired.
She pretended a start, looking down at him in apparent surprise.
"Why," she prevaricated, "I thought there was no one within miles of
She saw his eyes flash in the sunlight. "Of course," he drawled,
"there's such an awful darkness that no one could see a pony comin'
across the flat. You think you'll be able to find your way home?"
She flushed guiltily and did not reply. She heard him clambering up
over the loose stones, and presently he stood near her. She made a
pretense of writing.
"Did you stop at the cabin?" she asked without looking up.
He regarded her with amused eyes, standing loosely, his arms folded,
the fingers of his right hand pulling at his chin. "Did I stop?" he
repeated. "I couldn't rightly say. Seems to me as though I did. You
see, I didn't intend to, but I was ridin' down that way an' I thought
I'd stop in an' have a talk with Ben."
"Oh!" Sometimes even a monosyllable is pregnant with mockery.
"But he wasn't there. Nobody was there. I wasn't reckonin' on
everybody runnin' off."
She turned and looked straight at him. "Why," she said, "I shouldn't
think our running away would surprise you. You see, you set us an
example in running away the other day."
He knew instantly that she referred to his precipitate retreat on the
night she had hinted that she intended putting him into her story. She
shot another glance at him and saw his face redden with embarrassment,
but he showed no intention of running now.
"I've been thinkin' of what you said," he returned. "You couldn't put
me into no book. You don't know anything about me. You don't know
what I think. Then how could you do it?"
"Of course," she returned, turning squarely around to him and speaking
seriously, "the story will be fiction, and the plot will have no
foundation in fact. But I shall be very careful to have my characters
talk and act naturally. To do this I shall have to study the people
whom I wish to characterize."
He was moved by an inward mirth. "You're still thinkin' of puttin' me
into the book?" he questioned.
She nodded, smiling.
"Then," he said, very gravely, "you hadn't ought to have told me. You
didn't show so clever there. Ain't you afraid that I'll go to actin'
swelled? If I do that, you'd not have the character you wanted."
"I had thought of that, too," she returned seriously. "If you were
that kind of a man I shouldn't want you in the book. How do you know
that I haven't told you for the purpose of discovering if you would be
affected in that manner?"
He scratched his head, contemplating her gravely. "I reckon you're
travelin' too fast for me, ma'am," he said.
His expression of frank amusement was good to see. He stood before
her, plainly ready to surrender. Absolutely boyish, he seemed to
her—a grown-up boy to be sure, but with a boy's enthusiasms, impulses,
and generosity. Yet in his eyes was something that told of maturity,
of conscious power, of perfect trust in his ability to give a good
account of himself, even in this country where these qualities
constituted the chief rule of life.
A strange emotion stirred her, a sudden quickening of the pulse told
her that something new had come into her life. She drew a deep,
startled breath and felt her cheeks crimsoning. She swiftly turned her
head and gazed out over the flat, leaving him standing there, scarcely
comprehending her embarrassment.
"I reckon you've been writin' some of that book, ma'am," he said,
seeing the papers lying on the rock beside her. "I don't see why you
should want to write a Western story. Do folks in the East get
interested in knowin' what's goin' on out here?"
She suddenly thought of herself. Had she found it interesting? She
looked swiftly at him, appraising him from a new viewpoint, feeling a
strange, new interest in him.
"It would be strange if they didn't," she returned. "Why, it is the
only part of the country in which there still remains a touch of
romance. You must remember that this is a young country; that its
history began at a comparatively late date. England can write of its
feudal barons; France of its ancient aristocracy; but America can look
back only to the Colonial period—and the West."
"Mebbe you're right," he said, not convinced. "But I expect there
ain't a heap of romance out here. Leastways, if there is it manages to
keep itself pretty well hid."
She smiled, thinking of the romance that surrounded him—of which,
plainly, he was not conscious. To him, romance meant the lights, the
crowds, the amusements, the glitter and tinsel of the cities of the
East, word of which had come to him through various channels. To her
these things were no longer novel,—if they had ever been so—and so
for her romance must come from the new, the unusual, the
unconventional. The West was all this, therefore romance dwelt here.
"Of course it all seems commonplace to you," she returned; "perhaps
even monotonous. For you have lived here long."
He laughed. "I've traveled a heap," he said. "I've been in
California, Dakota, Wyoming, Texas, an' Arizona. An' now I'm here.
Savin' a man meets different people, this country is pretty much all
"You must have had a great deal of experience," she said. "And you are
not very old."
He gravely considered her. "I would say that I am about the average
age for this country. You see, folks don't live to get very old out
here—unless they're mighty careful."
"And you haven't been careful?"
He smiled gravely. "I expect you wouldn't call it careful. But I'm
His words were singularly free from boast.
"That means that you have escaped the dangers," she said. "I have
heard that a man's safety in this country depends largely upon his
ability to shoot quickly and accurately. I suppose you are accounted a
The question was too direct. His eyes narrowed craftily.
"I expect you're thinkin' of that book now ma'am," he said. "There's a
heap of men c'n shoot. You might say they're all good shots. I've
told you about the men who can't shoot good. They're either mighty
careful, or they ain't here any more. It's always one or the other."
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, shuddering slightly. "In that case I
suppose the hero in my story will have to be a good shot." She
laughed. "I shouldn't want him to get half way through the story and
then be killed because he was clumsy in handling his weapon. I am
beginning to believe that I shall have to make him a 'two-gun' man. I
understand they are supposed to be very good shots."
"I've seen them that wasn't," he returned gravely and shortly.
"How did you prove that?" she asked suddenly.
But he was not to be snared. "I didn't say I'd proved it," he stated.
"But I've seen it proved."
"Why," he said, his eyes glinting with amusement, "they ain't here any
"Oh. Then it doesn't follow that because a man wears two guns he is
more likely to survive than is the man who wears only one?"
"I reckon not, ma'am."
"I see that you have the bottoms of your holsters tied down," she said,
looking at them. "Why have you done that?"
"Well," he declared, drawling his words a little, "I've always found
that there ain't any use of takin' chances on an accident. You
mightn't live to tell about it. An' havin' the bottoms of your
holsters tied down keeps your guns from snaggin'. I've seen men whose
guns got snagged when they wanted to use them. They wasn't so active
"Then I shall have to make my hero a 'two-gun' man," she said. "That
is decided. Now, the next thing to do is to give some attention to his
character. I think he ought to be absolutely fearless and honest and
incapable of committing a dishonorable deed. Don't you think so?"
While they had talked he had come closer to her and stood beside the
shelf rock, one foot resting on it. At her question he suddenly looked
down at the foot, shifting it nervously, while a flush started from
above the blue scarf at his throat and slowly suffused his face.
"Don't you think so?" she repeated, her eyes meeting his for an instant.
"Why, of course, ma'am," he suddenly answered, the words coming
sharply, as though he had only at that instant realized the import of
"Why," said she, aware of his embarrassment, "don't you think there are
"I expect there are, ma'am," he returned; "but in this country there's
a heap of argument could be made about what would be dishonorable. If
your two-gun should happen to be a horse thief, or a rustler, I reckon
we could get at it right off."
"He shan't be either of those," she declared stoutly. "I don't think
he would stoop to such contemptible deeds. In the story he is employed
by a ranch owner to kill a rustler whom the owner imagines has been
stealing his cattle."
His hands were suddenly behind him, the fingers clenched. His eyes
searched her face with an alert, intense gaze. His embarrassment was
gone; his expression was saturnine, his eyes narrowed with a slight
mockery. And his voice came, cold, deliberate, even.
"I reckon you've got your gun-man true to life, ma'am," he said.
She laughed lightly, amused over the sudden change that she saw and
felt in him. "Of course the gun-man doesn't really intend to kill the
rustler," she said. "I don't believe I shall have any one killed in
the story. The gun-man is merely attracted by the sum of money
promised him by the ranch owner, and when he accepts it is only because
he is in dire need of work. Don't you think that could be possible?"
"That could happen easy in this country, ma'am," he returned.
She laughed delightedly. "That vindicates my judgment," she declared.
He was regarding her with unwavering eyes. "Is that gun-man goin' to
be the hero in your story, ma'am?" he asked quietly.
"Why, of course."
"An' I'm to be him?"
She gave him a defiant glance, though she blushed immediately.
"Why do you ask?" she questioned in reply. "You need have no fear that
I will compel my hero to do anything dishonorable."
"I ain't fearin' anything," he returned. "But I'd like to know how you
come to think of that. Do writers make them things up out of their own
minds, or does someone tell them?"
"Those things generally have their origin in the mind of the writer,"
"Meanin' that you thought of that yourself?" he persisted.
He lifted his foot from the rock and stood looking gravely at her. "In
most of the books I have read there's always a villain. I reckon
you're goin' to have one?"
"There will be a villain," she returned.
His eyes flashed queerly. "Would you mind tellin' me who you have
picked out for your villain?" he continued.
"I don't mind," she said. "It is Leviatt."
He suddenly grinned broadly and held out his right hand to her.
"Shake, ma'am," he said. "I reckon if I was writin' a book Leviatt
would be the villain."
She rose from the rock and took his outstretched hand, her eyes
drooping as they met his. He felt her hand tremble a little, and he
looked at it, marveling. She glanced up, saw him looking at her hand,
swiftly withdrew it, and turned from him, looking down into the flat at
the base of the hill. She started, uttering the sharp command:
Perhaps a hundred yards distant, sitting on his pony in a lounging
attitude, was a horseman. While they looked the horseman removed his
broad brimmed hat, bowed mockingly, and urged his pony out into the
flat. It was Leviatt.
On the slight breeze a laugh floated back to them, short, sharp,
For a time they stood silent, watching the departing rider. Then
Ferguson's lips wreathed into a feline smile.
"Kind of dramatic, him ridin' up that-a-way," he said. "Don't you
think puttin' him in the book will spoil it, ma'am?"
"DO YOU SMOKE?"
Leviatt rode down through the gully where Miss Radford had first caught
sight of Ferguson when he had entered the flat. He disappeared in this
and five minutes later came out upon a ridge above it. The distance
was too great to observe whether he turned to look back. But just
before he disappeared finally they saw him sweep his hat from his head.
It was a derisive motion, and Miss Radford colored and shot a furtive
glance at Ferguson.
The latter stood loosely beside her, his hat brim pulled well down over
his forehead. As she looked she saw his eyes narrow and his lips curve
"What do you suppose he thought?" she questioned, her eyes drooping
away from his.
"Him?" Ferguson laughed. "I expect you could see from his actions
that he wasn't a heap tickled." Some thought was moving him mightily.
He chuckled gleefully. "Now if you could only put what he was thinkin'
into your book, ma'am, it sure would make interestin' readin'."
"But he saw you holding my hand!" she declared, aware of the
uselessness of telling him this, but unable to repress her indignation
over the thought that Leviatt had seen.
"Why, I expect he did, ma'am!" he returned, trying hard to keep the
pleasure out of his voice. "You see, he must have been lookin' right
at us. But there ain't nothin' to be flustered over. I reckon that
some day, if he's around, he'll see me holdin' your hand again."
The red in her cheeks deepened. "Why, how conceited you are!" she
said, trying to be very severe, but only succeeding in making him think
that her eyes were prettier than he had thought.
"I don't think I am conceited, ma'am," he returned, smiling. "I've
liked you right well since the beginning. I don't think it's conceit
to tell a lady that you're thinkin' of holdin' her hand."
She was looking straight at him, trying to be very defiant. "And so
you have liked me?" she taunted. "I am considering whether to tell you
that I was not thinking of you as a possible admirer."
His eyes flashed. "I don't think you mean that, ma'am," he said. "You
ain't treated me like you treated some others."
"Some others?" she questioned, not comprehending.
He laughed. "Them other Two Diamond men that took a shine to you.
I've heard that you talked right sassy to them. But you ain't never
been sassy to me. Leastways, you ain't never told me to 'evaporate'."
She was suddenly convulsed. "They have told you that?" she questioned.
And then not waiting for an answer she continued more soberly: "And so
you thought that in view of what I have said to those men you had been
treated comparatively civilly. I am afraid I have underestimated you.
Hereafter I shall talk less intimately to you."
"I wouldn't do that, ma'am," he pleaded. "You don't need to be afraid
that I'll be too fresh."
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed, with a pretense of delight. "It will be
very nice to know that I can talk to you without fear of your placing a
false construction on my words. But I am not afraid of you."
He stepped back from the rock, hitching at his cartridge belt. "I'm
goin' over to the Two Diamond now, ma'am," he said. "And since you've
said you ain't afraid of me, I'm askin' you if you won't go ridin' with
me tomorrow. There's a right pretty stretch of country about fifteen
miles up the crick that you'd be tickled over."
Should she tell him that she had explored all of the country within
thirty miles? The words trembled on her lips but remained unspoken.
"Why, I don't know," she objected. "Do you think it is quite safe?"
He smiled and stepped away from her, looking back over his shoulder.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said. "I'll ride over for you some time in the
mornin'." He continued down the hill, loose stones rattling ahead of
him. She looked after him, radiant.
"But I didn't say I would go," she called. And then, receiving no
answer to this, she waited until he had swung into the saddle and was
waving a farewell to her.
"Don't come before ten o'clock!" she advised.
She saw him smile and then she returned to her manuscript.
When the Sun-Gods kissed the crest of the hill and bathed her in the
rich rose colors that came straight down to the hill through the rift
in the mountains, she rose and gathered up her papers. She had not
written another line.
It was late in the afternoon when Leviatt rode up to the door of
Stafford's office and dismounted. He took plenty of time walking the
short distance that lay between him and the door, and growled a savage
reply to a loafing puncher, who asked him a question. Once in the
office he dropped glumly into a chair, his eyes glittering vengefully
as his gaze rested on Stafford, who sat at his desk, engaged in his
accounts. Through the open window Stafford had seen the range boss
coming and therefore when the latter had entered he had not looked up.
Presently he finished his work and drew back from the desk. Then he
took up a pipe, filled it with tobacco, lighted it, and puffed with
"Nothin's happened?" he questioned, glancing at his range boss.
Leviatt's reply was short. "No. Dropped down to see how things was
"Things is quiet," returned Stafford. "There ain't been any cattle
missed for a long time. I reckon the new stray-man is doin' some good."
Leviatt's eyes glowed. "If you call gassin' with Mary Radford doin'
good, why then, he's doin' it!" he snapped.
"I ain't heard that he's doin' that," returned Stafford.
"I'm tellin' you about it now," said Leviatt. "I seen him to-day; him
an' her holdin' hands on top of a hill in Bear Flat." He sneered.
"He's a better ladies' man than a gunfighter. I reckon we made a
mistake in pickin' him up."
Stafford smiled indulgently. "He's cert'nly a good looker," he said.
"I reckon some girls would take a shine to him. But I ain't
questionin' his shootin'. I've been in this country a right smart
while an' I ain't never seen another man that could bore a can six
times while it's in the air."
Leviatt's lips drooped. "He could do that an' not have nerve enough to
shoot a coyote. Him not clashin' with Ben Radford proves he ain't got
Stafford smiled. The story of how the stray-man had closed Leviatt's
mouth was still fresh in his memory. He was wondering whether Leviatt
knew that he had heard about the incident.
"Suppose you try him?" he suggested. "That'd be as good a way as any
to find out if he's got nerve."
Leviatt's face bloated poisonously, but he made no answer. Apparently
unaware that he had touched a tender spot Stafford continued.
"Mebbe his game is to get in with the girl, figgerin' that he'll be
more liable that way to get a chancst at Ben Radford. But whatever his
game is, I ain't interferin'. He's got a season contract an' I ain't
breakin' my word with the cuss. I ain't takin' no chances with him."
Leviatt rose abruptly, his face swelling with an anger that he was
trying hard to suppress. "He'd better not go to foolin' with Mary
Radford, damn him!" he snapped.
"I reckon that wind is blowin' in two directions," grinned Stafford.
"When I see him I'll tell him——" A clatter of hoofs reached the ears
of the two men, and Stafford turned to the window. "Here's the
stray-man now," he said gravely.
Both men were silent when Ferguson reached the door. He stood just
inside, looking at Stafford and Leviatt with cold, alert eyes. He
nodded shortly to Stafford, not removing his gaze from the range boss.
The latter deliberately turned his back and looked out of the window.
There was insolence in the movement, but apparently it had no effect
upon the stray-man, beyond bringing a queer twitch into the corners of
his mouth. He smiled at Stafford.
"Anything new?" questioned the latter, as he had questioned Leviatt.
"Nothin' doin'," returned Ferguson.
Leviatt now turned from the window. He spoke to Stafford, sneering.
"Ben Radford's quite a piece away from where he's hangin' out," he
said. He again turned to the window.
Ferguson's lips smiled, but his eyes narrowed. Stafford stiffened in
his chair. He watched the stray-man's hands furtively, fearing the
outcome of this meeting. But Ferguson's hands were nowhere near his
guns. They were folded over his chest—lightly—the fingers of his
right hand caressing his chin.
"You ridin' up the crick to-day?" he questioned of Leviatt. His tone
was mild, yet there was a peculiar quality in it that hinted at
"No," answered Leviatt, without turning.
Ferguson began rolling a cigarette. When he had done this he lighted
it and puffed slowly. "Well, now," he said, "that's mighty peculiar.
I'd swore that I saw you over in Bear Flat."
Leviatt turned. "You've been pickin' posies too long with Mary
Radford," he sneered.
Ferguson smiled. "Mebbe I have," he returned. "There's them that
she'll let pick posies with her, an' them that she won't."
Leviatt's face crimsoned with anger. "I reckon if you hadn't been
monkeyin' around too much with the girl, you'd have run across that
dead Two Diamond cow an' the dogie that she left," he sneered.
Ferguson's lips straightened. "How far off was you standin' when that
cow died?" he drawled.
A curse writhed through Leviatt's lips. "Why, you damned——"
"Don't!" warned Ferguson. He coolly stepped toward Leviatt, holding by
the thongs the leather tobacco pouch from which he had obtained the
tobacco to make his cigarette. When he had approached close to the
range boss he held the pouch up before his eyes.
"I reckon you'd better have a smoke," he said quietly; "they say it's
good for the nerves." He took a long pull at the cigarette. "It's
pretty fair tobacco," he continued. "I found it about ten miles up the
crick, on a ridge above a dry arroyo. I reckon it's your'n. It's got
your initials on it."
The eyes of the two men met in a silent battle. Leviatt's were the
first to waver. Then he reached out and took the pouch. "It's mine,"
he said shortly. Again he looked straight at Ferguson, his eyes
carrying a silent message.
"You see anything else?" he questioned.
Ferguson smiled. "I ain't sayin' anything about anything else," he
Thus, unsuspectingly, did Stafford watch and listen while these two men
arranged to carry on their war man to man, neither asking any favor
from the man who, with a word, might have settled it. With his reply
that he wasn't "sayin' anything about anything else," Ferguson had told
Leviatt that he had no intention of telling his suspicions to any man.
