Sudden ~ Oliver Strange (Book 02 in the Sudden Westerns series) Chapter I "Too many strangers, that's the trouble in this here one-eyed burg." The hoarse, sneering voice rang out like a challenge, which indeed it was, and the speaker's bloodshot, savage glare roamed round the room as though daring those present to refute his statement. He was a big fellow, blue-shirted, with trousers stuffed into the tops of his high boots, and he wore two guns; a slouched hat partly shaded his bloated, unshaven face. A deepening scowl further detracted from his looks when the continued hum of conversation showed that his remark was being ignored, and the beady eyes glinted evilly. So that was it, huh? Well, he'd let them see that someone had to sit up and take notice when "Pug" Parsons spoke. Though it was yet afternoon, the bar of the Palace Saloon was fairly well patronized, and the crowd was typical of the Western frontier settlements of that day: tradesmen, teamsters, riders from the neighboring ranches, gamblers, a few Mexicans, and a leavening of hard-bitten citizens into whose means of livelihood it would not have been wise to probe. Most of these Parsons knew by sight at least, but there was one whom he had not seen before. Still in his early twenties, slim of hip and broad of shoulder, the stranger leant against the bar with the easy pose of the athlete. His cowboy rig, though worn, was neat, his shirt and the silk handkerchief slung round his neck were clean, and the grey "two-gallon" Stetson pushed back on his head was nearly new. He also sported two guns, the ends of the holsters tied with rawhide strings to his leathern chaps. His lean, shaven, deeply-bronzed face and black hair gave him almost the appearance of an Indian, but the high cheekbones were missing and there was a quirk of humor about the grim mouth which softened the out-thrust of jaw and level, grayish-blue eyes. Parsons absorbed these details and came to his own conclusion. "Dude puncher, tryin' to put up a two-gun bluff," he muttered. "Reckon I'll call it." He turned to the proprietor of the place. "Who's the yearlin'?" he asked, with a nod towards the unconscious cowboy. The saloon-keeper, a short, stout man of middle age, with a pleasant but weak face, looked in the direction indicated. "New to me," he said. "Rid into town 's'afternoon." Then, divining what was in the other's mind, "Aw, leave the boy be, Pug; he ain't doin' no harm. Looks as if he mightn't be too easy rode neither, an' I don't want no trouble here now I got them new glasses." He glanced pridefully at the three gaudy, gilt-framed mirrors decorating the back of the bar. His warning precipitated the calamity it was designed to prevent. The big man's face bacame suffused with passion. Snatching out a gun, he fired point-blank at the centre mirror, defacing its shining surface with a great jagged star and bringing down a clatter of broken glass. "That for yu an' yore damn mirrors," he snarled. "Mebbe it'll larn yu that we ain't goin' to drink cheap liquor so's yu can admire yoreself. Another yap outa yu an' I'll serve the other two the same an' close yore joint." The saloon-keeper dared not reply--he knew the threat was no vain one. The gunman had only to let it be known that to drink at the Palace would be to incur his displeasure, and few in the town would run the risk; there were other saloons. Parsons swung about, his fierce gaze travelling over the company and finally resting on the indifferent figure by the bar. "Hey, stranger! " he called. The cow-puncher looked up. "Speakin' to me?" he asked quietly.

"Shore I am," the other roared. "Ain't yu the on'y stranger here?" "Can't say," the cowboy replied, adding with a ghost of a smile, "yu see, they's all strangers to me." Someone sniggered, and Parsons, suspecting he was being made fun of, growled out an oath. "Don't git festive with me, fella," he warned. "It ain't considered wise. What yu smash that mirror for, huh?" This astounding accusation was followed by a silence broken only by little scufflings as men unobtrusively slid out of the possible line of fire; with Pug on the warpath, it behoved the bystander to take precautions; usually the brute got away with his bullying, but this time .. . "'Pears to me Parsons may've picked the wrong man--that boy looks a plenty cold proposition," a poker player whispered to a neighbour. "If he downs Pug this yer town won't go inta mournin'," was the reply. "'Bout time that big bear had his claws cut." The subject of the conversation still lounged carelessly against the bar, a smile on his mobile lips, but there was no humour in the cold, narrowed eyes. "So I busted her?" he said softly. "Well, what yu aimin' to do about it?" The bully's lips wreathed in a hateful sneer--it was going to be easy. Though not drunk, he had swallowed enough raw spirit to blunt his perceptive faculties, or he would not have come to this decision; his victim's demeanour was not that of a scared man. "I'm aimin' to make yu pay for it, but first yu'll entertain the company with a li'l dance," Parsons said. "Step lively, yu " The word was not a pretty one, and the bullet which followed it tore a splinter from the floor close to the puncher's right foot. "The next one takes a toe," the gunman warned, and fired again. But even as he pressed the trigger the cowboy had moved, a swift jump forward to the right, and then his left foot swept up and kicked the loosely-held weapon from the marksman's fingers. Recovering his balance, the stranger stepped in and drove a fist, with all the impetus of his advancing body, to the bully's jaw. For an instant the stricken man rocked on his heels, and then crashed to the floor, where he lay mouthing curses and clawing for his other gun. "Don't yu," the puncher rasped. "I'm showin' yu why." He flipped a silver dollar away from him and by the time it tinkled on the boards both his guns were out and spouting flame. The first bullet struck the edge of the coin, spinning it in the air again, the second drove it down, and the third jumped it a yard further away. Ten shots in as many seconds were fired, and each time the winking target was fairly hit. Then the puncher thrust his weapons back into their holsters and looked contemptuously at the prostrate man. "Here endeth the first lesson," he said. "yu can stand up on yore hind legs again. There's two pills left in my guns, case yu got any ideas." Parsons scrambled slowly to his feet; the blood seemed to have drained from his face, leaving it a yellowish white --a fish-belly white, unwholesome, repulsive. Out of it his malignant little eyes watched the smoke-wreathed wizard who had sardonically invited him to die. For he knew it meant just that, and for the first time in his life, he, Pug Parsons, who had watched men cringe before his levelled gun and had shot them down with a jeer, was conscious of abject physical fear. He had only one desire--to save his life. A little cough broke the tense silence and Parsons jumped; his nerve had gone. "`Li'l think-box don't seem to be workin'," the stranger said mockingly, and then, in a different tone, "I'm givin' yu thirty minutes to leave town." He looked at the landlord. "How

much that mirror cost yu?" "She set me back one hundred bucks." "I gotta show myself. "Make good use of 'em. or yu'll be takin' part in a funeral--the leadin' part. fastening it to the edge of a shelf. with a white collar and neatly-tied cravat. and the landlord received many compliments on his business acumen. peeled off several and flung them on the bar. "I've some whisky and cigars at the hotel I'd like your opinion of--I think they are better . "Stranger. "yu've done me one hell of a good turn. I got a li'l business to attend to. and. "Stranger. and then drove a nail through the defaced coin." he added." he said. I want yu gents to remember that this yer saloon has got a new name--she's `The Shot Dollar' from now on." the puncher repeated. but he'd have to start the day afore to beat yu. "That jasper was after my hair. The landlord called to him: "Pass that over. "That fella has been a blister on it for months--he's killed two men an' crippled four-five others. "I guess I'll git some questions 'bout that. "Folk'll think it's bad money. and the onlookers stirred to action again. "Yu got twenty minutes left. the puncher stepped along the street. but it ain't--it's good money. the best I ever see. Reminds me." the saloon-keeper cut in. with fumbling fingers. been sitting alone at a table in one corner of the Palace." He turned to the owner of the coin." he said curtly." was the reply. dressed in black "store" clothes. "All correct. Sabe?" Like a whipped hound the ruffian slunk out of the saloon. friend. the cowboy now remembered. He stepped swiftly through the swing-doors. Parsons pulled a roll of bills from his pocket. "I ain't got--" he began." was the reply. "Ante up." he said. The owner of the place put the matter plainly. But there was nothing formidable in the speaker's appearance: a short. The gunman moistened his parched lips." the puncher smiled. What's more. The puncher turned to Parsons. "Yu took three hundred from a pilgrim in this room las' night." he said. an' yu'll drink with me on that. Is there any way I can square the 'count?" "Yu don't owe me nothin'. Oh." he remarked. with a poor attempt at bravado. "Set 'em up. I reckon this town is mighty obliged to yu. "Young man. "Betche life." the puncher replied." the other told him." The puncher paused instantly." he said. In the midst of the celebration he drew the puncher aside. yo're wastin' time. Timms." he said. "This buys drinks for the crowd if yo're willin'. The puncher looked at the man he had worsted. there was always the chance that the beaten man might make a desperate attempt to avenge himself and regain his lost reputation. Then he became aware that someone had followed him out of the saloon. and did so. "Ante up. an' his bronc'll be throwin' gravel plenty industrious just now. for. "yu busted that fella wide open." "If yo're goin' to look for Pug. despite the landlord's confidence. See yu later--mebbe. I would like a word with you. and after waiting a moment. The saloon-keeper sent bottles and glasses spinning along the bar in front of the lined-up customers. He had. and there was a deadly finality in his voice. "Better count 'em. But there was no sign. his manner alert. he can use his guns pretty nifty." One of the men had picked up the battered dollar and was examining it. his gaze darting right and left." the landlord retorted." A chorus of acclamation greeted his proposal. bulky man of around forty-five.

or parson. on occasion. "I came here to find you. Men smiled as they saw the stout little stranger almost trotting to keep up with the long. His educated speech. for the story of the fracas at the Palace had soon spread and the puncher was already famous." the little man went on. His host smiled shrewdly. and invited his guest to sit down and help himself." Though the cowboy's lounging form remained motionless. "You are James Green of Texas. "If I ordered the sheriff to arrest you he'd tell me where I could go." replied the elder man. Heads turned curiously as they passed along the street. and the twinkle was again evident. and sometimes men call you `Sudden." "An' they want me for crimes I never committed. As he had already proved. "Time we got acquainted. "You're forgetting that this salubrious settlement of Juniper is in New Mexico. "Me." he replied. He suddenly decided that he was able to take care of himself and his "roll." he said." remarked one. The man from Tucson held up a hand." At the hotel the little man led the way to a private parlour."Sudden said bitterly. and drifting the wrong way." "I don't seem to have no other engagement. with an indefinite air of authority. The liquor he was invited to sample might be hocussed. decide and act with amazing speed." he said. easy stride of the tall cowboy. and his attire." he drawled. the puncher was waiting for the next move. and two sheriffs are searching for you. the way . but that meant little--card-sharps and crooks frequently posed as inoffensive citizens. an' yet I'm hunted like I was a mad dawg. "If you are quick with a gun it's easy to get a bad reputation in the West. "You're drifting. It was difficult to believe that this harmless-appearing little man could be Governor Bleke of Arizona. he was a deliberate animal. but he did not reply at once. He was wondering what this man was. you may have heard of me. but--and he afterwards wondered why--it never occurred to him to doubt the statement. young fellow. I'd sooner wrastle a wild cat. the Indian sign of peace. I never stole a dollar in my life. The guest grinned broadly. His host evidently divined his attitude. his cigar clamped between his lips. His next remark was a curious one.than our friend back there provides. leaving both hands free. Already you are named as an outlaw. and I hail from Tucson. schoolmaster. but I'm a mite fussy 'bout the music. reached a bottle of whisky and a box of cigars from a cupboard. A short silence ensued. "My name is Bleke. and Bleke went on. but he hesitated. you get trouble forced on you." The cow-puncher looked a shade abashed. "You don't seem to care for dancing.' " he said easily." The cowboy liked that twinkle. suggested a lawyer. Custom required that he should now declare his own name. "Things done when I was scores o' miles away. his narrowed eyes widened." "All that I know. but save under the spur of necessity. "If he's aimin' to lift that fella's wad he deserves to git it for his pluck." The puncher stiffened. seh. "Good. as it was back there in the saloon." he pointed out. The liquor and the smoke were both of good quality--he had expected they would be--but that only made him more suspicious. he could. palm outwards." was the reply. his eyes were frosty. "You see"--a twinkle sprang into his grey eyes--"I don't have to buy mirrors. "Shore do. whose reputation for cold courage and implacability of purpose as a ruler extended far beyond his own turbulent territory. he wore no weapons in sight.

and indeed he had seen nothing of the kind since he had left Doverton in the early morning. Green? Sooner or later you'll be caught and punished for something you didn't do." "I'll go yu. and between them were savannahs of rich grass in which the tiny lakes and streams gleamed like silver in the sunlight. the newly-appointed deputy-sheriff departed." For though he had talked but little. but for the last four days he had been riding. it's a risky job I'm offering. were on every side. "Anyone dependent on you?" The visitor shook his head. "Shore is a fierce bit o' country. if he's looking for action. but that won't mean anything unless he can back it up with a gun." he said." When. The view was wild but imposing." Bleke replied. "I'm shore a lone wolf. The railway. half an hour later. seh. "I want a man who can use his weapons" "I'm no hired killer. and this is a chance for you to get in on the right side. "Good--from my point of view. and worth saving. That boy is of the outlaw breed. that's as maybe. As a deputy-sheriff he will have the authority of the law behind him. As it is. But where's it going to end. "Well. and knew that he must now be nearing his destination. spired and pinnacled. and then the twinkle crept into his eyes again. I'm not asking. If you lose out . Well." the other harshly interrupted. and the man who does that must be able to protect himself. and it's more than likely to tell against him should it become known. and then--you'll run handled that skunk told me a lot--you had every right to kill him. and that's why I'm looking for a man with a head as well as hands. waiting. sure enough. their bases buried in primeval forest." the puncher said instantly. forceful personality of this apparently insignificant little man. by a devious route. . that is. you've got to keep moving. "If you were I wouldn't be talking to you." the cowboy mused." he said. had brought him part of the journey across Arizona." the puncher said darkly." the Governor commented. Through a gap in the hills the wayfarer caught a glint of yellow. "Now for details. I'm due for a right interestin' time. "I'm right glad. and knew it for a desert. "You'll have to depend on yourself too--I won't be able to help you. This country is young. there are plague spots in Arizona that I want cleared up. He was beginning to realize the quiet. and the law isn't very well regarded." he said. The sky was a vault of palest blue. he'll have to use his own judgment. There was no sign of human habitation. Bleke too was silent." was the sharp retort." The cowboy did not reply at once. "One more turn of the screw and there would have been another good citizen gone wrong and merry hell to pay. "Listen to me. his heart warming to the young fellow who had risen so promptly to his mild bait. The elder man smiled and nodded. "I reckon I've found my man and done the State a service at the same time. and with no movement in the air." Chapter II Two weeks later the man who had humiliated Pug Parsons in Juniper halted his horse on the flat top of a mesa and surveyed the surrounding expanse." he sololoquized. he's liable to get it where I've sent him. the mere mention of his objective had produced raised . Bleke lighted another cigar and smiled his satisfaction. his keen gaze rested speculatively on the maker of this curious proposition. "Of course." "There's another reason for that. Great ridges of rock. the vertical rays of the mid-day sun had almost the heat of flames. but the time is coming when it will be. "If half I've heard is correct. .

"Windy is bad medicine. I got all the time there is. "Howdy. whose sullen eyes surveyed the intruder curiously. but whyever should yu wanta go to Windy?" he asked. friend! Might this be the way to Windy?" "It might.45 slug what bored him. an' we gotta be good. but allasame. huh?" the rider smiled. workin' for Uncle Sam. for offences of which he was not guilty. stranger. the Governor had told him little. the puncher's thoughts reverted to the little man who had sought him out to send him on this errand of danger. "Playin' yu'd like to bite me. Saddled. he was clearly suspicious of this capable-looking stranger who reined up and greeted him with a grin. As a man will. and the rider grinned sardonically. dropped down in a zigzag from the mesa and plunged into a big patch of pines. "I ain't presumin'. He knew that by doing so Bleke had saved him from a worse fate. yu cinder from hell. "Well. some good luck. lonely hours with a horse. "No more hellin' round. "Dunno what sorta hornets' nest we're a-steppin' into. "but there's one way to find out. he affected a quizzical disdain. and this had become more marked as he proceeded. with a truck-patch and rude corral. A citizen of one town he stayed at even expressed his wonder verbally. for a man who ain't in a hurry. huh?" the rider continued." His gaze . yu sabe?" The animal shook its head and whinneyed softly. "King Burdette has a long arm an' a heavy fist at the end of it. The trail. and an outstanding ability to take care of himself. unjustly. "The drinks are shore on yu." Sudden smiled grimly as he recalled the remark. and Sudden guessed that the fellow had a weapon handy. hunted in certain parts of his own country. The keeper of the hotel at Doverton had flatly refused to answer his questions. as a young man will." Emerging from the pines. "On'y fella I ever knowed who visited there was bored to death." The big black swung its head round. "We're respectable folk now. Nig. "Well. Texas. Facing a small valley was a one-storeyed log-cabin. the fact that Doverton was no less than forty miles from Windy suggested that Burdette was an opponent to be approached warily. But beneath the surface he sensed a serious undercurrent. he had been fairly caught. no fights--the soft answer that turneth away wrath for us every time. he confided in the animal. stranger. Bleke had known it. and that it would require a man with all his wits about him." The cow-puncher laughed and paid. Pacing leisurely beneath the pillared arches of the forest. an unwillingness to talk about the town to which he was travelling. they came upon evidence of civilization. which might have been no more than a runway for wild creatures. too fast--it was a . Sudden himself knew it. lips lifted to show the strong teeth. "Makes yu laugh. Chewing on the stem of a corncob pipe." he drawled." and he stroked the sleek neck. I don't blame yu at that. we gotta let ourselves be tromped on. Lounging in the doorway was a man of middle age." "So I've strayed some. huh? Yu old fraud. with the reputation of an outlaw. though." he said.eyebrows and other symptoms of surprise. G'wan. "No. and was conscious of a sense of satisfaction in being definitely arrayed on the side of law and order. who spends long. huh?" the traveller suggested. if I catch yu chewin' up another gent's hoss I'll just naturally larrup the linin' outa yu." chuckled the speaker. Beyond the bare statement that there was a mess to be cleared up. his right hand was behind the door-jamb. it would have taken little more to turn him into a desperado." he had said." "Too slow for him. even to himself. Nig.

huh?" "Yeah." "He certainly don't actually despise hisself. he did not want to betray more than the natural curiosity of a stranger in local affairs. Then. he's a white man. he was. and when the man did not reply. Purdie is yore best bet. Sudden watched him disappear with a speculative eye. returned it with amused indifference. "But what's the use o' gettin' ambitious when yo're liable to be run off any time? `Nesters' ain't popular in these parts." he added bitterly. "Stopped to ask the way to Windy." . shot from cover. Fosbee?" he asked." the puncher grinned. and seeing the man did not get his meaning. it ain'tadvertisin'. "Middlin' slim. who's too mean to spit. "What yu belly-achin' about the Burdettes for." the puncher pointed out. "Who's yore friend?" "Dunno.took in the slovenly building." The sneer on the man's face deepened. he decided." Fosbee explained." he replied meaningly. and for a moment it seemed that he would give vent to his anger. but the Ol' Man got bumped off three-four months back. "There's the Circle B --that's Burdette. he asked." was the reply. "Member o' the Royal Family. nor in any others fur as I can make out." "Folks would take it he was guilty." the homesteader retorted. "Yu mark my words. "What's yore business in Windy?" he asked bluntly. He was young--little more than twenty--with a freckled face and blue eyes which had a frosty glint in them as they rested on the nester. "Place is all right if a fella was let alone. The cow-puncher was still smiling. who. I take it. but somewhat over-imbued with his own importance. waiting for the question he knew would come. the Burdette boys will get him. The young man flushed. "Well." the other said dourly." Ere Sudden could reply to this a horseman galloped round a bend in the trail just beyond the cabin and pulled his pony to a slithering stop in front of them. he added. "What chance for a cow-wrastler around her?" he inquired. The snub brought the hot blood again into the boy's cheeks. noted the half-hearted attempt at cultivation and the few cattle feeding in the valley. his querulous voice rising. with a little lift of the shoulders. "Yo're a stranger here?" he said." The young man turned an interested gaze upon the puncher. "Mebbe. that was Luce--they called him Lucifer 'count of his havin' a red head like a match. Nobody knows who done it. rolled and lighted a cigarette. mebbe not. "If I'd filed on a bit o' land like this it'd take a lot to stampede me. the C P--Purdie's ranch. an' then again. If I was young Kit Purdie I'd leave the country." he said. though that ain't sayin' a lot. He got out the makings. "Someone musta told yu. Sudden smiled." the puncher stated." Sudden changed the subject. "An' he's the best o' the bunch. "How many o' the tribe is there?" "King Burdette an' three brothers--use ter be five in the family. "Mebbe. and then turned to Fosbee." he said. an' the Box S --a small one owned by Slype." he replied with gentle sarcasm. over on War Axe Ridge. A likeable enough youth. whose countenance was more lugubrious than ever. lolling easily in his saddle. "Buckin' the Burdette boys ain't paid nobody yet. but the Burdettes blame the Purdies--there's allus been bad blood between 'em. "One o' the Burdettes. The freckled one fidgeted with his reins for a moment. he swung his pony round and spurred away without another word. "Yu shore picked a nice location." Fosbee said sulkily. the marshal. but he'd be alive.

"An' I'm bettin' that boy ain't bad. from a dense mass of brush almost on the floor of the gully. and he was casting about for the best place to descend when the angry crash of a rifle awoke a succession of echoes. a rifle spoke in reply. smoke curled from the midst of a tree. Kneeling behind the prostrate trunk of a windfall. grabbed his rifle from the saddle. I'm told there's gold around here. Two simultaneous reports from the other side followed. Hundreds of yards distant he had a momentary glimpse of a grey horse. but I liked the look of him. and leaving his horse. In a flash the puncher was out of the saddle and crouching behind an outcrop of rock. but it soon petered out. huh?" the puncher smiled. but it relieved his feelings. "See yu later. disgruntled fellow who would vent his venom on any more successful than himself. Along the bottom ran a tiny. Some claims it's up on Ol' Stormy. yes. High up on the rising ground behind the stricken fighter. they've outplayed him. showed whence it came. found himself hoping that this was the case. and. There's fellas still pannin' an' pocket-minin' the slopes o' the valley." "If they could strike the mother-lode --" "Yu ain't the first to think o' that." "That's so--Windy started on a gold boom. whose sympathy had instinctively been for the weaker party. "If yo're quick with a gun an' ain't pertic'ler." he added. however. however. giving the impression of a fusillade." He turned abruptly into the house. Sudden saw the man below raise his rifle. Had the third man been wiped out? The puncher. p'raps. The sight of the water made him thirsty." retorted the other. "I'm jawin' too much. "I reckon every man in town has searched one time or another. Before he could reach it." Fosbee cut in. and a ballooning puff of smoke. a little way up the opposing incline. The watcher cursed as he realized what had taken place. but that's all yu do get. He found the tree. but ere he could press the trigger another report rang out and he slumped down." the puncher mused. leaving the traveller no choice but to ride on. and scrambling back to the rim of the gully. his rifle in readiness. a big spruce. for. Meanwhile the strange duel continued. one against the other. cactus. and fired at it. He knew the shot was useless. the sloping sides of which were covered with vegetation--spruce. juniper. but his fear of the Burdettes was evident. Yu can get `colour' a'most anywheres in the sand o' Thunder River. his manhood is some recent"--he himself was but a few years older--"an' I expect he ain't had much experience. an' mebbe that's why " He paused suddenly. thoughtfully considering what he had learned. the abraded trunk of which showed how the killer had climbed up to get a clear shot . the thud of hoofs on the trail told him that he was too late. Presently he happened upon a spit of grass-covered rock which jutted out." "Thank you. "Likely I'll go gravel-grubbin' for a spell. but they don't hardly make more'n a grub-stake. and then from the opposite slope came a single shot. the weapon dropping from nerveless fingers. "I'm takin' it yo're honest. by worming along it on his belly." Less than half an hour brought him to the rim of a widish gully. "Damnation. a man dressed in the garb of the range was peering intently across the gully. There was but one shot. but now only two were firing. was able to overlook the spot where the lone marksman was ensconced. And so it proved. twisted stream fringed with willows and cottonwoods. Fosbee did not impress him favourably--a sour. and began to run in the direction from which the fatal shot had come." he muttered."Yu don't recommend Burdette. and tall grasses. A moment later he realized that he was not the target. "O' course. For a while nothing happened." the visitor said gravely. Actually it did not amount to much. Sudden searched for a break in the foliage.

"Looks like them Burdettes has got even. and save for the surrounding scenery. the dead man had dark hair. riding his own horse and leading the other." he said savagely. A whinny took him to a neighbouring thicket. there was no further evidence. I'd shore like to meet them hombres. Pacing soberly along. the most pretentious of which . That it was a corpse concerned him little--violent death was no new thing to him. in summer. beside what. he dropped from the tree. might have been any one of the many he had passed through. ol hoss. so called--according to a facetious dweller therein --because it never was. for he had often to force a passage through the tangle of his victim. after a tempestuous journey through the wild gorges of the mountain-side. granite hills. and detours to avoid miniature precipices were necessary. which." Chapter III WINDY. "Pie like mother made. face downwards. hoof. Well. entering under the left shoulder-blade. a Winchester . At the western end of the valley towered Old Stormy. can't leave the body here for the buzzards. only a short time ago. as he had suspected. hat in hand. "One coyote keeps him busy while the other sneaks round an' plugs him from behind. but beyond the frequent flash of a bird's wing no sign of life rewarded his scrutiny. The eastern limit of the valley was dominated by a tree-and scrub-covered." he mused. leading his horse. "I wouldn't 'a' said he was that sort." It was possible that the slain man was only one of the C P outfit. s'pose I'll have to take him in. and. and.and wheel-rutted street formed by two irregular rows of buildings. Sudden shook his head at the thought. he was only too sure that the nester had been a true prophet. but remembering what Fosbee had said. but the manner in which it had been brought about put a savage set to his lips and gave the grey-blue eyes a flinty expression. across the saddle of its own pony. Save for an empty shell. So that it was nearly half an hour before he stood. unblinking eyes he searched the valley. where he found a tied pony bearing the brand C P. and. the source of Thunder River. This took time. Death had been instant. a shallow stream rolling lazily along its sandy bed to depart placidly by way of a break in the hills. The puncher hoisted himself into the branches. his thoughts naturally dwelt upon the grisly burden jolting spasmodically on the back of the other animal. headed into the valley. a formidable cone of ribbed and turreted rock. One thing the puncher saw at a glance--it was not. lay in the middle of a large saucer-like depression enclosed by forest-clad slopes which were themselves walled in by an oval of craggy. "It shore looks bad for Mister Luce. securing it with the lariat hanging from the horn. and the glazed eyes which stared up at the blue sky when Sudden turned the body over were a deep brown. began to work his way down to the scene of the tragedy. but I couldn't do nothin' else. young Burdette. The place presented no features of interest. an' what I'm packin' in will certainly start it. where he found a dim trail which appeared likely to take him to the town." With grim. and then. Though about the same age. and then.38." He draped the corpse. At the sight of this his frown deepened. found that nothing interrupted his view of the dead man. for the bullet. became a wide. had penetrated the heart. squat pile known as Battle Butte. had been a human being in all the vigour of early manhood. "That fella Luce was ridin' a grey." he confided to his mount --"big trouble. "It'll mean trouble. Satisfied that the assassins had decamped. and some faint footprints. The westering sun was sinking behind the hills in a flare of crimson fire when Sudden rode into the town." he muttered. as he had expected. The same dusty.

"Somebody fetch Doc. The mention of the glimpsed grey horse brought a curse from Slype." the traveller told him." the officer snapped. but the sun-scorched. The man's first words confirmed this impression. "yu won't have far to look for them as did this." he ordered. "What d'yu s'pose I am--the undertaker?" he sneered. "Whose remainders are yu totin'?" "That's what I wanta find out. I told yu I fired once. "It would 'a' bin a good bluff." The accused man smiled in derision. the puncher told his story. who would take every advantage and give none. a bullying." At this demand the stranger stiffened. a short. several displayed the false front. which bore on a battered sign the inscription "The Lucky Chance. "An' fetched him into show yu? Oh. "Hell's flames. fat man. warped shingles rendered the device a transparent one in both senses of the word. the other asked no more questions. and a still meaner mouth which a drooping black moustache unfortunately failed to conceal. yu'd better try Magee's. staring." Sudden said acidly. A cynic might well have reflected that in the whole of the valley only the work of mankind was an abomination. yeah." By the time the puncher reached the spot he had a following of every person he had met. he made better time than could the horses in the loose sand. it's Kit Purdie--thought I reckernized his roan! " cried one of them. when he saw the new arrival. I'll show yu. Clumping along the board sidewalk. "We on'y got yore word. ." the man replied. or dug-outs. but before he had ridden far along it a man emerged from one of the shacks and paused. with a narrow." the puncher retorted. mean eyes. "Yu mighta done it yoreself. He looked disgustfully at the limp form on the led horse." Ere the marshal could reply to this obvious challenge. arrogant jack-in-office." "Keep yore fool trap closed--Up to now there ain't nothin' to show who done it. with long.44 an' the barrel is foul. Toley. At a word from the marshal two of the bystanders untied the body and laid it on the sidewalk. "Yu wanta see me?" he asked truculently. who promptly asked for the marshal's office. and there was an ominous rasp in his voice as he replied. crafty face. "Which end would yu like to look at? She's a Winchester . He looked malignantly at Sudden. Only a few of the erections boasted a second storey. but I reckon I gotta. wizened fellow of about thirty-five. The absence of paint was remedied by the grey-white alkali dust which covered everything. "Why didn't the damn young idjut pull his freight like I told him?" He hent over the body and then straightened up. and this was soon augmented by those in the saloon. The last to appear was the marshal. adding meaningly. "No. "I'm reckonin' that as marshal it's yore job to find out who bumped off this fella. a smallish.were of log or 'dobe. Sudden recognized the type. and a rubble of tin cans which hemmed in each habitation formed a sordid substitute for vegetation." retorted the officer. "I've brung yu a job. Sudden found the street deserted." he scoffed. but his forehead wrinkled in a worried frown." he said." The retort evoked an audible snicker from the onlookers and a spot of colour in the sallow cheeks of the officer. Anxious to be first with the news. the others being mere shacks with dirt roofs. "Furder up. "What d'yu know 'bout this?" Sitting slackly in his saddle. Sam. and presently disappeared through the swing-doors of one of the larger buildings. but if yo're needin' Sam. and turned to the puncher. "Lemme see yore gun.