Nor from this moment would Leviatt dare whisper a derogatory word into
the manager's ear concerning Ferguson.
ON THE EDGE OF THE PLATEAU
Now that Ferguson was satisfied beyond doubt that Leviatt had been
concealed in the thicket above the bed of the arroyo where he had come
upon the dead Two Diamond cow, there remained but one disturbing
thought: who was the man he had seen riding along the ridge away from
the arroyo? Until he discovered the identity of the rider he must
remain absolutely in the dark concerning Leviatt's motive in concealing
the name of this other actor in the incident. He was positive that
Leviatt knew the rider, but he was equally positive that Leviatt would
keep this knowledge to himself.
But on this morning he was not much disturbed over the mystery. Other
things were troubling him. Would Miss Radford go riding with him?
Would she change her mind over night?
As he rode he consulted his silver timepiece. She had told him not to
come before ten. The hands of his watch pointed to ten thirty when he
entered the flat, and it was near eleven when he rode up to the cabin
door—to find Miss Radford—arrayed in riding skirt, dainty boots,
gauntleted gloves, blouse, and soft felt hat—awaiting him at the door.
"You're late," she said, smiling as she came out upon the porch.
If he had been less wise he might have told her that she had told him
not to come until after ten and that he had noticed that she had been
waiting for him in spite of her apparent reluctance of yesterday. But
he steered carefully away from this pitfall. He dismounted and threw
the bridle rein over Mustard's head, coming around beside the porch.
"I wasn't thinkin' to hurry you, ma'am," he said. "But I reckon we'll
go now. It's cert'nly a fine day for ridin'." He stood silent for a
moment, looking about him. Then he flushed. "Why, I'm gettin' right
box-headed, ma'am," he declared. "Here I am standin' an' makin' you
sick with my palaver, an' your horse waitin' to be caught up."
He stepped quickly to Mustard's side and uncoiled his rope. She stood
on the porch, watching him as he proceeded to the corral, caught the
pony, and flung a bridle on it. Then he led the animal to the porch
and cinched the saddle carefully. Throwing the reins over the pommel
of the saddle, he stood at the animal's head, waiting.
She came to the edge of the porch, placed a slender, booted foot into
the ox-bow stirrup, and swung gracefully up. In an instant he had
vaulted into his own saddle, and together they rode out upon the
gray-white floor of the flat.
They rode two miles, keeping near the fringe of cottonwoods, and
presently mounted a long slope. Half an hour later Miss Radford looked
back and saw the flat spread out behind, silent, vast, deserted,
slumbering in the swimming white sunlight. A little later she looked
again, and the flat was no longer there, for they had reached the crest
of the slope and their trail had wound them round to a broad level,
from which began another slope, several miles distant.
They had ridden for more than two hours, talking very little, when they
reached the crest of the last rise and saw, spreading before them, a
level many miles wide, stretching away in three directions. It was a
grass plateau, but the grass was dry and drooping and rustled under the
ponies' hoofs. There were no trees, but a post oak thicket skirted the
southern edge, and it was toward this that he urged his pony. She
followed, smiling to think that he was deceiving himself in believing
that she had not yet explored this place.
They came close to the thicket, and he swung off his horse and stood at
"I was wantin' you to see the country from here," he said, as he helped
her down. She watched him while he picketed the horses, so that they
might not stray. Then they went together to the edge of the thicket,
seating themselves in a welcome shade.
At their feet the plateau dropped sheer, as though cut with a knife,
and a little way out from the base lay a narrow ribbon of water that
flowed slowly in its rocky bed, winding around the base of a small
hill, spreading over a shallow bottom, and disappearing between the
buttes farther down.
Everything beneath them was distinguishable, though distant. Knobs
rose here; there a flat spread. Mountains frowned in the distance, but
so far away that they seemed like papier-mache shapes towering in a sea
of blue. Like a map the country seemed as Miss Radford and Ferguson
looked down upon it, yet a big map, over which one might wonder; more
vast, more nearly perfect, richer in detail than any that could be
evolved from the talents of man.
Ridges, valleys, gullies, hills, knobs, and draws were all laid out in
a vast basin. Miss Radford's gaze swept down into a section of flat
near the river.
"Why, there are some cattle down there!" she exclaimed.
"Sure," he returned; "they're Two Diamond. Way off there behind that
ridge is where the wagon is." He pointed to a long range of flat hills
that stretched several miles. "The boys that are workin' on the other
side of that ridge can't see them cattle like we can. Looks plum
"There are no men with those cattle down there," she said, pointing to
those below in the flat.
"No," he returned quietly; "they're all off on the other side of the
She smiled demurely at him. "Then we won't be interrupted—as we were
yesterday," she said.
Did she know that this was why he had selected this spot for the end of
the ride? He looked quickly at her, but answered slowly.
"They couldn't see us," he said. "If we was out in the open we'd be
right on the skyline. Then anyone could see us. But we've got this
thicket behind us, an' I reckon from down there we'd be pretty near
He turned around, clasping his hands about one knee and looking
squarely at her. "I expect you done a heap with your book
yesterday—after I went away?"
Her cheeks colored a little under his straight gaze.
"I didn't stay there long," she equivocated. "But I got some very good
ideas, and I am glad that I didn't write much. I should have had to
destroy it, because I have decided upon a different beginning. Ben
made the trip to Dry Bottom yesterday, and last night he told something
that had happened there that has given me some very good material for a
"That's awful interestin'," he observed. "So now you'll be able to
start your book with somethin' that really happened?"
"Real and original," she returned, with a quick glance at him. "Ben
told me that about a month ago some men had a shooting match in Dry
Bottom. They used a can for a target, and one man kept it in the air
until he put six bullet holes through it. Ben says he is pretty handy
with his weapons, but he could never do that. He insists that few men
can, and he is inclined to think that the man who did do it must have
been a gunfighter. I suppose you have never tried it?"
Over his lips while she had been speaking had crept the slight mocking
smile which always told better than words of the cold cynicism that
moved him at times. Did she know anything? Did she suspect him? The
smile masked an interest that illumined his eyes very slightly as he
looked at her.
"I expect that is plum slick shootin'," he returned slowly. "But some
men can do it. I've knowed them. But I ain't heard that it's been
done lately in this here country. I reckon Ben told you somethin' of
how this man looked?"
He had succeeded in putting the question very casually, and she had not
caught the note of deep interest in his voice.
"Why it's very odd," she said, looking him over carefully; "from Ben's
description I should assume that the man looked very like you!"
If her reply had startled him he gave little evidence of it. He sat
perfectly quiet, gazing with steady eyes out over the big basin. For a
time she sat silent also, her gaze following his. Then she turned.
"That would be odd, wouldn't it?" she said.
"What would?" he answered, not looking at her.
"Why, if you were the man who had done that shooting! It would
follow out the idea of my plot perfectly. For in my story the hero is
hired to shoot a supposed rustler, and of course he would have to be a
good shot. And since Ben has told me the story of the shooting match I
have decided that the hero in my story shall be tested in that manner
before being employed to shoot the rustler. Then he comes to the
supposed rustler's cabin and meets the heroine, in much the same manner
that you came. Now if it should turn out that you were the man who did
the shooting in Dry Bottom my story up to this point would be very
nearly real. And that would be fine!"
She had allowed a little enthusiasm to creep into her voice, and he
looked up at her quickly, a queer expression in his eyes.
"You goin' to have your 'two-gun' man bit by a rattler?" he questioned.
"Well, I don't know about that. It would make very little difference.
But I should be delighted to find that you were the man who did the
shooting over at Dry Bottom. Say that you are!"
Even now he could not tell whether there was subtlety in her voice The
old doubt rose again in his mind. Was she really serious in saying
that she intended putting all this in her story, or was this a ruse,
concealing an ulterior purpose? Suppose she and her brother suspected
him of being the man who had participated in the shooting match in Dry
Bottom? Suppose the brother, or she, had invented this tale about the
book to draw him out? He was moved to an inward humor, amused to think
that either of them should imagine him shallow enough to be caught thus.
But what if they did catch him? Would they gain by it? They could
gain nothing, but the knowledge would serve to put them on their guard.
But if she did suspect him, what use was there in evasion or denial?
He smiled whimsically.
"I reckon your story is goin' to be real up to this point," he
returned. "A while back I did shoot at a can in Dry Bottom."
She gave an exclamation of delight. "Now, isn't that marvelous? No
one shall be able to say that my beginning will be strictly fiction."
She leaned closer to him, her eyes alight with eagerness. "Now please
don't say that you are the man who shot the can five times," she
pleaded. "I shouldn't want my hero to be beaten at anything he
undertook. But I know that you were not beaten. Were you?"
He smiled gravely. "I reckon I wasn't beat," he returned.
She sat back and surveyed him with satisfaction.
"I knew it," she stated, as though in her mind there had never existed
any doubt of the fact. "Now," she said, plainly pleased over the
result of her questioning, "I shall be able to proceed, entirely
confident that my hero will be able to give a good account of himself
in any situation."
Her eyes baffled him. He gave up watching her and turned to look at
the world beneath him. He would have given much to know her thoughts.
She had said that from her brother's description of the man who had won
the shooting match at Dry Bottom she would assume that that man had
looked very like him. Did her brother hold this opinion also?
Ferguson cared very little if he did. He was accustomed to danger, and
he had gone into this business with his eyes open. And if Ben did
know—— Unconsciously his lips straightened and his chin went forward
slightly, giving his face an expression of hardness that made him look
ten years older. Watching him, the girl drew a slow, full breath. It
was a side of his character with which she was as yet unacquainted, and
she marveled over it, comparing it to the side she already knew—the
side that he had shown her—quiet, thoughtful, subtle. And now at a
glance she saw him as men knew him—unyielding, unafraid, indomitable.
Yet there was much in this sudden revelation of character to admire.
She liked a man whom other men respected for the very traits that his
expression had revealed. No man would be likely to adopt an air of
superiority toward him; none would attempt to trifle with him. She
felt that she ought not to trifle, but moved by some unaccountable
impulse, she laughed.
He turned his head at the laugh and looked quizzically at her.
"I hope you were not thinking of killing some one?" she taunted.
His right hand slowly clenched. Something metallic suddenly glinted
his eyes, to be succeeded instantly by a slight mockery. "You afraid
some one's goin' to be killed?" he inquired slowly.
"Well—no," she returned, startled by the question. "But you looked
so—so determined that I—I thought——"
He suddenly seized her arm and drew her around so that she faced the
little stretch of plain near the ridge about which they had been
speaking previously. His lips were in straight lines again, his eyes
"You see that man down there among them cattle?" he questioned.
Following his gaze, she saw a man among perhaps a dozen cattle. At the
moment she looked the man had swung a rope, and she saw the loop fall
true over the head of a cow the man had selected, saw the pony pivot
and drag the cow prone. Then the man dismounted, ran swiftly to the
side of the fallen cow, and busied himself about her hind legs.
"What is he doing?" she asked, a sudden excitement shining in her eyes.
"He's hog-tieing her now," returned Ferguson.
She knew what that meant. She had seen Ben throw cattle in this manner
when he was branding them. "Hog-tieing" meant binding their hind legs
with a short piece of rope to prevent struggling while the brand was
Apparently this was what the man was preparing to do. Smoke from a
nearby fire curled lazily upward, and about this fire the man now
worked—evidently turning some branding irons. He gave some little
time to this, and while Miss Radford watched she heard Ferguson's voice
"I reckon we're goin' to see some fun pretty soon," he said quietly.
"Why?" she inquired quickly.
He smiled. "Do you see that man ridin' through that break on the
ridge?" he asked, pointing the place out to her. She nodded, puzzled
by his manner. He continued dryly.
"Well, if that man that's comin' through the break is what he ought to
be he'll be shootin' pretty soon."
"Why?" she gasped, catching at his sleeve, "why should he shoot?"
He laughed again—grimly. "Well," he returned, "if a puncher ketches a
rustler with the goods on he's got a heap of right to do some shootin'."
She shuddered. "And do you think that man among the cattle is a
rustler?" she asked.
"Wait," he advised, peering intently toward the ridge. "Why," he
continued presently, "there's another man ridin' this way. An' he's
hidin' from the other—keepin' in the gullies an' the draws so's the
first man can't see him if he looks back." He laughed softly. "It's
plum re-diculous. Here we are, able to see all that's goin' on down
there an' not able to take a hand in it. An' there's them three goin'
ahead with what they're thinkin' about, not knowin' that we're watchin'
them, an' two of them not knowin' that the third man is watchin'. I'd
call that plum re-diculous."
The first man was still riding through the break in the ridge, coming
boldly, apparently unconscious of the presence of the man among the
cattle, who was well concealed from the first man's eyes by a rocky
promontory at the corner of the break. The third man was not over an
eighth of a mile behind the first man, and riding slowly and carefully.
At the rate the first man was riding not five minutes would elapse
before he would come out into the plain full upon the point where the
man among the cattle was working at his fire.
Ferguson and Miss Radford watched the scene with interest. Plainly the
first man was intruding. Or if not, he was the rustler's confederate
and the third man was spying upon him. Miss Radford and Ferguson were
to discover the key to the situation presently.
"Do you think that man among the cattle is a rustler?" questioned Miss
Radford. In her excitement she had pressed very close to Ferguson and
was clutching his arm very tightly.
"I reckon he is," returned Ferguson. "I ain't rememberin' that any
ranch has cows that run the range unbranded; especially when the cow
has got a calf, unless that cow is a maverick, an' that ain't likely,
since she's runnin' with the Two Diamond bunch."
He leaned forward, for the man had left the fire and was running toward
the fallen cow. Once at her side the man bent over her, pressing the
hot irons against the bottoms of her hoofs. A thin wreath of smoke
curled upward; the cow struggled.
Ferguson looked at Miss Radford. "Burnt her hoofs," he said shortly,
"so she can't follow when he runs her calf off."
"The brute!" declared Miss Radford, her face paling with anger.
The man was fumbling with the rope that bound the cow's legs, when the
first man rode around the edge of the break and came full upon him.
From the distance at which Miss Radford and Ferguson watched they could
not see the expression of either man's face, but they saw the rustler's
right hand move downward; saw his pistol glitter in the sunlight.
But the pistol was not raised. The first man's pistol had appeared
just a fraction of a second sooner, and they saw that it was poised,
menacing the rustler.
For an instant the two men were motionless. Ferguson felt the grasp on
his arm tighten, and he turned his head to see Miss Radford's face,
pale and drawn; her eyes lifted to his with a slow, dawning horror in
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "They are going to shoot!" She withdrew her hand
from Ferguson's arm and held it, with the other, to her ears, cringing
away from the edge of the cliff. She waited, breathless, for—it
seemed to her—the space of several minutes, her head turned from the
men, her eyes closed for fear that she might, in the dread of the
moment, look toward the plain. She kept telling herself that she would
not turn, but presently, in spite of her determination, the suspense
was too great, and she turned quickly and fearfully, expecting to see
at least one riderless horse. That would have been horrible enough.
To her surprise both men still kept the positions that they had held
when she had turned away. The newcomer's revolver still menaced the
rustler. She looked up into Ferguson's face, to see a grim smile on
it, to see his eyes, chilled and narrowed, fixed steadily upon the two
"Oh!" she said, "is it over?"
Ferguson heard the question, and smiled mirthlessly without turning his
"I reckon it ain't over—yet," he returned. "But I expect it'll be
over pretty soon, if that guy that's got his gun on the rustler don't
get a move on right quick. That other guy is comin' around the corner
of that break, an' if he's the rustler's friend that man with the gun
will get his pretty rapid." His voice raised a trifle, a slightly
anxious note in it.
"Why don't the damn fool turn around? He could see that last man now
if he did. Now, what do you think of that?" Ferguson's voice was
sharp and tense, and, in spite of herself, Miss Radford's gaze shifted
again to the plains below her. Fascinated, her fear succumbing to the
intense interest of the moment, she followed the movements of the trio.
From around the corner of the break the third man had ridden. He was
not over a hundred feet from the man who had caught the rustler and he
was walking his horse now. The watchers on the edge of the plateau
could see that he had taken in the situation and was stealing upon the
captor, who sat in his saddle, his back to the advancing rider.
Drawing a little closer, the third man stealthily dropped from his pony
and crept forward. The significance of this movement dawned upon Miss
Radford in a flash, and she again seized Ferguson's arm, tugging at it
"Why, he's going to kill that man!" she cried. "Can't you do
something? For mercy's sake do! Shout, or shoot off your pistol—do
something to warn him!"
Ferguson flashed a swift glance at her, and she saw that his face wore
a queer pallor. His expression had grown grimmer, but he smiled—a
little sadly, she thought.
"It ain't a bit of use tryin' to do anything," he returned, his gaze
again on the men. "We're two miles from them men an' a thousand feet
above them. There ain't any pistol report goin' to stop what's goin'
on down there. All we can do is to watch. Mebbe we can recognize one
of them. . . . Shucks!"
The exclamation was called from him by a sudden movement on the part of
the captor. The third man must have made a noise, for the captor
turned sharply. At the instant he did so the rustler's pistol flashed
in the sunlight.
The watchers on the plateau did not hear the report at once, and when
they did it came to them only faintly—a slight sound which was barely
distinguishable. But they saw a sudden spurt of flame and smoke. The
captor reeled drunkenly in his saddle, caught blindly at the pommel,
and then slid slowly down into the grass of the plains.
Ferguson drew a deep breath and, turning, looked sharply at Miss
Radford. She had covered her face with her hands and was swaying
dizzily. He was up from the rock in a flash and was supporting her,
leading her away from the edge of the plateau. She went unresisting,
her slender figure shuddering spasmodically, her hands still covering
"Oh!" she exclaimed, as the horror of the scene rose in her mind. "The
brutes! The brutes!"
Feeling that if he kept quiet she would recover from the shock of the
incident sooner, Ferguson said nothing in reply to her outbreaks as he
led her toward the ponies. For a moment after reaching them she leaned
against her animal's shoulder, her face concealed from Ferguson by the
pony's mane. Then he was at her side, speaking firmly.
"You must get away from here," he said, "I ought to have got you away
before—before that happened."
She looked up, showing him a pair of wide, dry eyes, in which there was
still a trace of horror. An expression of grave self-accusation shone
"You were not to blame," she said dully. "You may have anticipated a
meeting of those men, but you could not have foreseen the end. Oh!"
She shuddered again. "To think of seeing a man deliberately murdered!"
"That's just what it was," he returned quietly; "just plain murder.
They had him between them. He didn't have a chance. He was bound to
get it from one or the other. Looks like they trapped him; run him
down there on purpose." He held her stirrup.
"I reckon you've seen enough, ma'am," he added. "You'd better hop
right on your horse an' get back to Bear Flat."
She shivered and raised her head, looking at him—a flash of fear in
her eyes. "You are going down there!" she cried, her eyes dilating.
He laughed grimly. "I cert'nly am, ma'am," he returned. "You'd better
go right off. I'm ridin' down there to see how bad that man is hit."
She started toward him, protesting. "Why, they will kill you, too!"
He laughed again, with a sudden grim humor. "There ain't any danger,"
he returned. "They've sloped."
Involuntarily she looked down. Far out on the plains, through the
break in the ridge of hills, she could see two horsemen racing away.
"The cowards!" she cried, her voice shaking with anger. "To shoot a
man in cold blood and then run!" She looked at Ferguson, her figure
stiffening with decision.
"If you go down there I am going, too!" she declared. "He might need
some help," she added, seeing the objection in his eyes, "and if he
does I may be able to give it to him. You know," she continued,
smiling wanly, "I have had some experience with sick people."
He said nothing more, but silently assisted her into the saddle and
swung into his own. They urged the animals to a rapid pace, she
following him eagerly.
It was a rough trail, leading through many gullies, around miniature
hills, into bottoms where huge boulders and treacherous sand barred the
way, along the face of dizzy cliffs, and through lava beds where the
footing was uncertain and dangerous. But in an hour they were on the
plains and riding toward the break in the ridge of hills, where the
shooting had been done.
The man's pony had moved off a little and was grazing unconcernedly
when they arrived. A brown heap in the grass told where the man lay,
and presently Ferguson was down beside him, one of his limp wrists
between his fingers. He stood up after a moment, to confront Miss
Radford, who had fallen behind during the last few minutes of the ride.
Ferguson's face was grave, and there was a light in his eyes that
thrilled her for a moment as she looked at him.
"He ain't dead, ma'am," he said as he assisted her down from her pony.
"The bullet got him in the shoulder."
She caught a queer note in his voice—something approaching appeal.
She looked swiftly at him, suspicious. "Do you know him?" she asked.
"I reckon I do, ma'am," he returned. "It's Rope Jones. Once he stood
by me when he thought I needed a friend. If there's any chance I'm
goin' to get him to your cabin—where you can take care of him till he
gets over this—if he ever does."
She realized now how this tragedy had shocked her. She reeled and the
world swam dizzily before her. Again she saw Ferguson dart forward,
but she steadied herself and smiled reassuringly.
"It is merely the thought that I must now put my little knowledge to a
severe test," she said. "It rather frightened me. I don't know
whether anything can be done."
She succeeded in forcing herself to calmness and gave orders rapidly.
"Get something under his head," she commanded. "No, that will be too
high," she added, as she saw Ferguson start to unbuckle the saddle
cinch on his pony. "Raise his head only a very little. That round
thing that you have fastened to your saddle (the slicker) would do very
well. There. Now get some water!"
She was down beside the wounded man in another instant, cutting away a
section of the shirt near the shoulder, with a knife that she had
borrowed from Ferguson. The wound had not bled much and was lower than
Ferguson had thought. But she gave it what care she could, and when
Ferguson arrived with water—from the river, a mile away—she dressed
the wound and applied water to Rope's forehead.
Soon she saw that her efforts were to be of little avail. Rope lay
pitifully slack and unresponsive. At the end of an hour's work
Ferguson bent over her with a question on his lips.
"Do you reckon he'll come around, ma'am?"
She shook her head negatively. "The bullet has lodged
somewhere—possibly in the lung," she returned. "It entered just above
the heart, and he has bled much—internally. He may never regain
Ferguson's face paled with a sudden anger. "In that case, ma'am, we'll
never know who shot him," he said slowly. "An' I'm wantin' to know
that. Couldn't you fetch him to, ma'am—just long enough so's I could
She looked up with a slow glance. "I can try," she said. "Is there
any more whiskey in your flask?"
He produced the flask, and they both bent over Rope, forcing a generous
portion of the liquor down his throat. Then, alternately bathing the
wound and his forehead, they watched. They were rewarded presently by
a faint flicker of the eyelids and a slow flow of color in the pale
cheeks. Then after a little the eyes opened.
In an instant Ferguson's lips were close to Rope's ear. "Who shot you,
Rope, old man?" he asked eagerly. "You don't need to be afraid to tell
me, it's Ferguson."
The wounded man's eyes were glazed with a dull incomprehension. But
slowly, as though at last he was faintly conscious of the significance
of the question, his eyes glinted with the steady light of returning
reason. Suddenly he smiled, his lips opening slightly. Both watchers
leaned tensely forward to catch the low words.
"Ferguson told me to look out," he mumbled. "He told me to be careful
that they didn't get me between them. But I wasn't thinkin' it would
happen just that way." And now his eyes opened scornfully and he
struggled and lifted himself upon one arm, gazing at some imaginary
"Why," he said slowly and distinctly, his voice cold and metallic,
"you're a hell of a range boss! Why you——!" he broke off suddenly,
his eyes fixed full upon Miss Radford. "Why, it's a woman! An' I
thought—— Why, ma'am," he went on, apologetically, "I didn't know
you was there! . . . But you ain't goin' to run off no calf while I'm
lookin' at you. Shucks! Won't the Ol' Man be some surprised to know
that Tucson an'——"
He shuddered spasmodically and sat erect with a great effort.
"You've got me, damn you!" he sneered. "But you won't never get
He swung his right hand over his head, as though the hand held a
pistol. But the arm suddenly dropped, he shuddered again, and sank
slowly back—his eyes wide and staring, but unseeing.
Ferguson looked sharply at Miss Radford, who was suddenly bending over
the prostrate man, her head on his breast. She arose after a little,
tears starting to her eyes.
"He has gone," she said slowly.
A FREE HAND
It was near midnight when Ferguson rode in to the Two Diamond
ranchhouse leading Rope's pony. He carefully unsaddled the two animals
and let them into the corral, taking great pains to make little noise.
Rope's saddle—a peculiar one with a high pommel bearing a silver plate
upon which the puncher's name was engraved—he placed conspicuously
near the door of the bunkhouse. His own he carefully suspended from
its accustomed hook in the lean-to. Then, still carefully, he made his
way inside the bunkhouse and sought his bunk.
At dawn he heard voices outside and he arose and went to the door.
Several of the men were gathered about the step talking. For an
instant Ferguson stood, his eyes roving over the group. Tucson was not
there. He went back into the bunkhouse and walked casually about,
taking swift glances at the bunks where the men still slept. Then he
returned to the door, satisfied that Tucson had not come in.
When he reached the door again he found that the men of the group had
discovered the saddle. One of them was saying something about it.
"That ain't just the way I take care of my saddle," he was telling the
others; "leavin' her out nights."
"I never knowed Rope to be that careless before," said another.
Ferguson returned to the bunkhouse and ate breakfast. After the meal
was finished he went out, caught up Mustard, swung into the saddle, and
rode down to the ranchhouse door. He found Stafford in the office.
The latter greeted the stray-man with a smile.
"Somethin' doin'?" he questioned.
"You might call it that," returned Ferguson. He went inside and seated
himself near Stafford's desk.
"I've come in to tell you that I saw some rustlers workin' on the herd
yesterday," he said.
Stafford sat suddenly erect, his eyes lighting interrogatively.
"It wasn't Ben Radford," continued Ferguson, answering the look.
"You'd be surprised if I told you. But I ain't tellin'—now. I'm
waitin' to see if someone else does. But I'm tellin' you this: They
got Rope Jones."
Stafford's face reddened with anger. "They got Rope, you say?" he
demanded. "Why, where—damn them!"
"Back of the ridge about fifteen miles up the crick," returned
Ferguson. "I was ridin' along the edge of the plateau an' I saw a man
down there shoot another. I got down as soon as I could an' found
Rope. There wasn't nothin' I could do. So I planted him where I found
him an' brought his horse back. There was two rustlers there. But
only one done the shootin'. I got the name of one."
Stafford cursed. "I'm wantin' to know who it was!" he demanded. "I'll
make him—why, damn him, I'll——"
"You're carryin' on awful," observed Ferguson dryly. "But you ain't
doin' any good." He leaned closer to Stafford. "I'm quittin' my job
right now," he said.
Stafford leaned back in his chair, surprised into silence. For an
instant he glared at the stray-man, and then his lips curled scornfully.
"So you're quittin'," he sneered; "scared plum out because you seen a
man put out of business! I reckon Leviatt wasn't far wrong when he
"I wouldn't say a lot," interrupted Ferguson coldly. "I ain't
admittin' that I'm any scared. An' I ain't carin' a heap because
Leviatt's been gassin' to you. But I'm quittin' the job you give me.
Ben Radford ain't the man who's been rustlin' your cattle. It's
someone else. I'm askin' you to hire me to find out whoever it is.
I'm wantin' a free hand. I don't want anyone askin' me any questions.
I don't want anyone orderin' me around. But if you want the men who
are rustlin' your cattle, I'm offerin' to do the job. Do I get it?"
"You're keepin' right on—workin' for the Two Diamond," returned
Stafford. "But I'd like to get hold of the man who got Rope."
Ferguson smiled grimly. "That man'll be gittin' his some day," he
declared, rising. "I'm keepin' him for myself. Mebbe I won't shoot
him. I reckon Rope'd be some tickled if he'd know that the man who
shot him could get a chance to think it over while some man was
stringin' him up. You ain't sayin' anything about anything."
He turned and went out. Five minutes later Stafford saw him riding
slowly toward the river.
As the days went a mysterious word began to be spoken wherever men
congregated. No man knew whence the word had come, but it was
whispered that Rope Jones would be seen no more. His pony joined the
remuda; his saddle and other personal effects became prizes for which
the men of the outfit cast lots. Inquiries were made concerning the
puncher by friends who persisted in being inquisitive, but nothing
resulted. In time the word "rustler" became associated with his name,
and "caught with the goods" grew to be a phrase that told eloquently of
the manner of his death. Later it was whispered that Leviatt and
Tucson had come upon Rope behind the ridge, catching him in the act of
running off a Two Diamond calf. But as no report had been made to
Stafford by either Leviatt or Tucson, the news remained merely rumor.
Ferguson had said nothing more to any man concerning the incident. To
do so would have warned Tucson. And neither Ferguson nor Miss Radford
could have sworn to the man's guilt. In addition to this, there
lingered in Ferguson's mind a desire to play this game in his own way.
Telling the men of the outfit what he had seen would make his knowledge
common property—and in the absence of proof might cause him to appear
But since the shooting he had little doubt that Leviatt had been
Tucson's companion on that day. Rope's scathing words—spoken while
Miss Radford had been trying to revive him—. "You're a hell of a
range boss," had convinced the stray-man that Leviatt had been one of
the assailants. He had wondered much over the emotions of the two when
they returned to the spot where the murder had been committed, to find
their victim buried and his horse gone. But of one thing he was
certain—their surprise over the discovery that the body of their
victim had been buried could not have equalled their discomfiture on
learning that the latter's pony had been secretly brought to the home
ranch, and that among the men of the outfit was one, at least, who knew
something of their guilty secret. Ferguson thought this to be the
reason that they had not reported the incident to Stafford.
There was now nothing for the stray-man to do but watch. The men who
had killed Rope were wary and dangerous, and their next move might be
directed at him. But he was not disturbed. One thought brought him a
mighty satisfaction. He was no longer employed to fasten upon Ben
Radford the stigma of guilt; no longer need he feel oppressed with the
guilty consciousness, when in the presence of Mary Radford, that he
was, in a measure, a hired spy whose business it was to convict her
brother of the crime of rustling. He might now meet the young woman
face to face, without experiencing the sensation of guilt that had
always affected him.
Beneath his satisfaction lurked a deeper emotion. During the course of
his acquaintance with Rope Jones he had developed a sincere affection
for the man. The grief in his heart over Rope's death was made more
poignant because of the latter's words, just before the final moment,
which seemed to have been a plea for vengeance:
"Ferguson told me to look out. He told me to be careful that they
didn't get me between them. But I wasn't thinkin' that it would happen
just that way."
This had been all that Rope had said about his friend, but it showed
that during his last conscious moments he had been thinking of the
stray-man. As the days passed the words dwelt continually in
Ferguson's mind. Each day that he rode abroad, searching for evidence
against the murderers, brought him a day nearer to the vengeance upon
which he had determined.
LEVIATT TAKES A STEP
Miss Radford was sitting on the flat rock on the hill where she had
written the first page of her novel. The afternoon sun was coming
slantwise over the western mountains, sinking steadily toward the rift
out of which came the rose veil that she had watched many times. She
had just completed a paragraph in which the villain appears when she
became aware of someone standing near. She turned swiftly, with
heightened color, to see Leviatt.
His sudden appearance gave her something of a shock, for as he stood
there, smiling at her, he answered perfectly the description she had
just written. He might have just stepped from one of her pages. But
the shock passed, leaving her a little pale, but quite composed—and
not a little annoyed. She had found her work interesting; she had
become quite absorbed in it. Therefore she failed to appreciate
Leviatt's sudden appearance, and with uptilted chin turned from him and
pretended an interest in the rim of hills that surrounded the flat.
For an instant Leviatt stood, a frown wrinkling his forehead. Then
with a smile he stepped forward and seated himself beside her on the
rock. She immediately drew her skirts close to her and shot a
displeased glance at him from the corners of her eyes. Then seeing
that he still sat there, she moved her belongings a few feet and
followed them. He could not doubt the significance of this move, but
had he been wise he might have ignored it. A woman's impulses will
move her to rebuke a man, but if he will accept without comment he may
be reasonably sure of her pity, and pity is a path of promise.
But the range boss neglected his opportunity. He made the mistake of
thinking that because he had seen her many times while visiting her
brother he might now with propriety assume an air of intimacy toward
"I reckon this rock is plenty big enough for both of us," he said
She measured the distance between them with a calculating eye. "It
is," she returned quietly, "if you remain exactly where you are."
He forced a smile. "An' if I don't?" he inquired.
"You may have the rock to yourself," she returned coldly. "I did not
ask you to come here."
He chose to ignore this hint, telling her that he had been to the cabin
to see Ben and, finding him absent, had ridden through the flat. "I
saw you when I was quite a piece away," he concluded, "an' thought
mebbe you might be lonesome."
"When I am lonesome I choose my own company," she returned coldly.
"Why, sure," he said, his tone slightly sarcastic; "you cert'nly ought
to know who you want to talk to. But you ain't objectin' to me settin'
on this hill?" he inquired.
"The hill is not mine," she observed quietly, examining one of the
written pages of her novel; "sit here as long as you like."
"Thanks." He drawled the word. Leaning back on one elbow he stretched
out as though assured that she would make no further objections to his
presence. She ignored him completely and very deliberately arranged
her papers and resumed writing.
For a time he lay silent, watching the pencil travel the width of the
page—and then back. A mass of completed manuscript lay at her side,
the pages covered with carefully written, legible words. She had
always taken a pardonable pride in her penmanship. For a while he
watched her, puzzled, furtively trying to decipher some of the words
that appeared upon the pages. But the distance was too great for him
and he finally gave it up and fell to looking at her instead, though
determined to solve the wordy mystery that was massed near her.
Finally finding the silence irksome, he dropped an experimental word,
speaking casually. "You must have been to school a heap—writin' like
She gave him no answer, being at that moment absorbed in a thought
which she was trying to transcribe before it should take wings and be
"Writin' comes easy to some people," he persisted.
The thought had been set down; she turned very slightly. "Yes," she
said looking steadily at him, "it does. So does impertinence."
He smiled easily. "I ain't aimin' to be impertinent," he returned. "I
wouldn't reckon that askin' you what you are writin' would be
impertinent. It's too long for a letter."
"It is a novel," she returned shortly.
He smiled, exulting over this partial concession. "I reckon to write a
book you must be some special kind of a woman," he observed admiringly.
She was silent. He sat up and leaned toward her, his eyes flashing
with a sudden passion.
"If that's it," he said with unmistakable significance, "I don't mind
tellin' you that I'm some partial to them special kind."
Her chin rose a little. "I am not concerned over your feelings," she
returned without looking at him.
"That kind of a woman would naturally know a heap," he went on,
apparently unmindful of the rebuke; "they'd cert'nly know enough to be
able to see when a man likes them."
She evidently understood the drift, for her eyes glowed subtly. "It is
too bad that you are not a 'special kind of man,' then," she replied.
"Meanin'?" he questioned, his eyes glinting with eagerness.
"Meaning that if you were a 'special kind of man' you would be able to
tell when a woman doesn't like you," she said coldly.
"I reckon that I ain't a special kind then," he declared, his face
reddening slightly. "Of course, I've seen that you ain't appeared to
take much of a shine to me. But I've heard that there's women that can
be won if a man keeps at it long enough."
"Some men like to waste their time," she returned quietly.
"I don't call it wastin' time to be talkin' to you," he declared
"Our opinions differ," she observed shortly, resting the pencil point
on the page that she had been writing.
Her profile was toward him; her cheeks were tinged with color; some
stray wisps of hair hung, breeze-blown, over her forehead and temples.
She made an attractive picture, sitting there with the soft sunlight
about her, a picture whose beauty smote Leviatt's heart with a pang of
sudden regret and disappointment. She might have been his, but for the
coming of Ferguson. And now, because of the stray-man's wiles, he was
A sudden rage seized upon him; he leaned forward, his face bloating
poisonously. "Mebbe I could name a man who ain't wastin' his time!" he
She turned suddenly and looked at him, dropping pencil and paper, her
eyes flashing with a hitter scorn. "You are one of those sulking
cowards who fawn over men and insult defenseless women!" she declared,
the words coming slowly and distinctly.
He had realized before she answered that he had erred, and he smiled
deprecatingly, the effort contorting his face.
"I wasn't meanin' just that," he said weakly. "I reckon it's a clear
field an' no favors." He took a step toward her, his voice growing
tense. "I've been comin' down to your cabin a lot, sayin' that I was
comin' to see Ben. But I didn't come to see Ben—I wanted to look at
you. I reckon you knowed that. A woman can't help but see when a
man's in love with her. But you've never give me a chance to tell you.
I'm tellin' you now. I want you to marry me. I'm range boss for the
Two Diamond an' I've got some stock that's my own, an' money in the
bank over in Cimarron. I'll put up a shack a few miles down the river
"Stop!" commanded Miss Radford imperiously.
Leviatt had been speaking rapidly, absorbed in his subject, assurance
shining in his face. But at Miss Radford's command he broke off
suddenly and stiffened, surprise widening his eyes.
"You have said enough," she continued; "quite enough. I have never
thought of you as a possible admirer. I certainly have done nothing
that might lead you to believe I would marry you. I do not even like
you—not even respect you. I am not certain that I shall ever marry,
but if I do, I certainly shall not marry a man whose every look is an
She turned haughtily and began to gather up her papers. There had been
no excitement in her manner; her voice had been steady, even, and
tempered with a slight scorn.
For a brief space Leviatt stood, while the full significance of her
refusal ate slowly into his consciousness. Whatever hopes he might
have had had been swept away in those few short, pithy sentences. His
passion checked, the structure erected by his imagination toppled to
ruin, his vanity hurt, he stood before her stripped of the veneer that
had made him seem, heretofore, nearly the man he professed to be.