Doc. "If you and your friends the Burdettes don't like it." was the reply. men who had not thought of it before furtively removed their hats. "Shore is. his eyes shining wetly in the half-light. At length the gruesome task was done and he stood up. "Want yu to dig suthin' out--the bullet. But there was no weakness in voice or bearing when he turned to the marshal." Purdie turned his misted eyes on the stranger." he said sullenly. Sudden repeated his story of the shooting." he said reluctantly. and in a moment he was beside the body. With the morbid curiosity of a crowd the world over. For some moments there was silence. tragedy in every line of his face. and the frown on his face was heavier. with the short. precise. "Luce ain't got the on'y . mebbe it'll give us a pointer. an' I knowed that afore. Chris." he whispered brokenly. "Yu didn't see the skunk?" the old man asked. From the outskirts of the crowd a voice rang through the gathering gloom : "He'll take the ." he growled. One glance was enough. clean-shaven face. "My lad--my only lad." sneered Slype. He was clearly the worse for liquor. "No. and the doctor cursed them when the stamping feet threatened to engulf him. his look was an invitation. I caught the flash of a grey hoss through the brush an' took a chance.38 an' the bullet bears that out. friend. Before his advance the crowd opened. pushed his way unceremoniously through the crowd. and began to probe. "Luce Burdette uses a . was now drawn and haggard.. Slippery?" he asked. Sam?" cried the fellow who had spoken before." the medico retorted." the puncher told him. "We dunno." "Yu didn't tell me nothin' 'cept that yore mouth opens too easy.unkempt hair. "Hell! Here comes Ol' Man Purdie. "Ain't askin' yu to." Purdie said.38 to me. "Looks like a . What's the use of sending for me now? I can't put life into a dead man. "What do you want now. "Who did this?" he asked harshly. "young Purdie. "God ! " he muttered. and then. the bloodstained pellet of lead between his fingers. yu got no right to say that. "The shell I found was a . Then the bereaved father heaved himself to his feet. came a sturdily-built. what cussed luck brought him to town to-day?" Stepping heavily but swiftly along the sidewalk. cut away the clothing which covered the wound. broad-shouldered man of around fifty. "Claims he saw it happen. "It's true. Slippery. "I have a right to say just what I damn please." Slype replied. "What did I tell yu.38 in the world. His strong. "King Burdette'll be glad to hear o' yore interest in his family. which should have expressed good-humour. clipped stride of one who has spent much of his life in the saddle. the onlookers jostled one another to get a view. If I could 'a' sat in the game I'd 'a' been right pleased." He dropped on one knee and touched the pallid face.38." agreed half a dozen of the nearest spectators. but his speech was careful. and a clever if somewhat bloated face." Toley turned the corpse so that it lay face downwards. "This fella fetched him in"--he jerked a thumb at the cow-puncher." snapped the officer. suit yourselves. as he saw the outstretched figure." "I'm obliged to yu. has he?" "He's got the on'y one in these parts that I knows of. eh? So the Burdettes have downed him?" The marshal gritted out an oath. The marshal examined it. then." The marshal's mean eyes flashed an ugly look at him. "Yu know near as much as I do.

And now. an' if they done it an' took the notion. "Yu can save yore breath." his informant observed. an' that goes." Sudden gripped the outstretched hand. and in the morning attended the sorry farce of an inquiry into the death of young Purdie. "We got mighty little to justify that. At length he too turned to retrace his steps to Windy." the cattleman said in a deep voice. and his cowboy's inherent dread of emotion in any form kept him tongue-tied. there's . The C P can fight its own battles an' pay its own scores. keep out of it. There were many such men among the early pioneers. shore enough. they'd be here brazenin' it out. but there ain't a smidgin o' fear in the whole bilin'. yu betcha. when Fate had dealt him the bitterest blow of all." the marshal remonstrated. Bad? Shore they're bad." he returned. "If yu want me to deal with this" The other whirled fiercely upon him. None of the Burdettes was present. but their work survives. who had faced indomitably all the difficulties and disasters which the early pioneer in a savage untamed region must expect. Purdie. there ain't any need. He had not gone far when Purdie caught him up. whoever yu are. "This is their work." Then came the interment." "The hoss an' the gun tally. "Yu call that mighty little. their names are forgotten. "I ain't askin' yu to. There. in his mellowing years." Slype insisted. "Yu see." "That ain't no way to talk. still full of fight. When the two miners who officiated had filled in the grave." was the angry retort. but he did not know what to say. a citizen informed the puncher. The verdict that deceased met his end in a gun-fight with a person or persons unknown appeared to satisfy the marshal." he grated. an' Luce was seen headin' that way a bit before it happened. Indians. "Stranger. and despite his iron control there was a tremor in his tone. he was quickly corrected. save for the sturdy figure with folded arms and bowed head gazing with unseeing eyes at the newly-made mound which held all his hopes." he said. the spectators resumed their hats and melted away. but life is like that. huh?" "It ain't conclusive. he was pretty near all I had--I lost his mother when he was no more'n a li'l trick. "I wish I could 've . thirst--Chris Purdie had fought and beaten them all. "It's shore tough. on a grassy slope shaded by cottonwoods and birches. the puncher followed the procession to the little cemetery less than half a mile to the north of the town. he was still unsubdued. I ain't a-goin' to back down before all the Burdettes that ever was pupped. the boy was laid to rest. but when that young man suggested that this was perhaps good policy on their part. "Yu said it. "Why.. "Ain't none of 'em lackin' sand." There was no passion in the challenge--it was the stark defiance of one whose life had been a battle.. no sir." The cattleman's head jerked up. "Don't yu get no wrong ideas about them fellas. "I'm here to administer the law" "Yo're here to do what the Circle B murderers tell yu. Chapter IV SUDDEN passed the night at the hotel. they made Western America.Black Burdettes. Chris. though it aroused murmurs in some quarters." He paused awkwardly." "Hold yore hosses. Slype. in a silence broken only by the gay chirping of the birds and a few remembered fragments of the burial service pronounced by the doctor." Purdie said bitterly. starvation. and the other man nodded his comprehension. Nature in her wildest moods. rustlers. Sudden was the last to leave. The puncher would have liked to utter a word of comfort. "I reckon I ain't thanked yu right for what yu did." the marshal broke in. By God! it'll settle this one in full.

an' we'll settle it here an' now." "Yu don't know the breed--lyin's as natural as breathin' with them. "I've just struck town. If yu wasn't a Bur-dette. The boy's face flushed at the insult. I had nothin' to do with his death." the young man said hotly. an' you was seen headin' that way a bit before. but he made no move towards his weapon." he sneered.. his lips clamped tightly. and then he straightened up. it was Luce Burdette. if things had been different." He was silent for some moments. yu cur." Sudden. Burdette did not hesitate." The cattleman looked at him. "Pull yore gun. They were entering the town when a young man came striding rapidly towards them. an' when I do--he dies. Purdie. "O' course yu'd say so." the old man said. "Well. his eyes like chilled steel." the other replied." he said." he cried. and walked slowly away. "What I was goin' to ask yu when that houn' showed up was to see me before yu make any plans. mad with misery." The elder man shot a quick look at him. I give yu my word. Purdie.on'y Nan now. "I never had any grudge against Kit--in fact .. heard there was gold here too. "I ain't decided. but the cattleman's face expressed nothing hut incredulity. but I'm bettin' it was a Burdette any-ways. "I'm kind o' footloose about now. "Yu tryin' to tell me I killed yore son?" he cried. "Yu bet there's a reason--yo're yellow." lie said harshly. yu'd be stretchin' hemp right now. an' figured I'd have a look at Arizona. he stopped square in front of them. fired by a fella who rode a grey. Purdie looked at the puncher. there's yore hoss an' gun." He hesitated and then burst out. "What d'yu make o' that?" "I don't think he did it. him an' me might 'a' been good friends. "Murder is one o' the things that bein' sorry for don't excuse." His eyes. Sudden's eyes went to his companion. "There is if a fella knowed where to search." "It's a damnable lie. like the rest o' yore scaly. squaring his shoulders as though making a conscious effort to free them of a burden. watching him closely. "Weil. the vista of life--and a savage spate of anger swept away his control.38 slug through his back. Burdette's eyes opened in bewilderment and then. vigour. mebbe. "He was found in Echo Valley with a ." the puncher persisted. or if we had a marshal worth a busted nickel. Will yu do that?" . there's a reason why I can't draw on yu." Luce replied. "I'm backin' my judgment. believed he was speaking the truth." "I'll help yu. but the ranch-owner's features had the fixity of stone itself. "Nothin' less." he said. as understanding came to him. "It's absurd. but paste this in yore hat : I'm goin' to find the fella who murdered my boy. Why." was the stern reply. glared at this lad who had all his own son had lost--youth. "I wouldn't take the word of a Burdette at the Throne of Heaven. "Yu aimin' to stay around here?" he asked bluntly. seh. Purdie. go ahead. his cheeks flushed redly under the tan. an' heard of yore loss." The elder man's lips twisted into a furious snarl. His gaze did not waver as he replied : "If yu want to kill me. shoot-from-cover family. yu get away with it for now." the rancher replied. Got tired o' Texas an' New Mexico." he rasped. "I want yu to know that I'm terrible sorry.

It was an ideal place for a lovers' tryst--a tiny circle of grass. the subject of his speculations had gone straight to the marshal's office. she would take her father's view. wondering. for the events of the last two days had wrecked the secret cherished hopes of months. "Playin' safe. As at their first meeting. A whinny from his horse apprised him that someone was approaching. Luce Burdette was in the depths of despair.." the boy blurted out. a sheltered little glade on the lower slopes of Old Stormy. though he had expected to find it so. And now. . Slype. It was agreed that he should ride over to the C P on the following morning. they had met at intervals--accidentally. Sitting listlessly in the saddle. "Well. Would she come. recognized him for a white man. and if she did. Dismounting. with an undergrowth of catclaw. chuckled inwardly when he saw the visitor's pale. Burdette's face fell when he found that the glade was empty. But this latest killing. and admired the sturdy pluck with which he was facing a crushing misfortune. almost entirely walled in by scrub-oak and other trees. "They shore don't call yu `Slippery' for nothin'. his heels on his desk. huh?" Luce said scornfully. "Well. eyes spoke to eyes and told what the lips dared not say. he mounted and rode slowly out of town. How would Nan Purdie regard him now --the reputed slayer of her brother? Despite the dormant enmity between the two families. Getting his horse. he trailed the reins and dropped on a prostrate tree-trunk which had served them as a seat on happier occasions. It did not seem possible." Luce retorted hotly. At the sight of him she checked her pony for a moment and . lounging in a tilted-back chair. Sabe?" His little eyes squinted at the youth in malignant enjoyment. in the faint hope that he would see her. huh?" the officer sneered. "An' yu gotta get busy an' find out who did. an' that lets me out. and he had to admit that Purdie was justified--the evidence was damning." and stamped out of the office before any adequate reply occurred to its owner. furious face. had gone on doing so. and even after the mysterious taking-off of Old Burdette had nearly provoked an open rupture. I ain't takin' 'em. Meanwhile. The marshal grinned. In truth. Regarding Burdette his mind was in a curious condition. taking the westerly trail which was the direct line to Old Stormy. and he looked up to see the girl he was waiting for. Ol' Man Purdie has served notice that him an' his outfit is goin' to handle the job. an' he's accusin' me o' shootin' Kit." Sudden said. must be the end of everything--for him. and found it difficult to conceive him guilty of a cowardly murder. Certainly it was not lack of courage that made him refuse the older man's challenge. he would not have dared to take that tone with any other of the Burdettes. he was going to a spot where he had already seen her several times. head down." * "Orders. prickly pear. Sudden went in search of a meal. "I've just seen Purdie. "Yu know damn well I didn't. as they both pretended--and though no word of love had been uttered. "'Lo. and smaller shrubs. what's bitin' yu?" he inquired. He liked Purdie. he had an air of dejection utterly foreign to his nature."Pleased to. If all the Burdettes were like this one . at the risk of being shot down where he stood. With bowed head he sat there. and the cattleman departed. he felt attracted to the boy. and be able to deny this damnable thing that was being said of him. so obviously a reprisal. he had dared to dream. And the dream had been so sweet! Unknown to all others. Luce. would she believe him? he asked himself over and over again. his mind full of the encounter he had just witnessed. mosaiced with flowers. didn't yu?" he asked. I ain't goin' to have a thing like that pinned on me.

When the trees had hidden her. "I'll find the skunk. "Readyto round on his own folk for the sake of a skirt. We both have to be loyal to our own kin. Despite the very evident signs of grief." he said impulsively. and her mount--a mettlesome mustang--knew better than to try any tricks." she told him. Hat in hand. "I was hopin' to see yu." he gritted. and divided skirt which reached to the tops of her trim riding-boots. added to perfectly-formed features." and this Mephistophelian attractiveness was accompanied by a haughty. "I didn't expect " the girl began. the proud little head bent. I had to come out--just to convince myself that the world isn't all ugly and wicked. and moustache. "Loyal to our own kin. and--though he did not know this--the blue eyes well-nigh blind with unshed tears. and though she spoke softly there was an underlying bitterness which told him only too plainly what she did believe." The finality with which she spoke silenced him. Burdette saw the shadows under the deep blue eyes which had always smiled at him. The boy's face lighted for a moment. "Damn him! He's got ahead o' me. A dark shirt-waist. "you are a Bur-dette. and this must be the end of our--friendship." His dark eyes narrowed. I'll disown the lot of 'em. Luce. huh?" he almost hissed. showed the curves of her slim figure. Miserably he watched as she wheeled her pony and rode away." she reminded him. eyes. no good can come of our--meeting. "That would only mean more trouble." he repeated harshly. "If my people had any-thin' to do with it. No sooner was he out of sight than a man rose from behind a clump of undergrowth on the outskirts of the glade." she said sadly. "It makes no difference. produced a face at which most women would look more than once. "It is no use. nearing the middle thirties in age. "If I thought that I wouldn't even look at you. She rode astride." "But if yu don't believe the Burdettes did this thing. he rose to his feet. "If the Burdettes shoot men in the back they're no kin o' mine. I am a Purdie. with the long stirrup of the Arizona cowboy. We belong in different camps. "Nan ! " he cried. Hopelessness again claimed him. and her honey-coloured hair. with broad shoulders and a powerful frame.then came slowly on." He meant it--the savage intensity of his voice showed that--but the girl shook her head. "Yu don't believe I did it. and then. "I didn't say that. "I couldn't stay in the house. but mebbe he won't get the chance. an' that's somethin' they've gotta learn mighty soon. she made a picture to fill the eye of a man. He was tall. do yu?" The tear-laden eyes met his bravely." he said. Luce." he protested. and choked down a curse. insolent bearing which made his first name singularly appropriate. Just now his thin lips were set in a saturnine sneer. His black hair." With a grim look on his young face he stepped into his saddle and loped off in the direction of the Circle B ranch. Who'd 'a' thought 'o him shinin' up to that Purdie gal?--not that she ain't worth . "So that's the way of it. "Then I don't care who does think it. cut short almost like a boy's." their owner said. a bitter laugh broke from his lips." The poignant note of misery made him writhe. and his heart was in his voice. Even his own sex had to admit that Kingley Burdette was "a handsome devil. curled crisply beneath the black wide-brimmed hat.

punctuated by bursts of laughter." the puncher told him with a smile. here's a couple of them." they spent their days grubbing in the earth for gold and their nights in dissipating what little they found. boarded floor on which tables and chairs were dotted about. big-boned. Tough as the frequenters of "The Lucky Chance" were. and then he was a tornado. an' I gotta work. Sudden's eyes were busy. and a veritable giant in build. Behind the har stood the proprietor. "Mart an' Sim Burdette. "I misdoubt it'll mean bad throuble between the C P an' the Circle B. sort. with bold. his mind full of a young." Through the swing-doors came two men in cowboy trappings. he uttered an indirect warning. but. the best way to look for wan is from the back of a hoss somewan is payin' ye to ride." The hint was plain enough. honey-coloured hair and wide blue eyes. They had found fortunes in a day and lost them in a night--and still hoped. turned-up nose and twinkling blue eyes proclaimed his nationality before he opened his mouth. which is the Burdette brand. "Good for ye." he said. they were sufficiently alike for their relationship to be obvious. my appetite keeps regular hours. and he wanted to know something of them." he said. fix yu good an' plenty. Mister Green?" he asked. dodging the troops sent by the Government to keep them out. and then an ugly smile lit his lowering face. "Would ye be after stayin' wid us. "I guess yo're right. and the Irishman took it as such. "I'm all undecided. "As a matter o' fact. and an occasional oath as the goddess of chance favoured or flouted a gambler. Nevertheless. begad. Lured on by the will-o'-the-wisp of a "big strike. Purdie. Lounging carelessly at one end of the bar. they don't make 'em no better. There were those among them who remembered the hectic days of '49. Magee looked uneasy." It was a fair-sized place. and other games were being well supported. with craggy." Then. tall. "His. save that there were more miners. and the man to whom it was given nodded a smiling acquiescence." He studied the other furtively for a few moments and decided that he was capable of taking care of himself. amounted to a question." he said in an undertone. "A good man. and risking a horrible death by torture at the hands of the Indians. dominant eyes. There was a constant hum of conversation. . who now would one day own the C P ranch." The saloon-keeper regarded him humorously. yu see. slim girl with curly. Though one was a few years the elder. Presently the proprietor noticed the solitary stranger and spoke to him. Mick Magee. Light was afforded by three big kerosene lamps slung from the roof." he went on. "I reckon that'll fix yu. "Chris is takin' the loss of his only boy hard. oldish men for the most part. and a few gaudy chromos formed the only decoration save for a large tarnished mirror immediately facing the entrance. coming from a stranger. most of the tables were occupied and the faro. I had a notion to find me a gold-mine." he replied. A genial man until roused. bent backs." He pondered for a moment. monte." he muttered. not that the scene was any novelty. He too mounted and trotted leisurely away. Easy now. hard faces and insolent. for business was brisk. others who had sneaked into the Black dark of hair and brow. and the knowledge that at any moment they might hear the dread war-whoop. and fingers calloused by constant contact with pick and shovel. The crowd presented the usual medley to be found in any cow town at that time." The remark. "But take it from me. with a sanded. I'm seein' Purdie in the mornin'. few of them had any desire to tangle with the sturdy Irishman when he "went on the prod. weather-scarred features. whose squat. with a rifle always within reach. Sudden spent the evening in "The Lucky Chance. "Pretty well primed too. my friend. "I like the look o' the lay-out. and a long bar which faced the swing-doors. but he had come to live amongst these people for a time." Just now he was all smiles. days of feverish toil.

does he? Well. What yu goin' to do about it?" He glared round the room as though daring anyone present to dispute his callous assertion. No." he protested. a heavy Colt's . an' a temper to match. "Ain't no call for me to concern m'self." Sudden ventured to ask one direct question. "Yu betcha. he didn't die. "Why not send if yu want him?" "I don't. and to his surprise." . Save that she was young. bearded giant with whom he got into conversation. Ol' Man Purdie reckons him an' his outfit can deal with it. "Like I told Luce. eh." "Bah! He's plastered it on the Burdettes a'ready. a he turned to welcome the newcomers. "Where's King? Left him at Lu Lavigne's. and wise to her business. I opine Purdie would have most of the town against him?" "Stranger." the blacksmith said." Through narrowed eyes Sudden watched the brothers swagger up to the bar. adding slyly. Though they were laughing. a range war ain't goin' to do this yer town no good. Soon after she hung out her shingle. Weldon. I hear yo're tryin' to pin this Purdie play on the Burdettes. anyways. an' when King Burdette starts hangin' round. "I represent the law. "She's certainly restful to the sight." It was owned and run by a woman. nothing was known of her." the marshal evaded. is to find out who bumped off his boy. "Hey." "Is that so?" Mart growled. a reply which drew an ironic laugh from the brothers.45. that suits us fine. "Awright." he agreed. but it makes 'em careful. "An ugly pair to draw to. What about a little game?" Sudden stayed a while longer. "I just asked. though it don't even the score." he replied." Sim replied. but I'm layin' she's got Spanish blood in her. an' she slips a knife into him middlin' prompt. "Now. They greeted the saloon-keeper boisterously and inquired for the marshal. "Wants a fight. their eyes were as cold as those of a snake. received an answer. Slype made a gesture for appearance' sake. an' I'm agin both o' yu. most of 'em loses interest. explained the marshal's reference to King's whereabouts. attractive. O' course. I reckon?" "Yu reckon pretty good. who had bought out the former proprietor less than a year before." Sim said angrily. it don't stop others sufferin' from the same complaint. the puncher caught the added words. He noted that each wore only one gun in sight. a cowboy tries to get fresh with her. "An' if he did down Purdie I'll say he done a good job. we'll let it go as it lays. "Yu heard a lie." "Did yu expect he'd own up?" sneered the other." the officer said hastily. Sim?" The younger brother laughed. Slippery." Mart--the bigger man--said threateningly. and decided that the landlord was right. but no husband ain't showed up yet. Slippery?" snapped Mart. see here. the Burdettes can take care o' theirselves. the blacksmith. "Calls herself Mrs. "All Chris wants. shrugged his shoulders in a poor assumption of indifference." "An' whose side are yu on. I reckon. but the Burdettes is feared. Mart." the marshal retorted. At that moment Slype came in. who knew the challenge was directed chiefly at himself. slung below the right hip. "One or two things sorta suggested Luce. but was disappointed. Purdie is liked. but he claims he had nothin' to do with it. "If it comes to a fight. hoping to see the eldest of the Burdettes." the only real rival establishment to "The Lucky Chance. He would be at "The Plaza. Luisa Lavigne. but it shorely puts a crimp in his affection. The marshal.

"Yu'll be buyin' into trouble a-plenty." the old man pointed out. with chimneys of stone. A few cottonwoods. Nan. cattle-stealin's. sabe?" Purdie nodded. and when the visitor replied in the negative. "I'm damned glad to meet yu. ten miles distant. the name his gun-play had earned for him." Sudden admitted. and went on to tell of the happenings in Juniper. an' that gang on Battle Butte is suspected. "I dunno as it's fair to ask yu. "Kit was my foreman. and waited. and went on to relate the scene he had witnessed in "The Lucky Chance" the previous evening." he said. it ain't just a question o' runnin' the ranch--a'most any one o' them could do that--but outguessin' that Bur-dette crowd is a hoss of a different brand. Them Burdettes is the toughest proposition." he said. but not to be put in charge. an' there's twice the number necessary to handle their herds. "I don't believe that fella Luce did the killin'. omitting." "I reckon mebbe I'm it. His reply was non-committal : "Yore outfit won't admire takin' orders from a stranger. "That's so. friend." The rancher was about to reply when his daughter appeared. Solidly built of 'dobe bricks and shaped logs." he said slowly. and corrals. they're good boys an' they'll back my judgment. A broad. I'm gamblin' yu can swing it--if yo're willin' to take the risk. it had an imposing appearance despite the fact that it consisted of one storey only. Sudden found the owner on the verandah. remember." "Shore is. Sudden was aware that the cattleman was sizing him up. Luce struck me as bein' straight. however. an' I can't quite savvy it. but I s'pose he's a busy man. "That's a good hoss yu got." Purdie greeted. within a radius of a hundred miles." . but her father called her. Green?" he said heartily. Presently he straightened as though he had come to a decision. "Meet Mister Green. I'm just an ordinary cow-punch who has pulled his picket-pin an' is rovin' round. "Yu see. I ain't had no reply. his hand came out to grip that of his guest. covered verandah. spared when the ground had been first cleared. paved with pieces of rock. I sent a writing to Governor Bleke--rode the range with him when we was both kids tellin' him how things was an' that the Burdettes was a plain menace. and Sudden added irrelevantly. barns. For about a year past there's been doin's---bank robberies. stage hold-ups. provided shade." he said. lay the town of Windy. facing the great valley in which." Sudden smiled. turning over some problem. "Allasame. They's a hard lot--half of 'em ain't cowmen a-tall. Chapter V THE C P ranch-house occupied a little plateau in the foothills around the base of Old Stormy. "Mornin'. just gun-fighters. "Yu got any plan?" "I'm takin' the job yu offered. The cattleman nodded gloomily.Which was exactly what the puncher wanted to know." Purdie said confidently. he had expected an offer to ride for the ranch. "Here's somethin' yu oughts to know." "His own brothers didn't deny it. "Made them plans yet?" came the question. At the back of the house a grassy slope climbed gently to the black pines which belted the mountain. Purdie. The cattleman's face shone. and to the left were the bunkhouse. another silence ensued. "He's goin' to be foreman here." he said. "But I gotta play 'possum. stretched along the front of the building. and pulled forward a chair. "Like his job?" The puncher stared at him in surprise." The visitor's jaw hardened." replied the puncher. Seeing the stranger." "Yu needn't worry about that. she would have retired again.

Fifty yards in front of her a saddled pony was trotting. twitched his loop from the animal's neck and flung the reins to the ground." Nan replied. he was the first Mormon. "I like him. "I descend to peek ze flower an' my ponce vamos. and then the rancher asked a question." the puncher promised. and then." he told her gravely. A touch of the spur sent Nigger rocketing past the pedestrian and in a few moments Sudden was back again." she smiled. The lady dimpled deliciously.. sweet voice. She was young--about his own age. He's young." she said. and. "Green's goin' to help us find the slinkin' cur that did it." her father told her." Just at the moment. but I'm playin' a hunch. Absorbed in his thoughts. he was pacing slowly through a miniature forest when a little cry aroused him. "That fella ain't no common cow-punch. "So young." she greeted in a low. he estimated--and her oval face--the skin faintly tanned by the sun--black hair and eyes. "I like heemboth. it'll be a relief to know yo're on the job." Sudden shook his head emphatically. his rope round the runaway's neck.' " His gaze travelled to her trim high boots. made her good to look upon. "I hope you. He noted that her cheeks were but slightly flushed and her breathing betrayed no sign of haste." "Mebbe it is. but he's had experience. "The senor weel see zat I am w'at is call a sore-foot. or at least he thought so. yes?" Sudden laughed and said. the little man in Juniper had not over-stated the case. and yet--so wise.She shook hands. "Well. and hel ooked up to see a woman running along the trail ahead of him. he had been hired to fight the Burdette family. of course not.. an' them guns o' his ain't noways new. he was likely to have his hands full. Her words explained it." she replied. judging by the samples he had seen. "It don't need mentionin'. and the information he had gained regarding their outfit. senor. They watched until a grove of trees hid him from view. it was the other way about. and lifting her feet from the ground. A thin smile wreathed his lips. Nan. grateful girl." he exclaimed. however." she bantered. "So?" she said. "Mebbe yu've heard of him?" "Oh yes." The puncher grinned. for the new foreman's brain was busy with the burden he had so promptly undertaken. at your age." he added. The new foreman fidgeted with his feet. Now." The girl's eyes danced. "I like heem. "If yu'd done that he'd 'a' stayed put. He found the woman sitting on a fallen tree-trunk." he stammered. I believe. "Yu've shore got a pretty one. "Not one." "I'll be on hand in the mornin'. "My second name is Solomon. "I have to thank you for--what you did. Jim. fetch yore war-bags along an' start in soon's yu like. "Why. Her eyes widened." the puncher repeated. I'm bettin' he'll make them Burdette killers think." Purdie put in harshly : and to the puncher. inspected their shapeliness critically. A neat riding costume displayed her perfect figure to advantage. He had no illusion as to the nature of his task. he would rather have faced a man with a gun than this dewy-eyed. "Gracias. as he bent down from the saddle . yu ain't no Greaser." he said. "The word is `tenderfoot. s'pose we drop the baby-talk an' speak natural. "But isn't it taking a chance? We know nothing about him. a kindness in her eyes for which he could not account. "You like heem?" she asked archly.

At the back of the building. and King Burdette was what--to her? He patted the satiny neck of the black horse. Old Man Burdette had lost his wife many years before he met his own untimely end.' " she suggested. winding wagon-road from the valley." Her voice sobered. It was not until Purdie arrived and settled on Old Stormy that the firstcorner realized he had blundered. and Kit was such a nice boy." she smiled. in real or pretended relief. it was a man. Lavigne. "Nig. and more were to pass ere its fulfilment. It was not an ideal location." The furrow between his eyebrows came into evidence as his thoughts went to the quest which had sent him--a mere boy--prowling the country like a lone wolf. but--you may come to see me. which has been told in another place." he said reflectively. and then put on her hat." "Nothing bad.* ** The Circle B ranch was a bachelor establishment." he said solemnly. "Someone was tellin' me about yu. the pony was racing along the trail." Sudden replied. the brush and tree-clad ground rose steeply. and Old Burdette never forgave himself for not having a look at the other end of the valley. "What is the matter?" she cried. built of trimmed logs chinked with clay. Two-storeyed. her feminine fears were aroused. "He said yu were restful to the sight." he suggested. matched the hair of the girl who had just left him." the puncher grinned. There's a tangle here to straighten out. and this was the beginning of the ill-feeling between the families. On the morning after the burial." she smiled. "They seem to be plenty absent. Why had she changed when he told her he was to ride for the C P? The answer was not hard to find--he would be opposed to King Burdette. At the first bend. it occupied a bench about half-way up the face of Battle Butte." she said. waved gaily. Years had been spent on it." he told her.. Ere he could remonstrate. grasped the reins of her pony and was in the saddle before he could dismount to help her. in colour and sheen. which." She laughed delightedly.. She hesitated as though about to speak. my friend. . "I'm goin' to town too. "So you might venture to come and see me at `The Plaza. The news struck the merriment from her study the sleek black head--from which she had now removed the hat--more closely. stood up. "That poor Mister Purdie. "I'm lookin' for the grey hairs. Luce entered the big living-room and found his eldest brother awaiting him. The ranch-house was a pretentious one for the time and place. "That is. a negress who had served the family nearly all her life. "I thought that you had found some. this yer neck o' the woods is a heap more dangerous than the governor man let on. or that a rattlesnake was looking over my shoulder. settling it with a deft touch. if you are staying in Windy. an' we ain't got no time for foolishness. She shook her head. "No. The matrimonial noose is harder to dodge than a ha'r rope. Mister Green. an' then ." "Dios! But you scared me. and was reached by a rough. and vanished. no. can you guess who I am?" "No need to guess--yu must be Mrs. and the housekeeping and upbringing of the boys had devolved upon Mandy. You are rather a disconcerting person. "No. "Your arrival created quite a sensation." "I'm goin' to ride for Purdie." "Yu know me?" the puncher queried. its rider turned in the saddle. "Of course. "I'm bettin' she stampeded that pony. Now. I hope?" she asked anxiously. leaving the puncher pondering.

we ain't blamin' yu. huh?" he sneered. "Sim said yu wanted me. let me tell yu---" He stopped. an' one of 'em is that it don't pay to cross me. and to be defied by the one from whom he least expected opposition made him furious. an' yu know it. "Yu get this straight. a shade of heat in his tone. there's a limit to what I'll take. a sudden cunning in the fierce eyes. "So yo're obeyin' orders. ordered liquor. had been supreme at the Circle B. King watched him ride down the road. "It was a damn good riddance." he finished savagely. and began to talk in low tones." Getting no reply. an' can ride him till he drops. gave them all his attention. anyways." his brother shrugged. take yore truck an' clear out--the Burdettes is through with yu. "All right. from the window overlooking the valley. an' if of Purdie goes on the prod it gives us an excuse to show the C P where it gets off. Luce looked at him levelly. and noted that his voice was gradually becoming more distinct. indifferent to the glances--some of them far from friendly--sent in his direction. "An' I'm not likely to raise my hand against my own flesh and blood." He was sitting about half-way between the door and the bar. an'. King : if it was the work of a Burdette I'm ashamed o' bein' one." the boy retorted. in reply to a muttered remark by one of his companions. was now riding for Slype." King ripped out a blistering oath. "Shucks." he said. Almost on his heels came a party of three." The other nodded. Sudden again spent the evening in "The Lucky Chance. "Will yu?" he said quietly. Luce went out. "Well. suspecting that these men had a definite purpose." the younger man replied. snapped out. we don't want traitors here." Luce protested warmly. he laughed aloud. Newnes. since his father's death. Ltd." He frowned at a thought. "Nan Purdie?" he said derisively. two Mexicans and a half-breed named Ramon. that would 'a' been a bad break. "Here yu needn't be afeared to tell the truth. when Luce Burdette slouched in. "That tale's all very well for town. the boy paid for a drink and draped himself against the bar. As it is we've got him tied. Didn't shoot Kit Purdie. an' I'm through with 'em. huh?" he muttered." "Which is what I'm doin'. King?" he asked. pronto." was the quiet reply. "Hell! I must be gettin' old--I nearly told him. watching a game of poker. Geo. and after a short pause. an' he warn't noways finicky. "Not while I've got a gun. Luce. "Pull yore freight. but that don't go for the bunch o' bar-scourin's yu got ridin' for yu now--toughs that Dad would 'a' quirted off the ranch. "Takin' that tone. Without a word to anyone. "I didn't. "I ain't that. Presently. "Well. and presently. even from yu."What is it. the fella who shot Kit was a cowardly cur. At ze C P ze boys 'ave to . who having been "given his time" by Purdie some months before. we've owed 'em that ever since they downed Dad--an' before. "I tell you somet'ing 'bout her. King. He saw the vaquero's malicious eyes furtively scanning the solitary figure by the bar. A bulky roll at the cantle of the saddle brought a sneer to the older man's lips." The older man's face grew dark with rage. eh? Wonder how far that'll get yu when yore own family ain't denying it?" In the hope of gaining information before it became generally known that he had joined the C P. Sudden. "How come yu to shoot Purdie?" *The Range Robbers." he rasped. yu got a lot o' things to learn yet. King grinned unpleasantly. or I'll use a whip on yu. Until this moment his authority. These men ranged themselves next to Burdette." "It was never proved they did.

Luce Burdette came over to the puncher. Magee. pronto. "I'm obliged." the young man grated. He did not like to back down. "Speak up." Sudden's arm moved. and then the brooding man at the bar came to life. ." Burdette warned. "Eat yore words. They slunk out like dogs who feared the whip. yu bastard. the victim shot over the sidewalk and ploughed into the dust of the street on his face." "W'at I say was a lie--I make it up.. "This is yore last chance. He looked apologetically at his audience. "An old Piute chief taught me the trick--claimed he'd let the life outa ten men thataway." The puncher picked up the dropped weapon." With a shrug of contempt.lock ze bunk'ouse door nights to keep her out. "Ye done the roight thing. With their disappearance the tension relaxed and interrupted games were resumed. The half-breed had vanity." he said." he suggested meaningly. and when his wrist began to nudge his shoulder-blades he squealed in agony and the weapon tinkled on the boards. who were watching him uneasily.. "Yu dirty liar. and when this had been done. however." Ramon called out. His left hand gripped the traducer's shoulder. "I not know anyt'ing against Mees Purdie." he said." smiled the proprietor. "Will some gent kindly open the door?" Sudden requested. and straightened his leg. "I'm outa practice--ain't throwed a knife for quite a spell. as he saw the jeering expression on many of the spectators' faces. "Not the only wan neither. Dessay he was boastin' some--Injuns mostly do--but he certainly knew about knives. Ramon got slowly to his feet. "Yore friend is mebbe waitin' for yu. madness seized him. a deadly instrument in the hands of an expert. if it had been a fella's throat . there is a difference. "Allasame. "I hope ye've bruk his lyin' neck. but life was sweet. while his right fist. Sudden looked at the saloon-keeper. placed a foot in the small of the fellow's back. Luce holstered his gun and turned back to the bar. it was a short-handled." The evil black eyes looked up into the flaming blue ones and found only death there. "Or I'll shore bust yore wing." He went on conversationally. His hand flashed up. he forced the helpless half-breed to it. crashed on the fellow's jaw and sent him staggering and clutching to the floor." Mouthing Mexican curses. "Sorry to make a ruckus in yore joint." he said. with fiendish fury. but he could not break that hold. but I dunno why yu interfered. and then. which they knew was there as a warning to themselves. casting curious glances at the weapon in the wall. "Shure it is. As though propelled from a gun. Ere he could despatch it on its deadly errand. an iron clasp fell on his wrist. he looked up to find Burdette's gun covering him. "I guess that's a bullet-hole by the door there. He began to mutter. forcing the arm down and round behind his back. his eyes on Ramon's companions." he said. or yu go to hell right now. "Drop it ! " came the curt order. He balanced it for a moment in his fingers." This infamous statement struck the room to an amazed silence. as I hear." the Irishman replied. but no pride. son. a wicked blade lying along the palm. and like a shaft of light itself the blade flashed through the air and sank deeply into the wall about half an inch from the target he had selected." He turned to the Mexicans. heavy throwing-knife. "If yo're ridin' for Purdie. one twitch of the finger aching to press the trigger and the world would know Ramon the vaquero no more. swinging him round. the captive twisted like an eel.

I wish I'd pulled an' let him get me. "Odd that. shore thing. an' yu'll notice I'm still here. but"--he grinned mirthlessly--"I ain't related to their outfit." "Yu don't think it was me?" "No. Purdie would understand--he's a white man. "That's two friends I got." the C P foreman said quietly. "What yu aimin' to do?" "Stick around an' clear myself. My refusin' to draw on Chris has got around. "The Greaser knew av it too." "That ain't no way to talk." "I'm done with 'em--when King told me this mornin' to pull my freight from the Circle B he said somethin' he can't ever take back." the puncher smiled. an' I told Purdie so. "Yu must be tired o' life to turn yore back on a snake like that. "Though the Burdettes have shook me I'm not roundin' on 'em nohow. "It suits them." "Lot o' grief that would 'a' caused. When the boy had gone." he pointed out. "I start with the C P to-morrow mornin'. "but I reckon that with skunks like that around Miss Purdie needs all her friends. strained voice. "I hadn't looked at it thataway. an' is regarded as a confession o' guilt. Sudden nodded comprehendingly. "I dunno. in a low. I--I'd like to see yu. an' ye save the loife of a Burdette. I wasn't. "I'll be at the hotel if yu want me any time. others think it but dasn't say so till they know how my brothers are goin' to take it. I'm thinkin'." Sudden told him. he began to talk: "Just now yu saved my life. "Can I have a word with yu?" For some moments after they were seated the boy was silent. "Mebbe we can help one another.he won't thank yu. an' I expect I didn't seem none too grateful. sir." he blurted out. and pointing to an unoccupied table in a far corner of the room. or he'd . Pretty near everybody in town figures I killed Kit Purdie. but what he said was." His chance shot hit the mark. Yu shore yu didn't get a blink at the fella who fired the shot?" "If I had I'd 'a' put a crimp in his getaway." Luce insisted." he finished with boyish eagerness. "Shure I can't foller your play." Sudden fancied he could have named the other. "They allow I did it." he pointed out. his family has turned him down cold. is pure pizen. "I understand they've been tryin' to get Purdie to r'ar up for some time. if he'd pulled his gun he'd 'a' got yu. "an' Luce finished with the Circle B to-day. this aspect of the matter brought a quick flush to Burdette's cheeks. don't yu know his sort allus carries a sticker? 'Sides. or he'd never 'a' had the nerve to frame me." "Shore." he said. and Magee pushed forward a bottle. but get me right. his moody eyes staring into vacancy." Luce said. Ramon." "Him an' me have met afore." Sudden looked at him quizzically. "Ramon musta knowed 'bout that." the puncher promised. sorr." he commented. an' I'm goin' to tell yu why. "I'll be along. Well. wouldn't it?" the boy asked bitterly. yu'll have to watch out for those hombres. Yes." Luce said passionately. "ye're a C P man. an' if I had." Burdette's face cleared a little. some are sayin' it openly. What do yore brothers think?" The boy flushed angrily." "I ain't sold him my soul. 'Fraid I've fetched yu right up against Ol' Man Trouble. "Thank yu." The landlord whistled. a look of perplexity on his face. Sudden drifted over to the bar. that'll puzzle Purdie. added." he admitted. an' that half-breed." he said gratefully. Then.

though it's the first time I ever agreed with a Burdette. an' they'd be right. as if wonderin' how he come to be in the nest." Some of them nodded. come along an' meet the men. He liked Magee." and all of them studied the new foreman with narrowed. appraising glances. "The dirty scum." Sudden interrupted. too. "Yu bein' a stranger hereabouts. it's more'n likely that's what they're playin' for. "I ain't no Methuselah. I ain't fallin' for that foolishness. Yu'll take orders from him in future. and they looked a capable crew. an' I'll gamble that boy is clean strain." Sudden shook his head. Purdie. folks would think I'd gone plumb loco. wouldn't he? Why. 'less it was to avert suspicion. There'll be somethin' back o' his leavin' the Circle B." he said. "It was a plain frame-up. though they had not seen. all young." Sudden followed him to the bunkhouse. but I've met a mort o' men. eh? Well. "Mebbe I did. an' he told me he was through with his brothers. and the foreman went on to give the details. When he heard of the vile insult offered to his daughter. the incident." retorted the ranch-owner." was the oblique way he approached the subject. all same it was me.niver 'a' dared raise a hand to a Burdette." the old man said caustically. but he knew that he must walk warily in Windy for a while. sir. Their employer's speech was brief and to the point: "This is Jim Green." "An' they're dead right. Now. Chapter VI WHEN the new foreman arrived at the C P ranch on the following morning. Sudden's look was sardonic. but he recognized the futility of further argument. the way it happened. boys. and the riders were awaiting orders. There were eight of them present. they won't believe that he didn't kill yore son. but did not pursue the topic. and felt that he was straight. "How come?" "After the fracas I had a talk with young Burdette. A Burdette workin' for the C P. "I didn't know the Burdettes was friends o' yores. "So Luce is at outs wid his brothers. "He'd have to be a mighty quick thinker. he found that the story of his little difficulty with the half-breed had preceded him. he was not convinced." "Left the Circle B?" the rancher repeated in surprise. I'm so shore he's straight that in yore place I'd offer him a job to ride for the C P." the puncher urged. two of the outfit having been in town. Purdie's face flamed with fury." he began. an' that was aplenty. "Where's Bill?" asked the rancher. he was allus different to the rest av thim. and heard of." was the reply. huh? He'd be damn useful to them." The cattleman laughed aloud at this amazing suggestion. . and he early decided that none of the looks directed towards him was hostile. an' I'm bettin' yu'd 'a' done the same. Why should he risk his life for yore girl's good name?" "Dunno. "I heard yu saved young Luce's life. The morning meal was over. shure enough. an' I've seen the Old Man look queerly at him. His eyes too were busy." He sipped his drink contemplatively." The puncher nodded. others said "Howdy. No. an' whoever gave 'em knew Luce had left the Circle B. "If I did that. Chris Purdie's face was not quite so genial when he greeted him. "Did yu get all the story?" he asked. there's some excuse for yu. "Yo're wrong. "I'd say he was actin' on orders.

How do we know this yer hombre ain't been planted on us by the Circle B? He may've pulled the wool over Purdie's eyes. I'm almighty glad to see yu. "Jim. "So we gotta be bossed by a boy. Yago whirled round. From outside came a hail : "Hey. huh?" it said. with its broad shoulders. which is some different. What's he like. "Yago--Bill Yago. and his face was gravity itself when he nodded to the newcomer. a coil of barbed wire is awkward to handle on foot. The amusement was only momentary.?" The foreman paused. but he's gotta talk straight to me. sturdy figure. when I put a fella in charge I don't interfere. "Beat it. "Yu wantin' me?" he had growled on entering. Curly. yore own way. yu looked more like yu'd been struck by lightnin'.. Ten minutes later he and the new foreman were riding up the slope at the back of the ranch. Uncle."He went down to the corral. awaited the coming "trouble.." He went out. "Which I'm shorely sorry to keep His Royal 'Ighness waitin'.. Now. Kit warn't no greybeard. an' the on'y one yu may have trouble with. and then Yago turned to his companion. What had come over him they could not imagine. this foreman fella?" They could not hear the answer. go get some wire an' mend the fence round The Sump." whispered a voice. Bill. clean-shaven features expressed only goggling amazement. for the foreman's ear only. an' then yu an' me'll take a look at the range. "Aw." said one. "I had to pull two critters out'n her yestiddy. Sudden's reply was incomplete. an' he's mebbe got ambitions." "I'm a-watchin' yu.." He swaggered through the bunkhouse door. "Glad to meet you. "Well. "Yu. "I'll go fetch him. "As for bein' glad." Purdie said. yu betcha. There was an air of expectancy about the waiting men. and his craggy. and proceeded to apportion work to the rest of the outfit. nodding to an embarrassed outfit." the man replied like one in a dream. and a foreman who." "He was the Old Man's son--future owner o' the ranch. one hand pushing back his big hat and revealing the straggly wisps of hair beneath. and slightly-bowed legs." he ordered." the newcomer nodded. but what in thunderation brung yu to these parts?" he asked." For he felt pretty sure that the absence of the oldest hand was a premeditated gesture. moreover. None of the outfit noticed that in removing his cigarette his fingers had rested for an instant on his lips. Bill. Not until they were hidden by the pines did either of them speak. their attention was centred on their companion. it was some distance to the quagmire. and straightway become dumb. nonchalantly rolling a smoke. Just yu watch yore Uncle Bill. "Been actin' sorta segundo to Kit. of this man he might have trouble with." "Is that so?" a rumbling voice replied. "Purdie said yu would put me wise." Yago snapped. but at the sight of the new foreman the belligerent frown had vanished." The joker's face dropped in dismay. on horseback it becomes a pest. "There's ." he smiled. the noo foreman wants to see yu. long arms. Mister. but the deep voice was not so reticent." the victim began. I'm leavin' yu to deal with him. and if there is anything a cowboy thoroughly detests it is making or mending a fence. "Shore." "He's the daddy o' the outfit. and the new foreman's eyes twinkled when they rested on the short. yu tell the boys what needs doin' today. the first move in a plan of protest against his appointment.

"The durned place was made for it. Sabe?" "Awright. "I'll bet yu did--an' nothin' good." the little man protested. the craggy. the marshal's lay-out. "Yu--can--not. an' seem' yu'll be my segundo. I'm shorely the baddest an' cleverest man in the south-west." Sudden conceded. an' in sifts a ornery little runt like yu. Battle Butte. "Yu see." the foreman threatened. Jim. He waved at the surrounding scenery. bold and forbidding. rocky fastnesses of Old Stormy. "Bill." was the instant reply. a blot on the beauty of the valley with its varied green of foliage and grass. "The C P range reaches to four-five miles out o' town. Jim. I heard o' yu from time to time. "Thunder River is our south boundary." They had reached a point on the mountain-side where the trees thinned and became more stunted. waitin' for a big stiff to come an' crawl my hump. jumbled country to north and south. I expect they are still fatherin' felonies on me right now. or some o' that gang o' cut-throats ridin' for 'em." "Yu breathe a word o' that an' I'll take yu to pieces an' put yu together again all wrong. "Hell's bells. Behind them rose the bare." "For the same reason yu did." he said bitterly. Far below they could see the town. Yu an' me rode the same range back in Texas. he knew how it was. and then another aspect of the affair occurred to him. they'll laugh the life out'n me. "Purdie tell yu?" "It was just a guess. I reckon they'll let yu off light. a fitting home for the Burdettes. In the West. "How'd yu know 'bout that?" Bill said. unless their reputation belied them. "But I gotta explain. an' our east line is Dark Canyon." . at the far end of the valley. and deep ravines. didn't I?" he grinned." Yago explained. a huddled. an' my medical man advised a change. The climate down south was gettin' hotter an' hotter." the foreman admitted. with the black forests." Yago nodded understandingly. "I shore declared war. at the same time. stony ridges. he was credited with crimes he had not been guilty of. unlovely collection of tiny boxes. Though his own past had been fairly hectic. and stretches of grey sage. "Yu ain't told me why yu come here. "Who's doin' the rustlin'?" he asked abruptly. an' so yu let me off that callin' over yu promised." Sudden's face grew grim." was the decided answer. the other side o' which lies the Diamond S. "D'yu figure Luce Burdette shot young Purdie?" "Nope. "Time yu forgot it yoreself. broken. He was studying the salient features of the mighty panorama before him. hold up a citizen two hundred miles away with the other. yu of pirut." Yago said resignedly. "Say. "Can't I just mention how yu stood up the posse that time an' kept my neck out of a noose?" Bill pleaded. It was Sudden who broke the silence. if the dog got a bad name he was hanged--if they could catch him." Sudden nodded." "Yu can say I'm an old friend. I can rob a bank with one hand an'. shiverin' in my shoes. yu'll have to let me tell the boys who yu are." "Yu ain't on the dodge. "Luce ain't like the rest of 'em--don't know how he come to be in Ol' Burdette's litter a-tall. Jim." Yago's face creased up. are yu?" Bill asked anxiously. More likely one o' the other boys. His first impression had been correct--it was a fierce and spacious

" Sudden said reflectively. the tell-tale smoke died out. pitiful form he had packed into town like a piece of merchandise. "They've allus wanted this range--it's worth five times their own. The state of the wounds showed that this had only just been done. and Bill Yago swore. faintly. and even as he spoke. Removing this. For some time the two men watched. If Purdie hears o' this he'll paint for war immediate an'--if I'm right--play into their hands." the foreman said harshly. Yago knew that expression. as he studied the rough conversion of the C into an indifferent circle and the added lower loop to the P." Yago told him. he had seen it when the wearer was years younger--no more than a boy. we are losin' some--few head at a time. Yes. and broken here and there with brush-cluttered depressions. "An' it would be a good way o' rilin' up Purdie. a narrow." Bill said. His face was hard. One glance told the story. They found it. cattle-trampled path which zigzagged downwards to where a rude pole hurdle blocked the way." "Which it didn't do." Sudden was staring at Battle Butte. huh?" "Jim. passing over rolling. "Yu'll have that trouble yet if yu overplay yore hand. "But if they stayed cached here till the scars healed who's to say it ain't but a careless bit o' brandin'?" "Mebbe. Jim. and were riding down the lower slope of the mountain. cuss the rotten luck!" They walked their mounts to the nearest of the feeding beasts." the other replied. an' shoot his son. no trace of youth remaining." Bill commented. "We just missed 'em. "What's that smoke mean?" They had worked northwards. remembering the limp." Sudden said thoughtfully. an' besides"--he hesitated--"it's generally reckoned that somewheres in these rocks behind us is the source o' the goldfound in the river. Purdie havin' the same idea. A dozen cows and as many calves were grazing. yo're whistlin'." "It don't need no artist with a runnin' iron to turn a C P into a Circle B." Sudden said slyly. "They've punched the breeze. Don't say nothin' to anyone. "Purdie said there was one of mosshead who would mebbe make trouble. sir. they reached the edge of the brush. and saw that the floor of the hollow was grass-covered and bare of trees. the Burdettes are out to drive the Purdies off an' glom on to their property." On the far side of the hollow they found another narrow pathway. but there appeared to be no humans. "Fact is. "Outfit to be depended on?" "Shorest thing yu know. "though I've a hunch they was meant to be found. "Raw work. A wall of dense scrub sent them circling in search of an opening. "We better look into this."Yu allus was a good guesser." Yago said. it ain't just a matter o' revenge." Side by side they raced for the spot. It was from the midst of one of these that a smudge of smoke corkscrewed into the still air. yu an' me. The foreman looked at his companion. "Nope. the C P brand had been rather clumsily changed to a Circle B." "So they try somethin' stronger. grassy country studded with thickets. slowing up as they neared it." he threatened. Bill. "Any o' the boys carry irons?" he asked. Guess we'll leave 'em here--there's plenty feed an' a spring. "We're goin' to have suthin' to say about that. merciless." Yago ejaculated. and they heard. which accounted for . the cry of a calf.

but the C P ain't goin' to be catched." In answer to his hail. when Mister man with the gun is all hid up an' yo're in the open is one time to find out if you're hoss has any speed. "Our line-house. a long. "This is Jim Green. Cripes! Makes me thirsty to look at her." The appointments of the shack were primitive. but he don't like this job. "She's thirty miles acrost. we don't lose many thataway--the critters stay with the feed. and up-ended boxes. in the shimmering heat-haze. and shelves for stores of food and ammunition comprised the rest of the furniture. and mesquite." They rode along the edge of the desert. Presently they pulled up on the edge of a desolate welter of grey-white dust." he offered. sir. "Went loco. it's damn lonesome. all nicely baited. "Come to take over?--if so.their not having seen the brand-blotters." the cowboy replied." His eyes followed those of the foreman to where the skeleton of a steer gleamed white in the sunshine. "He's a good fella. "How come?" Bill inquired. and then Yago asked a question. "She's a neat little trap. "Yestiddy afternoon I was siftin' through Split-ear Gulch when some jigger cut down on me from the rim. his narrowed. ain't I?" was the grinned retort. the undulations of which. obviously the wearer had escaped death by a bare inch. a stove. I betcha. Strip?" "That there ventilation in my lid weren't there night before last. Sudden smiled grimly. The fried bacon. you're damn welcome. cactus. To the far horizon it reached. hand on gun." Strip smiled. an' me. and coffee occupied the attention of all three men for a time. "We takes her in turn. "Sandover is on the other side. our new foreman. "No. they say. they emerged again into the open. Strip. I did. an' he had. "Anythin' new. The visitors examined the two bullet-holes through the crown of the hat. Two bunks. Following this up through the scrub." provided the seats." Yago informed him." "Glad to meetcha. A packing-case served as a table. and retired to make additions to the meal he was already preparing. heading east. I don't likedeserts nohow. mebbe. or yu'd 'a' cooked yore own eats." "What's the idea of a line-house out here?" "We was losin' cows." he said. an' Purdie figured Greasers from Sandover was snakin' 'em across the desert." Yago explained." Yago said in answer to a question." Pushing further north. an' all I could see was the smoke." Yago stated. I'm believin' it. but I ain't been there." . lanky cowboy emerged from the shack. "No. three-day spells. "'Lo." "Yu didn't stay to argue. pitiless. yu know. which had contained "air-tights. and sighted a log shack with a sodded roof. humorous eyes squinting at them from beneath the brim of his big hat. pointing to the Stetson he had pitched on one of the bunks. biscuits. their place being taken by sand. The brush is pretty thick up there. and waved in the direction of his companion. menacing. "Them poles was newly-cut." "I'm here. seemed to move like the surface of a troubled sea. grass and sage gradually disappeared. Bill. none of us does. "Wonder if Strip Levens is to home? Yu ain't seen him yet." he greeted. dead." "We aim to feed with yu.

I recognized Jim Green as an old friend. "Paint pony." he commented. and the surrounding bushes had been nibbled. the other two continued their journey. Gazing into the shadowy depths." sniggered another. In the flattened. I've looked everyhere an' can't find it?"" "Can't find what. A few miles brought them to the brink of a winding chasm. nail missin' from the off fore." came the swift answer.?" "Why not? It ain't so difficult. who laughed as he listened." Leaving Strip greatly cheered by the prospects of a fellow-sufferer. "Makes a good eastern boundary till the range drops down into the valley. After a bit o' practice. after a painstaking search. "S'pose Levens had been crippled. but Bill was conscious that he had made a fool of himself. we wouldn't 'a' knowed till his relief came out. an' saw the foreman was young an'--Green. "Aw. He knew perfectly well that the outfit would ride him unmercifully and that the only excuse he had to offer would be received with jeers. That's what the foreman done. "Yu repeated yoreself twice. Most of the boys were there when he entered. I'm right sorry. "That nerve yu lost when yu saw the new foreman. which stretched left and right for miles. yu chump?" Yago incautiously asked. the foreman put a query." the foreman decided. That there would be no malice in the proceedings helped a little." "I've heard o' the power of the human foot on a silly jackass. precipitous walls dropped steeply down to the stony floor beneath. Chapter VII WHEN Yago parted from his foreman at the corral he approached the bunkhouse with slowing steps. "Yu oughta try it.." the foreman decided. and did not welcome the prospect of having it rubbed in. "Yore cussin' ain't improved any. What say we call it a day?" Yago agreed. tied here a considerable spell." the badgered man retorted." Yago told him. and they headed for the ranch. Ramon an' his two Greasers must have an easy time. "What sort o' hoss does Luce Burdette usually ride?" "A grey an' he's a good 'un.38. Not far away were the prints of a standing horse. a few hairs adhering to one of the branches afforded further evidence. "If yu gotta know." As he had known." Yago replied." At Sudden's suggestion they made their way to Split-ear Gulch and. broken grass lay a spent cartridge--a . Less than a hundred yards in width. "Yu don't think. Bill didn't lose no nerve--he's kind-hearted. even good-humouredly. a mighty crack in the earth's crust. Bill. found the spotwhere the bush-whacker had lain in wait for Strip." his friend grinned. yu gotta watch that. The other side is Slype's land. "Dark Canyon--there's places where she's mighty gloomersome even in daylight. Bill. For a moment silence reigned. a yell of derisive laughter greeted the explanation. and then Curly spoke : "Bill." "What sort o' place has he got?" "Pretty triflin'--on'y runs a few hundred head. "Ain't yu never heard o' the power o' the human eye? Yu fix yore optic on a savage beast an' it stops dead in its tracks. . the bare.." Yago's reply was a short but pungent description of his new foreman."This is a two-man job. "That warn't it neither." Lanty Brown chimed in.

and furniture flew in all directions as members of the struggling mass sought for a bit of him to pat. and Sudden's eyes swept over them approvingly. and when the uproar had subsided a little. "Don't yu go chawin' it--I ain't no dawg-food. At supper that evening the foreman met the only member of the outfit he had not yet seen. 'Nother thing. "Yo're a cheerful lot o' locoed pups. we gotta take turns watchin' the ranch-house." Moody replied. "Purdie told me he had a good outfit--he was damn right." was known as "Moody" wherever he went. "No. an' I wanta say yu have shore picked the right man. "Lemme tell yu the sad story.. "Just bite on this--the foreman has made me segundo. "Good thing they didn't each want a lock o' yore hair. Bill loved the foreman's mother--this. who." A chorus of assent came from the others."I knowed it was that. In the height of the confusion the new foreman entered unobserved. permitting the breathless. an' thank Gawd it's a day off yet. Bill." the boy flashed back with a quick smile. Bill. Bill?" Curly wanted to know. Bill managed to get a word in." A storm of merriment cut the narration short. that's my ear yo're pulling off." with a sardonic glance at the sparse covering of his friend's cranium." remarked a quiet." panted the owner. "I'll bet he don't. Long. "On bein' made segundo. that Jim fella." from another sufferer. nights. Moody. "It ain't." The grin on his weathered features belied the threat." "What's the notion. "On bein' the foreman's friend?" Sudden asked slyly. and then. "An' a good time was had by all. striving desperately to recover limbs which appeared to have left him. "Yu start right after supper. but it was the foreman's gran'mother Bill loved. and then." he said. o' course. he added softly. an' that goes for all of us." Yago grinned. we're all hopin' to be that." came faintly from the depths of the heaving heap of profanity. long ago. unsmiling youth. a hatchet-faced youth with a beak of a nose and a saturnine expression. an' Bill lost out. who was presented to him as "Flatty." someone urged." the boy agreed." Curly explained. "I'm thinkin' King Burdette's throne mebbe ain't so secure as he reckons." Yago said. but Jim don't do things for no reason. an' if yu don't watch yore steps I'll shake shinin' hell outa yu. "Take yore blame' foot outa my mouth. "He has a thoughtful eye.. alas! Along comes a real good-lookin' fella." Sudden's look was a question. "Anybody liable to steal it?" "Dunno. being named "Sankey. "There's times when yu come mighty near sayin' somethin' sensible. but a piece ago we had to rechristen him. "Who's next on the slate for the line-house?" he inquired "Me is." The improvement met with vociferous approbation. was before she was his mother--an' they were to be married. "Hi." Bill told him. "Seen anythin' o' Yago?" he asked quietly. Under this human avalanche Bill disappeared. I reckon. dishevelled victim to emerge." He nodded his head. "Yu feel able to hobble outside a minute?" Yago was soon back." "Tell the yarn. and chuckled. and in the midst of it Curly's voice made itself heard : "Yu got it near right. and with one accord they fell upon him. . Why for the celebration?" "We was just congratulatin' Bill." he complimented. "Real name is Watson." he said. there's allus to be two there in future. So when he sees the boy whose daddy he oughta been. But. yu mule." Yago said. we didn't all see it. as the tangled mass disintegrated into units again. "It was shorely funny. and turning to his second in command.