In her note book had been written:
"Dave Leviatt. . . . One rather gets the impression that the stoop is
a reflection of the man's nature, which seems vindictive and suggests a
low cunning. His eyes are small, deep set, and glitter when he talks.
But they are steady and cold—almost merciless. One's thoughts go
instantly to the tiger. I shall try to create that impression in the
And now as she looked at him she was sure that task would not be
difficult. She had now an impression of him that seemed as though it
had been seared into her mind. The eyes that she had thought merciless
were now glittering malevolently, and she shuddered at the satyric
upward curve of his lips as he stepped close to the rock and placed a
hand upon the mass of manuscript lying there, that she had previously
dropped, to prevent her leaving.
"So you don't love me?" he sneered. "You don't even respect me. Why?
Because you've taken a shine to that damned maverick that come here
from Dry Bottom—Stafford's new stray-man!"
"That is my business," she returned icily.
"It sure is," he said, the words writhing venomously through his lips.
"An' it's my business too. There ain't any damned——"
He had glanced suddenly downward while he had been talking and his gaze
rested upon an upturned page of the manuscript that lay beside him on
the rock. He broke off speaking and reaching down took up the page,
his eyes narrowing with interest. The page he had taken up was one
from the first chapter and described in detail the shooting match in
Dry Bottom. It was a truthful picture of what had actually happened.
She had even used the real names of the characters. Leviatt saw a
reference to the "Silver Dollar" saloon, to the loungers, to the
stranger who had ridden up and who sat on his pony near the hitching
rail, and who was called Ferguson. He saw his own name; read the story
of how the stranger had eclipsed his feat by putting six bullets into
He dropped the page to the rock and looked up at Miss Radford with a
"So that's what you're writin'?" he sneered. "You're writin' somethin'
that really happened. You're even writin' the real names an' tellin'
how Stafford's stray-man butted in an' beat me shootin'. You knowin'
this shows that him an' you has been travelin' pretty close together."
For an instant Miss Radford forgot her anger. Her eyes snapped with a
"Were you the man who hit the can five times?" she questioned, unable
to conceal her eagerness.
She saw a flush slowly mount to his face. Evidently he had said more
than he had intended.
"Well, if I am?" he returned, his lips writhing in a sneer. "Him
beatin' me shootin' that way don't prove nothin'."
She was now becoming convinced of her cleverness. From Ben's
description of the man who had won the shooting match she had been able
to lead Ferguson to the admission that he had been the central
character in that incident, and now it had transpired that Leviatt was
the man he had beaten. This had been the way she had written it in the
story. So far the plot that had been born of her imagination had
proved to be the story of a real occurrence.
She had counted upon none but imaginary characters,—though she had
determined to clothe these with reality through study—but now, she had
discovered, she had been the chronicler of a real incident, and two of
her characters had been pitted against each other in a contest in which
there had been enough bitterness to provide the animus necessary to
carry them through succeeding pages, ready and willing to fly at each
other's throats. She was not able to conceal her satisfaction over the
discovery, and when she looked at Leviatt again she smiled broadly.
"That confession explains a great many things," she said, stooping to
recover the page that he had dropped beside her upon the rock.
"Meanin' what?" he questioned, his eyes glittering evilly.
"Meaning that I now know why you are not friendly toward Mr. Ferguson,"
she returned. "I heard that he beat you in the shooting match," she
went on tauntingly, "and then when you insulted him afterwards, he
talked very plainly to you."
The moment she had spoken she realized that her words had hurt him, for
he paled and his eyes narrowed venomously. But his voice was cold and
"Was Mr. Ferguson tellin' you that?" he inquired, succeeding in placing
ironic emphasis upon the prefix.
She was arranging the contents of her hand bag and she did not look up
as she answered him.
"That is my business," she returned quietly. "But I don't mind telling
you that the man who told me about the occurrence would not lie about
"It's nice that you've got such a heap of faith in him," he sneered.
It was plain to her that he thought Ferguson had told her about the
shooting match, and it was equally plain that he still harbored evil
thoughts against the stray-man. And also, he suspected that something
more than mere friendship existed between her and Ferguson. She had
long hoped that one day she might be given the opportunity of meeting
in person a man whose soul was consumed with jealousy, in order that
she might be able to gain some impressions of the intensity of his
passion. This seemed to be her opportunity. Therefore she raised her
chin a little and looked at him with a tantalizing smile.
"Of course I have faith in him," she declared, with a slight, biting
emphasis. "I believe in him—absolutely."
She saw his lips twitch. "Sure," he sneered, "you was just beginnin'
to believe in him that day when you was holdin' hands with him—just
about here. I reckon he was enjoyin' himself."
She started, but smiled immediately. "So you saw that?" she inquired,
knowing that he had, but taking a keen delight in seeing that he still
remembered. But this conversation was becoming too personal; she had
no desire to argue this point with him, even to get an impression of
the depth of his passion, so she gathered up her belongings and
prepared to depart. But he stepped deliberately in front of her,
barring the way of escape. His face was aflame with passion.
"I seen him holdin' your hand," he said, his voice trembling; "I seen
that he was holdin' it longer than he had any right. An' I seen you
pull your hand away when you thought I was lookin' at you. I reckon
you've taken a shine to him; he's the kind that the women like—with
his slick ways an' smooth palaver—an' his love makin'." He laughed
with his lips only, his eyes narrowed to glittering pin points. She
had not thought that jealousy could make a person half so repulsive.
"If you're lovin' him," he continued, leaning toward her, his muscles
tense, his lips quivering with a passion that he was no longer able to
repress, "I'm tellin' you that you're wastin' your time. You wouldn't
think so much of him if you knowed that he come here——"
Leviatt had become aware that Miss Radford was not listening; that she
was no longer looking at him, but at something behind him. At the
instant he became aware of this he turned sharply in his tracks, his
right hand falling swiftly to his holster. Not over half a dozen paces
distant stood Ben Radford, gravely watching.
"Mebbe you folks are rehearsing a scene from that story," he observed
quietly. "I wasn't intending to interrupt, but I heard loud talking
and I thought mebbe it wasn't anything private. So I just got off my
horse and climbed up here, to satisfy my curiosity."
Leviatt's hand fell away from the holster, a guilty grin overspreading
his face. "I reckon we wasn't rehearsin' any scene," he said, trying
to make the words come easily. "I was just tellin' your sister
Miss Radford laughed banteringly. "You have spoiled a chapter in my
book, Ben," she declared with pretended annoyance; "Mr. Leviatt had
just finished proposing to me and was at the point where he was
supposed to speak bitter words about his rival." She laughed again,
gazing at Leviatt with mocking eyes. "Of course, I shall never be able
to tell my readers what he might have said, for you appeared at a most
inopportune time. But he has taught me a great deal—much more, in
fact, than I ever expected from him."
She bowed mockingly. "I am very, very much obliged to you, Mr.
Leviatt," she said, placing broad emphasis upon her words. "I promise
to try and make a very interesting character of you—there were times
when you were most dramatic."
She bowed to Leviatt and flashed a dazzling smile at her brother. Then
she walked past Leviatt, picked her way daintily over the loose stones
on the hillside, and descended to the level where she had tethered her
pony. Ben stood grinning admiringly after her as she mounted and rode
out into the flat. Then he turned to Leviatt, soberly contemplating
"I don't think you were rehearsing for the book," he said quietly, an
undercurrent of humor in his voice.
"She was funnin' me," returned Leviatt, his face reddening.
"I reckon she was," returned Ben dryly. "She's certainly some clever
at handing it to a man." He smiled down into the flat, where Miss
Radford could still be seen, riding toward the cabin. "Looks as though
she wasn't quite ready to change her name to 'Leviatt'," he grinned.
But there was no humor in Leviatt's reflections. He stood for a
moment, looking down into the flat, the expression of his face morose
and sullen. Ben's bantering words only added fuel to the flame of rage
and disappointment that was burning fiercely in his heart. Presently
the hard lines of his lips disappeared and he smiled craftily.
"She's about ready to change her name," he said. "Only she ain't
figgerin' that it's goin' to be Leviatt."
"You're guessing now," returned Ben sharply.
Leviatt laughed oddly. "I reckon I ain't doin' any guessin'," he
returned. "You've been around her a heap an' been seein' her
consid'able, but you ain't been usin' your eyes."
"Meaning what?" demanded Ben, an acid-like coldness in his voice.
"Meanin' that if you'd been usin' your eyes you'd have seen that she's
some took up with Stafford's new stray-man."
"Well," returned Ben, "she's her own boss. If she's made friends with
Ferguson that's her business." He laughed. "She's certainly clever,"
he added, "and mebbe she's got her own notion as to why she's made
friends with him. She's told me that she's goin' to make him a
character in the book she's writing. Likely she's stringing him."
"I reckon she ain't stringin' him," declared Leviatt. "A girl ain't
doin' much stringin' when she's holdin' a man's hand an' blushin' when
somebody ketches her at it."
There was a slight sneer in Leviatt's voice which drew a sharp glance
from Radford. For an instant his face clouded and he was about to make
a sharp reply. But his face cleared immediately and he smiled.
"I'm banking on her being able to take care of herself," he returned.
"Her holding Ferguson's hand proves nothing. Likely she was trying to
get an impression—she's always telling me that. But she's running her
own game, and if she is stringing Ferguson that's her business, and if
she thinks a good bit of him that's her business, too. If a man ain't
jealous, he might be able to see that Ferguson ain't a half bad sort of
An evil light leaped into Leviatt's eyes. He turned and faced Radford,
words coming from his lips coldly and incisively. "When you
interrupted me," he said, "I was goin' to tell your sister about
Ferguson. Mebbe if I tell you what I was goin' to tell her it'll make
you see things some different. A while ago Stafford was wantin' to
hire a gunfighter." He shot a significant glance at Radford, who
returned it steadily. "I reckon you know what he wanted a gunfighter
for. He got one. His name's Ferguson. He's gettin' a hundred dollars
a month for the season, to put Ben Radford out of business!"
The smile had gone from Radford's face; his lips were tightly closed,
his eyes cold and alert.
"You lying about Ferguson because you think he's friendly with Mary?"
he questioned quietly.
Leviatt's right hand dropped swiftly to his holster. But Radford
laughed harshly. "Quit it!" he said sharply. "I ain't sayin' you're a
liar, but what you've said makes you liable to be called that until
you've proved you ain't. How do you know Ferguson's been hired to put
me out of business?"
Leviatt laughed. "Stafford an' me went to Dry Bottom to get a
gunfighter. I shot a can in the street in front of the Silver Dollar
so's Stafford would be able to get a line on anyone tryin' to beat my
game. Ferguson done it an' Stafford hired him."
Radford's gaze was level and steady. "Then you've knowed right along
that he was lookin' for me," he said coldly. "Why didn't you say
something about it before. You've been claiming to be my friend."
Leviatt flushed, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, but
watching Radford with alert and suspicious glances. "Why," he returned
shortly, "I'm range boss for the Two Diamond an' I ain't hired to tell
what I know. I reckon you'd think I was a hell of a man to be tellin'
things that I ain't got no right to tell."
"But you're telling it now," returned Radford, his eyes narrowing a
"Yes," returned Leviatt quietly, "I am. An' you're callin' me a liar
for it. But I'm tellin' you to wait. Mebbe you'll tumble. I reckon
you ain't heard how Ferguson's been tellin' the boys that he went down
to your cabin one night claimin' to have been bit by a rattler, because
he wanted to get acquainted with you an' pot you some day when you
wasn't expectin' it. An' then after he'd stayed all night in your
cabin he was braggin' to the boys that he reckoned on makin' a fool of
your sister. Oh, he's some slick!" he concluded, a note of triumph in
Radford started, his face paling a little. He had thought it strange
that an experienced plainsman—as Ferguson appeared to be—should have
been bitten by a rattler in the manner he had described. And then he
had been hanging around the——
"Mebbe you might think it's onusual for Stafford to hire a two-gun man
to look after strays," broke in Leviatt at this point. "Two-gun men
ain't takin' such jobs regular," he insinuated. "Stray-men is usual
low-down, mean, ornery cusses which ain't much good for anything else,
an' so they spend their time mopin' around, doin' work that ain't fit
for any puncher to do."
Radford had snapped himself erect, his lips straightening. He suddenly
held out a hand to Leviatt. "I'm thanking you," he said steadily.
"It's rather late for you to be telling me, but I think it's come in
time anyway. I'm watching him for a little while, and if things are as
you say——" He broke off, his voice filled with a significant
grimness. "So-long," he added.
He turned and descended the slope of the hill. An instant later
Leviatt saw him loping his pony toward the cabin. For a few minutes
Leviatt gazed after him, his eyes alight with satisfaction. Then he,
too, descended the slope of the hill and mounted his pony.
A BREAK IN THE STORY
Mary Radford had found the day too beautiful to remain indoors and so
directly after dinner she had caught up her pony and was off for a ride
through the cottonwood. She had been compelled to catch up the pony
herself, for of late Ben had been neglectful of this duty. Until the
last week or so he had always caught her pony and placed the saddle on
it before leaving in the morning, assuring her that if she did not ride
during his absence the pony would not suffer through being saddled and
bridled. But within the last week she thought she detected a change in
Ben's manner. He seemed preoccupied and glum, falling suddenly into a
taciturnity broken only by brief periods during which he condescended
to reply to her questions with—it seemed—grudging monosyllables.
Several times, too, she had caught him watching her with furtive
glances in which, she imagined, she detected a glint of speculation.
But of this she was not quite sure, for when she bluntly questioned him
concerning his moods he had invariably given her an evasive reply.
Fearing that there might have been a recurrence of the old trouble with
the Two Diamond manager—about which he had told her during her first
days at the cabin—she ventured a question. He had grimly assured her
that he anticipated no further trouble in that direction. So, unable
to get a direct reply from him she had decided that perhaps he would
speak when the time came, and so she had ceased questioning.
In spite of his negligence regarding the pony, she had not given up her
rides. Nor had she neglected to give a part of each morning to the
The work of gradually developing her hero's character had been an
absorbing task; times when she lingered over the pages of the story she
found herself wondering whether she had sounded the depths of his
nature. She knew, at least, that she had made him attractive, for as
he moved among her pages, she—who should have been satiated with him
because of being compelled to record his every word and movement—found
his magnetic personality drawing her applause, found that he haunted
her dreams, discovered one day that her waking moments were filled with
thoughts of him.
But of late she had begun to suspect that her interest in him was not
all on account of the story; there were times when she sat long
thinking of him, seeing him, watching the lights and shadows of
expression come and go in his face. Somewhere between the real
Ferguson and the man who was impersonating him in her story was an
invisible line that she could not trace. There were times when she
could not have told whether the character she admired belonged to the
real or the unreal.
She was thinking much of this to-day while she rode into the subdued
light of the cottonwood. Was she, absorbed in the task of putting a
real character in her story, to confess that her interest in him was
not wholly the interest of the artist who sees the beauties and virtues
of a model only long enough to paint them into the picture? The
blushes came when she suddenly realized that her interest was not
wholly professional, that she had lately lingered long over her model,
at times when she had not been thinking of the story at all.
Then, too, she had considered her friends in the East. What would they
say if they knew of her friendship with the Two Diamond stray-man? The
standards of Eastern civilization were not elastic enough to include
the man whom she had come to know so well, who had strode as boldly
into her life as he had strode into her story, with his steady, serene
eyes, his picturesque rigging, and his two guns, their holsters tied so
suggestively and forebodingly down. Would her friends be able to see
the romance in him? Would they be able to estimate him according to
the standards of the world in which he lived, in which he moved so
She was aware that, measured by Eastern standards, Ferguson fell far
short of the average in those things that combine to produce the
polished gentleman. Yet she was also aware that these things were mere
accomplishments, a veneer acquired through constant practice—and that
usually the person known as "gentleman" could not be distinguished by
these things at all—that the real "gentleman" could be known only
through the measure of his quiet and genuine consideration and
unfailing Christian virtues.
As she rode through the cottonwood, into that deep solitude which
brings with it a mighty reverence for nature and a solemn desire for
communion with the soul—that solitude in which all affectation
disappears and man is face to face with his Maker—she tried to think
of Ferguson in an Eastern drawing room, attempting a sham courtesy,
affecting mannerisms that more than once had brought her own soul into
rebellion. But she could not get him into the imaginary picture. He
did not belong there; it seemed that she was trying to force a living
figure into a company of mechanical puppets. And so they were—puppets
who answered to the pulling strings of precedent and established
But at the same time she knew that this society which she affected to
despise would refuse to accept him; that if by any chance he should be
given a place in it he would be an object of ridicule, or at the least
passive contempt. The world did not want originality; would not
welcome in its drawing room the free, unaffected child of nature. No,
the world wanted pretense, imitation. It frowned upon truth and
applauded the sycophant.
She was not even certain that if she succeeded in making Ferguson a
real living character the world would be interested in him. But she
had reached that state of mind in which she cared very little about the
world's opinion. She, at least, was interested in him.
Upon the same afternoon—for there is no rule for the mere incidents of
life—Ferguson loped his pony through the shade of the cottonwood. He
was going to visit the cabin in Bear Flat. Would she be at home?
Would she be glad to see him? He could not bring his mind to give him
an affirmative answer to either of these questions.
But of one thing he was certain—she had treated him differently from
the other Two Diamond men who had attempted to win her friendship. Was
he to think then that she cared very little whether he came to the
cabin or not? He smiled over his pony's mane at the thought. He could
not help but see that she enjoyed his visits.
When he rode up to the cabin he found it deserted, but with a smile he
remounted Mustard and set out over the river trail, through the
cottonwood. He was sure that he would find her on the hill in the
flat, and when he had reached the edge of the cottonwood opposite the
hill he saw her.
When she heard the clatter of his pony's hoofs she turned and saw him,
waving a hand at him.
"I reckoned on findin' you here," he said when he came close enough to
She shyly made room for him beside her on the rock, but there was
mischief in her eye. "It seems impossible to hide from you," she said
with a pretense of annoyance.
He laughed as he came around the edge of the rock and sat near her.
"Was you really tryin' to hide?" he questioned. "Because if you was,"
he continued, "you hadn't ought to have got up on this hill—where I
could see you without even lookin' for you."
"But of course you were not looking for me," she observed quietly.
He caught her gaze and held it—steadily. "I reckon I was lookin' for
you," he said.
"Why—why," she returned, suddenly fearful that something had happened
to Ben—"is anything wrong?"
He smiled. "Nothin' is wrong," he returned. "But I wanted to talk to
you, an' I expected to find you here."
There was a gentleness in his voice that she had not heard before, and
a quiet significance to his words that made her eyes droop away from
his with slight confusion. She replied without looking at him.
"But I came here to write," she said.