an' complains plenty persistent o' pains in his back. anyways--I cured yu. but the pursuin' gent ain't got no suspenders an' has to hold his pants up. an' as things turned out he was dead right. good-humoured. Also. Flatty ain't savin' his breath. an' the big red brand o' the iron showin' clear on his back. "Shucks. His busted foot handicaps him. an' he aims to be elsewheres when the lightnin' strikes. The iron mashes two o' Moody's toes. In many little ways the hand of a woman made itself evident.' he remarks. was held in place by a great Spanish comb set with red stones. an' the things he asks his Creator to do to Moody yu wouldn't hardly believe. I had yu beat a mile. an' he has to run round it. "I bet I could beat him even if he stripped. he felt he was going to like this outfit. Seated behind the bar. `This launderin' o' humans is shorely no picnic. Her beautiful black hair. an' begins to run it up an' down Flatty's back.' Moody tells him. which evens things some. Flatty's face. Moody spreads a blanket over him." the saloon differed in little else save that it was rather more ornate. mordant jests which showed the men were real friends. an' to this day Moody don't know whether she meant it as a compliment.' he says. A flame-coloured dress of silk . They does the first lap in record time. she looked like a fine jewel in a pinch-beck setting. "What yu gotta belly-ache about. Sudden listened with a smile. fetches a hot flat-iron from the kitchen. It's clear he's sufferin' from rheumatism." "Which Miss Nan shorely saved yore triflin' life. But he forgets that a hot iron gets in its best work standin' still. looks to him like the wrath o' God. but he'll carry that brand till he caches. Moody claims to know a shore cure. an' stops to spit on his han's an' take a fresh holt. An'." Moody explains." Yago began. and pictures of a sort. but Flatty is crowdin' him." The wrangle went on. an' then Flatty's luck breaks--he stubs his toe on a stump an' flings his han's up to save hisself. "Flatty goes out without his slicker--which was plumb careless--gets wet. It don't take the invalid no time a-tall to find this out. `Which if I had a straight iron I could brand you good an' proper."Well. mirrors. Flatty gives her one horrified look. added his horse to the dozen or so already attached to the hitch-rail outside "The Plaza. the patient strips to his middle an' lays face down on the bunkhouse table. "Just a li'l race. He makes the door a healthy flea's jump ahead an' points for the small corral. that's the minit Miss Nan appears. "But it ain't too long before Moody discovers that pushin' a heavy flat-iron aroun' is tirin' to the wrist. "What on earth is the matter with Watson?" Miss Nan asks. Moody pulls up an' tries to look unconcerned." Moody retorted. an' streaks for the bunkhouse. adorned the walls. Follerin' instructions. `Once'll be enough. but he don't wait. it was this away. he lets go a whoop that would 'a' turned an Injun green with envy an' arches his back like a buckin' pony. emergin' from under the blanket." Flatty grinned at the other actor in the comedy." and stepped inside. The patient makes noises signifyin' satisfaction. it possessed one feature which raised it above the rut--its owner. which were of squared logs." Miss Nan smiles. But if "The Plaza" was no more than a commonplace Western saloon. plaited and coiled upon her small head. comin' to get her pony. and the tables and chairs were of better quality. Smaller than "The Lucky Chance. "Yo're the poorest liar in the outfit. Flatty without a stitch above his middle. About two hours later the new foreman of the C P rode into Windy. o' course. We gets Flatty smoothed down after a bit--not with the iron this time--an' he consents to let Moody go on breathin'. grabs his slippin' pants. "It was shorely funny to see them two skippin' round the corral like a coupla jack-rabbits. plannin' to climb a hoss. an' Flatty admits he's willin' to try anythin' --once.

hat in hand. a brazen hussy.. as though she dared him to criticize her action. Oh yes. Then from somewhere in the room came a laugh which bred shame in the drink-sodden mind. "Ah. ." he smiled. In the girl's left hand. liquor-bloated face was on his on his feet fumbling for a gun at his hip and mouthing curses. Raising the flap. "You dirty beast!" she cried. Lavigne returned to her place behind the bar her look at the puncher was defiant. ma'am. her tone tense with passion." She clapped her hands softly." the woman said sharply. and meant it." He saw her face change. "Hell! what's that fool trying to do?" she cried. I am a wicked woman." she replied. liquor-glazed eyes fought with the flaming black ones. "Fella can't lose what he ain't got--I'm a pretty desperate person my own self. or I'll send you out on a shutter. "And what are they worth? I'd give them all for one honest word of censure. I can handle it." A little shadow flitted across her face. "Yu go to hell." The cow-puncher grinned." Sudden said." Sudden suggested. "True. She had been chatting to the bar-tender and regarding the scene with the indifference of use. but her eyes lit up when Sudden." Then the dancing lights came back into her eyes. "Not that I don't get any of that. and on her white bosom. watching him uncertainly." he said. and fell. hands on their own guns. my so brave caballero has come to veezit ze poor --how you say--tenderfoot?" she greeted. and you'll lose your character if you speak to me. you know. not so?" she laughed. my friend. as he took the slim white hand she extended. from my own sex especially. for the bitterness behind her gay tone was very apparent. Trouble had started at a neighbouring table." Hardly had the vile epithet left his lips when the girl's hand swept across his cheek with a slap which rang out like a pistol-shot and drew an oath of pain and surprise from the recipient. and for a moment it seemed that he would obey. "I ain't no more a caballero than yu are a Greaser. stepped up to the bar. was a tiny nickel-plated revolver--a toy. "Vamoose. held steadily at her hip. she stepped from behind the bar and three quick strides brought her to the trouble-maker just as his weapon left the holster. "Think I'm goin' to be ordered about by a booze-slingin'. "Put that gun back and get out of here. "Yu shore have nerve. Without another word the drunkard turned and staggered weavingly from the saloon." For a few seconds the bloodshot." he bantered. I never did allow anyone to pick my friends for me. The man looked at her. "A compliment. an' that pony warn't wantin' to get away from yu--hosses have sense." the fellow said thickly. blue shirted miner with a coarse." she said soberly. A big. a man would have said--but it was sufficiently powerful to take life at such close range. suspended by a slender chain of gold.revealed neck and arms. "I won't stand for that sort of thing here. His admiration brought the smile back to her lips.." she said. The men he had been playing with were standing. When Mrs. was a single ruby. "No. gleaming like a new-spilt spot of blood. "Lemme 'tend to this. "Reckon yu get a-plenty. "Shucks. In an instant the girl had slipped from her seat. standing slim and straight before him. "Yu oughta know. "Also.

"A drink poured by yore fair hands will taste ten times nicer than one from Ted's paws. huh?" he growled."Pooh! He knew the boys would blow him to bits if he laid a finger on me." He lifted his hat to Mrs. yu got that gun out pretty pronto. it don't matter." "An' yet yu sell it. and his frown was darker. Lavigne." "Ted will serve you. and then." Burdette went on." she said indifferently. but I warn yu I'm shy o' practice with a runnin' iron. she was avenging herself for his insolence in the presence of a stranger. . in the same insolent tone the other had used. "Mebbe I will. "Someone else would if I didn't." He saw the blood show redly in the sallow cheeks and the dark eyes narrow to pin-points." he said." Sudden smiled sardonically. Sudden knew this must be Kingley Burdette." she told him confidently. Though this was the first time he had seen him. perplexed and scowling." "Yo're King Burdette." "As you will." King said carelessly." he said. Dessay I could change a C P into a Circle B--it's an easy play." he toasted. "Evenin' honeybird. See yu later--mebbe. there was a demure twinkle in the girl's eyes. Burdette's voice now had an edge on it. a tall. but Luce havin' cut adrift from the Circle B I could use another rider. and I have to live. though doubtless useful. the patronizing air both galled and amused him. "He'll be in to-morrow to beg my pardon. which." she pointed out. but I'm thirsty. Who's been rufflin' yore pretty plumage?" was his familiar greeting." Lu Lavigne pointed out. and was immediately sorry when he noted the tiny furrow between her brows. he was laughin' at me. take a good look. carissima. "Damn him. if he takes enough of it. He struck back. "When yu get tired a' washin' dirt yu might look me up. nodded casually to Burdette." the puncher replied. and then." she said coldly. I wanted to see yu. "I hear yo're huntin' a job." King said. "Meanin'?" "Just what I said. "He will not. and went out. I reckon. "Gosh. "Fresh fella. and filled a glass. carefully dressed in cowboy costume and wearing two guns. With a condescending nod here and there." Burdette answered. The Circle B man stared after him. and then the even white teeth shut down on a single word. "Damnation!" A newcomer had entered the saloon. dark man. are far from ornamental. His eyes dwelt possessively upon her and then travelled to the cowpuncher?" "Yo're Green." He glanced up and found that the puncher was not the only one to take such a liberty. "Liquor." Sudden mimicked. "The devil he is. "What the hell was he drivin' at? An' where does the C P come in?" "He's riding for Purdie." she retorted. and the sneer was very palpable. and when he smilingly suggested that she had lost a customer. "Someone's been stringin' yu--I ain't doin' no such thing. without waiting for a reply. will make a fool of any man." "I was born and bred in the West. "Fella in that state is liable to act without thinkin'. shrugged her dainty shoulders." she explained. and beckoned to the bar-tender. I reckon. the fresh arrival strode to the bar and swept off his hat so elaborately as to make the gesture a mockery. "Here's how. "Well. "For a tenderfoot.

she's the prettiest bit o' stuff this side o' the Mississippi. without anybody noticin'." . When he's been at the C Pa day or so an' met Nan Purdie he won't give yu a second thought. does it?" he sneered. an' yu can reckon up yore chances. She's growed up."Tickles yu. "Think yu got another admirer? Forget it. an' is good. that kid. Add too. with Kit outa the way that she'll get the C P. an' I'm tellin' yu.

an' the on'y hoss I possess. we mustn't quarrel. moping alone in his room. insulting speech.38 rifle an' rides a paint hoss with a nail missin' in the off fore. and you. Couldn't follow their tracks." the other protested. little tiger-cat. The eyes of the woman behind the bar followed him. girl. But vanity demanded a small victory.44 shells where they cut down on him first. On leaving "The Plaza.The colour flamed in her face at the coarse. "Yeah. shore enough. his ill-temper seemed to vanish like a storm from a summer sky. I s'pose?" "I have. hard." Luce returned despondently." he said. ridden by the bitter temper he could usually control. and his voice became harsh again. Lu." Though his lips smiled there was a sinister emphasis on the last word. Found some . "I've nothin' fresh to tell yu. were no new things to her. yu love me. "I hate you!" "No. "Ain't got no news. When possessed by passion he was ruthless." "Even with the C P thrown in?" she asked with a tremulous smile. If Purdie forces trouble it'll be his own--funeral. but too pussy-kitten for my taste. "I'm damn glad to see yu. Leaning across the bar. he was in a good humour again now that he had made her angry." he replied. Weldon shod him all over las' week." "That means there's another fella in these parts who uses a .38 an' ." she raged. "We . he was finding the part of a pariah a bitter one to play." she stormed. and told of the attempt on Strip Levens. "Though at the moment I do believe yu'd like to stick a knife in me. I didn't mean that. an' without any apron-strings tied to it." Sudden said. but it was yore own fault--yu didn't oughta waste those star-like eyes on no-'count punchers. Now Nan Purdie would never think o' doin' that. sweetness. "She's welcome to you if she can swallow the murder of her brother. content that the lash of his tongue had stung her." she pouted. he whispered tenderly: "Come." Lu Lavigne was used to these sudden changes. and had he been able to read their expression rightly." Luce commented hopelessly. "An unfortunate incident. the devotion in the dark eyes. sort of. but let's hear yore's first. but learned nothing. the warmth in the pleading voice." "Where'd yu happen to be yesterday afternoon. and yet she allowed herself to be persuaded by them. If I want the C P ranch I'll take it." he said. an' it happened like yu said. "Listen to me. "Yu got me goin'." "Damn Nan Purdie. She's a good-looker. and the girl's eyes sought his in an endeavour to read the truth. an' one of 'em holds him while the other injuns round an' drills him from behind. went out of the saloon. Sabe?" He swallowed another drink. "The Circle B has made its position clear by turnin' Luce adrift an' disownin' him. "There's paints a-plenty. as he looked at her." King laughed lightly. "Shucks. jealousy is a potent advocate with a woman. Two fellas was firm' at Kit. an' that's the sum total." he smiled. Green. "I've been all over the ground. where he found Luce Burdette. The young man welcomed him eagerly. he might not have felt quite so pleased with himself. an' nails can be replaced. Then. they'd took care o' that." "An' yore hoss is a grey an' ain't shy a nail on the off fore?" "Silver is a grey. "You said--Nan Purdie--was prettier. even then. I'm sorry I hurt yu. She knew that he was payin' her back--that he meant to hurt--he was that kind of man. "You brute." the visitor replied.?" "Right here in town." Sudden went to the hotel. and refusing several invitations to join in a game.

shapely figure speculatively. having worked all day. he had been constantly on the alert and had not visited the town. "He's lost a hefty stake. Mister Green?" He told her what he knew. passed through a narrow rift in the rock. but Goldy says it was Luce Burdette. angry-looking fellow whose head was bandaged." Luce .gotta find that gun." was the reply. liked the men he had to work with. Dunno how long I was out. He was over a mile away. but there's a chance he'll git it back. savagely. he started to trudge the three miles home. "Even his own brothers condemn him--the cowards. yu idjut. he reached Windy." continued the citizen who had supplied Sudden with the news. after all. and then. she put a plain question : "Have you heard anything of Luce Burdette." "Keep a-smilin'. but Luce is--different. and various other articles. root and branch." Her eyes thanked him. The accused man was glaring at them defiantly. I'll be in town this afternoon." When. had lived the semi-solitary life of the wanderer." the robbed man had explained when he told his tale. but the sun warn't much lower when I come to. and uncertain what form it would take. On the table lay his six-shooter. was still about." the C P foreman said. and a crowd of curious onlookers." "Did he see the fella?" the foreman asked. a small doe-skin bag." "Guess I'll trail along an' see what's doin'. Slype." he mused." She made a very pretty picture. for the last year or two. he found the place bubbling with excitement over a new outrage. "Must be kinda nice to have a pretty girl that concerned about yu. Meeting him on her way to the corral. and Sudden found himself settling down at the C P. and must be having a lonely time. Evidently he had been disarmed and searched. Goldy Evans. mebbe I'll see him. the Circle B has some reason for pinnin' the deed on Luce. "I reckon yo're right. Goldy's claim was situated on the lower slope of the southern wall of the valley. her face flushed and her eyes flashing with indignation. he sees a chap on a grey hoss ridin' lickety-split for town." "An' I'm tellin' yu. a prospector. and the companionship of his old friend. perhaps Luce was not so much to be pitied. was. "Reckon so. late in the afternoon. "The blame' walls near meet overhead. we'll do it. an' I dessay it was me Evans saw." Sudden said casually. and added." "It is cruel. "Seems kinda hard when nothin's been proved. and was being ignored by his three brothers. "Goldy staggered along through the gully. which he had made himself by his daily journey. convinced most of the citizens of his guilt. He liked Purdie. My belt was gone an' my head felt like someone had parted my hair with an axe. for the fact that he had been driven away from the Circle B. however. His story was that. a red-faced. an' when he reaches the open. had been struck down on his way back to town. and as she went away the foreman's gaze followed the trim. Yago. All he said. ma'am. Convinced that the Burdettes meant mischief. The foreman smiled sardonically at the reflection that. "I ain't denyin' I was up that way this afternoon. and robbed of about a thousand dollars in dust. It was Nan Purdie who put it in the foreman's mind to ride into Windy. "Come alive. an' I was no more than in it when I thought they'd fell on me. meant much to one who. Chapter VIII A WEEK slipped quietly by. The trail." the girl said hotly. Goldy warn't on'y sore in the head. Luce. The Burdettes are bad. Him an' the marshal is up at the hotel now. "It's damned dark in that gully. In the parlour of the hotel he found Luce. he knew.

" the marshal said. even when it comes from the same locality. "Well. even now. ." "I tell yu I never had it--that dust is mine. "What I took out today--kept it for spendin'." "Hold on. and with an ugly look at Luce. any old `Forty-niner' could tell yu as much. marshal. If the dust in them two pokes ain't exactly sim'lar. Sudden found him there a little later. "I've been diggin' myself." "Yeah." he remarked. "I'm a-goin' to take yu in." he announced confidently. hunched in a chair. and gathering up his belongings. bent man of over sixty. thrust through the crowd. that seemin'ly lets yu out. pointing to the bag on the table. the old miner poured a little of the dust from each poke and bent over the tiny heaps. his face buried in his hands." the officer retorted. and who." The marshal scowled. knew that he must bow to the expert. Goldy dug down into his pocket and produced a little leathern sack--his "poke".was saying as Sudden elbowed his way into the room. "Did all the dust in yore belt come outa the claim yo're workin'?" The man nodded sullenly. he corroborated the puncher's statement. marshal. didn't yu?" "What's the big idea?" Slype inquired." snapped the boy. "Better come clean an' tell us where yu cached the rest o' the plunder." The spectators surged forward to look. "Yo're sayin' so don't prove nothin'. "They ain't noways the same." the young man told him. But the marshal was a poor loser. "But I ain't right shore allasame. dressed in patched. "I c'n see what the young fella's drivin' at. Luce didn't slug Evans. leathery face the small eyes still gleamed brightly. What "California" did not know about gold had yet to be discovered. Straightening up. an' yu c'n bet a stack on it. "How'd yu git that dust?" growled Evans. but he could not refuse the test. "An' I s'pose yu got a hole in the ground all ready to show us?" "I reckon it's an open an' shut case. "Worked for it. Then in turn he took a pinch from each and rolled the particles between his gnarled finger and thumb. not that for a moment they doubted the decision of this old man who had spent nearly the whole of his life in the service of the god of Gold. "Got any more of it on yu?" the cow-puncher continued. in my belt. disgruntled as he was at the destruction of what he had regarded as convincing evidence." Luce replied. "I've heard old miners say that gold dust varies considerable. "Mindin' my own business. looked at and handled the shining atoms as though they were indeed worthy of worship." sneered the miner. an' I'm keepin' an eye on yu. an' he's dead right. Luce. pushed his way through the crowd and went to his own room. "What was yu doin' around there?" Slype asked." the C P foreman replied. Even Slype. Luce. cracked voice which was not improved by the quid of tobacco he was chewing. amidst breathless silence. and turned to Evans. "Yu missed that." the youth said savagely. Lemme look at 'em." "Keep both on an' be damned. Reckon any o' yu c'n see it for yoreselves. "Just this. he looked round triumphantly. Two sheets of paper were brought and. Out of his lined. nondescript garments. P'raps there's someone here who can speak to that?" A shrivelled. In a high." Sudden interposed." he explained. "Goldy's dust is coarser in grain an' a mite darker in colour. marshal.

There was a new decision in his voice when he said: "Yo're right." he said. "I'm right sorry. "No one couldn't blame me if I did--there's plenty excuse." Luce said bitterly. he added. I'll stay an' take my medicine. Nan. is yore dad around? I wanta see him." he bantered. boy. and the boy was instantly contrite. yu cut out this runnin' away chatter. and fought against it. well. spectacular young rider had figured largely in her dreams. though the two families were by no means friendly. and something in his eyes sent the hot blood to her face and neck. Burdette's face lighted up. his lazy eyes drinking in her beauty. Her voice was studiously cold when she spoke : "I'm still waiting to hear the object of your visit. Yet. I oughta remembered yu." "Shucks. handsome undoubtedly. this dashing. "She still believes in me?" he asked. "Miss Purdie." "Thanks to yu. "Oh. "My word. "How is she?" "Well. But." Luce replied. "Now." he said. I gotta admit she's lookin' a mite peaky. Mister Burdette. but utterly without principle. Who do yu guess is back of it?" "King--my own brother. "He swore he'd hound me outa the country. Luce found himself hoping again." Sudden told him." he said. "That's one frame-up didn't come off. made a hero of him." King laughed. as he sat there easily in his saddle." he said." It was true. yu've growed up into a mighty han'some woman. Nan. It warn't yu Evans saw. anyways. though she had never suspected that he knew. She had. "I presume you didn't ride up here to pay me compliments?" King Burdette laughed. I know of two. "Has it occurred to you that he may not share that desire?" . Yo're playin' in tough luck just now." His confidence was infectious and. Green. yu look as grieved as if yu'd filled a straight flush. Green. and seeing that her face did not change. despite his despair. was it?" "Might 'a' been. as a young girl will. staring at him in amazed surprise. but I fancy I was further up the valley at the time."Brace up. stories of King Burdette filtered through and dispelled her childish illusions." Nan retorted. as time went on." The rays of the rising sun were invading the misty hollows of the foothills around the base of Old Stormy when a rider loped leisurely up the trail and pulled his mount to a stop in front of the C P ranch-house. and then." "Then the jasper who did it has a grey hoss an' was careful not to show hisself till he was far enough off to be mistook for yu. yu used to think a lot o' me." "Really?" she said with mild sarcasm. but I shore can't place the other. "Why. when yu were a little tad of a school-kid. He swept off his broad-brimmed hat and bowed low over his horse's mane as she descended hastily but gracefully from her perch. "Some fellas would be satisfied with Nan Purdie's friendship alone. "Yeah. At the sight of the girl lazily swinging in a hammock on the verandah a look of mingled admiration and satisfaction gleamed in his eyes. but yu'll make the grade. She came to know him for what he was. when she was in her early teens." the C P man said. "Yu figure it was fixed?" "Looks thataway. Still holding his hat. and there was a caress in his tone. and grinned understandingly at the other's expression of his regret. an' I might as well clear --I ain't got a friend in it. she was conscious of his fascination. Years back." the puncher smiled." "Shucks! Come outa the ice-box. please. an' I didn't hurry. he surveyed her slowly from head to foot.

and a little frown creased the brow of King Burdette. "Yu say so. "I reckon that puts the attitude o' the Circle B pretty plain." King pointed out. an' if we start scrappin'. Green?" the rancher cut in. "What might yu be wantin'. "An' he thought a lot o' Dad. an' I'm tellin' yu the same about Kit. Getting down in front of the verandah. until he clears his-self." Burdette began. began to roll a cigarette." King replied. when the brands are healed the cattle could be sneaked over an' thrown into yore herds." . Purdie. "Which of us was yu aimin' to protect?" asked the rancher sneeringly." "Mart did that the other night in `The Lucky Chance' when he said Luce had done a good job." Purdie said incisively." the old man said grimly. if he's got any sense." came the blunt answer. The foreman told of the re-branded cattle he had discovered hidden on the range." "It ain't been proved. "We're the two biggest outfits in Windy." "Mebbe. "Yu accusin' me o' rustlin' yore cows?" he asked stormily." "Bah! Chicken-feed." Sudden pointed out. trailed his reins. "Please tell him I'm here. he found the unwelcome visitor smoking and surveying the landscape. an' spirit." Burdette retorted." the cattleman said curtly.Burdette smiled to himself. the whole community'll suffer." King sneered." he reflected. "Well." "The C P had nothin' to do with that. alone." Slype replied. a thud of hoofs announced another arrival--the marshal. "Mornin'. "Killed by a cowardly coyote who carries yore name." Purdie said sarcastically. Where's the sense in it?" "My boy lies over there. Nan went in search of her father. he's a stranger to the Burdettes. an' anyways. "On'y yore outfit would be interested in puttin' yore brand on our beasts. Slype?" "Heard King was headed this way an' thought I'd better come along. he'll see me. "What was yu sayin' this mornin' 'bout some steers yu found. but she's for yore betters. Purdie. "There won't be none--o' my makin'--but seein' yo're here. Luce." the officer replied. Purdie presented his new foreman as such. Sam." he said. "Mart was drunk. and taking a seat on the verandah. When the ranch-owner appeared. He turned to the marshal. "Beauty. adding meaningly. he nodded heavily to the pair. "The C P is gettin' precious popular seemin'ly. he got down. What else yu got against the Circle B?" At this moment Sudden stepped from the house on to the verandah and paused when he saw that his employer had visitors. "If Luce bumped off yore boy it was a personal matter. but I don't know as yu improve it. or they could be found where they are. brains. "Did I have to?" the puncher asked coolly. "It's my job to prevent trouble. and the face of the Circle B man flamed as he heard the story. "I gotta hand it to yu. when it would look like we'd been stealin' from yu. "Yu needn't to have bothered. yu might as well listen to what I have to say to Purdie. I'm here to propose peace. "Fine view yu got here. "What's yore errand?" Before Burdette could reply. Miss Purdie. waving a hand towards the valley." Apparently sure of the result." Aloud he said." "Fly at it." he greeted. "What's the great idea?" "Well. "Yu didn't tell me yu was takin' charge here when I offered yu a job." Purdie rasped." Burdette said easily. "Looks to me like a plain frame-up--tryin' to pin a rustlin' on the Circle B.

"Jim. but I ain't blind. the man had hoped for such a termination to the interview. "When yu savvy the Burdettes as well as I do. an' not bein' a fool. he shall have it. I don't believe he knowed of 'em. sprang into the saddle. and Sudden could have sworn there was satisfaction in the glance." was the reply. even if it's my own brothers." The puncher's eyes twinkled. his eyes cold. an' that goes." When the pair had vanished." he replied. and there was little of disappointment in his tone. they know what I think of 'em. but I was. yore ranch. sneering voice was plain enough now."Shore does. pronto. Sam?" he said. The marshal would have spoken. "If yu wanta reconsider. Well. by God. "See here. "What d'yu guess'll be their first move?" "I expect they'll try to abolish that two-gun hombre King mentioned." The rancher's face grew grave. an' take yore tame dawg with yu.. "I'd sooner shake with a rattlesnake than a Burdette. "Anyways. "It's the first I've heard of this. lifting his shoulders in a gesture of hopelessness." Sudden saw the man's face whiten under the tan. Burdette. Purdie too had risen. but I'll get yu." Burdette looked at the marshal. with a rope round his neck. the ranch-owner turned and looked at his foreman. he didn't forget it. "Yore master will be whistlin' for yu. though. "Mebbe I'm what yu called me. Purdie. He laughed scornfully. an' if I find any o' my outfit have been usin' a straight iron I'll hand 'em over to yu. yu can bear witness that I did my utmost to dodge trouble. King would 'a' drawed on me if yu hadn't been here. and realized that only his own presence prevented it. an' yu stand aside an' let him bear the blame." he said." Purdie laughed incredulously. He stood up. "Yeah. "Get agoin'. even if yu pack yore place with two-gunmen. Yu egg yore brother on to kill Kit. yu'll figure 'em at the back o' most o' the dirty work around here. "Get off my land. "Funny 'bout them cattle. and to Burdette. Purdie." he said harshly. and spurred his horse down the trail. will yu take it?" The rancher's jaw was set." he said. an' yore girl. "Fetch me the murderer o' my son. "Shut yore trap. the man had cast off all pretence. I'm offerin' yu my hand." King went on. Can't say fairer than that. his hand not far from his gun." he said." ." the old man told him. Now all this chatter ain't gettin' us nowhere. "Yu can't bluff me.." Purdie said." the officer agreed." "Lookit. sensed the passion that was urging him to pull his gun and shoot Purdie then and there. "What yu think of it?" he asked.. but a contemptuous gesture from the cattleman stopped him. and then came an ugly snarl: "Yu take the pot--this time. For a brief moment Burdette fought his fury. "I reckon yu got their measure. Then yu come here with lying offers o' peace which yu know damn well I don't listen to o' purpose to put me in wrong with the town. "Good thing yu happened along. Purdie. but I'll look into it. "Yu heard that." the marshal protested. but this old fool wants war.. I'd no right to rope yu into my trouble--this ain't no ordinary foreman's job." With a glare at Sudden he swaggered from the verandah." The exultation in the savage. an' mebbe I'll tell yu different. yu brand my cattle an' leave 'em where they'll be found so's I'll start somethin'.

"Thirteen's an unlucky number. an' when I start anythin' I aim to finish it."Forget it. Chris won't get no sympathy there. Green. passionless voice sent a shiver through the others. of slight build. and his long. He wore two guns. "Well." Sudden smiled. his clean-shaven face was white. littered living-room at the Circle B that same evening four men sat in conference--King Burdette." the killer replied darkly. "I came here knowin'. Whitey was a killer of the worst type--one who sold his dexterity to the highest bidder. seh. of whom he knew nothing and yet trusted implicitly. "Slippery was there." Purdie's relief was evident. and regarded the taking of human life as no more important than twisting the neck of a chicken." came the grim retort. the unhealthy. It'll . he's got a good one. Whitey. "There's on'y one. twice he's got Luce out of a jam--if it hadn't been for him that young fool would 'a' been off our hands for good. Chapter IX IN the big. "I'll be in town to-night. and one of their outfit. far's I can see. un-winking. what's a week. "If he can beat me to the draw he'll do what twelve other fellas failed at." King rejoined. Any o' yu know about it?" They all shook their heads. his face might have been a marble mask. "The main point is what we goin' to do about Green?" "Leave him to me." Mart added. "Purdie has scooped in that two-gun stranger. I'm tellin' yu this. they sensed an eagerness to slay for the sake of slaying--for they knew his proposal meant nothing less than death. o' course. mebbe meet up with him. and in this deathly pallor were set blue eyes like polished stones. "To do it sooner would be a fair giveaway. "Our boys wouldn't do it without orders." Sim commented. but lacked the dignity of the carven stone. I saw Purdie this mornin' an'--like I guessed--he's all set for war--wouldn't listen to nothin' else. "Odd number that. and grinned. There's another thing." "An' with Kit outa the way there shouldn't be no difficulty. An' why leave 'em there?" "It'll need lookin' into." King shook his head. sickly white of something grown in darkness." King observed. the cold." he decided. but can wait. level-eyed stranger. "He'll be a long whiles dead. he had one remarkable feature --a skin." Mart said. but Purdie had beat me to it. "We gotta wait a week at least." "We oughta've gathered him in ourselves. his brothers Mart and Sim. Between thirty-five and forty years of age. anyways?" the gunman grimaced." Sim stated. by chance. That puts us right with Windy. "He totes a coupla guns an' we don't know how good he is with 'em. "I tried to." Whitey said." King began." "Well. This last had an arresting appearance. Callous as they were. penned up on Purdie's range. expressionless." King decided. an' made him foreman. that fella means trouble for us. boys. In declaring war on the Circle B he had relied greatly upon the aid of this lean-jawed. "Shore will be--for him. which even the fierce sun of the South-west could not colour. So we can go ahead." the elder brother told him. talon-like fingers were never far from their butts. "Mark me. he claims to have found a bunch o' cattle with the C P brand changed to Circle B. "Whitey"--for so the man was known--never smiled.

cost yu boys five hundred. an' the next yu knowed he had yu covered. More than once Nan had found herself heading for the meeting-place." the gunman said. in the minds of reasonable men. Also." The killer's thin. Whitey?" King queried. a week passed without anything happening. and avoided as much as possible by others he had deemed his friends. "I'll never forgive him for that. in him. The attitude of his family. apparently deep in thought. pale lips twisted a little. regarding him curiously. But I've heard tell of him. pretending not to have seen him." he admitted. like the rest. . "Yes. "He let me off. by God! they got him right. but his draw was a shinin' merricle. of robbing Evans. King Burdette had made it plain that friendship with his discarded brother would mean enmity with him. an' dunno as I'd reckernize him--a few years make a big difference in a young chap. with lifted eyebrows. He warn't much more'n a boy. but they was beginnin' to call him `Sudden' down there. "I've met that fella.." Despite the fact that matters between the two ranches had apparently reached a crisis. signified amusement. Her heart leapt when she saw someone sitting on the fallen trunk. but he left me standin' still." Mart said. "I took the trail. "Said I looked sick. I was reckoned fast. an' that a spell o' travel would be good for my health. an' then. and the displeasure of the Circle B. "One o' these days yu'll tumble up against a fella who's a mite quicker'n yu are. and had spurred her pony in another direction. They had no illusions about the man. For Luce Burdette the period was one of growing discomfort. he said : "Sudden. caused many to believe he had slain Kit Purdie. supported by the known facts." "What was his name?" Sim asked. half turnin' away. I reckon yu did right to--travel. Sudden! Even to this far corner of Arizona the young gunman's reputation for cold courage and marvellous marksmanship had penetrated." he said. there were some who still doubted. when he had me set. she rode with face averted. unscrupulous riders. The other appeared not to notice it. Mart expressed the feelings of all when. an' I'll bet I did too. with a low whistle. There came a morning. Entirely ignored by most of the citizens. Then came a voice which shocked the gladness out of her. when. sir. and though Sudden's quick-wittedness should have cleared him. an' there warn't nothin' special 'bout him --just a ordinary puncher to look at. however. some years ago. with almost a jeer. Huh? Whitey. Several times he had ridden to the little glade in the hope of seeing Nan Purdie. she had come to believe in his guilt. Whitey. obeying an impulse which brought the blood to her cheeks. and Windy wondered. the young man grew daily more despondent. "Never knowed it." "So yu--travelled?" King said. "I ain't seen him since." Whitey replied. being well aware that he would have undertaken to destroy any one of them for a sufficient sum. elbows on knees.. which. with its band of hard." In his voice was a bitter hate for the man who had allowed him to live. Lest he should deem her there on purpose. only to be disappointed. head bent." "He let yu off. "Yo're a cold-blooded devil. Old-timers wagged their heads significantly and spoke of the proverbial calm before the storm. way down in Texas. she rode resolutely along the old trail and through the opening into the glade. an'. Had an odd trick o' speaking his piece." The "boys" nodded agreement. was not to be incurred lightly. In this he wronged her. yeah. The faint satirical smiles which their companion's recital of his discomfiture had produced faded from the faces of his hearers. Bitterly he concluded that.

the blue eyes regarded him coldly." The girl's scornful expression showed him that he was on the wrong track and. I'd have stood by and shielded him to the last. "I want peace." The contempt in her tone flailed him. The man laughed. "Awright." he said. "Why." King Burdette said." She looked at the big." he pointed out.. "No use runnin' away." Her look of surprise made him grin. if yu'd rather I made it--sweetheart. her mount--game as it was--could not keep ahead of that powerful.. it ain't what yu guessed--yet. with poor Kit scarcely cold in his grave?" she said."Shorely the gods are good to me since they send the very person my mind was full of. and laughed when he saw her eyes flash. Now. "My. "If yu think thataway. and she rode on. girl. "He's got his head down an' is runnin' hell-bent for trouble like an angry steer. Nan. Nan." he replied. if I knew he was guilty. but I do lay it to the Circle B. "I can catch yu in two-three minutes." He shrugged his shoulders. "Aw." she cried." she interrupted. that was her creed. "What have you to say?" she asked." he urged. "No. and smothered a curse. a break in her voice. for one she loved there was no limit." he retorted." she said. "I got a proposal to make. Mister Burdette. "No. seemin'ly. dropping his bantering air." "Can you wonder. "I prefer to stay where I am. and shook her reins. yo're awfully pretty when yu rear up--Nan. but yore father wouldn't listen." she replied. you gotta talk with me. long-striding animal. "Yo're wrong. "The Circle B has condemned it. Nan" "You are not to call me that. if Kit had committed a crime. ain't yu?" he said. The knowledge stirred his brigand nature." he said. but he kept an iron hand on himself. "I've somethin' important to say 'bout somebody yo're interested in." she told him. King Burdette stepped towards her. rangy roan standing with drooping head but a few yards distant and knew it was no vain boast. "Come now. now. "Well." King smiled. even murder." He saw her flush. swinging his hat in a wide sweep." His face sobered again. it is beautiful." "Thereby showing yourselves to be curs. Nan. he holds the Burdettes is pizen. "Yu got me wrong. She pulled in her pony. have it yore own way. someday yo're goin' to know me better. "And there is no need for you to come nearer--my hearing is quite good." he countered. yu oughta be willin' to talk to yore dad. We've disowned Luce--done with him. and the open avowal of interest in the suspected man brought his brows together in a heavy frown. only his eyes betrayed the fires flaming within. "It ain't him--it's Luce." "If you're threatening my father" she began stormily. it'll go hard with him if yu don't listen. "But yu don't lay that to Luce. and--he bit back an oath--she loved Luce. "The spot was pretty before. But you. I was in dead earnest when I come to the C P that time. He realized that she meant just what she said. "I am not interested in any of your family." The girl's proud little head came up. see here. he said seriously." . get down an' be sociable. his grey. "Suspicious. What a fool she had been not to notice the horse! Luce always rode Silver.

"I never in my life was so pleased to see anyone." "Brother! " Luce retorted. "Dad is not the sort of man to be dictated to. turning at the entrance to wave an insolent farewell." The boy flushed." "I'd rather die than marry a Burdette. "No. "I'll leave yore belt at `The Lucky Chance. and impudently folded his arms. King grinned hatefully." he gritted. he had no wish to be crippled." King Burdette looked into the levelled gun and furious eyes of the newcomer. or I'll break a leg for yu. and now he suddenly sprang forward. she needed a lesson. "Nan." Despite his self-control. but he knew Luce. but King swore as the lash of her quirt seared his cheek. Luce. but its rejection. brother. "Yu've taken mighty good care to show me I ain't that--till it saves yore hide. and she thrilled at the anxiety in his voice." he mocked. Marchin' orders for the both of us Luce. yu skunk. "He didn't hurt yu?" he asked. Luce. During the conversation he had been gradually edging nearer. the blood stained King Burdette's cheeks as he recalled his ignominious dismissal from the C P."Did I mention marriage?" he asked. I was scared--he sprang at me like a tiger." she said. "As for that girl. when a warning voice reached him. keep away from her. I meant it. it don't matter." "Yo're takin' 'em from me. "I'll learn yu. kin or no kin." the girl replied. I couldn't stop him. He was up again in an instant." For a bare moment the other hesitated. They watched him go. "Well." she explained. saw the boy's jaw harden." the young man rasped. and obeyed. Unbuckle that belt an' step away from it. and once he got hold of her. I thought he made that plain to you. or I'll drill yu. Nan saw the movement too late to avoid it. she's goin' to be mine. his right hand darting to his hip." With a laugh of disdain King rode out of the glade. His proffer of peace had been a mere pretext." came the further order. He was of the type to whom opposition is a spur to anger. and I will always be . and again he had no choice." he snarled." Nan flashed. "I am sorry. "He had lost his temper completely. and for some moments there was an awkward silence. subterfuge or evasion played no part in her straightforward nature. Jeering at him. did yu mean what yu said about--the Burdettes?" He put the question haltingly. "I'll get yu for this. huh? Well. "Thank you. but--yes. "Yu will now see the Bible story of Cain an' Abel brought right up to date. Then the girl stretched out an impulsive hand. he'd make those pretty lips pay for what they had uttered. You are so different from your brothers that it is difficult to believe you belong to the same family. his long arms clutching her waist in an effort to drag her from the saddle. and if it were." Luce said bitterly."That's not true. coupled with the girl's beauty and disdain. were rousing the worst in him. and to the girl." He had almost succeeded in unseating her when a silver streak flashed across the clearing and the shoulder of a grey horse sent him spinning to the ground.' If yu pester Miss Purdie again yu'll not get off so easy. but Nan Purdie was no shirker." "I wish to God we didn't. and it required all her courage to meet his pleading look. "Blaze away. "Now climb yore bronc an' fade. "Stick 'em up. "Yu damn little wildcat." she said gently. "I like you.

but it would break Dad's heart to learn I was even that. Meanwhile the man who had been so ingloriously bested was spurring savagely for the Circle B. with the object of provoking her father to a reprisal.. "A thousand bucks would shorely be more use than five hundred. hope is a hardy growth in a young heart." Whitey said. Despite the girl's statement that nothing could come of their friendship. after the dirty way I got trimmed. and so --there can never be anything more. You understand. had struck a "pocket". "But remember. "I gave the young fool another chance to pull his freight an' he won't go. "Any son-of-a-bitch who tries that trick agin'll git blowed sky-high. and without dismounting. an' don't be in too much of a hurry. "Earn 'em. "'Lo. "Yu had trouble with Green?" Burdette realized that he had gone too far--this man would not stand for bullying. with Luce. but I've had an argument with Luce." The gunman nodded. King. don't you?" He nodded miserably." ." Chapter X BUSINESS in "The Lucky Chance" was booming that night.your friend. his whole being full of a black rage." The killer's eyes grew harder." King said shortly. King's attack he regarded as an attempt to frighten her. it mustn't look like a frame-up. "When yu bump off Luce. some fella stole yore belt off'n yu?" the gunman greeted curiously. and men flocked to the saloon to share in the celebration they knew would follow. burrowing like a human mole in the hillside. I ain't seen Green. Nan?" "We are sure to meet. "Better heel yoreself before yu take that tone with me. I ain't nobody's dawg. The news had soon spread. Luce." he objected. but I'm all het up. I don't overlook bets neither." King Burdette's sinister gaze followed him as he slouched away. As he flung himself from the lathered horse and strode towards the ranch-house he met Whitey. I want him outa the way." "I get yu." she urged. boys." she said. and the thought that she cared what happened to him was sweet. leave the country. "Sorry. "Yo're dad's right. Luce. "I ain't runnin'. When she had gone he loped his horse past the spot where King's belt lay. yu betcha. "Yu can get Green as soon as yu like." His anger flamed anew at the recollection of how one-sided that "argument" had been." he told her. "No. half drunk." he muttered. leant over. Whitey." he said. scooped it up.. I'm ashamed. his brothers--though they've disowned him--have just naturally gotta get yu to even the score. and headed the animal for Windy. "He ain't a Burdette--for yu. "An' I reckon it was comin' to me. "Yu'll let me see yu sometimes." he suggested." Whitey understood. "When yu've settled with that damned foreman. Goldy Evans. "I don't overlook no bets. then. "Yu ain't nobody's dawg--just a plain damn fool. and displaying a heavy Colt's revolver which had been the first thing bought with his newly-acquired wealth. now." "You must go away." King replied meaningly. "He's a Burdette." he warned." he said. The man himself was there. and he had to be content with that. King." snapped the other. "Mind yore own damn business. Well. now that he had seen her again he would not despair. it's gotta be entirely a personal matter 'tween yu an' him. What man would care to see his daughter linked up with a crowd like ours? Time was when I was proud o' bein' a Burdette.

I ain't much on liquor. standing not far away. windfalls like the present one few and far between. heard sundry far from complimentary criticisms of himself with an expression of surly contempt. he had a poor opinion of "dirt-washers." the puncher replied. suspecting the fellow was intent on forcing a quarrel." "Shore thing." "Reg'lar undertaker's help. "Guess I've altered some since we met. was whole-heartedly applauded. save for one fleeting glance. an' 'tis said he has twelve notches on his guns. and it might have gone ill with Luce Burdette had he entered the place just then." growled another. was chatting with the saloon-keeper and watching the scene amusedly. "Who's yore friend?" Magee looked at him. Presently he became aware that the gunman had moved nearer and was now looking directly at him. Well. but the pupils of the pale eyes narrowed to pin-points." he replied. an' interferin' outsiders c'n have a dose o' the same. inflaming the men's passions. wary. He rides for the Circle B. especially amongst the mining fraternity. who. I ain't remindin' him. huh?" the puncher replied lightly. "Give 'em two pinches o' yaller dust to buy licker with an' they're gory heroes right off. hut he did not lose sight of him. His reply brought no expression to that corpse-like mask. "Shucks! Notches ain't so much. The marshal.niver heard any other name. with a drunken glare at Green. ourselves. and pointed to his almost untouched glass. "Is there anythin' yu are much on?" came the contemptuous inquiry." Whitey's slit of a mouth twisted sneeringly. "A rope or a slug is the on'y cure." a burly miner said." drawled the puncher. As the liquor circulated. tilted his hat forward to hide his own features. yo're a good guesser. so Sudden was able to watch the gunman unobserved. "I guess yu're Green--the new C P foreman." the foreman agreed. but before that worthy could reply. "What about a li'l game? But mebbe yu ain't much on kyards neither?" "Like I said." he said in a flat voice. Also. with one elbow on the bar. "Take a drink?" "Yu guess pretty good. ain't they?" he sneered. an' I guess we can 'tend to that.Which sentiment. was warning him to be on his guard. Whitey walked to the bar and called for liquor. "He don't know me. and to endure the toil and hardship only to benefit a thief was not to any man's liking. "Shure an' I'm not so careless pickin' me frinds. that singular sixth sense which men who tread dangerous paths somehow acquire. even had he intended doing so. mirrors behind a bar are meant to be useful as well as ornamental. and there was a sneer in the last three words. where's the sense in whittlin' yore hardware all to bits thataway?" He faced around. . there had been no gleam of recognition in that look. He recognized the fellow--there could be no two men in the South-west like that--yet he asked a whispered question." His comment was addressed to Magee. "Nex' time we won't worry the marshal. With a curt nod here and there. the door swung open and Whitey entered. He was alert." At the same time. "They call him `Whitey' -. threats were freely uttered. for some still believed he had robbed the prospector. "I'm reckoned good at mindin' my own business. "Feelin' plenty brash. At the sight of that blood-drained face Sudden rubbed the back of his head. Gold was hard to get. he appeared uninterested in the puncher. like yore-self. and in so doing." Sudden reflected. Sudden noted that he helped himself sparingly from the bottle pushed forward. thus presenting his back to the newcomer." as he termed them. "I'm all fixed.

save only the puncher lounging lightly against the bar. and turned on Sudden. Magee made an effort to avert the storm." "He tried for one too many. Have one on the house--both av ye. for the puncher half turned as though about to decline the challenge. A bitter jeer was in his voice when he replied. "Yu come here. a stranger. "Thought better of it. Whitey was disgusted. Who the hell are yu to put on frills?" Sudden smiled tolerantly. He knew that movement. even as the thought darted through his brain he was dragging at his gun with the desperation of despair. Thrusting forward a bottle. "Better take a lesson from this fella an' mind yore own business. I ain't takin' favours from yu. "Me. double up at the knees. "Flash it. it was not the reply he had played for. matters had been going just right for him. while his right hand snapped back to his gun. jostling one another to get a glimpse of the dead man." croaked the killer. I believe he could make lightnin' hump itself. Men who made it their business to kill received small sympathy when they paid the penalty." he added. perhaps at the instigation of King Burdette. huh? Well. and. knew too that he was about to suffer the same fate as those he had himself wantonly destroyed. "If there's the same number on the twin. slither of dealt cards. It was too late to retract. All the nearest spectator could afterwards say was that. Whitey was not smiling." and there was no more to be said. he said placatingly. yu son-of-a --" The epithet was one which only an accompanying smile could excuse. when I've bumped off a dozen. we'll have the drink an' the li'l game. following a bang and spurt of flame from the puncher's left hip. One of them picked up the dropped revolver and ran a finger along the nicks in the butt. and murmur of conversation ceased. "Seein' yo're sot on 'em. his right arm dropping to his side. he's sent twelve fellas to wait for him on the other side. An atmosphere of menace seemed to envelope the gathering. as he uttered the word his body fell in to a crouch. that won't help yu none. and now the fellow had crawfished. Whitey had "got what was comin' to him. "Yu know where I'm . seemed to sense what was coming. I'm sooperstitious thataway." was Weldon's comment. "Kept his tally--six of 'em. raised a laugh. The rattle of poker chips." The gunman glared at him. an' git too uppity to drink or play with us. his weapon clattering beside him. There was a hurried scuffle as men in the vicinity got themselves out of the way and then--a breath-stopping silence. despite the presence of death. but he musta done. "An' fast? I'm tellin' yu. "Whist now." he remarked. "Didn't just look at it thataway. He emptied his glass." he snarled. and sink slowly down to lie grotesquely sprawled on the sanded floor. I'm stoppin'.. he saw Whitey stagger. o' course. don't be after makin' throuble. and every man there. glom on to a good job. Forgetful of their games.. the gamblers crowded round the bar." The crash of the shot ended the tension. "Never see Green go for his gun a-tall. He determined to let Whitey force the issue. In fact. For an instant he thought his prey would escape after all. he saw a picture from the past." he admitted. but it advised the rest of the company that something unusual was taking place. In Western idiom." The remark. Whitey. and the clammy fingers of fear clutched at his heart." He saw the look of chagrin in the killer's eyes. who was looking curiously at the body.The snub apparently left the gunman unmoved. He got it clear of the holster. Then recollection came. yu white-livered sneak. Sudden went to the marshal. he knew now that his suspicions had been correct--the man was there to kill him.

I dunno how long it takes to get to hell. He was enjoying himself--he did not like the Burdettes. an' he drawed first. a little later. and his informant. not exceptin' yu. But. Burdette gulped a drink and went in search of his elder brother." King said musingly. "Yu mean he's--dead?" he asked incredulously. "Shucks." the big man protested. "Whitey would have it. Whitey sorta lost interest. an' Whitey could pump lead quicker'n anyone I ever see. Mart. but--others may. as a fella will with a slug between his eyes. and there was a gleam of satisfaction in his foxy eyes." Mart proposed jocularly." Lu Lavigne laughed." was the grim reply. "Yu might call it that. To his surprise his brother took him seriously. Mart told what he had learned and delivered the marshal's message. "Get Luce to plug him from behind like he did Kit." he said." Mart went straight to where Slype was sitting. King's eyebrows grew black as he listened. was ended. which shorely adds to the . but I guess he's there by now. "Know where Whitey is?" he asked the blacksmith. "How come?" he inquired. "He's most awful dead. "Honey. he would see to it that the deck was stacked. Mart stared at him." Weldon grinned. "In the case I have in mind. with a sardonic smile." King grinned. "I hear Green has shot Whitey. "It's a good thing the Bur-dette family has me to do the thinkin'." Mart frowned. watched him go. When. "That's an idea. "Whitey's gun musta snagged. Gradually the players returned to their games." "An' yu are a chump. he started half an hour back. "An' he beat him to it?" the other cried amazedly. "Why. and must stake again. "This hombre asked for it. next time. Mart Burdette came in." Mart turned away. slapping a genial hand on his shoulder." The Circle B man's breath whistled as he drew it in. there was nothing to show that a man had but just died." he said." he suggested. the corpse was removed. Standing near the door. lost. He had staked. that Whitey fella." Weldon told him. "Well." Mart assured him. What yu goin' to do about it?" he asked truculently. The cow-puncher shrugged his shoulders and went out. "Is that what I'm to tell King?" "Shore an' yu can add that Whitey warn't good enough. "Nary a snag. "He got to domineerin' that stranger--the one what fetched in Kit Purdie." he remarked to his neighbours." exchanging pleasantries with its fair owner. "He seems quite astonished--an' upset. for the time being. and the be found if yu want me. they would be some distance apart." he added meaningly." the officer replied. "I ain't wantin' yu. "He had it out afore the other fella made a move. "Do yu think it possible to bring down two birds with one stone?" "It must be difficult unless the birds are close together." the smith explained." "If Green's as good as that we gotta try somethin' else. that was all there was to it." With a smile on his face he went back to his philandering. He found him in "The Plaza. "Shore I do. I was jokin'. "Bury the body. "Didn't know the Circle B was that fond o' their riders. the newcomer looked the room over." Slippery said meaningly. him an' Green are friendly." the marshal said. Drawing him aside. "Green let him get his gun out an' then--well." he said.

" "Oh. but I'm not scared of him. "That. "You are terribly young. my reputation is beyond repair." she said. you know. "Folks ain't anxious to know me these days. and from every citizen she encountered came a smiling greeting or a respectful salutation. "Luce Burdette!" she cried. I'm guessing there's another across the street right now and--I'm sorry I stopped you. noted the newborn lines in the young face. "Some day you'll learn that a woman has a use for the Devil himself if she cares for him." he said with a wry smile. and will take any chance to even the score..." she responded. Impulsively she caught his arm. So that it was a shock when a man she knew. Lavigne's shrewd eyes read the young man's face. Her shapely head lifted and she faced him unflinchingly. "'Lo." Luce told her. not in the least unconscious of the admiration she aroused. The acid touch in her tone deepened. quizzical eyes studied him. The lady laughed. Tell your friend Green that a certain outfit is rather peeved at losing its star gun-fighter. How long he had been there they had no means of knowing. Lu. "Your big brother may have this town buffaloed. "I don't think she saw you." he said. an' I'm thankin' yu." she replied. for King." On the other side of the churned-up. dusty strip which separated the buildings Nan Purdie had just climbed to her saddle and was riding slowly away. but if King knew yu sent it. don't mind me. boy. "Thank you. LAVIGNE tripped daintily along the clumsy board sidewalk. well aware that this was not the truth. eavesdropping. head hunched and hatbrim pulled low. and King Burdette stepped from the store outside which they were standing. "Which have you lost--your eyesight or your manners?" The boy stopped instantly. The wide. also meaning to mislead." . floppy straw hat she wore shaded her face from the searching rays of the sun. I'm getting sentimental in my old age. To all appearances. There. "Well." he excused." "You have more than that." she said. it's shore good to know I got one friend." She snapped her fingers. and forgetting one of the reasons for stopping you." she laughed.. an' if ever I hear a man say different I'll make him wish he'd been born dumb. Luce. well." she told him. "Yo're a good fella." Luce shook his head. and would tell her no more. Luce." drawled a harsh voice behind her." "An' a man to damn a man.merit o' the performance." "That's mighty interestin'. Mrs. but in no way concealed its attractiveness. "Miss Purdie ain't got no use for a Burdette. but you won't hear much from the men. Lu. you know what they say about listeners. "For the rest. she did not see Luce and his companion. and shrugged her shoulders. shucks. but his scowling face did not daunt the lady. King. "Well. I choose my own friends. endeavoured to pass without a word. for the owner of "The Plaza" was not only a pretty woman but--among the sterner sex. King. "If you want to speak to her. albeit a trifle bitterly. Lu. Her kind. Chapter XI MRS. "It takes a woman to damn a woman. and divined the deep-seated misery which possessed him. "It mightn't do yu any good to be seen speakin' to me." "I'll give him the message.. at least--a popular one. dragging his hat from his head." Burdette chuckled. He did not appear to be in a pleasant humour. eh?" she gibed.

"It would be all over the town that we were setting up housekeeping together. "Get yore guns back?" The red surged into King's cheeks at the taunt." she smiled. She smiled contentedly. "Oh. did he? Well. "So the young skunk blabbed. If Your Majesty has no further commands . "So long. But she must have a lesson--women. "Oh. he was jealous. I asked him to warn Green that your outfit is not particular how it squares an account. absorbing the dark beauty." she mocked. and also. wafted by the wanton wind. demurely obedient. she turned to King and said lightly. I've a score of purchases to make. "I was at the back o' the store. yu fool. "It is almost my only virtue. "Lu Lavigne. "Yu don't believe me?" he queried." The girl's eyes flashed at the sneer on the last word. yeah. were you going to say?" she asked sweetly. that'll be all. "If it requires courage not to sit up and beg at your order. I'm brave--you said so yourself. "For now." "Yu dared?" King stormed. I don't mind informing you that I was trying to cheer up that poor boy." she replied." he said." "I had nothin' to do with that--it was a private affair--I reckon they had met afore. and therefore victory was hers. he gave your hired killer more than an even break. "However. "Lemme come an' help with the shoppin'. "Yo're a provokin' little devil. "I like him. "What were yu sayin' to that pup?" "So you didn't listen?" she countered." she said easily.. Her eyes twinkled. So he veiled the admiration in his bold eyes and said brusquely. "One day I shall twist that slim neck o' yores. George Washington Burdette. "As if I could doubt you." She slanted her eyes at him and waited." he said heavily. outlined her perfect figure. an' on'y come out in time to hear yu tellin' the town how brave yu are. "Come and see me whenever you like. She was a picture to stir the pulse of an anchorite.. I've got somewhat to say to this--lady. The man glared at her." "That would be a pity--it has been admired. she held out her hand to the younger man. "Come to the Circle B an'--" "Take the peerless Miss Purdie's leavings. "Now. for him." he threatened. Burdette was recovering his poise." "What's yore interest in that damned cow-wrastler?" he rasped. I'll. I have it. and the best of luck." he said thickly. The change in his face astounded her. Through his clenched teeth he hissed.. like horses. his sullen gaze roving over her. Luce." The girl elevated her hands in horror." she murmured." When he had gone." she said. and King Burdette was not that." . "So yo're still around. make yoreself scarce. "Yu'll step in my way once too often. "And what does your Majesty want with me?" He was silent for a moment. "We have one quality in common--courage.Ignoring her." "An' why not?" King said eagerly." she reproached. huh?" "Yu see me. "Mercy me! And what of my character?" she cried." Luce retorted. stark fury flamed from his eyes." King defended.. but with the sweetest of smiles. had to be mastered. noting how her soft draperies. he spoke to his brother.

I'm aimin' to stay. and the boys would follow him to hell and back again." Moody contributed." "He'd 'a' boxed yore ears." The passing of Whitey and the manner of it aroused great excitement in the hunkhouse of the C P. an' there they was. ." she said wearily. on the night following the killing. . and it was commonly believed that only one man in the district would have any chance against him in an even break." Flatty agreed. an' he put the pill plumb atween the eyes. Pretty soon I savvied the trouble: they musta bin wrastlin' an' some way had got their tails tied together. Now snake stories in the West rank with fishing yarns in the East. "It was a guess. the point was being discussed. . "Shucks. "The funny thing was that though they were fightin' they seemed to be tryin' to git away from one another. o' course. he said nothing to me of Miss Purdie and yourself. Honey-coloured hair and blue eyes warred with black hair and eyes until. there were those who held him the faster of the two. and get much the same credence.Terrified at the result of her shot in the dark." "An' yu got down. King Burdette strode up the street. At supper." Curly suggested. "I'm takin' yore word. Bill. whatever her faults. and I'm sorry. with a sardonic grin." he promised himself." Moody began. As for that cursed cow-puncher and Luce. This was King Burdette." Curly pointed out. Shall I see yu to-night?" "I can't prevent you. "Bet it'll make his eyebrows climb some. an' they lifted their hats. and would have. "What King Burdette goes after. just to tease you. the more they pulled the tighter the knot got. they were obstacles in his way. his friend had made good. and at once put the new foreman on a pinnacle. He nodded." he muttered darkly. this place ain't big enough for both of us--an' me. and turned away." His deprecatory drawl was drowned by a volley of scathing expletives which brought a broad smile to his leathery countenance. untied 'em. This one proved no exception. garnered with glee the--to him--unmeaning words. "I was 'bout half a mile from the line-house when I a'most rode on to a coupla big rattlers thrashin' about in the grass. and a small urchin trailing behind. both." He scowled at her in savage doubt. but yu gotta remember that Green let Whitey git his gun a'most clear before he started. and Moody began to relate a snake episode. and must be dealt with." Yago grinned. A lurid oath escaped his lips." she urged. she hastened to repair the damage. and he knew that. "King is fast all right. the man decided there was only one way out of the difficulty--he wanted. two of the notches on his guns having been acquired since his appearance in Windy. I'm not sayin' he's slow exactly . King. as though in answer to his own thought. If yu wanta do Luce a good turn. Lu Lavigne was not a liar. The talk veered to other topics. bowed politely. The prowess of the dead gunman was not mere hearsay. "Hi. "Gee! I'll spring that one on Snubby. his mind filled by two women. get him to punch the breeze. he gets. trying to ape the great man's walk. Jim ain't so much. Whitey had failed. "If you mean Luce. I shall be attending to my business of helping men to forget they are men. why didn't yu warn us that the noo foreman was a six-gun wizard? One of us mighta called him. tuggin' an' strikin' like all possessed. and even now that staggering fact seemed hardly credible." "Shorely is. o' course. but the dark eyes met his steadily. "A left-handed shot. an' went off arm in arm. and though the test had never been made. "That's shootin'.

"Quit yore foolin'." "I'm aimin' to. till I've found them ferias. an' so will Burdette. Ain't that so. "From Luce Burdette?" Bill cried amazedly. she sent me the warnin'. but don't let him get behind yu." he said quietly. he rolled a smoke. In the midst of the ensuing hubbub Yago slipped away and went in search of his foreman. he had shot down a fellow-being less than twenty-four hours ago. it was sent by Mrs. smoking and gazing reflectively at the valley." the foreman smiled." the narrator replied. "Bah ! There's somethin' back o' that." . Lavigne. don't yu get cluttered up with a petticoat. though he's bought an' paid for him. Slippery's the right name for that fella. "Too raw a deal even for him. Green." Sudden said. ask Strip. yu scotched one snake. Strip?" Levens grinned widely as he said. but there's others in the nest. Bill. It was left to Green to reply. Then he blurted out :"They say she's King Burdette's woman. in self-defence. but I figure yu shot them varmints first an' tied their tails afterwards. Luce Burdette." A yell of derision greeted the statement and a rush was made for the tale-teller. She had not dared to tell her father of the scene in the glade and the humiliation to which King Burdette had been subjected. Jim. yu gotta keep cases." his friend retorted. Yago was silent for a while. I can't hardly bear to look at yu." Yago emitted a snort of disgust." the foreman mused. "I still think yu've got Luce sized up wrong. I wonder?" the rancher queried. Yago said: "It was a frame-up." he said. Actually." "He warned yu? Whyfor." Nan suggested." he urged." Sudden told him. The girl said no more. the appearance of Purdie and his daughter would have closed his mouth. and smiled into the thickening gloom. over which the last rays of the sinking sun were shedding a golden radiance." the rancher said harshly. "Hell's bells. knew that the fight had been forced upon him. and for a time there was silence. If yu don't believe me. "I blowed the heads off'n them reptiles. but she was Western bred." The foreman's slitted eyes rested on him. Jim. "Yu'll need to watch out. Then. huh?" Purdie sneered. "Yu'll have to keep an eye on Slype. Purdie. when the red disk had disappeared behind the shoulder of Old Stormy. and that he had slain. anyway. "Through him." "Liars are plenty prevalent in places like this. Squatting beside him." the foreman smiled. True. "They'll try again. I showed 'em to him when we passed the place later. a man who was not fit to live. "Yeah. and Nan's heart warmed to him. "but yu'll have me all scared to death. The rancher nodded to both. "I ain't no right to." the old man grunted. "Have it yore own way. He found him sitting in front of his own quarters. "Well. I oughta said. the Burdettes meant to get yu. "But if he has quarrelled with his brothers." he said with gentle sarcasm." Even had Yago any reply to this. "What did the marshal have to say?" "Just that he didn't want me. and the purple shadows were deepening in the hollows. ol'-timer. and which--knowing the man--she was sure he would never forget or forgive. "Yo're that bright to-night." "I had a message from Luce sayin' just that. "Alla-same. Dad."I did not. he knew of the strange quest which had made a wanderer of his companion. an' before him. his mind on the past. Yu just said what Yago was rammin' home.