He gravely considered her, drawing one foot up on the rock and clasping
his hands about the knee. "I've thought a lot about that book," he
declared with a trace of embarrassment, "since you told me that you was
goin' to put real men an' women in it. I expect you've made them do
the things that you've wanted them to do an' made them say what you
wanted them to say. That part is right an' proper—there wouldn't be
any sense of anyone writin' a book unless they could put into it what
they thought was right. But what's been botherin' me is this; how can
you tell whether the things you've made them say is what they would
have said if they'd had any chance to talk? An' how can you tell what
their feelin's would be when you set them doin' somethin'?"
She laughed. "That is a prerogative which the writer assumes without
question," she returned. "The author of a novel makes his characters
think and act as the author himself imagines he would act in the same
He looked at her with amused eyes. "That's just what I was tryin' to
get at," he said. "You've put me into your book, an' you've made me do
an' say things out of your mind. But you don't know for sure whether I
would have done an' said things just like you've wrote them. Mebbe if
I would have had somethin' to say I wouldn't have done things your way
"I am sure you would," she returned positively.
"Well, now," he returned smiling, "you're speakin' as though you was
pretty certain about it. You must have wrote a whole lot of the story."
"It is two-thirds finished," she returned with a trace of satisfaction
in her voice which did not escape him.
"An' you've got all your characters doin' an' thinkin' things that you
think they ought to do?" His eyes gleamed craftily. "You got a man
an' a girl in it?"
"An' they're goin' to love one another?"
"No other outcome is popular with novel readers," she returned.
He rocked back and forth, his eyes languidly surveying the rim of hills
in the distance.
"I expect that outcome is popular in real life too," he observed.
"Nobody ever hears about it when it turns out some other way."
"I expect love is always a popular subject," she returned smiling.
His eyes were still languid, his gaze still on the rim of distant hills.
"You got any love talk in there—between the man an' the girl?" he
"That's mighty interestin'," he returned. "I expect they do a good bit
"They do not talk extravagantly," she defended.
"Then I expect it must be pretty good," he returned. "I don't like
mushy love stories." And now he turned and looked fairly at her. "Of
course," he said slyly, "I don't know whether it's necessary or not,
but I've been thinkin' that to write a good love story the writer ought
to be in love. Whoever was writin' would know more about how it feels
to be in love."
She admired the cleverness with which he had led her up to this point,
but she was not to be trapped. She met his eyes fairly.
"I am sure it is not necessary for the writer to be in love," she said
quietly but positively. "I flatter myself that my love scenes are
rather real, and I have not found it necessary to love anyone."
This reply crippled him instantly. "Well, now," he said, eyeing her,
she thought, a bit reproachfully, "that comes pretty near stumpin' me.
But," he added, a subtle expression coming again into his eyes, "you
say you've got only two-thirds finished. Mebbe you'll be in love
before you get it all done. An' then mebbe you'll find that you didn't
get it right an' have to do it all over again. That would sure be too
bad, when you could have got in love an' wrote it real in the first
"I don't think that I shall fall in love," she said laughing.
He looked quickly at her, suddenly grave. "I wouldn't want to think
you meant that," he said.
"Why?" she questioned in a low voice, her laughter subdued by his
"Why," he said steadily, as though stating a perfectly plain fact,
"I've thought right along that you liked me. Of course I ain't been
fool enough to think that you loved me"—and now he reddened a
little—, "but I don't deny that I've hoped that you would."
"Oh, dear!" she laughed; "and so you have planned it all out! And I
was hoping that you would not prove so deep as that. You know," she
went on, "you promised me a long while ago that you would not fall in
love with me."
"I don't reckon that I said that," he returned. "I told you that I
wasn't goin' to get fresh. I reckon I ain't fresh now. But I expect I
couldn't help lovin' you—I've done that since the first day."
She could not stop the blushes—they would come. And so would that
thrilling, breathless exultation. No man had ever talked to her like
this; no man had ever made her feel quite as she felt at this moment.
She turned a crimson face to him.
"But you hadn't any right to love me," she declared, feeling sure that
she had been unable to make him understand that she meant to rebuke
him. Evidently he did not understand that she meant to do that, for he
unclasped his hand from his knee and came closer to her, standing at
the edge of the rock, one hand resting upon it.
"Of course I didn't have any right," he said gravely, "but I loved you
just the same. There's been some things in my life that I couldn't
help doin'. Lovin' you is one. I expect that you'll think I'm pretty
fresh, but I've been thinkin' a whole lot about you an' I've got to
tell you. You ain't like the women I've been used to. An' I reckon I
ain't just the kind of man you've been acquainted with all your life.
You've been used to seein' men who was all slicked up an' clever. I
expect them kind of men appeal to any woman. I ain't claimin' to be
none of them clever kind, but I've been around quite a little an' I
ain't never done anything that I'm ashamed of. I can't offer you a
heap, but if you——"
She had looked up quickly, her cheeks burning.
"Please don't," she pleaded, rising and placing a hand on his arm,
gripping it tightly. "I have known for a long time, but I—I wanted to
be sure." He could not suspect that she had only just now begun to
realize that she was in danger of yielding to him and that the
knowledge frightened her.
"You wanted to be sure?" he questioned, his face clouding. "What is it
that you wanted to be sure of?"
"Why," she returned, laughing to hide her embarrassment, "I wanted to
be sure that you loved me!"
"Well, you c'n be sure now," he said.
"I believe I can," she laughed. "And," she continued, finding it
difficult to pretend seriousness, "knowing what I do will make writing
so much easier."
His face clouded again. "I don't see what your writin' has got to do
with it," he said.
"You don't?" she demanded, her eyes widening with pretended surprise.
"Why, don't you see that I wanted to be sure of your love so that I
might be able to portray a real love scene in my story?"
He did not reply instantly, but folded his arms over his chest and
stood looking at her. In his expression was much reproach and not a
little disappointment. The hopes that had filled his dreams had been
ruined by her frivolous words; he saw her at this moment a woman who
had trifled with him, who had led him cleverly on to a declaration of
love that she might in the end sacrifice him to her art. But in this
moment, when he might have been excused for exhibiting anger; for
heaping upon her the bitter reproaches of an outraged confidence, he
was supremely calm. The color fled from his face, leaving it slightly
pale, and his eyes swam with a deep feeling that told of the struggle
that he was making.
"I didn't think you'd do it, ma'am," he said finally, a little
hoarsely. "But I reckon you know your own business best." He smiled
slightly. "I don't think there's any use of you an' me meetin'
again—I don't want to be goin' on, bein' a dummy man that you c'n
watch. But I'm glad to have amused you some an' I have enjoyed myself,
talkin' to you. But I reckon you've done what you wanted to do, an' so
I'll be gettin' along."
He smiled grimly and with an effort turned and walked around the corner
of the rock, intending to descend the hill and mount his pony. But as
he passed around to the side of the rock he heard her voice:
"Wait, please," she said in a scarcely audible voice.
He halted, looking gravely at her from the opposite side of the rock.
"You wantin' to get somethin' more for your story?" he asked.
She turned and looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes luminous with
a tell-tale expression, her face crimson. "Why," she said smiling at
him, "do you really think that I could be so mean?"
He was around the rock again in half a dozen steps and standing above
her, his eyes alight, his lips parted slightly with surprise and
"Do you mean that you wantin' to make sure that I loved you wasn't all
for the sake of the story?" he demanded rapidly.
Her eyes drooped away from his. "Didn't you tell me that a writer
should be in love in order to be able to write of it?" she asked, her
"Yes." He was trembling a little and leaning toward her. In this
position he caught her low reply.
"I think my love story will be real," she returned. "I have
learned——" But whatever she might have wanted to add was smothered
when his arms closed tightly about her.
A little later she drew a deep breath and looked up at him with moist,
"Perhaps I shall have to change the story a little," she said.
He drew her head to his shoulder, one hand caressing her hair. "If you
do," he said smiling, "don't have the hero thinkin' that the girl is
makin' a fool of him." He drew her close. "That cert'nly was a mighty
bad minute you give me," he added.
THE DIM TRAIL.
A shadow fell upon the rock. Ferguson turned his head and looked
toward the west, where the sun had already descended over the mountains.
"Why it's sundown!" he said, smiling into Miss Radford's eyes. "I
reckon the days must be gettin' shorter."
"The happy days are always short," she returned, blushing. He kissed
her for this. For a while they sat, watching together the vari-colors
swimming in the sky. They sat close together, saying little, for mere
words are sometimes inadequate. In a little time the colors faded, the
mountain peaks began to throw sombre shades; twilight—gray and
cold—settled suddenly into the flat. Then Miss Radford raised her
head from Ferguson's shoulder and sighed.
"Time to go home," she said.
"Yes, time," he returned. "I'm ridin' down that far with you."
They rose and clambered down the hillside and he helped her into the
saddle. Then he mounted Mustard and rode across the flat beside her.
Darkness had fallen when they rode through the clearing near the cabin
and dismounted from their ponies at the door. The light from the
kerosene lamp shone in a dim stream from the kitchen door and within
they saw dishes on the table with cold food. Ferguson stood beside his
pony while Miss Radford went in and explored the cabin. She came to
the door presently, shading her eyes to look out into the darkness.
"Ben has been here and gone," she said. "He can't be very far away.
Won't you come in?"
He laughed. "I don't think I'll come in," he returned. "This lover
business is new to me, an' I wouldn't want Ben to come back an' ketch
me blushin' an' takin' on."
"But he has to know," she insisted, laughing.
"Sure," he said, secure in the darkness, "but you tell him."
"I won't!" she declared positively, stamping a foot.
"Then I reckon he won't get told," he returned quietly.
"Well, then," she said, laughing, "I suppose that is settled."
She came out to the edge of the porch, away from the door, where the
stream of light from within could not search them out, and there they
took leave of one another, she going back into the cabin and he
mounting Mustard and riding away in the darkness.
He was in high spirits, for he had much to be thankful for. As he rode
through the darkness, skirting the cottonwood in the flat, he allowed
his thoughts to wander. His refusal to enter the cabin had not been a
mere whim; he intended on the morrow to seek out Ben and tell him. He
had not wanted to tell him with her looking on to make the situation
embarrassing for him.
When he thought of how she had fooled him by making it appear that she
had led him on for the purpose of getting material for her love story,
he was moved to silent mirth. "But I cert'nly didn't see anything
funny in it while she was puttin' it on," he told himself, as he rode.
He had not ridden more than a quarter of a mile from the cabin, and was
passing a clump of heavy shrubbery, when a man rose suddenly out of the
shadows beside the trail. Startled, Mustard reared, and then seeing
that the apparition was merely a man, he came quietly down and halted,
shaking his head sagely. Ferguson's right hand had dropped swiftly to
his right holster, but was raised again instantly as the man's voice
came cold and steady:
"Get your hands up—quick!"
Ferguson's hands were raised, but he gave no evidence of fear or
excitement. Instead, he leaned forward, trying, in the dim light, to
see the man's face. The latter still stood in the shadows. But now he
advanced a little toward Ferguson, and the stray-man caught his breath
sharply. But when he spoke his voice was steady.
"Why, it's Ben Radford," he said.
"That's just who it is," returned Radford. "I've been waitin' for you."
"That's right clever of you," returned Ferguson, drawling his words a
little. He was puzzled over this unusual occurrence, but his face did
not betray this. "You was wantin' to see me then," he added.
"You're keen," returned Radford, sneering slightly.
Ferguson's face reddened. "I ain't no damn fool," he said sharply.
"An' I don't like holdin' my hands up like this. I reckon whatever
you're goin' to do you ought to do right quick."
"I'm figuring to be quick," returned Radford shortly. "Ketch hold of
your guns with the tips of one finger and one thumb and drop them.
Don't hit any rocks and don't try any monkey business."
He waited until Ferguson had dropped one gun. And then, knowing that
the stray-man usually wore two weapons, he continued sharply: "I'm
waiting for the other one."
Ferguson laughed. "Then you'll be waitin' a long time. There ain't
any 'other one. Broke a spring yesterday an' sent it over to Cimarron
to get it fixed up. You c'n have it when it comes back," he added with
a touch of sarcasm, "if you're carin' to wait that long."
Radford did not reply, but came around to Ferguson's left side and
peered at the holster. It was empty. Then he looked carefully at the
stray-man's waist for signs that a weapon might have been concealed
between the waist-band and the trousers—in front. Then, apparently
satisfied, he stepped back, his lips closed grimly.
"Get off your horse," he ordered.
Ferguson laughed as he swung down. "Anything to oblige a friend," he
The two men were now not over a yard apart, and at Ferguson's word
Radford's face became inflamed with wrath. "I don't think I'm a friend
of yours," he sneered coldly; "I ain't making friends with every damned
sneak that crawls around the country, aiming to shoot a man in the
back." He raised his voice, bitter with sarcasm. "You're thinking
that you're pretty slick," he said; "that all you have to do in this
country is to hang around till you get a man where you want him and
then bore him. But you've got to the end of your rope. You ain't
going to shoot anyone around here.
"I'm giving you a chance to say what you've got to say and then I'm
going to fill you full of lead and plant you over in the cottonwood—in
a place where no one will ever be able to find you—not even Stafford.
I'd have shot you off your horse when you come around the bend," he
continued coldly, "but I wanted you to know who was doing it and that
the man that did it knowed what you come here to do." He poised his
pistol menacingly. "You got anything to say?" he inquired.
Ferguson looked steadily from the muzzle of the poised weapon to
Radford's frowning eyes. Then he smiled grimly.
"Some one's been talkin'," he said evenly. He calmly crossed his arms
over his chest, the right hand slipping carelessly under the left side
of his vest. Then he rocked slowly back and forth on his heels and
toes. "Someone's been tellin' you a pack of lies," he added. "I
reckon you've wondered, if I was goin' to shoot you in the back, that I
ain't done it long ago. You're admittin' that I've had some chance."
Radford sneered. "I ain't wondering why you ain't done it before," he
said. "Mebbe it was because you're too white livered. Mebbe you
thought you didn't see your chance. I ain't worrying none about why
you didn't do it. But you ain't going to get another chance." The
weapon came to a foreboding level.
Ferguson laughed grimly, but there was an ironic quality in his voice
that caught Radford's ear. It seemed to Radford that the stray-man
knew that he was near death, and yet some particular phase of the
situation appealed to his humor—grim though it was. It came out when
the stray-man spoke.
"You've been gassin' just now about shootin' people in the back—sayin'
that I've been thinkin' of doin' it. But I reckon you ain't thought a
lot about the way you're intendin' to put me out of business. I was
wonderin' if it made any difference—shootin' a man in the back or
shootin' him when he ain't got any guns. I expect a man that's shot
when he ain't got guns would be just as dead as a man that's shot in
the back, wouldn't he?"
He laughed again, his eyes gleaming in the dim light. "That's the
reason I ain't scared a heap," he said. "From what I know about you
you ain't the man to shoot another without givin' him a chance. An'
you're givin' me a chance to talk. I ain't goin' to do any prayin'. I
reckon that's right?"
Radford shifted his feet uneasily. He could not have told at that
moment whether or not he had intended to murder Ferguson. He had
waylaid him with that intention, utterly forgetful that by shooting the
stray-man he would be committing the very crime which he had accused
Ferguson of contemplating. The muzzle of his weapon drooped
"Talk quick!" he said shortly.
Ferguson grinned. "I'm takin' my time," he returned. "There ain't any
use of bein' in such an awful hurry—time don't amount to much when a
man's talkin' for his life. I ain't askin' who told you what you've
said about me—I've got a pretty clear idea who it was. I've had to
tell a man pretty plain that my age has got its growth an' I don't
think that man is admirin' me much for bein' told. But if he's wantin'
to have me put out of business he's goin' to do the job himself—Ben
Radford ain't doin' it."
While he had been talking he had contrived to throw the left side of
his vest open, and his right hand was exposed in the dim light—a heavy
six-shooter gleaming forebodingly in it. His arms were still crossed,
but as he talked he had turned a very little and now the muzzle of the
weapon was at a level—trained fairly upon Radford's breast. And then
came Ferguson's voice again, quiet, cold, incisive.
"If there's goin' to be any shootin', Ben, there'll be two of us doin'
it. Don't be afraid that you'll beat me to it." And he stared grimly
over the short space that separated them.
For a full minute neither man moved a muscle. Silence—a premonitory
silence—fell over them as they stood, each with a steady finger
dragging uncertainly upon the trigger of his weapon. An owl hooted in
the cottonwood nearby; other noises of the night reached their ears.
Unaware of this crisis Mustard grazed unconcernedly at a distance.
Then Radford's weapon wavered a little and dropped to his side.
"This game's too certain," he said.
Ferguson laughed, and his six-shooter disappeared as mysteriously as it
had appeared. "I thought I'd be able to make you see the point," he
said. "It don't always pay to be in too much of a hurry to do a
thing," he continued gravely. "An' I reckon I've proved that someone's
been lying about me. If I'd wanted to shoot you I could have done it
quite a spell ago—I had you covered just as soon as I crossed my arms.
You'd never knowed about it. That I didn't shoot proves that whoever
told you I was after you has been romancin'." He laughed.
"An' now I'm tellin' you another thing that I was goin' to tell you
about to-morrow. Mebbe you'll want to shoot me for that. But if you
do I expect you'll have a woman to fight. Me an' Mary has found that
we're of one mind about a thing. We're goin' to hook up into a double
harness. I reckon when I'm your brother-in-law you won't be so worried
about shootin' me."
Radford's astonishment showed for a moment in his eyes as his gaze met
the stray-man's. Then they drooped guiltily.
"Well I'm a damn fool!" he said finally. "I might have knowed that
Mary wouldn't get afoul of any man who was thinkin' of doing dirt to
me." He suddenly extended a hand. "You shakin'?" he said.
Ferguson took the hand, gripping it tightly. Neither man spoke. Then
Radford suddenly unclasped his hand and turned, striding rapidly up the
trail toward the cabin.
For a moment Ferguson stood, looking after him with narrowed, friendly
eyes. Then he walked to Mustard, threw the bridle rein over the pommel
of the saddle, mounted, and was off at a rapid lope toward the Two
THE SHOT IN THE DARK
Now that Mary Radford had obtained experience for the love scene in her
story it might be expected that on returning to the cabin she would get
out her writing materials and attempt to transcribe the emotions that
had beset her during the afternoon, but she did nothing of the kind.
After Ferguson's departure she removed her riding garments, walked
several times around the interior of the cabin, and for a long time
studied her face in the looking glass. Yes, she discovered the
happiness shining out of the glass. Several times, standing before the
glass, she attempted to keep the lines of her face in repose, and
though she almost succeeded in doing this she could not control her
eyes—they simply would gleam with the light that seemed to say to her:
"You may deceive people by making a mask of your face, but the eyes are
the windows of the soul and through them people will see your secret."
Ben hadn't eaten much, she decided, as she seated herself at the table,
after pouring a cup of tea. Before she had finished her meal she had
begun to wonder over his absence—it was not his custom to go away in
the night. She thought he might have gone to the corral, or might even
be engaged in some small task in the stable. So after completing her
meal she rose and went to the door, looking out.