Gingerly he put up a hand. from the other side of the chasm." "Take yu. cautiously parting the grasses. and men fought and died ignominiously because of them. I'm for the hay. they would allow a little time to elapse before striking another blow. He decided to remain awhile. "So long. "I'll start by sayin' yu ain't neither o' yu got the brains of a rabbit. Savvy?" The proof of this came two days later. and did not wish to strain it unduly. It seemed to be deserted. "Mebbe Whitey'll be pleased to see yu. Yago. "Squattin' on our hunkers doin' nothin' don't rid us o' Green.He said good-night. Whitey's attempt had been." The man behind the door listened to the monologue with a smile of contentment." and King Burdette knew that. and blood was trickling down his cheek. he was proud of his power in Windy. "My. provided a peep-hole through which he could watch the spot from whence the shot had come. "Fools for luck. Chris." . for the sake of appearances. The old dangerous days in the West bred such comradeships. he's as hard to follow as a flea with its specs on. How long he had been there he did not know." he told himself. Life had no better gift than a staunch friend. and in Bill Yago he knew he had one who would "stay with him" to the dark doors of death itself." King advised. Overbearing and intolerant though he might be. "Now why in 'ell did he snatch at that wager?" he muttered in perplexity. left abruptly alone." Mart observed sourly. Get this into yore thick heads--I ain't asleep. His head throbbed with pain. an' yu better leave the plannin' to me. When sense returned he discovered that he was lying in a grass-covered crevice on the brink of the canyon. came the sharp report of a rifle and a ballooning puff of smoke jetted out from a knob of rock at which he happened to be looking. Wonder if it's the jasper who cut down on Strip? Wish he'd show hisself. but ain't he a good hater too? Mind. and he fell to speculating on what had happened. He was conscious of a stunning shock which flung him out of the saddle. the hidden marksman might not be satisfied. he was commonly reputed to have set the killer on." was how he stated it to his brothers when they complained of inaction. Chapter XII ANOTHER week drifted by without any further act of aggression on the part of the Circle B. he'd be just as strong for a friend. "Get out yore li'l gun an' go abolish him. "I was shore invitin' it. stared at the closed door of the foreman's shack. That slug must 'a' hit the buckle of my hatband. "Make the other fella put hisself in the wrong an' yu take the pot." the foreman said. and went into the ranch-house. "What's he know that I don't? I'm bettin' m'self I lose that bet." snarled the other. despite his denials. an' I'll bet a month's pay he never will." Yago commented. Suddenly. as Purdie put it. The C P foreman was riding along the rim of the deep canyon which formed the eastern boundary of the ranch on his way to the line-house. an' if I'd been lookin' straight ahead I'd be climbin' the golden stairs right now." "Talk sense. took the girl's arm. It was a blazing hot afternoon and he was in no hurry. cuss him. and knew no more. an' I damn near got it too. somewhat of "a raw deal." returned King. "Right. but from the position of the sun he judged that nearly an hour had passed. When I want yu to do anythin' I'll let yu know. paradin' along in the open thataway. Bill. but he don't regard young Luce thataway at present. and. Sudden had figured that. there was a nasty lump and the scalp was cut. He contrived a clumsy bandage for his hurt. "Tough ol' citizen.

distended nostrils sniffing the air." Along the eastern trail a rider was approaching at breakneck speed. he knew. would not go far after the first scare of the shot and unseating of his rider." This statement brought the officer to attention and the loafers from their shelter. that goes double. "Hey. "Hell. and he concluded that the assassin had departed. marshal. by any chance?" "If they had. they could see the rise and fall of his arm as he plied the quirt to the flanks of a horse already doing its best. but he was not going to stand it from their underlings. o' the Circle B. sly face. huh." he said. Almost immediately came an answering whinny. to be set afoot and without a long-range weapon was a situation not to his liking. "No. as the horse essayed a playful pitch. tottery on his feet. "What might be yore particular trouble?" he drawled. and one of the other men glanced up lazily. and.But the unknown declined to oblige. The rider." the last speaker continued." He climbed painfully into the saddle. a diminutive. One of the loungers sent a spirt of tobacco juice at a post and watched the greedy rays of the sun lick up the moisture. "Easy. had been pulled to a sudden stop in front of the marshal's quarters. Sudden crept from his cover and shivered when he saw how nearly he had missed tumbling headlong to the bottom of the abyss. but they've bin quiet a goodish while now. sprang down. in a shower of dust. as he pulled the animal's ears. sir. ain't it hot--an' slow?" he grunted." and the marshal. the former he could do without. bow-legged man with a hard. but the latter was a necessity. Moreover. my blame' head feels like it was about ready to fall off. the Circle B wouldn't be botherin' yu. "Glad to see me. "Shucks! It's Riley. he thirsted for the rifle under the fender of the saddle. and he painfully crawled towards it. . added. "I'm crossin' yore range. "Looks like yu got yore wish. cried. but I got a notion the C P is shy a foreman. come alive an' git busy. and from the security of the cover it afforded uttered a low whistle. mebbe. and wiping his dust-caked lips with the back of his hand. and after giving him a further chance. "Here's the how of it. and he didn't like his nickname. With an upraised hand Riley stilled the babble of questions. Nigger. A clump of brush about fifty yards away seemed to be what he was looking for. Two or three citizens lolled on the bench beneath the board awning outside "The Lucky Chance. yu ebony rascal?" the puncher grinned. "Wish suthin' would happen. slumped in a chair. "They's a lunatic a-comin'. Nigger trotted sedately up and rubbed a velvety muzzle against his master's shoulder. damn yu. No shot saluted his appearance. With another whinny. decorated his own door a few yards distant." By this time the panting pony had rocketed along the street and. and his head ached intolerably. and from a nearby hollow the big black emerged." Came the quick thud of hammering hoofs." In the blistering heat of the afternoon Windy's one street was well-nigh deserted. Slippery." was the blunt reply. He reached it safely. head up." he said. "Well. for he was still half-dazed. on my way to town. keeping in the long grass as much as possible. Both hat and horse were missing. "Year or so back you mighta guessed Injuns. reckon he's on'y thirsty. Sudden repeated the signal and stepped out. he had to put up with hectoring from the Burdettes. Yu come almighty near losin' yore owner." The marshal tilted back his chair and surveyed the speaker sourly. "Somebody bumped off King.

He knew. Green don't show up. was just what Riley intended. Green must 'a' bin pretty close to here. He's amblin' along casual-like. bending down in his saddle. trying to fathom what lay behind this latest development. Presently he . he had been put in power by the Circle B. Beyond a plain intimation that Luce was no longer to be regarded as one of the family. the men. an' it's powerful glary out on the range. shrivelled soul. "Well. I figure." Riley replied." "Reckernize him?" the marshal asked. Me. Riley's voice interrupted his speculations. I'm 'bout half a mile from Dark Canyon when I sees Green on the other side of it--can't mistake that black o' his. "Yonder's the knob where the shot come from. because of that--he hated the Burdettes with all his mean. pointin' for the C P line-house. for presently he busts from his hiding-place an' rides hell-bent for that splash o' pines east. which. that. In less than a quarter of an hour. headed by the marshal and the bringer of the news. "Too fur away." "Ain't it?" Was the sardonic retort. I'm bettin' high he's went with it. "but he was atop of a grey hoss. an' I'm just turnin' away when there's a shot from that tree-covered bump what sticks up like a wart to the east. I reckon I better look into it. his crafty little eyes on his companion. Naturally. "as crooked as a cow's hind leg. I s'pose. an' I on'y see his back. slowing in order to search it thoroughly." "Odd. The Circle B man's admiration for the officer would have been hard to discover. In the West of that day representatives of the law were seldom popular. There were among them men who did their work fearlessly and honestly. and though he talked loudly in public. "Redhead with a grey hoss huh?" Slype remarked. the marshal had to come to heel. had he but known it. Slype belonged to neither of these groups. an' I'd say he was redheaded. But many were. an' I sees Green pitch out'n his saddle to the edge o' the canyon. He now rode in silence. was scanning the ground closely. they were not missing anything that promised a little excitement. and had slapped his thigh in unholy glee at the news." They had reached the canyon and were riding along the edge. but the marshal had means of obtaining information. his hoss bolts. and little happened in the neighbourhood that he did not hear. guessin' the gent with the gun has more'n one ca'tridge." and held their places only because they were more ruthless. whose efforts to establish and preserve order in an untamed land laid the foundation stones of the great and flourishing cities which have replaced the huddles of huts they knew. and could shoot quicker than the ruffians they had to rule. Yu boys comin' along?" The reply was an immediate scattering in quest of mounts and rifles. I hunt cover plenty rapid. The fella what did the shootin' must 'a'come to the same conclusion." The marshal grunted his disbelief in this explanation and became more confirmed in his suspicion.hour or so back. it was generally known that when King Burdette whistled. I ain't interested. For though he served them--or perhaps. "Nothin' happens for a spell. the Burdettes had told him nothing. that King Burdette's belt had been left at "The Lucky Chance" by his youngest brother. "Left it behind or got it tied to his saddle-strings. "My sight is mebbe not so good. "He warn't wearin' a hat. Riley." "How in hell?" began the officer. were riding rapidly for the scene of the outrage. an' havin' seen his lid sail into the canyon. "Curious yu didn't know him. as the common phrase put it." the Circle B man explained. hot as it was." the marshal mused. for example.

lifted it from the ground and waited for the marshal. "Likely enough. if he's there it's as good a grave as we could make him. "Rolled over. "We'd oughta come here first. and the man Pike ventured an opinion. "She's a ." he muttered. I'd say." It appeared to be the only solution." Pike said. the fissure in question seemed more than capacious enough to conceal a corpse. mebbe he slipped into that 'stead o' droppin' clear. "Luce Burdette. the journey along the gorge was made in silence. a notch in the rim of the canyon wall. "Well. and emerging into the open. The offender subsided." . marshal." Slype went on. It was the Circle B man who first saw the hat. "Easy money. I'll bet he's throwin' dust an' yu won't see that hombre no more. being therefore an ideal spot for the purpose to which it had been put." They scanned the grim. and stained in several places with dried blood. and he stepped to the brink of the precipice. At his call. Pike. headed for the knoll from which the shot had been fired. a fact that worthy had not forgotten when he uttered the insult. The marshal pounced on it. "But how come he to leave this behind?" The spot where the hat had lain was littered with cigarette stubs. the long grass in which was flattened. 'pears like. he owed Slype money. "He dropped here." A further search revealing no sign of the missing man. it's a long ride to git down there. the others left their horses and came clustering round. "How much yu wanta lose?" he asked. somebody would 'a' bumped yu off for a chatterin' fool years ago. "Squatted here some time." the marshal said disgustedly. I'm thinkin'. "Then when he's did what he come to do. "Thisyer's the spot. The broken buckle and jagged hole with bloodstained edges appeared to tell a plain story. A tiny reddish-brown splash on a blade of grass caught his eye. covered on the side facing the canyon with a thick screen of spruce. and spurring his pony. "Got him good.dragged on his reins and jumped off. were in the same predicament. leant over. bolts off an' forgets it. seen from below."--done in ink--but nearly obliterated by time and wear. the posse retraced its steps to the entrance of the canyon. broken. overhanging wall above them. "That crack goes plenty deep." Slype decided. and cactus. "But where the blazes is the body? Even if the bullet didn't do the trick. the fall would break every bone in him. but where the devil's he got to?" Slype queried. "See where the hoss r'ared?" He pointed to several hoof-prints deeply indented in the short turf. The marshal grudgingly accepted the explanation." Once more they retraced their steps. shore enough. Hoof-prints showed where a horse had been tied. "S'pose we gotta do it. catclaw." He picked up a shining brass object. save Riley. The marshal eyed him speculatively." the man replied." "Hell's delight." the marshal said savagely. in the sweatband were the letters "L. an' took his lid off while he waited. Let's git outa this damn gully--it gives me the creeps. B." he said. "I got ten dollars that says we'll find him in town. I reckon that settles it." "Huh." said one when they reached it. Since the rest of the party. It was a mere mound.38 shell." he said. He was pointing to a little crevice. "If everybody done what they oughta. an' right speedy. Yu takin' it?" "Betcha life. we gotta find Mister Luce. and lying near the top of the hillock was an old grey Stetson." one of the party offered. "That crack in the rim comes down a consid'able ways.

"Don't think it," warned a friend. "Coin yu collect from Sam ain't ever that." The trip back to Windy was made at speed, and the whole party piled into the hotel, where, as the news spread, they were quickly followed by others. They found the man they were in search of calmly eating a meal in the dining-room. The marshal shot a triumphant glance at Pike and then turned abruptly upon Luce. "Where yu bin this afternoon?" he inquired. The young man did not need to be told there was trouble in the air; the fact stuck out like a sore thumb. "Prospectin' south o' the river, if it's any o' yore damn business," he replied. This was in the opposite direction from where the ambushing had occurred, and the officer's thin lips curledin a sneer as he went on, "Anybody with yu to prove that?" "No, I didn't see nobody. What's the idea?" "That can wait. Still usin' that .38 o' yores?" and when the other nodded, "Have it with yu to-day?" "Shore I did--don't aim to be caught out on a limb if I can help it," Luce said, adding scathingly, "Bushwhack-in' is too prevalent around here." "Yu said it," the marshal agreed, and held out the second hat they had found. "Know who owns this?" The boy's eyes opened in surprise. "It's mine," he said. "I left it behind..." "Yeah, we know; when yu downed Green," Slype put in. Luce Burdette sprang to his feet, eyes wide with amazement, and every gun in the room instantly covered him. But he made no attempt to draw his own. "Green downed?" he cried, and there was deep concern in his voice. "An' yu think I did it? Yu must be loco; he's about my on'y friend." "He was got with a .38 shell, by a fella ridin' a grey hoss, an' we find yore hat on the spot," the marshal said incisively. "That lid's an old one which I left at the Circle B when I cleared out," Luce explained. He pointed to the chair beside him. "There's the one I'm usin'." Slype laughed nastily. "Bright boy, ain't yu?" he sneered. "But it don't go this time. Twice yu bin lucky an' got away with it, but this is yore finish." He surveyed the crowded room, narrowed lids hiding the malevolent triumph in his gaze. "Some o' yu mebbe ain't got the straight o' this; here it is," he said, and went on to give a brief summary of the facts as he knew them. His concluding words were, "I reckon that's good enough for us to go ahead an' try this fella right away." "Try him?" echoed a hoarse voice. "Oh, yeah, an' give him a chance to lie hisself out of it again. Yo're mighty fussy, marshal, 'bout stringin' up a cowardly coyote who kills from cover. Mebbe it's 'cause he's a Burdette, huh?" The speaker was Goldy Evans, still sore at the loss of his dust, and a chorus of approval showed that he had plenty of support. The marshal drew himself up with a farcical attempt at dignity. "A Burdette gets the same treatment from me as any other man," he announced. "I represent the law, an' there'll be no necktie party--if I can prevent it." The pause and the lowered tone of the last few words told the turbulent element in the crowd all it wanted to know. Slype had made his protest; if they forced his hand . . . Magee, who, arriving late, had only contrived to make his way just inside the door, threw up a hand. "Aisy, bhoys, give the lad a hearin'," he shouted. "Shure it's agin all nature he should do

this thing--Green saved his life, ye mind. Lavin' th' hat behind looks purty thin to me." But for once the saloon-keeper, popular though he was, found himself powerless; only a few voices backed him up, and these were drowned by the opposition. "Aw, Mick, one customer won't make much difference," a miner gibed, and the Irishman's protest ended in a burst of laughter. The brutal witticism, typical of a land where tragedy and comedy frequently stalked hand in hand, conveyed no hope to the accused. He knew that these men, having decided by their own rough and ready reasoning that he was guilty, would hang him with no more compunction than they would have in breaking the back of a rattlesnake. The old Biblical law, "An eye for an eye," was perhaps the only ordinance for which they had any respect. Nevertheless, the boy faced them boldly, making no resistance when two of them grabbed his arms and hustled him towards the door. "Hand the prisoner over to me," Slype blustered, and made a belated attempt to draw his gun, only to find that some cautious soul in the press behind him had already removed it. "Best not interfere, marshal," the fellow--a red-jowled, stalwart teamster--warned. "Yu can have yore shootin' iron when this business is settled." The officer shrugged his shoulders resignedly; he had put up a bluff, but with no intention of trying to make it good. He saw the condemned youth vanish through the door in a medley of heaving bodies, and presently followed, to make a final effort, not to save the victim's neck, but his own face. The fools, he reflected; they thought they had beaten him, and were only doing just what he wanted them to. He strode after the jeering, shouting crowd, and like peas from a pod, men popped from the buildings on either side of the street and joined the procession. By the time it stopped, nearly every man in the place was present. The halt was made at a cottonwood which shaded the last shack--going east--in the settlement, and had the distinction of being the one tree the actual town could boast. It was a giant, only its great girth having saved it from transformation into building material. Round it the spectators milled, jockeying to get a good view of the tightlipped, grey-faced boy who flushed a little and then proudly straightened up when the rope, with its running noose, was dropped over his head. The other end was pitched over an outflung branch above him and three men gripped it. "Anythin' to say, Burdette?" ripped out Goldy Evans, who had constituted himself leader of the lynching party, and added, "Yu might as well tell where yu cached my dust--it won't be no use where yo're goin'." The prisoner looked at the ring of threatening, ghoulish faces thrust eagerly forward to see him die. "I never had yore dust, Evans, an' I didn't shoot Green," he replied firmly. "Yo're hangin' an innocent man." Magee and several of the more solid citizens believed him, but could do nothing against the overwhelming odds. The bulk of the crowd received the statement with ornate expressions of unbelief; the lust for blood was in their nostrils; nothing short of a miracle would stop them now. The marshal knew it; this was not the first Western mob, with its weird ideas of justice, its mad desire to destroy, that he had seen. He voiced one more feeble protest. "Boys, I can't let this go on--it ain't reg'lar. Yo're robbin' the law of its rights." "Git to hell outa this an' take yore law with yu," snarled the teamster who had threatened him in the hotel. "That there branch'll bear two, an' we can easy find another rope." Slype turned away with a well-simulated gesture of despair, and the teamster plunged again into the jostling throng, anxious not to miss the climax of the drama. Every eye was now fixed on the slim, youthful figure waiting tensely for the word which would hurl him into

eternity. No one noticed the approach of two riders who, about to enter the town, had pulled up at the sight of the gathering. Evans was about to give the fatal signal when another command rang out : "Drop that rope, yu fellas!" Heads turned and oaths sprang from amazed lips when it was seen that the speaker was none other than the man whose murder they helieved themselves to be avenging. The C P foreman's face was of beaten bronze, and out of it his slitted eyes gleamed frostily upon the executioners; they let go the rope as though it had been red-hot. "What's Burdette been doin' now?" Sudden asked. A dozen voices told him the story, and as he heard it, the cow-puncher's lips curled in a sneer of disgust. Then he drawled, "Seein' as I ain't dead none to speak of, I reckon the prisoner can shuck that rope an' stand clear." In a flurry of dust Mrs. Lavigne pulled her pony to a stop at Sudden's side. Returning from a ride, she had only just heard the news. When she saw the puncher's contemptuous smile and Bill Yago's broad grin, the colour crept slowly back into her cheeks. "They told me you were--dead, and that they were going to hang Luce," she said breathlessly. "All a mistake, Mrs. Lavigne," Sudden said lightly. "As yu see, I ain't cached, an' the lynchin' will--not--take place." The marshal fancied he saw a chance to reassert his authority. "Hold on, Green," he snapped. "What right yu got to call the turn? If this fella didn't bump yu off, he tried to, an' I'm holdin' him on that." A murmur from the rougher element in the assembly encouraged him, and he went on, "As marshal o' this yer burg..." "Yo're a false alarm," came the acid interruption. "Yu stand there like a bump on a log while a man who ain't been tried is strung up." The speaker's quick eye saw the empty holster, and he laughed aloud. "Cripes! So they took away yore gun?" He turned to the crowd in mock reproof. "Boys, that warn't noways right--it don't show a fittin' respect for the law. How'd yu know he don't want to argue with somebody--or somethin'?" This brought a cackle from one of the audience, and the merriment spread. Conscious that they had nearly committed a terrible blunder, the men were willing to forget it in ridiculing Slype, whose sallow face grew more sour as the jesting voices rose. "Give the man his gun," someone cried. "Whats a good of a marshal without a gun?" "Huh! Whatsa good o' some marshals with one?" another wanted to know. Sudden had one more thing to say. "Someone tried to get me to-day, marshal, but it wasn't this Burdette," he said meaningly. "Don't let anyone persuade yu different. It's mighty lucky for yu I came along in time; yu sabe?" The marshal did, and the chill in the quiet voice made him shiver. The foreman turned to Luce. "I'm a-goin' to the hotel; yu better come with me, if there ain't no objections." There were none; this satirical, long-limbed young man who had beaten Whitey to the draw was clearly not a person to take chances with, and the squinting, hopeful eyes of Bill Yago, who was known as a willing and enthusiastic fighter, did not add to the attractiveness of the proposition. So the crowd opened to let through the man it had come to hang, and, with the volatile spirit of the time and place, was grimly humorous. "We was plenty near puttin' one over on you, Luce," grinned a miner. "Yu shore oughta sell that grey; what'll yu take?" "Damn good care yu don't get him," retorted the youth, and looked at the marshal. "Yu

ol'-timer. he joined Sudden. Chapter XIII THAT same evening. that gal has. slick yoreself up." "A man can play his luck too long." he remarked. but it might 'a' been him. Angrily he struck in on the story. and with a wise little nod. it was a plain frame-up. "Luce ain't such a fool as to leave his name an' address like that." he murmured." Which was an obvious libel. yu--yu blatherskite. if that bullet had got me right. "Let's make it the hotel--they tell me drinks ain't too plentiful where yu said. but never yu mind. and though Purdie did not interrupt again. anyway--an' --" "Aw. Sudden related the day's happenings to an interested audience of two." his foreman smiled." Sudden replied. though it nearly came off. love is. or noticed the little gasp of relief when she heard that the accused man had been delivered from danger. why should they try to get him stretched?" "I dunno. King Burdette. "By God ! I've a mind to round up the boys an' go clean up the Circle B right away." was the obstinate reply. The rancher's brow grew black when he learned of the attack on his foreman. "Didn't you get any warning?" she asked. if Luce wasn't guilty. "He's earned it a'ready. As for to-day's play. "Which is just what they're hopin' for. "It's wuss'n measles when yu get it late in life. ask yoreself a question: If Luce is in with his brothers. walking beside them as they paced up the street." she said. Now. The foreman regarded his friend with surprise. Yu ain't heard all of it." He went on to tell of the attempted lynching. Look at him a-blushin. The foreman shook his head. coming from a confirmed misogynist. "I allow I was plumb careless--an' fortunate." Without waiting for a reply from the rageful. and there was a tremor in her tone." "Huh! Any fella who has just downed another in cold blood is liable to run off an' forget ." Which inelegance. Daddy. Lavigne." he growled harshly. "Yes. and both his hearers knew that he was thinking of his son." Nan protested. I'm stayin'. "But. "No. Yago's gaze followed her. an' I'm as dry as the Staked Plain." Sudden pointed out. nothin' could 'a' saved Burdette. "She's too good for that skunk. he exploded when the tale ended. "Pity yu didn't show up a bit later. "Pore of Bill.can tell yore boss.' Luce. "Not a chance. "Rotten trick for Master Cupid to play on a fella what's been damnin' women all his life. he grasped one fact only--a Burdette had escaped a fate he held to be richly deserved." Sudden said. an' I'm thankin' yu. "Still can't agree with yu on that. stuttering officer. At the door of "The Plaza" the girl spoke. ma'am." he said. and Mrs. Purdie." was his cruel comment. Yago. left them. Purdie had not seen her cheeks pale. we gotta lie doggo an' let them do the movin'. since Yago's leathery skin was as incapable of blushing as a boot-sole. and then a mischievous twinkle danced in his eyes. on the verandah at the C P. an' a clumsy one too." Yago shouted. go to hell." the tormentor went on. buy a new shirt--yu can do with one. was indeed a compliment. that yu've fallen down again on the job o' gettin' rid of me. "Yu ain't got a chance. "Got guts.

she appeared to be her own gay. "Riley rides for the Circle B. she could not help being attracted. The foreman caught a murmured "Thank you" as she passed him." He went into the house. but he took care to keep clear of "The Plaza". not a muscle of his face moved. for reasons of his own." he replied carelessly. appealedto her. But he knew what he expected to hear. not to be bound by the humdrum conventions of civilization. who'd ever find the spot he fired from? It was on'y by chance Riley was passin'. Still smiling. primitive in her passions. The hand which poured a drink for him was perfectly steady. but there were compensations to come. "An' if he had got yu. but her dark eyes watched him. impudent self. it seems a pretty bright idea. Therefore. I ain't convinced. King's keen eyes searched the girl's face for any sign of distress and found none." Lu Lavigne pushed out a slim white hand. "Don't think it." She knew he meant it. What was he doin' so far off the reg'lar trail?" "Yu suggest he did the shootin'?" "No. though she condemned. and the vicious savagery of his attitude appalled." "Well. "When Luce left the Circle B he stepped right outa the family--he's no more to me than any bum who tramps the trail. "Sorry they didn't succeed in hangin' him." "Was it?" the foreman asked dryly. and yet. which is the on'y good thing I can say for 'em. Jim. and another gang of cowards who would have hanged Luce for it. no other member of the outfit having been to town. I'm sorry ." but he jerked them savagely away and stalked to his own quarters." ." he said sharply. "Him being already under a cloud." he finished harshly. King. Lu Lavigne greeted him with her usual smile. "The best I can offer Your Majesty is that the coward who tried to shoot Mister Green from ambush this afternoon failed. She bobbed a mocking curtsey. to the devil with that young cur. an' was comin' to town. sweetness. "I came to see yu. "But--after all--he's your brother. don't it?" "Why should he fasten the crime on Luce?" she asked. honeybird. what's the good news?" he smiled." he said. I was goin' to say. If I'd been at the stringin'-up I wouldn't 'a' raised a finger to stop it. "Look here. did not return to the ranch. and though the information had hit him like a blow." she protested." the rancher replied. King Burdette was a kindred spirit. . of fire and ice. but I'd say he was there to take the news in an' lead the posse to the place. and she was aware of it." she said warmly. the Burdettes ain't quitters. huh? On'y shows that even a fella like Whitey may have friends.a hat. "An' watch out for yoreself. and his darkly handsome face wore an expression of satisfaction when he tied his horse to the hitch-rail in front of "The Plaza" and walked in. "Well. and the customer to whom she was chatting promptly drifted away. Riley. He smiled as he reflected that Luce might be having a thin time just now. ." Purdie persisted. failed also. "As regards Luce. But King Burdette was an expert poker-player. the boss of the Circle B had a nasty habit of venting his displeasure on the nearest object. in some curious way. he said drawlingly: "So somebody took a shot at the estimable Green. she had not forgotten his cryptic reference to the bringing down of two birds with one stone. His thoughts went to "The Plaza. and the girl followed. King Burdette rode in that evening blissfully ignorant of what had happened. She too was a creature of extremes. "That pleases me." She was laughing as she spoke.

mounted his horse. yu scum?" Riley. "I'm sorry I sassed yu--reckon I must 'a' bin lit up. and drove the . calmly measured his distance. He was aware that there were probably men present who hated him." muttered one." he snarled." he said. making no effort to reach for his pistol." "He wouldn't care if they had--seein' they've quarrelled. an' it wouldn't surprise me none if one o' the boys wiped him out. Simmy." the other rapped back. the pair of them were soon laughing merrily." "Yore han's have to ask yore permish to take a drink?" Riley asked impudently. the Ol' Man would 'a' shot any son that disobeyed him. considerably the worse for liquor. "'Stead o' that. King." was the reply. shook him till his teeth rattled. slanting his own weapon on the sprawling form. The man-handling had driven the drink out of him." he excused." She allowed herself to be persuaded." "Hey. yu owe me ten dollars. and fear.. "What's the matter with yu? Didn't I say I'd pay yu to-morrow?" Simmy said indignantly. What yu want me to do?" "Find yore bronc an' get back to the ranch for now. with a meaning glance at the lounging figure at the bar. But the Circle B man had no eyes for anyone but the beauty before him. yu gotta get soaked. "Forget it. King jumped forward. was the ruling passion of life." King said shortly. "Well. for inaction on their part meant that they feared him. "Argue with me." He did not voice the threat." where he found Riley. He left "The Plaza" early and went to "The Lucky Chance. will yu. but such a thought would add to his enjoyment rather than otherwise. or . he was. "Now pull that gun an' go to hell.. "Yu damned fool. Then he turned on the man and said fiercely: "Why didn't yu come back to the ranch an' report to me?" The cowboy blinked owlishly at him. And then he laughed." said another. "Yu'd never think they mighty near hanged his brother this afternoon." Burdette said. and again flung him headlong. King Burdette held. honey.She had an impish desire to plague him. there won't be no to-morrow for yu. For all his iron control. Then he returned to the front of the saloon. Ere he could rise or pull the gun at which he was clawing. and led the way out of the saloon to an empty space at the back of it. "I'm wantin' yu. but if yo're goin' to talk like a fool. climbed slowly to an upright posture again. The boss of the Circle B looked at him for a moment. "Shore. the raging fiend within the man showed in his evil eyes. "Callous devil. Holy terror. "An' keep yore trap shut." he said. all the more reason for lettin' me know. Before the piston-like force of that blow the man went full-length to the ground. and struck. Ante up. picked him up. "So Nan Purdie did dare to turn you down?" At once she saw that she had struck home. the bottom sorta fell out o' things. Some of the men in the place shrugged significant shoulders. "Really?" she doubted. I like a dash o' somethin' stronger. "That's the Black Burdettes all over." chimed in a third in the party. and as he could be very entertaining when he chose. "Shucks. No milk an' water for me. "Jealous huh? Yu needn't be. nor did he holster his pistol until the man had disappeared in the shadows. an' I can use that dinero.