There was no moon, only the starlight, but in this she was able to
distinguish objects in the clearing, and if Ben had been working about
anywhere she must have noticed him. She returned to the table and sat
there long, pondering. Then she rose, heated some water, and washed
and dried the dishes. Then she swept the kitchen floor and tidied
things up a bit, returning to the door when all was complete.
Still no signs that Ben was anywhere in the vicinity. She opened the
screen door and went out upon the porch, leaning against one of the
slender posts. For a long time she stood thus, listening to the
indescribable noises of the night. This was only the second time since
she had been with Ben that he had left her alone at night, and a slight
chill stole over her as she watched the dense shadows beyond the
clearing, shadows that seemed suddenly dismal and foreboding. She had
loved the silence, but now suddenly it too seemed too deep, too solemn
to be real. She shuddered, and with some unaccountable impulse shrank
back against the screen door, one hand upon it, ready to throw it open.
In this position she stood for a few minutes, and then from somewhere
in the flat came a slight sound—and then, after a short interval,
She shrank back again, a sudden fear chilling her, her hands clasped
over her breast.
"Someone is shooting," she said aloud.
She waited long for a repetition of the sounds. But she did not hear
them again. Tremblingly she returned to the cabin and resumed her
chair at the table, fighting against a growing presentiment that
something had gone wrong with Ben. But she could not have told from
what direction the sounds had come, and so it would have been folly for
her to ride out to investigate. And so for an hour she sat at the
table, cringing away from the silence, starting at intervals, when her
imagination tricked her into the belief that sound had begun.
And then presently she became aware that there was sound. In the vast
silence beyond the cabin door something had moved. She was on her feet
instantly, her senses alert. Her fear had left her. Her face was
pale, but her lips closed grimly as she went to the rack behind the
door and took down a rifle that Ben always kept there. Then she turned
the lamp low and cautiously stepped to the door.
A pony whinnied, standing with ears erect at the edge of the porch. In
a crumpled heap on the ground lay a man. She caught her breath
sharply, but in the next instant was out and bending over him. With a
strength that seemed almost beyond her shy dragged the limp form to the
door where the light from the lamp shone upon it.
"Ben!" she said sharply. "What has happened?" She shook him slightly,
calling again to him.
Aroused, he opened his eyes, recognized her, and raised himself
painfully upon one elbow, smiling weakly.
"It ain't anything, sis," he said. "Creased in the back of the head.
Knocked me cold. Mebbe my shoulder too—I ain't been able to lift my
arm." He smiled again—grimly, though wearily. "From the back too.
The damned sneak!"
Her eyes filled vengefully, and she leaned closer to him, her voice
tense. "Who, Ben? Who did it?"
"Ferguson," he said sharply. And again, as his eyes closed: "The
She swayed dizzily and came very near dropping him to the porch floor.
But no sound came from her, and presently when the dizziness had
passed, she dragged him to the door, propped it open with a chair, and
then dragged him on through the opening to the kitchen, and from there
to one of the adjoining rooms. Then with pale face and determined lips
she set about the work of taking care of Ben's wounds. The spot on the
back of the head, she found, was a mere abrasion, as he had said. But
his shoulder had been shattered, the bullet, she discovered, having
passed clear through the fleshy part of the shoulder, after breaking
one of the smaller bones.
Getting her scissors she clipped away the hair from the back of his
head and sponged the wound and bandaged it, convinced that of itself it
was not dangerous. Then she undressed him, and by the use of plenty of
clear, cold water, a sponge, and some bandages, stopped the flow of
blood in his shoulder and placed him in a comfortable position. He had
very little fever, but she moved rapidly around him, taking his
temperature, administering sedatives when he showed signs of
restlessness, hovering over him constantly until the dawn began to come.
Soon after this he went off into a peaceful sleep, and, almost
exhausted with her efforts and the excitement, she threw herself upon
the floor beside his bed, sacrificing her own comfort that she might be
near to watch should he need her. It was late in the afternoon when
Radford opened his eyes to look out through the door that connected his
room with the kitchen and saw his sister busying herself with the
dishes. His mind was clear and he suffered very little pain. For a
long time he lay, quietly watching her, while his thoughts went back to
the meeting on the trail with Ferguson. Why hadn't he carried out his
original intention of shooting the stray-man down from ambush? He had
doubted Leviatt's word and had hesitated, wishing to give Ferguson the
benefit of the doubt, and had received his reward in the shape of a
bullet in the back—after practically making a peace pact with his
He presently became aware that his sister was standing near him, and he
looked up and smiled at her. Then in an instant she was kneeling
beside him, admonishing him to quietness, smoothing his forehead,
giving delighted little gasps over his improved condition. But in
spite of her evident cheerfulness there was a suggestion of trouble
swimming deep in her eyes; he could not help but see that she was
making a brave attempt to hide her bitter disappointment over the turn
things had taken. Therefore he was not surprised when, after she had
attended to all his wants, she sank on her knees beside him.
"Ben," she said, trying to keep a quiver out of her voice, "are you
sure it was Ferguson who shot you?"
He patted her hand tenderly and sympathetically with his uninjured one.
"I'm sorry for you, Mary," he returned, "but there ain't any doubt
about it." Then he told her of the warning he had received from
Leviatt, and when he saw her lips curl at the mention of the Two
Diamond range boss's name he smiled.
"I thought the same thing that you are thinking, Mary," he said. "And
I didn't want to shoot Ferguson. But as things have turned out I
wouldn't have been much wrong to have done it."
She raised her head from the coverlet. "Did you see him before he shot
you?" she questioned eagerly.
"Just a little before," he returned. "I met him at a turn in the trail
about half a mile from here. I made him get down off his horse and
drop his guns. We had a talk, for I didn't want to shoot him until I
was sure, and he talked so clever that I thought he was telling the
truth. But he wasn't."
He told her about Ferguson's concealed pistol; how they had stood face
to face with death between them, concluding: "By that time I had
decided not to shoot him. But he didn't have the nerve to pull the
trigger when he was looking at me. He waited until I'd got on my horse
and was riding away. Then he sneaked up behind."
He saw her body shiver, and he caressed her hair slowly, telling her
that he was sorry things had turned out so, and promising her that when
he recovered he would bring the Two Diamond stray-man to a strict
accounting—providing the latter didn't leave the country before. But
he saw that his words had given her little comfort, for when an hour or
so later he dropped off to sleep the last thing he saw was her seated
at the table in the kitchen, her head bowed in her hands, crying softly.
"Poor little kid," he said, as sleep dimmed his eyes; "it looks as
though this would be the end of her story."
LOVE AND A RIFLE
Ferguson did not visit Miss Radford the next morning—he had seen
Leviatt and Tucson depart from the ranchhouse, had observed the
direction they took, and had followed them. For twenty miles he had
kept them in sight, watching them with a stern patience that had
brought its reward.
They had ridden twenty miles straight down the river, when Ferguson,
concealed behind a ridge, saw them suddenly disappear into a little
basin. Then he rode around the ridge, circled the rim of hills that
surrounded the basin, and dismounting from his pony, crept through a
scrub oak thicket to a point where he could look directly down upon
He was surprised into a subdued whistle. Below him in the basin was an
adobe hut. He had been through this section of the country several
times but had never before stumbled upon the hut. This was not
remarkable, for situated as it was, in this little basin, hidden from
sight by a serried line of hills and ridges among which no cowpuncher
thought to travel—nor cared to—, the cabin was as safe from prying
eyes as it was possible for a human habitation to be.
There was a small corral near the cabin, in which there were several
steers, half a dozen cows, and perhaps twenty calves. As Ferguson's
eyes took in the latter detail, they glittered with triumph. Not even
the wildest stretch of the imagination could produce twenty calves from
half a dozen cows.
But Ferguson did not need this evidence to convince him that the men
who occupied the cabin were rustlers. Honest men did not find it
necessary to live in a basin in the hills where they were shut in from
sight of the open country. Cattle thieves did not always find it
necessary to do so—unless they were men like these, who had no herds
of their own among which to conceal their ill-gotten beasts. He was
convinced that these men were migratory thieves, who operated upon the
herds nearest them, remained until they had accumulated a considerable
number of cattle, and then drove the entire lot to some favored friend
who was not averse to running the risk of detection if through that
risk he came into possession of easily earned money.
There were two of the men, beside Leviatt and Tucson—tall,
rangy—looking their part. Ferguson watched them for half an hour, and
then, convinced that he would gain nothing more by remaining there, he
stealthily backed down the hillside to where his pony stood, mounted,
and rode toward the river.
Late in the afternoon he entered Bear Flat, urged his pony at a brisk
pace across it, and just before sundown drew rein in front of the
Radford cabin. He dismounted and stepped to the edge of the porch, a
smile of anticipation on his lips. The noise of his arrival brought
Mary Radford to the door. She came out upon the porch, and he saw that
her face was pale and her lips firmly set. Apparently something had
gone amiss with her and he halted, looking at her questioningly.
"What's up?" he asked.
"You ought to know," she returned quietly.
"I ain't good at guessin' riddles," he returned, grinning at her.
"There is no riddle," she answered, still quietly. She came forward
until she stood within two paces of him, her eyes meeting his squarely.
"When you left here last night did you meet Ben on the trail?" she
He started, reddening a little. "Why, yes," he returned, wondering if
Ben had told her what had been said at that meeting; "was he tellin'
you about it?"
"Yes," she returned evenly, "he has been telling me about it. That
should be sufficient for you. I am sorry that I ever met you. You
should know why. If I were you I should not lose any time in getting
away from here."
Her voice was listless, even flat, but there was a grim note in it that
told that she was keeping her composure with difficulty. He laughed,
thinking that since he had made the new agreement with the Two Diamond
manager he had nothing to fear. "I reckon I ought to be scared," he
returned, "but I ain't. An' I don't consider that I'm losin' any time."
Her lips curved sarcastically. "You have said something like that
before," she told him, her eyes glittering scornfully. "You have a
great deal of faith in your ability to fool people. But you have
miscalculated this time.
"I know why you have come to the Two Diamond. I know what made you
come over here so much. Of course I am partly to blame. You have
fooled me as you have fooled everyone." She stood suddenly erect, her
eyes flashing. "If you planned to kill my brother, why did you not
have the manhood to meet him face to face?"
Ferguson flushed. Would it help his case to deny that he had thought
of fooling her, that he never had any intention of shooting Ben? He
thought not. Leviatt had poisoned her mind against him. He smiled
"Someone's been talkin'," he said quietly. "You'd be helpin' to make
this case clear if you'd tell who it was."
"Someone has talked," she replied; "someone who knows. Why didn't you
tell me that you came here to kill Ben? That you were hired by
Stafford to do it?"
"Why, I didn't, ma'am," he protested, his face paling.
"You did!" She stamped one foot vehemently.
Ferguson's eyes drooped. "I came here to see if Ben was rustlin'
cattle, ma'am," he confessed frankly. "But I wasn't intendin' to shoot
him. Why, I've had lots of chances, an' I didn't do it. Ain't that
"No," she returned, her voice thrilling with a sudden, bitter irony,
"you didn't shoot him. That is, you didn't shoot him while he was
looking at you—when there was a chance that he might have given you as
good as you sent. No, you didn't shoot him then—you waited until his
back was turned. You—you coward!"
Ferguson's lips whitened. "You're talkin' extravagant, ma'am," he said
coldly. "Somethin' is all mixed up. Has someone been shootin' Ben?"
She sneered, pinning him with a scornful, withering glance. "I
expected that you would deny it," she returned. "That would be
following out your policy of deception."
He leaned forward, his eyes wide with surprise. If she had not been
laboring under the excitement of the incident she might have seen that
his surprise was genuine, but she was certain that it was mere
craftiness—a craftiness that she had hitherto admired, but which now
awakened a fierce anger in her heart.
"When was he shot?" he questioned quietly.
"Last night," she answered scornfully. "Of course that is a surprise
to you too. An hour after you left he rode up to the cabin and fell
from his horse at the edge of the porch. He had been shot twice—both
times in the back." She laughed—almost hysterically. "Oh, you knew
enough not to take chances with him in spite of your bragging—in spite
of the reputation you have of being a 'two-gun' man!"
He winced under her words, his face whitening, his lips twitching, his
hands clenched that he might not lose his composure. But in spite of
the conflict that was going on within him at the moment he managed to
keep his voice quiet and even. It was admirable acting, she thought,
her eyes burning with passion—despicable, contemptible acting.
"I reckon I ain't the snake you think I am, ma'am," he said, looking
steadily at her. "But I'm admittin' that mebbe you've got cause to
think so. When I left Ben last night I shook hands with him, after
fixin' up the difference we'd had. Why, ma'am," he went on earnestly,
"I'd just got through tellin' him about you an' me figgerin' to get
hooked up. An' do you think I'd shoot him after that? Why, if I'd
been wantin' to shoot him I reckon there was nothin' to stop me while
he was standin' there. He'd never knowed what struck him. I'm tellin'
you that I didn't know he was shot; that——"
She made a gesture of impatience. "I don't think I care to hear any
more," she said. "I heard the shots here on the porch. I suppose you
were so far away at that time that you couldn't hear them?"
He writhed again under the scorn in her voice. But he spoke again,
earnestly. "I did hear some shootin'," he said, "after I'd gone on a
ways. But I reckoned it was Ben."
"What do you suppose he would be shooting at at that time of the
night?" she demanded.
"Why, I don't remember that I was doin' a heap of wonderin' at that
time about it," he returned hesitatingly. "Mebbe I thought he was
shootin' at a sage-hen, or a prairie-dog—or somethin'. I've often
took a shot at somethin' like that—when I've been alone that way." He
took a step toward her, his whole lithe body alive and tingling with
earnestness. "Why, ma'am, there's a big mistake somewheres. If I
could talk to Ben I'm sure I could explain——"
She drew her skirts close and stepped back toward the door. "There is
nothing to explain—now," she said coldly. "Ben is doing nicely, and
when he has fully recovered you will have a chance to explain to
him—if you are not afraid."
"Afraid?" he laughed grimly. "I expect, ma'am, that things look pretty
bad for me. They always do when someone's tryin' to make 'em. I
reckon there ain't any use of tryin' to straighten it out now—you
won't listen. But I'm tellin' you this: When everything comes out
you'll see that I didn't shoot your brother."
"Of course not," sneered the girl. "You did not shoot him. Stafford
did not hire you to do it. You didn't come here, pretending that you
had been bitten by a rattler, so that you might have a chance to worm
yourself into my brother's favor—and then shoot him. You haven't been
hanging around Bear Flat all summer, pretending to look for stray Two
Diamond cattle. You haven't been trying to make a fool of me——" Her
voice trembled and her lips quivered suspiciously.
"Well, now," said Ferguson, deeply moved; "I'm awful sorry you're
lookin' at things like you are. But I wasn't thinkin' to try an' make
a fool of you. Things that I said to you I meant. I wouldn't say
things to a girl that I said to you if——"
She had suddenly stepped into the cabin and as suddenly reappeared
holding the rifle that was kept always behind the door. She stood
rigid on the porch, her eyes blazing through the moisture in them.
"You go now!" she commanded hotly; "I've heard enough of your lies!
Get away from this cabin! If I ever see you around here again I won't
wait for Ben to shoot you!"
Ferguson hesitated, a deep red mounting over the scarf at his throat.
Then his voice rose, tingling with regret. "There ain't any use of me
sayin' anything now, ma'am," he said. "You wouldn't listen. I'm goin'
away, of course, because you want me to. You didn't need to get that
gun if you wanted to hurt me—what you've said would have been enough."
He bowed to her, not even looking at the rifle. "I'm goin' now," he
concluded. "But I'm comin' back. You'll know then whether I'm the
sneak you've said I was."
He bowed again over the pony's mane and urged the animal around the
corner of the cabin, striking the trail that led through the flat
toward the Two Diamond ranchhouse.
Ferguson heard loud talking and laughter in the bunkhouse when he
passed there an hour after his departure from the Radford cabin in Bear
Flat. It was near sundown and the boys were eating supper. Ferguson
smiled grimly as he rode his pony to the corral gate, dismounted,
pulled off the bridle and saddle, and turned the animal into the
corral. The presence of the boys at the bunkhouse meant that the wagon
outfit had come in—meant that Leviatt would have to come in—if he had
not already done so.
The stray-man's movements were very deliberate; there was an absence of
superfluous energy that told of intensity of thought and singleness of
purpose. He shouldered the saddle with a single movement, walked with
it to the lean-to, threw it upon its accustomed peg, hung the bridle
from the pommel, and then turned and for a brief time listened to the
talk and laughter that issued from the open door and windows of the
bunkhouse. With a sweep of his hands he drew his two guns from their
holsters, rolled the cylinders and examined them minutely. Then he
replaced the guns, hitched at his cartridge belt, and stepped out of
the door of the lean-to.
In spite of his promise to Mary Radford to the effect that he would
return to prove to her that he was not the man who had attempted to
kill her brother he had no hope of discovering the guilty man. His
suspicions, of course, centered upon Leviatt, but he knew that under
the circumstances Mary Radford would have to be given convincing proof.
The attempted murder of her brother, following the disclosure that he
had been hired by Stafford to do the deed, must have seemed to her
sufficient evidence of his guilt. He did not blame her for feeling
bitter toward him; she had done the only thing natural under the
circumstances. He had been very close to the garden of happiness—just
close enough to scent its promise of fulfilled joy, when the gates had
been violently closed in his face, to leave him standing without,
contemplating the ragged path over which he must return to the old life.
He knew that Leviatt had been the instrument that had caused the gates
to close; he knew that it had been he who had dropped the word that had
caused the finger of accusation to point to him. "Stafford didn't hire
you to do it," Mary Radford had said, ironically. The words rang in
his ears still. Who had told her that Stafford had hired him to shoot
Radford? Surely not Stafford. He himself had not hinted at the reason
of his presence at the Two Diamond. And there was only one other man
who knew. That man was Leviatt. As he stood beside the door of the
lean-to the rage in his heart against the range boss grew more bitter,
and the hues around his mouth straightened more grimly.
A few minutes later he stalked into the bunkhouse, among the men who,
after finishing their meal, were lounging about, their small talk
filling the room. The talk died away as he entered, the men adroitly
gave him room, for there was something in the expression of his eyes,
in the steely, boring glances that he cast about him, that told these
men, inured to danger though they were, that the stray-man was in no
gentle mood. He dropped a short word to the one among them that he
knew best, at which they all straightened, for through the word they
knew that he was looking for Leviatt.
But they knew nothing of Leviatt beyond the fact that he and Tucson had
not accompanied the wagon to the home ranch. They inferred that the
range boss and Tucson had gone about some business connected with the
cattle. Therefore Ferguson did not stop long in the bunkhouse.