" Mart muttered. "He'd do it too. clutching the empty air as though he had already the puncher's throat within them. He rides into town just as they're goin' to string up Luce. yore bullet creased him. In brains and dexterity King was the master. "Mebbe Whitey was just unlucky." "I've got a use for Nan Purdie." Mart explained. a cigarette dangling from his lips." Mart said coarsely." Mart's eyes opened. damn him. What 'bout Lu Lavigne? That dame is liable to put a pill into yu if yu play tricks.animal mercilessly in the direction of the Circle B. must 'a' broke his neck anyways." "An' yu missed ! " King said contemptuously. "What's eatin' yu?" "How far off was Green when yu fired?" "Little over a hundred yards." "He didn't.. "Yo're a reg'lar hawg though. "That's certainly an idea. "Well. while the biceps in the gorilla-like arms bulged beneath the blue flannel shirt. an' that lets him out." King said." King rasped. I've a mind to." The big man stared at him. He greeted his elder brother with a grin." "Well." he said satirically." Mart said. and laughed." He flexed the fingers of his huge hands. By the time he reached it the poor brute's sides were deeply scored and the rider's spurs dripped blood. and a bottle of whisky beside him." "Suits me. "I'll call him down." the other grumbled. In the living-room he found Mart. she's a pretty nice piece. "How close do yu have to be?" The taunt sank in. I'd say. but when it came to a question of brute force . "It ain't possible.." he said mildly." The elder man flashed round on him.. "Mebbe there's a better trail out. "all the brains yu got would go into a nutshell. "Back early.. I guess the C P outfit an' half o' Windy is laughin' at us right now." his brother sneered. She's sprouted up into a mighty good-looker. I saw him drop. "Not that way. but let it ride a spell. and went out of the room." he argued. "Which way yu headin'." he said thickly. "He's too good for me with a six-gun. yu can't hang a man for murder when the victim is standin' by.. "Lay a finger on her an' I'll fill yore fat carcase with lead. "Nothin' wrong with that. King's gesture was not complimentary. "She ain't for yu.. . "Mart.. his big body sprawled in a chair. "Missed nothin'! I saw him tumble into the canyon." he said." King replied. an' yu wouldn't have to take the kernel out neither. huh?" he said. but . Wonder how in hell I missed that cussed cow-punch?" Chapter XIV THE C P foreman had mounted his horse and was pacing away from the corral when Yago came up. an' he fell into the long grass on the rim.. "No call to get het up. Mart's heavy face was flushed.. "Yu on'y gotta say the word. I meant what I said. Jim?" he asked. Bein' my brother won't save yu." he said fiercely. it warn't my plan. "Then yu better forget it. his lips in an ugly pout. Saw that Purdie gal in town s'mornin'." King's laugh was not pleasant. "I'll get him. but I thought yu could shoot. but with these I. and then the scowl on King's face apprised him that something was wrong.. as the speaker intended it should. "Me too.

masses of rock from the peak above and thickets of prickly pear making detours inevitable. The puncher flung up a hand. an' thrashing its way through the Sluice. and peering suspiciously from beneath the brim of his hat. "Thunder?" he queried." California explained. "Hold on thar or I'll drill yer. "Never can tell in these stirrin' times. He noted that the feed was sparse and poor in quality. and came steadily on. Sudden sampled the liquid and pronounced it excellent. bearing two tin mugs of steaming. Purdie gimme leave to run up the shack an' scratch around. "Yu gotta s'cuse me--my danged eyesight ain't as good as it useter be. Passing the ranch-house. but presently left it and headed for a point he had already picked out--a clump of tall pines which rose above the surrounding timber. which brought a satisfied grin to the old man's wrinkled features. mister. "Anyone as knows gold would be." the miner grinned. tucked in among the trees." Bill told him. palm outwards. It's nice an' quiet up here. "Yu." Sudden grinned. "Don't think--I'm dead shore. Rest yore saddle--I got some coffee boilin'. and from this a thin twist of smoke was ascending. The visitor got down. "Aimin' to ride herd on me?" "I ain't. At first he followed a faint trail. to signify that his intentions were peaceful. black beverage." he apologized. he was listening to an incessant. and built of unbarked logs. What yer want?" he barked. What yu got--a quarter-section?" "No. he struck off to the right. "Dangerous country. and seated himself on a rude bench outside the shack door. and Sudden's mount responded with a friendly whicker. Instantly a man showed himself in the open doorway. I ain't a 'nester'--can't be bothered with land nohow." "She's pretty wild--not much good for grazin'." The visitor smiled. I'm pointin' south-west--ain't looked over that part o' the range yet. "Why. . like that of heavy seas breaking on a shingly shore. is it?" he said. for he lowered his weapon and gave vent to a throaty chuckle. It was a tiny place. The pines proved to be further away than he had thought. California." the foreman agreed soberly. "Guess I c'n make coffee." "First look I've had at this part of our range. In a few moments his host joined him. "Fella gits so useter that he don't notice it." It was the old prospector." he said. but without the sucking swish of the backwash. tearin'. there were few cattle about." California retorted. climbing the lower slope of the mountain. she must be just lousy with gold. Evidently the man now recognized him. clutching a rifle." Sudden nodded and smiled." the foreman remarked. I've sat for hours watchin' the water rippin'. trailed his reins." Yago told him. he knew his friend was warning him. I'd call it. When at length he came in sight of it he was surprised to find a habitation. li'l old Thunder River. rumbling roar. "That's so. Yu oughta hear her when snow flies on Stormy. "Aye. "I'm out o' milk. A hole in one corner of the earthed roof served as a chimney."Mind yore own damn business." "What makes yu think that?" Sudden asked. "Didn't know anyone was livin' up here. it'd be useful to know where to look. "Oughta be able to --musta made enough to float a fleet in my time. but if yu don't show up. I'm liable to pull stakes an' drift any time. From the small pole corral behind the hut a burro brayed. but there's more sweetenin' if yu want her.

"But she's here. "If yu had yu'd never lose it. I knows of over two score--some of 'em underground springs. "It wouldn't help yu none if I told yu." the old man returned seriously. all yu gotta do is trace the source o' the river" The prospector emitted a cackle. all the money in the world won't make me a day younger. May have took hundreds o' years to git there or bin dropped by some fella. stranger. "Hell's bells! she's mighty near half gold. how'd yu know where the water picks up the dust? No. and die. and vanished in the brush at the back. yu can't get at it thataway. His squinting eyes were popping with excitement. before the stream had cut itself a channel to run in--this yer valley was periodically flooded an' the fine gold was deposited then.. Riley." "So right now we might be sittin' atop of a gold-mine. "Me. "Yu've talked too much as it is." ." His little eyes gleamed cunningly." the miner said.." the puncher admitted. slid along the corral rails. even a novice would have known it for what men live. if a whisper o' this got abroad in Windy ." The puncher swung into his saddle again. an' I'm obliged." he agreed. " 'Sides." he said. an' yu git nothin' but a hole. "yessir. Think o' searchin'?" Sudden laughed. I bin scramblin' round Stormy for years--like to have busted my neck a score o' times.. on Ol' Stormy. I ain't no scientist. "A ton o' rock like that would put even a spendin' fella beyond the reach o' poverty. did yer?" Sudden shook his head. which the miner almost reverently placed on the bench between them. Thus safely concealed. and neither he nor the miner saw the shadow that slipped from the end of the shack. "No. Mister. where he had arrived in time to hear the major portion of the conversation and see the "specimen. An' there ain't a smidgin' o' rock like it where 'twas picked up." the foreman smiled. "Didn't expect me to say. Told off by King Burdette to watch Green. an' I figure that at one time mebbe a thousand years ago. sir. watched the visitor depart. an' there's patches of alluvial gold an' small `pockets' on the slopes o' the valley." He read the incredulity in the listener's face. The puncher picked it up. "Yu don't believe me?" he cried." Sudden ejaculated. "Yo're pickin' a job." "An' yu have found it?" the foreman queried. "Yo're shoutin'. the Circle B rider. yu can reckon me dumb. In a moment he reappeared. "What d'yu make o' that?" he asked triumphantly.. "That's `float. was the non-committal answer." Then came the natural question: "Where'd yu find her?" The crafty eyes twinkled. "That" proved to be a piece of quartz about the size of a large egg. jagged and irregular in shape. where's it come from? Didn't fall out'n the skies. but it's all surface stuff--go deep. marvelling at the weight until he saw that the stone was thickly veined with yellow. just around. "Somewheres around there's rock that's just rotten with gold. "But if it's so. I reckon. even some of them lunkheads down yonder"--he jerked a derisive thumb in the direction of Windy--"has got their suspicions. just waitin' to be found. after a pause. it's just findin' it." he said. yu can git `colour' most anywheres on the banks o' the river. and dived into the hut. Now.'. Lookee. though I reckon she's higher up. to obtain." California said.Why. he had hung about the C P and followed him to the prospector's hut. "I'm a chatterin' of fool when I talk about gold." "Sounds likely. Anyways. but that's the way I dope her out." "Yo're dead right. its bin washed down." the old man said. never did have the gold fever. No. An' what for? It ain't the wealth. "Mebbe I have an' mebbe I ain't. The prospector chuckled delightedly at the effect he had produced.

provided a passage for the river. could not but be awe-inspiring. and presently he espied him. Prickly pear. The necessity for keeping under cover made pace impossible. The foreman had dismounted again and was gazing on a scene which. In one of these Sudden was standing. mounted. and set out after the C P man. but there were a few spaces where the very brink could be approached. Cal will keep. and other shrubs fringed the rims of the chasm for the most part. but his quarry was in no hurry." Hurriedly he went to where he had hidden his horse. even to the most surfeited sightseer. . resembling the mark left by a mighty axe-blow."Sufferin' snakes!" he muttered. A giant gash in the side of the mountain. catclaw. I gotta see. "What made the old fool open up to that fella? Wonder whether he told him anythin' 'fore I come up? Hell! Mebbe he's goin' there now.

The name was not an inapt one for this long. was rolling a smoke. and sink." he went on. and the foreman had no thought of company in that wild spot.The Sluice. cascading over a fall of twenty feet. Sudden was an expert swimmer. snow-white and glistening with points of fire like a stream of jewels in the rays of the sun. For an instant he tottered. his hands were shaking. "Don't 'pear to be travellin' fast now. he waited. and water itself had no terrors for him." he muttered. wish I could swing it alone. "She must be some sight when Stormy sheds his winter coat. "Reckon I fixed yu. his own efforts and the powerful current taking him a considerable distance. because he could not keep his mouth closed." He had reached the last clump of foliage between himself and his unsuspecting victim. If the Burdettes learned of the mine they would stop at nothing to get possession of the C P. but she is. Leaning forward. he swam beneath the surface. Cal could be made to talk. his mind mulling over what the prospector had told him. Then. fella could shout an' yu wouldn't get a whisper. he'll be some grieved--mebbe. Riley. but he knew the type. his slitted eyes gauging the distance he had to spring." he said hoarsely. "I'm a plain damn fool. bare walls. almost vertical. dragged out his gun and fired--twice. "Why. the puncher could see where the water entered. he had seen the spit of the bullets in the water beside his head and gathered that the man above meant to make a job of it. Save for keeping under cover. Mister Green. "With him outa the way." At the moment that he mounted and rode away the man he believed he had murdered slid his head above water and eagerly gulped air into his aching lungs. Sudden. and the deed was done. and then he laughed. but it's too big--I'll have to let King in. a push." Meanwhile. "Gotta go an' break the bad news to King now. Gawd! What a chance. though he had not heard the reports. The initial plunge into the icy stream had driven the breath from his body and he had been forced to come up immediately. had also dismounted and was creeping up on him. many a miner who had made a lucky strike had lost all. and then. The Circle B man's eyes were gleaming vengefully. Riley. fella wouldn't have much chance in there. Dropping to his knees." He looked round suspiciously as he suddenly realized that he was speaking aloud. Liquor would loosen his tongue and he would boast. He had snapped a match alight and was applying it to the cigarette between his lips when a jarring thrust from behind sent him staggering towards the abyss. it did not come. even life itself. Riley stood up. narrow stone trough with its spray-splashed. Promptly sinking again. He had warned California not to chatter. He watched the fragments of froth as they eddied and swirled some forty feet below. his lips drawn back in a vulpine snarl. sinuous ease of a gigantic reptile. scanning the stream closely. poised almost on the edge of the chasm. realizing that he must fall. crouching above. Here's where we even up for Whitey. "Bet he's the on'y one the ol' fossil has yapped to. Must be another fall below--that one ain't makin' all the racket. and nodded understandingly. With his nostrils just clear he waited for the ominous "plop" of a bullet. He saw the man in the water fling up his hands. and then--as though it had finished with play--to roll on through the rift with the smooth. to drop into a yeasty smother of foam and spray. only a few yards separating them. It had been easy. pitched headlong. and his brain was busy. He waited till the puncher rose to the surface. watched the body drop like a stone and plunge into the depths." Sudden mused. . For a moment Riley paused. and he smiled grimly. three long strides. the roar of the river drowned every sound. there was no sign. having found his man. I reckon. trying to regain his balance. he had no need for caution.

disappear. Conscious that he must soon let go from sheer exhaustion. Thrashing out with leaden limbs. Along the centre of this outlet Sudden could see a tumbled. He was a strong man. tunnel-like passage through which the stream swept at incredible speed. but his soggy clothing and the numbing chill of the water werebeginning to tell. . and he clutched desperately. he searched again." Conserving his strength for the struggle he knew must come. as he swung round a bend. Lifting himself a little in the water. forming a narrow. boiling ridge of foam. they presented for the first ten feet a smooth. Desperately he searched the walls of his watery prison. that must mean only one thing --another fall. thinly covered by the stream. but I'm bettin' it was a younger an' stronger man gave me that jolt. "I'll need wings to beat this proposition. and made an heroic attempt to grin. a cat could not have climbed them. The prospect spurred the puncher to action. he let the current carry him. saw it leap into view again. adding sardonically. He knew the meaning of that. fortunately. The dark walls between which the stream was swiftly swinging him held out no hope whatever. He decided to take the risk. but no crack or cranny affording hand. he raised his head and looked about. With an effort he got his other hand to it and held on. but the position eased his aching muscles. That would be his fate unless . and was immediately flattened against it. it was a submerged needle of rock. tossing like the wind-worried mane of a huge white horse. like a live malignant thing. Even if he escaped this fate. he felt himself being forced nearer and nearer to that awful gully of death. he fought his way round to the up-stream side of the rock. and a lucky snatch kept him from going past it. white streaks showing where it had been riven on the rocks." he mutttered. The pressure was enormous. the deafening thunder told him that it would only mean death in another form. where he hoped to find the current less powerful. he now began to savagely fight the force he had hitherto submitted to.or foot-hold presented itself. and he knew it could not be a little one. at the foot of the dank wall on his left. though his arms seemed to be leaving their sockets. Sudden knew that it would be spewed out of that deadly maw as splintered fragments. and in a moment was again at the mercy of the current. he saw a sight at which even the bravest might well have quailed. "an' I'm liable to get 'em. Little more than a hundred yards ahead. Rising sheer. at least. the work of the springtime floods. Then. rocks there--jagged teeth which would tear him to bits when the cruel current hurled him upon them." Sudden reflected. be no longer in danger of being swept over the fall. and against the terrific thrust of the torrent he was impotent."Lucky for me I ain't red-headed or bald--that jasper would 'a' got me. "Wonder who it was? Mebbe California got sorry he talked so much. if he could reach that he would. This. polished surface." Satisfied that the would-be assassin had departed. Twenty yards distant. his open-air life had endowed him with muscles of steel. Fight as he might. breathless and gasping. strove to tear him away. beaten and pounded in the fury of the larger fall. while the galloping stream. his hand struck something. the sides of the gully closed in. He was now perilously near the danger-spot. It was not long before he realized that his efforts were futile. and emerge once more still further shattered." he told himself. "Guess I know now how the meat in a sandwich feels. Idly he watched the stump of a tree whirl past to vanish in the welter of warring waters. The struggle to climb up took his last ounce of strength. . Soon he noticed that the reverberating roar of the river was becoming louder. . but it'll be too late. carried him straight to the spot. content just to keep afloat. heading for the rock wall. there appeared to be a small ledge. For some moments he clung there.

the foreman could not repress a slight shudder as he looked at the narrow gut. and the point that his prospect of escaping was as minute as ever did not trouble him." he remarked. who said he'd seen yu. with the reins hitched round the saddle-horn. and for a long time Sudden lay there like a log. he was satisfied with the present. but. Then he saw a dangling rope with a noose at the end. neither of them would have admitted this. A slight bulge in the rock-face prevented him from seeing the rim from which it had been dropped. "Yu ol' fool. a sheer forty feet. His expressed intentions regarding the unknown assailant were definite and lurid. Knowed yu wouldn't leave him thataway." was Bill's inelegant rejoinder. Chapter XV HAVING. these two. The foreman listened with a quizzical expression. passed. his eyes closed. "Somebody's invitin' me to hang myself. `First catch yore hare. as he believed." Bill said offhandedly. Climbing cautiously to his feet. "Ran into Cal. "Shucks. conscious only of one fact--the necessity for violent exertion had. The rolling roar of the river made speech impossible and it was not until they were some distance away that yago heard the whole of the story." the foreman said gravely. into a tossing. so I scouted round some an' found a place where it looked like yu'd took a high dive. Reluctantly he knotted the reins and flung them over the saddle-horn." Yago replied hastily. "Just now it wouldn't be noways safe." he reflected. "An' mebbe I'll `find' yu later. Riley turned his attention to the man's mount. "It started off with. the greedy stream clawing feebly at his wracked body. tormented smother of spume and spray. patiently awaiting his master's return." "It musta' been a disappointment for yu. the ledge was heaven itself after the incessant battle with the river. and looking down upon him was Yago." he remarked.Slimy and water-swept. racing torrent of water. Then I come down-stream hopin' to find yore remainders. but being almost a stranger there. fighting its way through to pitch." the Circle B man muttered. yu know what I mean. When the rescued man's clothes had dried somewhat and he had smoked several much-needed cigarettes.' " "Aw. go to hell. and Bill was well aware that the foreman would give his life for him if occasion demanded." Sudden smiled. With all his nerve. Spent both in body and mind. for the time. an' come across Nigger. In a few moments he was dragged sprawling over the edge of the chasm. for untold gold. tearing. "This yer passion for bathin' is likely to be yore finish one o' these days. A listening stranger would have deemed one man ungrateful and the other indifferent. whose anxious countenance split into a broad grin when he saw his foreman stand up and throw off the loop. they rode along to the end of the Sluice and viewed the fall. successfully disposed of the rider. with its twisting. Sudden knew that his friend had purposely followed him in case of danger. he adjusted the loop under his armpits and shook the rope. but they understood one another. "How in hell did yu find me?" "Just luck. Nigger. A flick of something across his face aroused him : he sat up. At the other end of the taut rope was his own horse. he was content to rest." . and for a moment fancied that a snake had fallen from the cliff above. the animal might return to the C P. Lying full length on the ledge. it was more likely to drift around. "There was once a lady who wrote a piece 'bout cookin' a hare.

but a good one." he suggested. At the same time. "Bah! there won't be enough of him to put a cross over. "Reckon he turned dizzy. but it was more for the sake of prompting his informant. yu done a day's work. "What in the nation was he doin' there?" "Just lookin'--seemed to be admirin' it. yeah. "He slipped into the Sluice s'mornin'. . He found King Burdette in the living-room." Riley said casually." "Ever seen them teeth in the gut?" the other asked sneeringly. "Carryin' too much weight. "That's so. speaking in a low. "How come?" he asked. "If he's found with lead in him . and the other man did not trouble to deny it." Riley said confidently. he was far too astute to do so immediately. "What the blazes do yu want?" came the surly question. Riley." the rider retorted. "My Gawd. "Yo're right." he said at last. "Who told yu this fine yarn?" "No one didn't tell me--I saw it. "Oh. he knew the Sluice. He still bore the mark of King's fist on his face. "Mebbe he can swim. and swung a nonchalant leg. I'll lay a fifty. "Has Green gone?" "Yu could put it that way. Well. "Near as big as my fist." Riley said meaningly. The cowboy was in no hurry. and chuckled inwardly when his entry was received with a black look." he said. which is why I'm talkin'. The visitor seated himself on the side of the table. I want more'n that. "Spill the beans. "I've got hep to suthin' big--too big for me to tackle alone." "Slipped--into--the Sluice?" the other repeated. ." "Better 'a' left it to the river." King straightened up with a jerk. "That goes with me." he said. "They'll be needin' a new foreman at the C P. but he wanted to be sure. after all. an' more'n half pure gold. his news would soon change all that. rolled a smoke. husky voice which positively shook when he attempted to describe the nugget the prospector had so proudly produced. Burdette sensed the change and watched him narrowly.With a flick of his quirt he started the horse off. What's the word?" King did not reply at once. and he meant to make the most of it. or fancied a bath mebbe. I want yore honest-to-Gawd promise that I share equally with yu." Riley said." King's cruel lips curled contemptuously. "Slugs don't help a swimmer none whatever. and though he could lose nothing by agreeing to the proposal. and set out for the ranch on Battle Butte. but he was a different man. King. after a pause. and he guessed what had happened. Riley. "I got news. King Burdette laughed." King nodded." Riley began." King objected. an' I can speak for my brothers. Mart an' Sim. Riley's air of repressed excitement evidenced tidings of importance." It was a guess. he was curious. but Cal knows--he was just all swelled up." Whereupon the rider told of the conversation he had overhead between California and the C P foreman. "Shoot. his interest was plain enough. and must be kept in his place. "But first. mounted his own beast. Whitey" "Was to have had five hundred. an' I ain't forgettin' it." King commented." he exclaimed. yu never see such rock. "He may ." he said. the man was only a tool." "Findin' `float' don't mean yu got the mine it come from.

an' here I am." The implied threat was unnecessary--Cal had no thought of resistance. A tall. they say. Lu Lavigne welcomed him with a smile." Outside the door a tall man listened and laughed silently. the cream of all he had gathered in the many mining-camps and tough towns he had known. whatever play they make. First thing to do is get hold o' Cal an' put him where he can't chatter--'cept to me. Blindfolded. "But that's a sound idea 'bout Green--we'll have to let him go on believin' that. both hands raised. I warn't there when the pow-wow began. His appearance at "The Plaza" evoked no surprise. however. Got no more sense than a burro. "I'd oughta be split in two with a hatchet for openin' my face to that slick-eared. and others followed. friend. an empty belly is a powerful persuader." he muttered. "We'll have 'em both now." *** It was not until the second evening after his adventure in the Sluice that Sudden visited town again." King decided. Allus knowed there was a gold-mine up on Stormy--that's one reason why I've been so hot on gettin' the C P. for. "An' yu done right to come to me--I'll play fair. and armed. O' course he yaps to Purdie. dour-looking fellows. busy preparing his evening meal. and had sworn Yago to secrecy. "Shut yore trap. and finished with a whole-hearted condemnation of himself and the foreman of the C P.have let it out to Green."What's the game?" the prospector shrilled. come quiet. Yu'll be good an' hungry in the mornin'. "Mouthy old bird." The sun had dropped over the horizon in a glory of red and gold. The prisoner's reply took the form of a stream of curses. "Talk to yu later. vitriolic. ." he wheezed when his breath and memory were beginning to fail." he was gruffly told. He stepped forward. an' mebbe not so dumb as yu think. starting with his unknown captors. It was an impartial. his eyes glinting with savage satisfaction. blistering. found what he was looking for--the piece of "float"--and joined his companions. several of those present gave him friendly nods. the handkerchief over his eyes removed. his gun levelled. burn his soul. an' yu won't be hurt none. double-faced cow-punch. Therefore he did not see those silent shadows stealing from tree to tree until they reached his habitation. boxed up on the C P. California." the man with the gun told him. yu ain't. it went on to include Windy and its inhabitants. his hands tied behind. Cal. but from now on yo're dumb. Evidently his supposed demise was not yet generally known. an' of all the old fools I'm the daddy.. comprehensive cursing. California was yanked from the saddle. and he was thrust into a small log shack.. taking a line." He paused. was oblivious to these natural phenomena. others watched him indifferently as he stepped to the bar and greeted the proprietress. which would enable them to keep clear of the town." "It's big news. "If we have to reason with yu. shore enough. but there was a shadow in her eyes. He had told no one of this further attempt on his life. "No fool like an old 'un. he was hustled out and lifted on to a horse. and only became aware of their presence when a hoarse voice barked : "H'ist 'em. The leader then searched the cabin. pronto ! " The old man dropped the skillet he was lifting as though it had burned him and spun round. and then came the creak of a turning key. At a word the party set out for the valley. masked man stood in the doorway. there ain't nothin' to stop us. slitted kerchiefs across their faces. At the end of what seemed to him an interminable ride. and on the mountain-side the dusk was rapidly deepening. down in the valley it was already dark.

but her face quickly sobered." she told him. and an expression of sneering rage replaced his amazement. "There'll be no gun-play here. an' li'l Miss Tenderfoot'll want help. death in his eyes. yu" A cold. The sardonic voice of the C P foreman lashed him . especially now. "So that's it?" he sneered. gents. and he was consumed with a desire to shoot down this man with the cold eyes and voice which stung like acid. Almost instantly. "Why don't yu ask me?" he suggested. But another voice intervened. and went on. who during the conversation had apparently been intent on a card game." he grinned." He noted King's momentary start of surprise. "You know that isn't true. He had learned what he wished to know: Burdette was aware of. and waited. Burdette. "This is a public place. "I'll shore remember. the effort to send him to a horrible death in the Sluice. ready to snap out the word which would set guns spouting flame and hot lead. Sudden was bending slightly forward." she replied. Burdette. "God ! " King Burdette. Whitey had failed and paid the penalty. "It's saved yu twice" "Three times. an' that is. but a demon of doubt assailed him. and perhaps concerned in. his hands hanging at his sides. "I've on'y got one thing to say to yu. Sudden did not move. "Take yore time. "If yo're honin' to make it a fourth. the muttered "Oh. "Got a new playthin'." King Burdette hesitated. "But yu ain't finished with me yet." accenting the change. "An' I came to see yu."I'm guessin' yu ain't pleased to see me. Usually her mild expletives had a whimsical unreality--they might have been uttered by a child--but this time she meant it. staringwith wide eyes at the man he believed to be drifting." Slype. damn. however. The puncher. Sudden saw the swift look of relief in Burdette's face and laughed . he has as much right to be here as you have. yu got all eternity ahead o' yu. rasping voice cut in. There was nothing mirthful in the cow-puncher's smile. I'll down the first fella what pulls. when things were breaking right and a prospect of almost unlimited wealth was opening out. don't crowd yore luck too close. taken off his guard. "An' that's my limit." he said. was now standing near. He glared at the girl." he reproved." he warned. "Mebbe yore bronc will get away from yu again." Her defiance spurred his rage. but the mirror behind the bar enabled him to see that King Burdette had thrust open the swing-door and was strolling towards them. "What's this fella doin' here?" he asked." he said bluntly. She shrugged impatient shoulders. He had plenty of pluck. his gun out. why. "I ride towards Old Stormy nearly every morning. and it was she who replied. But it was a direct challenge and must be met. he got over the shock. huh?" He laughed hideously. "But why come looking for trouble?" The corners of his eyes crinkled up. head hunched. in the depths of Thunder River. I'm waitin'. had recoiled. King had no wish to follow him. a shapeless mass." She had to laugh." the puncher corrected. waited until the newcomer was near and then straightened up and turned round." With a snarl of fury the baited man turned on the speaker. King turned his malevolent gaze on the interrupter. Burdette's gaze was fixed on Lu Lavigne. "That'll be all from yu.

didn't yu. are yu?" The officer shuffled his feet and looked uncomfortable. "They're . "I make my own limits an' for yu the roof's off. Outwardly calm again. to whom he put a question. presented his back to the puncher. "No one's seen hide nor hair of him for a coupla days. "Funny 'bout that of dirt-washer. "Yu figure I'd beat him to the draw. and there was an ominous purr in his tone. and calling for a drink. "Thank you. "His good opinion would be an insult. and then dropped his voice. "I warn't meanin' no offence." "No. he'll show up. Well." shouted one of the company. Burdette turned a frosty eye upon him." "An' yore boss is no doubt much obliged to yu. so I'd get yore pill. Lavigne had retired to her room. "Yu ain't denyin' that Mrs. Why had he backed down before this stranger of whom nothing was known save that he possessed a deadly speed with a six-shooter? By what wizardry had the fellow escaped from the Sluice? Riley's shots must have missed." Sudden cut in. but King knew the place." "Bully for yu. on the plea of a headache. of course. "Well." Burdette said indifferently." she said." the marshal grunted." "That goes for me too. I ain't mixin' it with every stray gun-fighter who comes glory-huntin'." He spoke loud enough for the room to hear. and Green had said. informed him that Mrs. but his friends is clamourin' for a search-party. what's come o' Lu?" The bar-tender." he said. an' his tools an' burro is." He was aware that the subject of his thoughts had gone out without replying to his last remark." the Circle B man said contemptuously. but his look at the lady was poisonous. "I wanta find out what fetched him to Windy--he didn't drift in just by chance. Lu. I ain't obligin'." Slype said insolently." he said. The puncher's eyes grew chilly. he ain't at his shack. He turned to Burdette. Had Riley pushed the wrong man in? No. "Them damn' gophers act like they owned the town. "Pretty neat." King retorted." Slype told him. The "lady" saved him the embarrassment of replying. marshal. Anyways. Lavigne is a lady. vertical walls and exit over the fall which spelt certain death. The marshal saw that he had blundered.aloud. marshal?" he suggested. Even the marshal--his creature--was regarding him doubtfully. he was a volcano within." he warned. Hello. "Wonderin' why I didn't take that fella up. Mister Green. Most of them had resumed their amusements. I'll bet a stack. "Three times." "Oh. he could not have made such a mistake in broad daylight." "Sick. Sam?" he asked. but I don't care a hoot what that dirty little pack-rat thinks I am." "Ain't heard. mebbe. Wasn't yu a leetle late gettin' into the game?" "No call for me to interfere because two fellas quarrel over this yer woman. For the first time in his life he had lost self-confidence. King swore under his breath and turned again to hear the marshal saying. aware too that he had lost prestige with the men present. and most of the rest laughed approvingly. "Which of 'em?" "California. "`Lady. Goldy Evans went to see. an' there's other reasons to that. with its slimy. "As law officer of this yer town it's my duty to stop a ruckus." "Let 'em look for him themselves. "I'm servin' notice that yu've reached yore limit. but there were nods and muttered comments. or out on a prospect.' yu meant to say. I ain't lost any prospectors.

he came upon a fresh lot. "I'll tell 'em to fly at it." "Cheery li'l fella. "Got it. He had been glad the marshal had interfered. Sudden surveyed him disgustedly. "Someone followed me that mornin'.full-growed. "Somebody got wise. Having forked some hay into the corral and filled the rude drinking-trough." Yago observed. Though his lean. and he was still trying to explain his own attitude to himself. `Percy Vere' are his middle names. Mister Green.. ain't they?" "That's an idea. He found plenty of tracks in the soft soil. Yago. and yet--in the same circumstances he knew he would be glad again. an' six of 'em come back later an' collect Cal. whose absence was the chief topic of conversation in the town. an' he'll try again. Bill promptly announced that he was coming too." the foreman smiled. Yago's face was a picture of commiseration. And Lu Lavigne?. they entered the hut. "Damn them both. but now he cursed him. an' it's went." He ripped out an oath as he recalled the humiliation the puncher had inflicted upon him in "The Plaza. "An' yu kickin' at bein' called a kid. "That'll explain things an' mebbe put a crimp in yu. adding that he intended riding to the old man's shack. Chapter XVI THE foreman of the C P arose on the following morning with an uneasy feeling that all was not well with the missing prospector. looked up expectantly. and raking the spurs along the ribs of his mount. ." he said. "From what I know o' this Burdette fella. overheard the conversation here--the ol' man warn't exactly whisperin'. followed soon after. Loping leisurely along the trail to the Circle B. "Looks like he didn't leave willin'. headed away from Windy. The pile of blankets which did duty as a bed had been pulled aside. and told of the piece of rich "float. sent it headlong through the gloom. A skillet containing half-cooked bacon by the dead fire.." the marshal said. "Don't this allus lookin' on the bright side hurt yore eyes?" When they reached the shack the owner's burro pushed its head between the corral bars and brayed a loud welcome." Bill retorted bluntly. Yu've had the luck of a fat priest up to now. and King. and then returned to the shack in a thoughtful mood. He studied them closely for a while. disclosing a small cavity in the packed earth floor. he suddenly startled his horse by emitting a throaty chuckle." "Somethin' else has gone too. "Say `Howdy' to your relative. casting a wider circle." Sudden said. an' there's boot-tracks an' cigarette ends side o' the shack--pushes me into the Sluice." Sudden said. "That'll be where he cached his dust." Bill's eyes widened. he was amused at the commotion caused by the disappearance of the hoary-headed old gold-seeker. He confided his fears to Yago. One thing was certain : the mining element--which was fairly strong in the town--must not learn the truth. Bill." he cried aloud." He went out grinning. "Yu act like yu was." The foreman nodded and went outside. showed that the occupant had left in the midst of preparing a meal." he said witheringly. sneering features did not show it. but presently." he exclaimed. "Yu talk like I was a kid. for Evans and his friends had been there. who had been searching for another possible hiding-place. ain't yu?" his friend smiled. an' it's due to turn. those of half a dozen riders." It was the first time any man had outfaced him and got away with it. and a pot of cold coffee beside it. seeing that Lu Lavigne did not reappear. "Looks thisaway to me.