Without a word he was gone, striding rapidly toward the ranchhouse.
They looked after him, saying nothing, but aware that his quest for
Leviatt was not without significance.
Five minutes later he was in Stafford's office. The latter had been
worrying about him. When Ferguson entered the manager's manner was a
"You seen anything of Radford yet?" he inquired.
"I ain't got anything on Radford," was the short reply.
His tone angered the manager. "I ain't askin' if you've got anything
on him," he returned. "But we missed more cattle yesterday, an' it
looks mighty suspicious. Since we had that talk about Radford, when
you told me it wasn't him doin' the rustlin' I've changed my mind a
heap. I'm thinkin' he rustled them cattle last night."
Ferguson looked quizzically at him. "How many cattle you missin'?" he
Stafford banged a fist heavily down upon his desk top. "We're twenty
calves short on the tally," he declared, "an' half a dozen cows. We
ain't got to the steers yet, but I'm expectin' to find them short too."
Ferguson drew a deep breath. The number of cattle missing tallied
exactly with the number he had seen in the basin down the river. A
glint of triumph lighted his eyes, but he looked down upon Stafford,
"You been doin' the tallyin'?"
Ferguson was now smiling grimly.
"Where's your range boss?" he questioned.
"The boys say he rode over to the river lookin' for strays. Sent word
that he'd be in to-morrow. But I don't see what he's got to do——"
"No," returned Ferguson, "of course. You say them cattle was rustled
"Yes." Stafford banged his fist down with a positiveness that left no
doubt of his knowledge.
"Well, now," observed Ferguson, "an' so you're certain Radford rustled
them." He smiled again saturninely.
"I ain't sayin' for certain," returned Stafford, puzzled by Ferguson's
manner. "What I'm gettin' at is that there ain't no one around here
that'd rustle them except Radford."
"There ain't no other nester around here that you know of?" questioned
"No. Radford's the only one."
Ferguson lingered a moment. Then he walked slowly to the door. "I
reckon that's all," he said. "To-morrow I'm goin' to show you your
He had stepped out of the door and was gone into the gathering dusk
before Stafford could ask the question that was on the end of his
KEEPING A PROMISE
Ferguson's dreams had been troubled. Long before dawn he was awake and
outside the bunkhouse, splashing water over his face from the tin wash
basin that stood on the bench just outside the door. Before breakfast
he had saddled and bridled Mustard, and directly after the meal he was
in the saddle, riding slowly toward the river.
Before very long he was riding through Bear Flat, and after a time he
came to the hill where only two short days before he had reveled in the
supreme happiness that had followed months of hope and doubt. It did
not seem as though it had been only two days. It seemed that time was
playing him a trick. Yet he knew that to-day was like yesterday—each
day like its predecessor—that if the hours dragged it was because in
the bitterness of his soul he realized that today could not be—for
him—like the day before yesterday; and that succeeding days gave no
promise of restoring to him the happiness that he had lost.
He saw the sun rising above the rim of hills that surrounded the flat;
he climbed to the rock upon which he had sat—with her—watching the
shadows retreat to the mountains, watching the sun stream down into the
clearing and upon the Radford cabin. But there was no longer beauty in
the picture—for him. Hereafter he would return to that life that he
had led of old; the old hard life that he had known before his brief
romance had given him a fleeting glimpse of what might have been.
Many times, when his hopes had been high, he had felt a chilling fear
that he would never be able to reach the pinnacle of promise; that in
the end fate would place before him a barrier—the barrier in the shape
of his contract with Stafford, that he had regretted many times.
Mary Radford would never believe his protest that he had not been hired
to kill her brother. Fate, in the shape of Leviatt, had forestalled
him there. Many times, when she had questioned him regarding the hero
in her story, he had been on the point of taking her into his
confidence as to the reason of his presence at the Two Diamond, but he
had always put it off, hoping that things would be righted in the end
and that he would be able to prove to her the honesty of his intentions.
But now that time was past. Whatever happened now she would believe
him the creature that she despised—that all men despised; the man who
strikes in the dark.
This, then, was to be the end. He could not say that he had been
entirely blameless. He should have told her. But it was not the end
that he was now contemplating. There could be no end until there had
been an accounting between him and Leviatt. Perhaps the men who had
shot Ben Radford in the back would never be known. He had his
suspicions, but they availed nothing. In the light of present
circumstances Miss Radford would never hold him guiltless.
Until near noon he sat on the rock on the crest of the hill, the lines
of his face growing more grim, his anger slowly giving way to the
satisfying calmness that comes when the mind has reached a conclusion.
There would be a final scene with Leviatt, and then——
He rose from the rock, made his way deliberately down the hillside,
mounted his pony, and struck the trail leading to the Two Diamond
About noon Leviatt and Tucson rode in to the Two Diamond corral gate,
dismounted from their ponies, and proceeded to the bunkhouse for
dinner. The men of the outfit were already at the table, and after
washing their faces from the tin wash basin on the bench outside the
door, Leviatt and Tucson entered the bunkhouse and took their places.
Greetings were given and returned through the medium of short
nods—with several of the men even this was omitted. Leviatt was not a
popular range boss, and there were some of the men who had whispered
their suspicions that the death of Rope Jones had not been brought
about in the regular way. Many of them remembered the incident that
had occurred between Rope, the range boss, Tucson, and the new
stray-man, and though opinions differed, there were some who held that
the death of Rope might have resulted from the ill-feeling engendered
by the incident. But in the absence of proof there was nothing to be
done. So those men who held suspicions wisely refrained from talking
Before the meal was finished the blacksmith poked his head in through
the open doorway, calling: "Ol' Man wants to see Leviatt up in the
The blacksmith's head was withdrawn before Leviatt, who had heard the
voice but had not seen the speaker, could raise his voice in reply. He
did not hasten, however, and remained at the table with Tucson for five
minutes after the other men had left. Then, with a final word to
Tucson, he rose and strode carelessly to the door of Stafford's office.
The latter had been waiting with some impatience, and at the appearance
of the range boss he shoved his chair back from his desk and arose.
"Just come in?" he questioned.
"Just come in," repeated Leviatt drawling. "Plum starved. Had to eat
before I came down here."
He entered and dropped lazily into a chair near the desk, stretching
his legs comfortably. He had observed in Stafford's manner certain
signs of a subdued excitement, and while he affected not to notice
this, there was a glint of feline humor in his eyes.
"Somebody said you wanted me," he said. "Anything doin'?"
Stafford had held in as long as he could. Now he exploded.
"What in hell do you suppose I sent for you for?" he demanded, as,
walking to and fro in the room, he paused and glared down at the range
boss. "Where you been? We're twenty calves an' a dozen cows short on
Leviatt looked up, his eyes suddenly flashing. "Whew!" he exclaimed.
"They're hittin' them pretty heavy lately. When was they missed?"
Stafford spluttered impotently. "Night before last," he flared. "An'
not a damned sign of where they went!"
Leviatt grinned coldly. "Them rustlers is gettin' to be pretty slick,
ain't they?" he drawled.
Stafford's face swelled with a rage that threatened to bring on
apoplexy. He brought a tense fist heavily down upon his desk top.
"Slick!" he sneered. "I don't reckon they're any slick. It's that
I've got a no good outfit. There ain't a man in the bunch could see a
rustler if he'd hobbled a cow and was runnin' her calf off before their
eyes!" He hesitated to gain breath before continuing. "What have I
got an outfit for? What have I got a range boss for? What have I
Leviatt grinned wickedly and Stafford hesitated, his hand upraised.
"Your stray-man doin' anything these days?" questioned Leviatt
significantly. "Because if he is," resumed Leviatt, before the manager
could reply, "he ought to manage to be around where them thieves are
Stafford stiffened. He had developed a liking for the stray-man and he
caught a note of venom in Leviatt's voice.
"I reckon the stray-man knows what he's doin'," he replied. He
returned to his chair beside the desk and sat in it, facing Leviatt,
and speaking with heavy sarcasm. "The stray-man's the only one of the
whole bunch that's doin' anything," he said.
"Sure," sneered Leviatt; "he's gettin' paid for sparkin' Mary Radford."
"Mebbe he is," returned Stafford. "I don't know as I'd blame him any
for that. But he's been doin' somethin' else now an' then, too."
"Findin' the man that's been rustlin' your stock, for instance," mocked
Stafford leaned back in his chair, frowning.
"Look here, Leviatt," he said steadily. "I might have spoke a little
strong to you about them missin' cattle. But I reckon you're partly to
blame. If you'd been minded to help Ferguson a little, instead of
actin' like a fool because you've thought he's took a shine to Mary
Radford, we might have been further along with them rustlers. As it
is, Ferguson's been playin' a lone hand. But he claims to have been
doin' somethin'. He ain't been in the habit of blowin' his own horn,
an' I reckon we can rely on what he says. I'm wantin' you to keep the
boys together this afternoon, for we might need them to help Ferguson
out. He's promised to ride in to-day an' show me the man who's been
rustlin' my cattle."
Leviatt's lips slowly straightened. He sat more erect, and when he
spoke the mockery had entirely gone from his voice and from his manner.
"He's goin' to do what?" he questioned coldly.
"Show me the man who's been rustlin' my cattle," repeated Stafford.
For a brief space neither man spoke—nor moved. Stafford's face wore
the smile of a man who has just communicated some unexpected and
astonishing news and was watching its effect with suppressed enjoyment.
He knew that Leviatt felt bitter toward the stray-man and that the news
that the latter might succeed in doing the thing that he had set out to
do would not be received with any degree of pleasure by the range boss.
But watching closely, Stafford was forced to admit that Leviatt did not
feel so strongly, or was cleverly repressing his emotions. There was
no sign on the range boss's face that he had been hurt by the news.
His face had grown slightly paler and there was a hard glitter in his
narrowed eyes. But his voice was steady.
"Well, now," he said, "that ought to tickle you a heap."
"I won't be none disappointed," returned Stafford.
Leviatt looked sharply at him and crossed his arms over his chest.
"When was you talkin' to him?" he questioned.
Leviatt's lips moved slightly. "An' when did you say them cattle was
rustled?" he asked.
"Night before last," returned Stafford.
Leviatt was silent for a brief time. Then he unfolded his arms and
stood erect, his eyes boring into Stafford's.
"When you expectin' Ferguson?" he questioned.
"He didn't say just when he was comin' in," returned Stafford. "But I
reckon we might expect him any time."
Leviatt strode to the door. Looking back over his shoulder, he smiled
evilly. "I'm much obliged to you for tellin' me," he said. "We'll be
ready for him."
A little over an hour after his departure from the hill, Ferguson rode
up to the Two Diamond corral gate and dismounted.
Grouped around the door of the bunkhouse were several of the Two
Diamond men; in a strip of shade from the blacksmith shop were others.
Jocular words were hurled at him by some of the men as he drew the
saddle from Mustard, for the stray-man's quietness and invariable
thoughtfulness had won him a place in the affections of many of the
men, and their jocular greetings were evidence of this.
He nodded shortly to them, but did not answer. And instead of lugging
his saddle to its accustomed peg in the lean-to, he threw it over the
corral fence and left it. Then, without another look toward the men,
he turned and strode toward the manager's office.
The latter was seated at his desk and looked up at the stray-man's
entrance. He opened his lips to speak, but closed them again,
surprised at the stray-man's appearance.
During the months that Ferguson had worked at the Two Diamond, Stafford
had not seen him as he looked at this moment. Never, during the many
times the manager had seen him, had he been able to guess anything of
the stray-man's emotions by looking at his face. Now, however, there
had come a change. In the set, tightly drawn lips were the tell-tale
signs of an utterable resolve. In the narrowed, steady eyes was a
light that chilled Stafford like a cold breeze in the heat of a
summer's day. In the man's whole body was something that shocked the
manager into silence.
He came into the room, standing near the door, his set lips moving a
very little, "You heard anything from Leviatt yet?" he questioned.
"Why, yes," returned Stafford, hesitatingly; "he was here, talkin' to
me. Ain't been gone more'n half an hour. I reckon he's somewhere
"You talkin' to him, you say?" said the stray-man slowly. He smiled
mirthlessly. "I reckon you told him about them missin' calves?"
"I sure did!" returned Stafford with much vehemence. He laughed
harshly. "I told him more," he said; "I told him you was goin' to show
me the man who'd rustled them."
Ferguson's lips wreathed into a grim smile. "So you told him?" he
said. "I was expectin' you'd do that, if he got in before me. That's
why I stopped in here. That was somethin' which I was wantin' him to
know. I don't want it to be said that I didn't give him a chance."
Stafford rose from his chair, taking a step toward the stray-man.
"Why, what——?" he began. But a look at the stray-man's face silenced
"I've come over here to-day to show you that rustler I told you about
yesterday. I'm goin' to look for him now. If he ain't sloped I reckon
you'll see him pretty soon."
Leviatt stepped down from the door of the manager's office and strode
slowly toward the bunkhouse. On the way he passed several of the men,
but he paid no attention to them, his face wearing an evil expression,
his eyes glittering venomously.
When he reached the bunkhouse he passed several more of the men without
a word, going directly to a corner of the room where sat Tucson and
conversing earnestly with his friend. A little later both he and
Tucson rose and passed out of the bunkhouse, walking toward the
After a little they appeared, again joining the group outside the
bunkhouse. It was while Leviatt and Tucson were in the blacksmith shop
that Ferguson had come in. When they came out again the stray-man had
disappeared into the manager's office.
Since the day when in the manager's office, Ferguson had walked across
the floor to return to Leviatt the leather tobacco pouch that the
latter had dropped in the depression on the ridge above the gully where
the stray-man had discovered the dead Two Diamond cow and her calf,
Leviatt had known that the stray-man suspected him of being leagued
with the rustlers. But this knowledge had not disturbed him. He felt
secure because of his position. Even the stray-man would have to have
absolute, damning evidence before he could hope to be successful in
proving a range boss guilty of cattle stealing.
Leviatt had been more concerned over the stray-man's apparent success
in courting Mary Radford. His hatred—beginning with the shooting
match in Dry Bottom—had been intensified by the discovery of Ferguson
on the Radford porch in Bear Flat; by the incident at the bunkhouse,
when Rope Jones had prevented Tucson from shooting the stray-man from
behind, and by the discovery that the latter suspected him of
complicity with the cattle thieves. But it had reached its highest
point when Mary Radford spurned his love. After that he had realized
that just so long as the stray-man lived and remained at the Two
Diamond there would be no peace or security for him there.
Yet he had no thought of settling his differences with Ferguson as man
to man. Twice had he been given startling proof of the stray-man's
quickness with the six-shooter, and each time his own slowness had been
crushingly impressed on his mind. He was not fool enough to think that
he could beat the stray-man at that game.
But there were other ways. Rope Jones had discovered that—when it had
been too late to profit. Rope had ridden into a carefully laid trap
and, in spite of his reputation for quickness in drawing his weapon,
had found that the old game of getting a man between two fires had
And now Leviatt and Tucson were to attempt the scheme again. Since his
interview with Stafford, Leviatt had become convinced that the time for
action had come. Ferguson had left word with the manager that he was
to show the latter the rustler, and by that token Leviatt knew that the
stray-man had gathered evidence against him and was prepared to show
him to the manager in his true light. He, in turn, had left a message
with the manager for Ferguson. "We'll be ready for him," he had said.
He did not know whether Ferguson had received this message. It had
been a subtle thought; the words had been merely involuntary. By "We"
the manager had thought that he had meant the entire outfit was to be
held ready to apprehend the rustler. Leviatt had meant only himself
And they were ready. Down in the blacksmith shop, while Ferguson had
ridden in and stepped into the manager's office, had Leviatt and Tucson
made their plan. When they had joined the group in front of the
bunkhouse and had placed themselves in positions where thirty or forty
feet of space yawned between them, they had been making the first
preparatory movement. The next would come when Ferguson appeared, to
carry out his intention of showing Stafford the rustler.
To none of the men of the outfit did Leviatt or Tucson reveal anything
of the nervousness that affected them. They listened to the rough
jest, they laughed when the others laughed, they dropped an occasional
word of encouragement. They even laughed at jokes in which there was
no visible point.
But they did not move from their places, nor did they neglect to keep a
sharp, alert eye out for the stray-man's appearance. And when they saw
him come out of the door of the office they neglected to joke or laugh,
but stood silent, with the thirty or forty feet of space between them,
their faces paling a little, their hearts laboring a little harder.
When Ferguson stepped out of the door of the office, Stafford followed.
The stray-man had said enough to arouse the manager's suspicions, and
there was something about the stray-man's movements which gave the
impression that he contemplated something more than merely pointing out
the thief. If warning of impending tragedy had ever shone in a man's
eyes, Stafford was certain that it had shone in the stray-man's during
the brief time that he had been in the office and when he had stepped
down from the door.
Stafford had received no invitation to follow the stray-man, but
impelled by the threat in the latter's eyes and by the hint of cold
resolution that gave promise of imminent tragedy, he stepped down also,
trailing the stray-man at a distance of twenty yards.
Ferguson did not hesitate once in his progress toward the bunkhouse,
except to cast a rapid, searching glance toward a group of two or three
men who lounged in the shade of the eaves of the building. Passing the
blacksmith shop he continued toward the bunkhouse, walking with a
steady stride, looking neither to the right or left.
Other men in the group, besides Leviatt and Tucson, had seen the
stray-man coming, and as he came nearer, the talk died and a sudden
silence fell. Ferguson came to a point within ten feet of the group of
men, who were ranged along the wall of the bunkhouse. Stafford had
come up rapidly, and he now stood near a corner of the bunkhouse in an
attitude of intense attention.
He was in a position where he could see the stray-man's face, and he
marveled at the sudden change that had come into it. The tragedy had
gone, and though the hard lines were still around his mouth, the
corners twitched a little, as though moved by a cold, feline humor.
There was a hint of mockery in his eyes—a chilling mockery, much like
that which the manager had seen in them months before when in Dry
Bottom the stray-man had told Leviatt that he thought he was a "plum
But now Stafford stood breathless as he heard the stray-man's voice,
directed at Leviatt. "I reckon you think you've been some busy
lately," he drawled.
Meaningless words, as they appear here; meaningless to the group of men
and to the Two Diamond manager; yet to Leviatt they were burdened with
a dire significance. They told him that the stray-man was aware of his
duplicity; they meant perhaps that the stray-man knew of his dealings
with the cattle thieves whom he had visited yesterday in the hills near
the river. Whatever Leviatt thought, there was significance enough in
the words to bring a sneering smile to his face.
"Meanin'?" he questioned, his eyes glittering evilly.
Ferguson smiled, his eyes unwavering and narrowing a very little as
they met those of his questioner. Deliberately, as though the occasion
were one of unquestioned peace, he drew out some tobacco and several
strips of rice paper. Selecting one of the strips of paper, he
returned the others to a pocket and proceeded to roll a cigarette. His
movements were very deliberate. Stafford watched him, fascinated by
his coolness. In the tense silence no sound was heard except a subdued
rattle of pans in the bunkhouse—telling that the cook and his
assistant were at work.
The cigarette was made finally, and then the stray-man lighted it and
looked again at Leviatt, ignoring his question, asking another himself.
"You workin' down the creek yesterday?" he said.
"Up!" snapped Leviatt. The question had caught him off his guard or he
would have evaded it. He had told the lie out of pure perverseness.
Ferguson took a long pull at his cigarette. "Well, now," he returned,
"that's mighty peculiar. I'd have swore that I seen you an' Tucson
ridin' down the river yesterday. Thought I saw you in a basin in the
hills, talkin' to some men that I'd never seen before. I reckon I was
mistaken, but I'd have swore that I'd seen you."
Leviatt's face was colorless. Standing with his profile to Tucson, he
closed one eye furtively. This had been a signal that had previously
been agreed upon. Tucson caught it and turned slightly, letting one
hand fall to his right hip, immediately above the butt of his pistol.
"Hell!" sneered Leviatt, "you're seein' a heap of things since you've
been runnin' with Mary Radford!"
Ferguson laughed mockingly. "Mebbe I have," he returned. "Ridin' with
her sure makes a man open his eyes considerable."
Now he ignored Leviatt, speaking to Stafford. "When I was in here one
day, talkin' to you," he said quietly, "you told me about you an'
Leviatt goin' to Dry Bottom to hire a gunfighter. I reckon you told
"I sure did," returned Stafford.
Ferguson took another pull at his cigarette—blowing the smoke slowly
skyward. And he drawled again, so that there was a distinct space
between the words.
"I reckon you didn't go around advertisin' that?" he asked.
Stafford shook his head negatively. "There ain't anyone around here
knowed anything about that but me an' you an' Leviatt," he returned.
Ferguson grinned coldly. "An' yet it's got out," he stated quietly.
"I reckon if no one but us three knowed about it, one of us has been
gassin'. I wouldn't think that you'd done any gassin'," he added,
speaking to Stafford.
The latter slowly shook his head.
Ferguson continued, his eyes cold and alert. "An' I reckon that I
ain't shot off about it—unless I've been dreamin'. Accordin' to that
it must have been Leviatt who told Mary Radford that I'd been hired to
kill her brother."
Leviatt sneered. "Suppose I did?" he returned, showing his teeth in a
savage snarl. "What are you goin' to do about it?"
"Nothin' now," drawled Ferguson. "I'm glad to hear that you ain't
denyin' it." He spoke to Stafford, without removing his gaze from the
"Yesterday," he stated calmly, "I was ridin' down the river. I found a
basin among the hills. There was a cabin down there. Four men was
talkin' in front of it. There was twenty calves an' a dozen cows in a
corral. Two of the men was——"
Leviatt's right hand dropped suddenly to his holster. His pistol was
half out. Tucson's hand was also wrapped around the butt of his
pistol. But before the muzzle of either man's gun had cleared its
holster, there was a slight movement at the stray-man's sides and his
two guns glinted in the white sunlight. There followed two reports, so
rapidly that they blended. Smoke curled from the muzzles of the
Tucson sighed, placed both hands to his chest, and pitched forward
headlong, stretching his length in the sand. For an instant Leviatt
stood rigid, his left arm swinging helplessly by his side, broken by
the stray-man's bullet, an expression of surprise and fear in his eyes.
Then with a sudden, savage motion he dragged again at his gun.
One of the stray-man's guns crashed again, sharply. Leviatt's weapon
went off, its bullet throwing up sand in front of Ferguson. Leviatt's
eyes closed, his knees doubled under him, and he pitched forward at
Ferguson's feet. He was face down, his right arm outstretched, the
pistol still in his hand. A thin, blue wreath of smoke rose lazily
from its muzzle.
Ferguson bent over him, his weapons still in his hands. Leviatt's legs
stretched slowly and then stiffened. In the strained silence that had
followed the shooting Ferguson stood, looking gloomily down upon the
quiet form of his fallen adversary.
"I reckon you won't lie no more about me," he said dully.
Without a glance in the direction of the group of silent men, he
sheathed his weapons and strode toward the ranchhouse.
AT THE EDGE OF THE COTTONWOOD
Ferguson strode into the manager's office and dropped heavily into a
chair beside the desk. He was directly in front of the open door and
looking up he could see the men down at the bunkhouse congregated
around the bodies of Leviatt and Tucson.
The end that he had been expecting for the past two days had come—had
come as he knew it must come. He had not been trapped as they had
trapped Rope Jones. When he had stood before Leviatt in front of the
bunkhouse, he had noted the positions of the two men; had seen that
they had expected him to walk squarely into the net that they had
prepared for him. His lips curled a little even now over the thought
that the two men had held him so cheaply. Well, they had learned
differently, when too late. It was the end of things for them, and for
him the end of his hopes. When he had drawn his guns he had thought of
merely wounding Leviatt, intending to allow the men of the outfit to
apply to him the penalty that all convicted cattle thieves must suffer.
But before that he had hoped to induce Leviatt to throw some light upon
the attempted murder of Ben Radford.
However, Leviatt had spoiled all that when he had attempted to draw his
weapon after he was wounded. He had given Ferguson no alternative. He
had been forced to kill the only man who, he was convinced, could have
given him any information about the shooting of Radford, and now, in
spite of anything that he might say to the contrary, Mary Radford, and
even Ben himself, would always believe him guilty. He could not stay
at Two Diamond now. He must get out of the country, back to the old
life at the Lazy J, where among his friends he might finally forget.
But he doubted much. Did men ever forget women they had loved? Some
perhaps did, but he was certain that nothing—not even time—could dim
the picture that was now in his mind: the hill in the flat, the girl
sitting upon the rock beside him, her eyes illuminated with a soft,
tender light; her breeze-blown hair—which he had kissed; which the
Sun-Gods had kissed as, coming down from the mountains, they had bathed
the hill with the golden light of the evening. He had thought then
that nothing could prevent him from enjoying the happiness which that
afternoon seemed to have promised. He had watched the sun sinking
behind the mountains, secure in the thought that the morrow would bring
him added happiness. But now there could be no tomorrow—for him.
Fifteen minutes later Stafford entered the office to find his stray-man
still seated in the chair, his head bowed in his hands. He did not
look up as the manager entered, and the latter stepped over to him and
laid a friendly hand on his shoulder.
"I'm thankin' you for what you've done for me," he said.
Ferguson rose, leaning one hand on the back of the chair upon which he
had been sitting. The manager saw that deep lines had come into his
face; that his eyes—always steady before—were restless and gleaming
with an expression which seemed unfathomable. But he said nothing
until the manager had seated himself beside the desk. Then he took a
step and stood looking into Stafford's upturned face.
"I reckon I've done what I came here to do," he said grimly. "I'm
takin' my time now."
Stafford's face showed a sudden disappointment.
"Shucks!" he returned, unable to keep the regret from his voice.
"Ain't things suited you here?"
The stray-man grinned with straight lips. He could not let the manager
know his secret. "Things have suited me mighty well," he declared.
"I'm thankin' you for havin' made things pleasant for me while I've
been here. But I've done what I contracted to do an' there ain't
anything more to keep me here. If you'll give me my time I'll be
Stafford looked up at him with a sly, significant smile. "Why," he
said, "Leviatt told me that you'd found somethin' real interestin' over
on Bear Flat. Now, I shouldn't think you'd want to run away from her!"
The stray-man's lips whitened a little. "I don't think Mary Radford is
worryin' about me," he said steadily.
"Well, now," returned Stafford, serious again; "then I reckon Leviatt
had it wrong."
"I expect he had it wrong," answered the stray-man shortly.
But Stafford did not yield. He had determined to keep the stray-man at
the Two Diamond and there were other arguments that he had not yet
advanced which might cause him to stay. He looked up again, his face
wearing a thoughtful expression.
"I reckon you remember our contract?" he questioned.
The stray-man nodded. "I was to find out who was stealin' your
cattle," he said.
Stafford smiled slightly. "Correct!" he returned. "You've showed me
two thieves. But a while ago I heard you say that there was two more.
Our contract ain't fulfilled until you show me them too. You reckon?"
The stray-man drew a deep, resigned breath. "I expect that's right,"
he admitted. "But I've told you where you can find them. All you've
got to do is to ride over there an' catch them."
Stafford's smile widened a little. "Sure," he returned, "that's all
I've got to do. An' I'm goin' to do it. But I'm wantin' my range boss
to take charge of the outfit that's goin' over to ketch them."
"Your range boss?" said Ferguson, a flash of interest in his eyes,
"Why, your range boss ain't here any more."
Stafford leaned forward, speaking seriously. "I'm talkin' to my range
boss right now!" he said significantly.
Ferguson started, and a tinge of slow color came into his face. He
drew a deep breath and took a step forward. But suddenly he halted,
his lips straightening again.
"I'm thankin' you," he said slowly. "But I'm leavin' the Two Diamond."
He drew himself up, looking on the instant more his old indomitable
self. "I'm carryin' out our contract though," he added. "If you're
wantin' me to go after them other two men, I ain't backin' out. But
you're takin' charge of the outfit. I ain't goin' to be your range
An hour later ten of the Two Diamond men, accompanied by Stafford and
the stray-man, loped their horses out on the plains toward the river.
It was a grim company on a grim mission, and the men forbore to joke as
they rode through the dust and sunshine of the afternoon. Ferguson
rode slightly in advance, silent, rigid in the saddle, not even
speaking to Stafford, who rode near him.
Half an hour after leaving the Two Diamond they rode along the crest of
a ridge of hills above Bear Flat. They had been riding here only a few
minutes when Stafford, who had been watching the stray-man, saw him
start suddenly. The manager turned and followed the stray-man's gaze.
Standing on a porch in front of a cabin on the other side of the flat
was a woman. She was watching them, her hands shading her eyes.
Stafford saw the stray-man suddenly dig his spurs into his pony's
flanks, saw a queer pallor come over his face. Five minutes later they
had ridden down through a gully to the plains. Thereafter, even the
hard riding Two Diamond boys found it difficult to keep near the
Something over two hours later the Two Diamond outfit, headed by the
stray-man, clattered down into a little basin, where Ferguson had seen
the cabin two days before. As the Two Diamond men came to within a
hundred feet of the cabin two men, who had been at work in a small
corral, suddenly dropped their branding irons and bolted toward the
cabin. But before they had time to reach the door the Two Diamond men
had surrounded them, sitting grimly and silently in their saddles.
Several of Stafford's men had drawn their weapons, but were now
returning them to their holsters, for neither of the two men was armed.
They stood within the grim circle, embarrassed, their heads bowed,
their attitude revealing their shame at having been caught so easily.
One of the men, a clear, steady-eyed fellow, laughed frankly.
"Well, we're plum easy, ain't we boys?" he said, looking around at the
silent group. "Corraled us without lettin' off a gun. That's what I'd
call re-diculous. You're right welcome. But mebbe you wouldn't have
had things so easy if we hadn't left our guns in the cabin. Eh, Bill?"
he questioned, prodding the other man playfully in the ribs.
But the other man did not laugh. He stood before them, his
embarrassment gone, his eyes shifting and fearful.
"Shut up, you damn fool!" he snarled.
But the clear-eyed man gave no attention to this outburst. "You're Two
Diamond men, ain't you?" he asked, looking full at Ferguson.
The latter nodded, and the clear-eyed man continued. "Knowed you right
off," he declared, with a laugh. "Leviatt pointed you out to me one
day when you was ridin' out yonder." He jerked a thumb toward the
distance. "Leviatt told me about you. Wanted to try an' plug you with
his six, but decided you was too far away." He laughed
self-accusingly. "If you'd been half an hour later, I reckon you
wouldn't have proved your stock, but we loafed a heap, an' half of that
bunch ain't got our brand."
"We didn't need to look at no brand," declared Stafford grimly.
The clear-eyed man started a little. Then he laughed. "Then you must
have got Leviatt an' Tucson," he said. He turned to Ferguson. "If
Leviatt has been got," he said, "it must have been you that got him.
He told me he was runnin' in with you some day. I kept tellin' him to
Ferguson's eyelashes twitched a little. "Thank you for the
compliment," he said.
"Aw, hell!" declared the man, sneering. "I wasn't mushin' none!"
Stafford had made a sign to the men and some of them dismounted and
approached the two rustlers. The man who had profanely admonished the
other to silence made some little resistance, but in the end he stood
within the circle, his hands tied behind him. The clear-eyed man made
no resistance, seeming to regard the affair in the light of a huge
joke. Once, while the Two Diamond men worked at his hands, he told
them to be careful not to hurt him.
"I'm goin' to be hurt enough, after a while," he added.
There was nothing more to be done. The proof of guilt was before the
Two Diamond men, in the shape of several calves in the small corral
that still bore the Two Diamond brand. Several of the cows were still
adorned with the Two Diamond ear mark, and in addition to this was
Ferguson's evidence. Therefore the men's ponies were caught up,
saddled, and the two men forced to mount. Then the entire company rode
out of the little gully through which the Two Diamond outfit had
entered, riding toward the cottonwood that skirted the river—miles
A little while before sunset the cavalcade rode to the edge of the
cottonwood. Stafford halted his pony and looked at Ferguson, but the
stray-man had seen enough tragedy for one day and he shook his head,
sitting gloomily in the saddle.
"I'm waitin' here," he said simply. "There'll be enough in there to do
it without me."
The clear-eyed man looked at him with a grim smile.
"Why, hell!" he said. "You ain't goin' in?" his eyes lighted for an
instant. "I reckon you're plum white!" he declared. "You ain't aimin'
to see any free show."
"I'm sayin' so-long to you," returned Ferguson. "You're game." A
flash of admiration lighted his eyes.
The clear-eyed man smiled enigmatically. "I'm stayin' game!" he
declared grimly, without boast. "An' now I'm tellin' you somethin'.
Yesterday Leviatt told me he'd shot Ben Radford. He said he'd lied to
Ben about you an' that he'd shot him so's his sister would think you
done it. You've been white, an' so I'm squarin' things for you. I'm
wishin' you luck."
For an instant he sat in the saddle, watching a new color surge into
the stray-man's face. Then his pony was led away, through a tangle of
undergrowth at the edge of the cottonwood. When Ferguson looked again,
the little company had ridden into the shadow, but Ferguson could make
out the clear-eyed man, still erect in his saddle, still seeming to
wear an air of unstudied nonchalance. For a moment longer Ferguson saw
him, and then he was lost in the shadows.
THE END OF THE STORY
Two weeks later Ferguson had occasion to pass through Bear Flat.
Coming out of the flat near the cottonwood he met Ben Radford. The
latter, his shoulder mending rapidly, grinned genially at the stray-man.
"I'm right sorry I made that mistake, Ferguson," he said; "but Leviatt
sure did give you a bad reputation."
Ferguson smiled grimly. "He won't be sayin' bad things about anyone
else," he said. And then his eyes softened. "But I'm some sorry for
the cuss," he added.
"He had it comin'," returned Ben soberly. "An' I'd rather it was him
than me." He looked up at Ferguson, his eyes narrowing quizzically.
"You ain't been around here for a long time," he said. "For a man
who's just been promoted to range boss you're unnaturally shy."
Ferguson smiled. "I ain't paradin' around showin' off," he returned.
"Someone might take it into their head to bore me with a rifle bullet."
Radford's grin broadened. "I reckon you're wastin' valuable time," he
declared. "For I happen to know that she wouldn't throw nothing
worse'n a posy at you!"
"You don't say?" returned Ferguson seriously. "I reckon——"
He abruptly turned his pony down the trail that led to the cabin. As
he rode up to the porch there was a sudden movement, a rustle, a gasp
of astonishment, and Mary Radford stood in the doorway looking at him.
For a moment there was a silence that might have meant many things.
Both were thinking rapidly over the events of their last meeting at
this very spot. Then Ferguson moved uneasily in the saddle.
"You got that there rifle anywheres handy?" he asked, grinning at her.
Her eyes drooped; one foot nervously pushed out the hem of her skirts.
Then she laughed, flushing crimson.
"It wasn't loaded anyway," she said.
The sunset was never more beautiful than to-day on the hill in Bear
Flat. Mary Radford sat on the rock in her accustomed place and
stretched out, full length beside her, was Ferguson. He was looking
out over the flat, at the shadows of the evening that were advancing
slowly toward the hill.
She turned toward him, her eyes full and luminous. "I am almost at the
end of my story," she said smiling at him. "But," and her forehead
wrinkled perplexedly, "I find the task of ending it more difficult than
I had anticipated. It's a love scene," she added banteringly; "do you
think you could help me?"
He looked up at her. "I reckon I could help you in a real love scene,"
he said, "but I ain't very good at pretendin'."
"But this is a real love scene," she replied stoutly; "I am writing it
as it actually occurred to me. I have reached the moment when you—I
mean the hero—has declared his love for me,—of course (with a blush)
I mean the heroine, and she has accepted him. But they are facing a
problem. In the story he has been a cowpuncher and of course has no
permanent home. And of course the reader will expect me to tell how
they lived after they had finally decided to make life's journey
together. Perhaps you can tell me how the hero should go about it."
"Do you reckon that any reader is that inquisitive?" he questioned.
"Why of course."
He looked anxiously at her. "In that case," he said, "mebbe the reader
would want to know what the heroine thought about it. Would she want
to go back East to live—takin' her cowpuncher with her to show off to
her Eastern friends?"
She laughed. "I thought you were not very good at pretending," she
said, "and here you are trying to worm a declaration of my intentions
out of me. You did not need to go about that so slyly," she told him,
with an earnestness that left absolutely no doubt of her determination,
"for I am going to stay right here. Why," she added, taking a deep
breath, and a lingering glance at the rift in the mountains where the
rose veil descended, "I love the West."
He looked at her, his eyes narrowing with sympathy. "I reckon it's a
pretty good little old country," he said. He smiled broadly. "An' now
I'm to tell you how to end your story," he said, "by givin' you the
hero's plans for the future. I'm tellin' you that they ain't what you
might call elaborate. But if your inquisitive reader must know about
them, you might say that Stafford is givin' his hero—I'm meanin', of
course, his range boss—a hundred dollars a month—bein' some tickled
over what his range boss has done for him.
"An' that there range boss knows when he's got a good thing. He's
goin' to send to Cimarron for a lot of stuff—fixin's an' things for
the heroine,—an' he's goin' to make a proposition to Ben Radford to
make his cabin a whole lot bigger. Then him an' the heroine is goin'
to live right there—right where the hero meets the heroine the first
time—when he come there after bein' bit by a rattler. An' then if any
little heroes or heroines come they'd have——"
Her hand was suddenly over his mouth. "Why—why——" she protested,
trying her best to look scornful—"do you imagine that I would think of
putting such a thing as that into my book?"
He grinned guiltily. "I don't know anything about writin'," he said,
properly humbled, "but I reckon it wouldn't be any of the reader's