"What d'yu suppose has happened to the old chap?" he asked. too. and a dull thud told that the bullet had buried itself in the ranch-house. they gave it up." For a few miles they had no difficulty in following the horsemen. Purdie's eyes grew big. "These hombres knowed where to come. "Yu got out the Sluice?" he cried." he said. Instantly from the top of the trail came an answering report." Yago offered." Sudden reminded." "Ain't yu goin' swimmin' this time?" Bill innocently inquired. I'm wonderin' what the next move will be?" As if in answer to the words came a flash from a belt of pines six hundred yards down the slope. aimin' to make him talk. "Seem to be headin' away from the Circlue B. He looked like I was a ghost when he saw me in `The Plaza. and then. stony ground to the north of the town. but that don't mean nothin'. He had just returned from town. "Shucks!" the foreman laughed.' Yu think that ol' skeezicks really has struck it rich?" "Shouldn't wonder--there's allus been a tale of a lost mine up on Stormy. But King Burdette knowed about it. Then followed the muffled crash of a rifle-shot. . "With the help o' Bill Yago. "Betcha a dollar them jaspers has blinded their trail. far as I'm concerned. and a shadowy rider raced through the dusk towards the pines. anybody but them thieves an' murderers. by God! " he cried. "It's hot enough here. Other work claimed their attention." "I'll keep my ears open." he finished gloomily. The rancher's head snapped back. Purdie called his foreman. "Mebbe they didn't do nothin' so foolish. yu could march a regiment across here an' a Injun couldn't follow it. Never took no stock in it myself." Whereupon the foreman told what he knew of the matter. but if Cal or anybody else finds it they're welcome. After an hour's fruitless search. "Yo're right. "Yeah. and." he said." "Even the Circle B gang?" Sudden suggested. On the way to the bunkhouse. Bill's reply was sadly devoid of the deference due to his superior. and it was not until the approach of dusk that they got back to the ranch." the rancher said. But them currents an' whirlpools! Why." "I swim pretty good. "I mis-doubt I should 'a' dragged yu into this. "I didn't have no choice. His friend grinned. Jim. with a sly glance at his companion's hearing appendages." Sudden said. "We gotta try an' trail 'em. "We shan't miss anythin' then. a current of cool air passed between the faces of the two men. and was given an order he declined to obey. on a wide stretch of arid. with a whimsical smile. all traces ended. I wouldn't tackle it for a million dollars." His brow grew dark and furrowed. "Blame that little fella in Juniper." "Mebbe they took him to the Circle B?" Bill suggested.Reckon they got him holed up somewheres." the puncher admitted." his foreman replied. even if it's whispered. their friendship was not of yesterday. We'll have to try an' pick up a pointer in Windy. "Shouldn't 'a' thought he was worth robbin' even." "Got any notion who shoved yu in?" "Nope. including his own perilous part in it. let alone makin' away with. "Yu must be half a fish. yu know. and meant it. "No. where he had heard about the missing miner.

"Near thing, Purdie," the foreman said coolly. "Moody will smoke him out if he waits, but I'm bettin' against it. I've been expectin' somethin' o' the sort, an' we gotta take turns sleepin'." He grinned at the men who had come piling out of the bunkhouse. "It's all right, boys, no damage done, an' there ain't anythin' we can do--yet," he said, adding meaningly, "An' we shore make a fine target bunched together like this." The men took the hint and returned to the bunkhouse, but the muttered threats boded ill for the Circle B if the two outfits came to open warfare. The rancher and his foreman retired to the house, where they found Nan anxiously awaiting them. Sudden had paused on the way to dig out the bullet. Now, by the light of the lamp, he was examining it. "Another .38. Still clingin' to that notion, seemin'ly," he remarked. The girl's question brought the reply she might have expected from her father. "Luce Burdette, tryin' to lay me alongside Kit," he said savagely. "Dirty, bushwhackin' skunk." Her face paled, but she did not reply. The foreman took up the cudgels. "Someone is framin' that boy, Purdie," he said. "An' it was me they were after; remember, they don't know how much Cal told me; whoever's got him is back o' this." The owner of the C P shrugged his shoulders. These repeated outrages were sorely trying his patience--short, at the best of times--and the thought that the shot in the dark might have struck down his daughter filled him with fury. A forthright man, with the simple creed of the frontier, he would have gathered his riders and gone in search of his foes but for his foreman. "That's what they're workin' for," Sudden had more than once told him. "It'll come to that in the end, but for now, let 'em run on the rope; we'll throw 'em good an' plenty when the time comes." And because of his growing faith in this confident young stranger with the steady eyes and firm lips upon which danger brought no more than a sardonic smile, Purdie let him have his way. * The marshal draped his spare form against the bar of "The Lucky Chance," wrapped his fingers round the glass of liquor he had just poured out, and gave a comprehensive glance at the company. The place was fairly full, but the man he sought was not present. Mart Burdette, however, was lolling on a near chair, and a brief look of understanding passed between them. "Evenin' Sam," the saloon-keeper greeted. "Anny news o' th' missin' man yit?" "Nope," the officer replied, "but I'm expectin' a fella who may be able to gimme some, an' here he is." "Is it Green ye mane?" Magee asked, as the C P foreman and Yago entered. "What will he be after knowin' about it?" "I'm here to find out," the marshal said somewhat loudly. "Hey, Green, I want yu." The cow-puncher detected hostility in the tone but he smiled as he inquired. "What's the charge, marshal?" "There ain't none--yet," was the retort. "Just a few questions, that's all." "Toot yore li'l horn an' go ahaid," Sudden replied, as he leaned lazily against the bar and sampled the drink Magee pushed forward. "It's about--Cal," Slype began slowly. "I hear yu was the last man to see him alive." "Why, is he dead, then?" the puncher inquired. "Mebbe he is an' mebbe he ain't," the marshal snapped. "I'm doin' the askin', an' I wanta know whether yu was up at his shack the day he disappeared?" Sudden did not reply immediately; the question had taken him by surprise. A hush had

come over the gathering, and he divined that some of those present had known of the marshal's intention. Save for Purdie, Yago, and the prospector, only the assassin had been aware of his visit to the shack, and if the latter had talked it could only be for a purpose. "I certainly had a chat with Cal that mornin'," he said. Slype's small eyes gleamed triumphantly at this admission. "What took yu that way?" he asked. "It's part of our range," the puncher pointed out. "Didn't know the old chap was located there till I happened on him. He was alive an' kickin' when I left." The marshal's face shot forward, an ugly grin on his bloodless lips. "Yu said it," he sneered. "A fella would be apt to kick if he was slung into the Sluice." A threatening growl from some of the auditors greeted this; Sudden stared in bewilderment at the speaker. "Yu suggestin' I throwed the old man in the river?" he cried. "Yu must be drunk or dreamin'." "Don't think it; I'm sayin' that's just what yu did do," the officer retorted. "An' then yu went back an' stole his dust." The accused man glanced round the room and despite the black looks he met with, laughed scornfully. "Someone's been stringin' yu, Slype," he said. "Yu got the story all wrong." "I wasn't just expectin' yu to own up," the marshal said with heavy sarcasm. "As for stringin', I had it from Riley o' the Circle B, who chanced to be on the other side o' the river, an' saw the whole affair." The name told the puncher much of what he wanted to know. "Yeah," he commented reflectively. "Wasn't it Riley who claimed he saw Luce tryin' to bump me off?" And when Slype nodded. "Useful fella that--reg'lar johnnyon-the-spot, ain't he? The Circle B shore oughta pay him well." The marshal made no attempt to reply, but another did. Heaving his big bulk out of his chair, Mart Burdette thrust forward an ugly, threatening face and said with savage intensity. "Meanin'?" The foreman was now sure that the whole scene had been pre-arranged, but it made no difference to his attitude. "That Riley is a liar, an' that yu an yore brothers know it," he said deliberately. This was fighting talk; every man there knew it, and wondered when he saw that Mart was not wearing his belt. A Black Burdette without a gun was a sight no one of them could remember. Sudden's keen eyes had noted the omission as soon as the fellow stood up, and sensed its significance. There was an evil satisfaction in the big man's gaze as he replied to the puncher's accusation. "Fella with a gun can allus talk biggity to the chap what ain't wearin' his," he sneered. "If yu got the guts to shuck that belt, I'll kill yu with my bare hands." He spread the fingers of his great paws as he spoke, opening and closing them with a slow, gripping motion horribly suggestive of his purpose. His leering look of savage anticipation told that this was what he had been hoping for. The challenge was one the cow-puncher could not decline, and he had no thought of it. The Burdettes had "framed" him, and he must go through with it. He smiled grimly at the thought that he had taught them to respect his gun-play. "Forgot to put yore belt on, huh?" he said acidly. "Or mebbe yu remembered not to put it on. Anyways, yu played it safe." By this time games were forgotten, and the players were congregated in a circle round the

two men. Willing hands pushed tables and chairs out of the way until a space was cleared for the contest. Excited voices offered and accepted bets and wrangled over the merits of the combatants. Most of those present favoured the bigger man, who was deemed the best rough-and-tumble fighter in that part of the country, and certainly the huge mass of him and the bulging muscles of his mighty limbs suggested that they were right. But a few studied the other with appraising eyes, noted the lean, wiry frame, remembered the swift, pantherish action of his body, and divined the steely sinews which rippled beneath his skin at every movement. "He's fit from the toes up--all bone an' gristle--an' Mart is too fat," Weldon, the blacksmith, remarked. "Green looks like he's fought afore too. I'll take twenty to ten about him." "Go you," replied the other. "Burdette'll break him in two when he gits holt of him." "Yeah--when," agreed the smith. "Well, he's a-goin' to have his chanct." For the puncher was unbuckling his belt and passing it to Yago. The little man's face expressed both anger and concern. "Yu must be loco, Jim," he whispered. "He's big enough to swaller yu." "I'll stick my elbows out, amigo," Sudden smiled. "What yu want I should do--run away?" Bill did not, and said so--ornamentally. "Couldn't yu see they was layin' for yu?" he asked testily. "Shore, an' they got me," his friend said easily. "Ever hear o' the biter bein' bit?" Yago apparently had not. "He'll do that if he gits a chanct," he returned seriously. "Everythin' goes, bar weapons, in this sort o' scrap." Sudden's face assumed a whimsical look of pity. "Bill, did yu ever have a grandmother?" he asked solicitously. The little man stared at him. "I reckon so. Why?" "Then I expect yu tried to instruct her in the art of extractin' nutriment from an egg by means o' suction," his foreman said gravely, but his eyes were twinkling. "Now, keep yore hair on, Bill, yu can't afford to lose any." "This ain't no time for laughin'," Bill snorted. "Why not ol'-timer? Mebbe my face won't be in no shape for it presently," Sudden grinned. A harsh, sneering voice stilled all the others. "If yu done dictatin' yore last will an' testyment, what 'bout makin' a start?" Mart Burdette, eager for the fray, and confident of victory, stood waiting. He had discarded his vest, and the rolled-up sleeves of his shirt disclosed a powerful pair of arms in which the knotted muscles stood out as he clenched his fists and squared his shoulders. A stillness succeeded the hubbub as the puncher also removed his vest, slung his hat aside, and stepped forward. The physical disparity between the two men became more apparent as they faced one another in the cleared space. "Two to one on Goliar," shouted a would-be wit, whose early teaching had not entirely left him. "Yu can double that an' be safe," the big man boasted. "I'm a-goin' to show yu where this fella steps off when he ain't got a gun." Dropping his head, he made a sudden plunge at his opponent. If he had hoped to take his man by surprise he was woefully disappointed, for the puncher slipped aside, drove a fist into the thick, corded throat, and stood waiting, a little smile of derision on his lips. Again and again Burdette, with lowered head, rushed in like a charging bull, and each time the other planted a

" cried the blacksmith. thrashing on the floor. to stand waiting. the dull slap of fist on flesh and the grunt as a blow went home. The blood-stained. Yago knew this. or I'll shoot some toes off. a quick turn on the part of the under man saving him from the full weight of the other. The puncher realized that he could not break away. and with a rumbled curse he climbed to his feet. and he allowed himself to be dominated by the desire to pay the brute before him in his own coin. Sudden went after his man. much to the surprise of the spectators. Mart Burdette soon recovered. "Stand up to him. brutal faces eager to see every phase of the fight. evil eyes alight with murderous triumph." was the disgusted rejoinder. he stumbled. the questing thumb seeking for an eyeball. this yer's a fight. The pain of the blow. his agonized throat well-nigh paralysed. and moreover. and to the fact that Burdette realized that he could not finish the fight offhand against such a nimble opponent. "Yu got him. Then what his friend had feared happened." growled one. The abrupt downward drag of the relaxed body took Burdette by surprise. In a flame of fury he smashed his fist into the thick neck below the chin. cowboy. and drew a gun. Sudden knew that he was wrong--that it was sheer madness to disregard his friend's frenzied entreaty to keep out of Burdette's reach. Gasping.vengeful blow and got away unhurt. an' give 'em space. the ring closed in. passion had overcome his patience. and though he inwardly cursed his foreman's ideas of fair play. Time after time he took a blow he might have avoided. but the puncher's only reply was a lop-sided grin. These tactics did not suit the bulkier man's backers. had lessened. and despite Bill's threat. gloating face of Riley. Partly owing to this. each striving to pin his enemy down. Sudden's foot slipped on the sanded floor and in an instant he was caught in a grip like that of a grizzy bear. boy. Twisting. Break his blasted back. "Shucks. and to Yago's utter disgust and despair. struggling feet. lips dripping profanity as the tide of fortune ebbed and flowed. giving blow for blow. the beast was trying to blind him. . The giant. choking. weak and dizzy. taking what punishment came. he said nothing. The advice was fully in accordance with the ethics of the time. half-obscured hy clouds of tobacco smoke and the dust of stamping. the urge of the primitive man was upon him. the character of the contest changed. "Shut yore face. they saw that their man was making no progress. and Sudden had a momentary glimpse of the twisted. and suddenly let his whole body go limp. they got plenty room to scrap. staggering principals. keep back. In a few moments the battle had become one of blind fury. Mart. hemmed in by a circle of sweating. It was now Mart who held off. his swollen. the big man sprawled sideways. "Now's yore chance. the hot breath coming in gasps from his bruised lips. he did not fight that way. teeth bared like those of an animal." Yago snapped. Sudden was conscious of a hand clawing at his face. beat hell out'n him. and he lusted to batter those bestial features. crippling for the moment. slowly tightened his hold. and they fell together. simply to satisfy this craving. and hurling his fists with venomous ferocity into the gross body. all formed a picture Hogarth alone could have done justice to. and Yago was rapidly swearing himself to a standstill in consequence. not a perishin' foot-race." croaked a voice from the mist of smoke and dust. The fall loosened Burdette's grip. Vainly he struggled to free himself from the vice-like grasp under the pressure of which his ribs were already bending. They were not slow to voice disapproval. momentarily helpless. the swaying lights. The puncher got up. and the puncher was able to breathe again. but for once. it was not their idea of a battle.

For some moments he lay there. As though propelled by a catapult. "Sorry Slype's gone. did not include the marshal. the bully's courage broke. the onlookers parting to let him pass. and then thrust the weapon behind his waist-band. profane exclamations of amazement punctuating the narrative. "Mister Riley oughta he able to tell us. collected his belongings. and moreover. When Sudden . His reeling brain was conscious of only one thing--he must get away. Then the swollen eyes opened. with the gleaming steel barrel at his head. and dragged the arm forward and down over his shoulder. and the eyes of his hearers bulged. he raised himself on one elbow and turned."Damnation. Back in the saloon the victor was receiving the congratulations of most of those present. and far. or I'll send yu out--in a box. But Sudden was watching. hard-shelled as these men were. the big man shot up over the curved shoulders to land full length on the floor with a crash which shook the building. had dealt a crushing blow to the supremacy of the Burdettes. Wearily he dragged himself into the saddle and headed into the darkness. "Don't--shoot... Bill. There would be a jarring thud. "S'pose yu tell the boys. "So yu had a gun hid out on me?" Facing those blazing eyes. Gradually understanding came to him. Fumbling at the belt of his pants. To have lost meant little had he fought fairly. a searing pain. was. though the prospect of the elder brother's anger and contempt was hard to face. and held up his trembling hands. Even as he pulled the trigger. twisted round. yu" he snarled. and staggered out. however. blood-stained. A fury of hate flamed through his veins." he said tersely. Green couldn't 'a' chucked Cal in. only the great heaving chest showing that life was still in him. and the knowledge that the slightest movement of the finger nudging the trigger would send him into eternity. 'cause I saw him potterin' round his place later. but . who had slipped away immediately after Mart's discomfiture. With a lightning snatch he caught the descending wrist. He too had got away unobserved in the excitement of Mart's downfall. But the Circle B man. glaring dazedly at the now silent spectators. He dared not raise his eyes. "Yu cowardly." Bill replied. he realized that he had been beaten." he gasped weakly. "plenty absent"." the puncher rasped. his right fist shooting forward with the force of a mule's kick--a blow which might well have proved fatal. however. Rough. Sinking his head. battered man who now stood waiting for him to do something. like the marshal. and by the slim. they had a code of their own. supine." With an effort the beaten man stood up. having said nothing of the old man's reputed discovery." he threatened." Sudden said. "Who the hell tumbled Green in?" asked Weldon. since wherever the story followed he would be a figure for scorn. "I'll git yu anyways." So Yago told the story of that day's events. while I clean up some. for he knew that there would not be a friendly face. "Outa the country. as one of the company phrased it. he rushed in. and then--what? He shrank back. Moreover. These well-wishers." Bill concluded. white-livered cur. unscrupulous. yu see. and an instant later the weapon was wrenched from the assassin's grasp and turned upon him. a fact certain citizens appreciated. I'll tear yu apart for that. bent his back. He had put up a straight and clean fight. I wanted him to hear the truth about my visit to Cal's shack. He must see King. Sudden flung himself forward and struck up the barrel. he snatched out and levelled a gun. all these men knew the Sluice. and he had outraged it. "Get. the bullet buried itself in the roof. The puncher hesitated for a few seconds. that damned puncher was not bluffing. "So.

a well-trained cow-horse. and then. There was undisguised admiration in the cowboy's expression as he noted the decorations the foreman's face had acquired over-night. "Yo're good at seem' things. but I should say it was around twelve. having removed such marks of the conflict as could immediately be dealt with. "Yu look better'n yu did a piece back." he suggested sarcastically. them tin stars yo're wearin' won't begin to stop a bullet. What 'bout headin' for home?" Yago surveyed the cut and bruised features critically. but I wouldn't say it was the time to have yore picture took. Sudden regarded the pair grimly." he replied. "Fightin' is one o' the games where the looker-on gets most o' the fun. Chapter XVII HE was awakened on the following morning by Moody. and set out on the search. but I know yu won't find him. "It warn't him--I saw yu myself. The Circle B man evidently observed the look. "I wouldn't leave yu. and facing him--still in their saddles--were Slype and Riley. or have yu fished Cal's body out'n the river?" "I ain't. marshal. Now. what's worryin' the thing yu call yore mind?" "I ain't worryin' none whatever--that's yore part." the marshal cut in harshly. Changed yore mind again. On the verandah was Chris Purdie. would not have drifted. who brought a message that the Old Man wanted him. "Did yu expect he'd wait?" he asked sardonically. "Yu idjut. "I'm tellin' yu just what happened. "Perseverin' fella. "I'm wantin' yu." At which Riley emitted a derisive cackle. "Tell me yu broke a leg. "Yu wantin' me?" Sudden asked his boss. ain't yu?" The marshal chanced a lie." Slype smiled evilly. or had he himself tied it insecurely? In either case he did not think Nigger would stray far. The reins were twisted round the saddle-horn." replied the officer shortly." "I'd 'a' paid twice that to 'a' been in the audience my own self. "Yu was wanting' me last night an' ran away. "What time yu git back to the C P las' night?" "Well. Had Mart turned it loose from spite. Green. "An' here's somethin' yu wanta remember. Slype?" the foreman gibed. thereby bringing into view the badge of a deputy. Attributing it to petty malice on the part of his fate antagonist. "Mebbe yu'll say it's . Nigger. ain't yu." "An' yu left `The Lucky Chance' soon after nine." Outside the saloon he made a discovery--his horse was missing. "Yu trail along an' I'll foller--got a li'l matter to see to. "Gosh! He ain't marked yu so awful much." "I had to find my hoss--someone had unhitched him." He made a hasty toilet and went to the ranch-house." Sudden grinned. took me near an hour. for it was nearly an hour before he located the truant. come clean." Slype retorted. "I'm feelin' some used up--like I'd had a busy day." he replied quietly." The foreman achieved a painful grin." he said." he said. "Someone saw yu climb yore bronc outside the saloon an' ride hell-bent on the Circle B trail. "Mebbe I'll believe yu." The foreman looked at Riley and laughed.returned." he commented. It proved a longer job than he expected. for had the reins been trailing. it don't take all that time to ride up here. for he unobtrusively contrived to move his unbuttoned vest. the foreman mounted and rode slowly back to the ranch. "It musta bin a dandy scrap though. I dunno as it's any concern o' yores. he was not surprised to learn of Riley's retreat. This was clear proof that the animal had been set free. At the sight of the latter the foreman's eyes narrowed. I'd 'a' give a month's pay to seen it.

thumbs hooked in his belt. Purdie." he said. I s'pose. "Mart Burdette--shot?" he cried. Mister Riley was willing enough to use the law as a shield. The cold-eyed." the marshal answered. "Why. Sudden watched them for a moment and then turned to his employer. Purdie looked at him in astonishment. did not strike him as even a reasonable risk. and his attitude betrayed the fact." Without another word the visitors whirled their mounts and set off down the trail. "Pity yo're shy of 'em. "Resistance to the law on'y proves guilt. His visit was largely a bluff. King will lay . "My gracious! Have I resisted yu?" the foreman queried. confident young man leaning carelessly against one of the supports of the verandah. an' King Burdette is behind it. The puncher grinned widely. are yu?" he asked." the rancher returned. In desperation Slype appealed to the rancher: "Purdie. "If I wanted to put Mart outa business why didn't I do it in the saloon. had been a futile proceeding." the foreman said. it ain't worth speakin' of. "O' course I know yu didn't wipe out Mart. expecting that the puncher would tamely surrender." he admitted. do yu?" Apparently the marshal was. for he made no attempt to get down. "Lenin' him go that-away shore made a hit with the boys. "I'm advisin' yu to. his beady little eyes watched the cow-puncher to note the effect of this announcement. "I'm thankin' yu. "Yu accusin' me?" The marshal nodded to his deputy." the old man retorted." the foreman offered. but Sudden's surprise semed genuine enough. where I had every right to?" "Grand-standin'?" Slype sneered. "Scratch gravel. He realized now that to come to the C P on such an errand with one man only. and in a flash realized why his horse had been missing. yu runt. "Yu ain't complainin' of a dull time. as a law-abidin' citizen. It was me they were aimin' at. he owns Slype. and laughed unpleasantly. yu ain't done nothin'? Don't happen to be tied to that saddle. but his enthusiasm went no further. "I ain't noticed it." Sudden said scornfully. "Allasame." he said. A glance at his newly-made assistant was met by an emphatic shake of the to yu that Mart Burdette was shot from behind--bushwhacked--'bout a coupla miles outa Windy las' night?" Like those of a rat. But he doubted if he could have raised a posse--most of the citizens would take Green's view of the matter. an' take that shifty-eyed son of awith yu. "Shucks. "Roll yore tail. "I'll remember this." The marshal's pasty face turned livid." he threatened." "I guess things is liable to liven up any moment now. "I told yu this fella had brains. seh. what yu aim to do about it?" "I'm takin' yu in. "Is--that--so?" the foreman said. an' that marshal fella knows it too. an' I'm telling yu plain that if yu do it again I'll have yu rid off the ranch on a rail. with an evident effort to speak confidently. but he made another attempt to carry it off. Jim." he remarked sententiously. "Any idea 'bout how yo're goin' to do it?" The marshal had not." the cattleman interrupted harshly. "Well. yu scum. I call on yu" "I've noticed it." "Which is the way yu'd have played it yoreself.

"Did yu reckon Green would follow when yu whistled?" "He's put hisself on the wrong side o' the law by resistin'." he remarked." He snarled out the last words as though he were indeed the animal he had named himself.the loss of his brother to our account." "Didn't say I was aimin' to do anythin'--just wanted to know how yu felt 'bout it. after riding in silence for a while. "I'll take it he ain't. he proceeded." he said fiercely. He had surmised that Green must suspect him of the attempted drowning and had accepted the offer of a deputyship in the hope that it would protect him from the puncher's vengeance. "Goin' to see King now?" The marshal nodded sullenly. damned sharp. an' it suits me to have it thought so. They found the boss of the Circle B awaiting them in the big front room. King. I'm King Burdette--a lone wolf. "No matter. an' that yu wouldn't be terrible grieved if some-thin' happened to him.." he demurred. Incensed as he was at the humiliation he had met with." "Yu could 'a' found 'em here. an' so has Chris. "Yu must be awful cute at readin' sign--good as an Injun." the other cut in brutally. but my teeth are sharp. blast his soul! Fly at it." The marshal exploded.45 slug. For reasons of his own. swallowed it at a gulp. Yu sabe?" The marshal hesitated." the deputy explained. an' I'm goin' to bite." . I know yu must be feelin' sore about Mart. Yu. say it was Green." Riley replied. "That's no way to talk to yore friends. "Friends? I ain't got none. The marshal changed the subject. "Yo're damn right. I wouldn't. but the latter's attitude had shattered his belief in the majesty of the law. Hold yore fool inquiry when yu please--I shan't be there." King roared. the scowl on his face deepened as he listened to Slype's account of their visit to the C P. "How ever did yu discover that?" he sneered." Burdette replied. "O' course. or I'll tear that star off an' cram it down yore throat. poured a liberal drink from the bottle on the table. an' there'll be doin's. King's gesture was one of impatience. Slype. that suit yu?" "Inquiry? What in hell for? He was hit in the back o' the head with a . Riley had no such feeling." he ventured. King. If yu'd took a dozen men . . and for the rest of the ride had nothing to say. The marshal looked at him suspiciously. "Yu can burn his ranch an' wipe out every rat in it an' I won't stir a finger." "An' where was I to find 'em?" Slype asked angrily. I'm takin' hold from now on. to inflame his chief's anger." Either from anger or fear Slype's face paled at the threat." "I was askin' a question." "Mart was a fool an' paid for it--as fools usually do.. "So yu went to all that trouble to make a damn fool o' yoreself?" was his comment. All yu gotta do is not interfere whatever happens. "Yo're askin' a lot. "I take it Purdie ain't friendly to yu. "Who the hell cares about yu or yore law in Windy?" He tapped his gun-butt. "Yu'll obey 'em too. and flung down into a chair. like a half-wit. an' there ain't nothin' to show who fired it. "After las' night's play the town's mighty near solid for him." Something of the same thought was in the mind of the marshal as he rode away from the C P. "I was figurin' to hold the inquiry on Mart to-morrow mornin'. "This is the on'y law that goes in these parts. there was a certain satisfaction which he took care not to impart to his companion.. "Damnation! I ain't askin' a thing--I'm givin' yu orders." the marshal protested. his voice vibrant with menace.

Though his hard. Their set. "I've half a mind. and once the captive was clear of the town. When the ceremony was over they rode back to town and entered the hotel. had he but known it. Mister King Burdette. self-centred soul was incapable of affection. or yu wouldn't talk like a fool. "Yu'd better stick around. the marshal rode slowly back to town. Mart would have been useful. "Yu got any ideas?" The face of the younger man was gloomy and vindictive. he was entirely mistaken. though he did not know where he had been taken. he had guessed that the marshal--given the opportunity and a sufficient inducement--would not hesitate to double-cross Burdette. He stated the facts baldly to a hastily-empanelled jury. yu clever fellas. adding that it was a plain case of murder. "Fightin' drunk." "Yu ain't. and that was why he had told Slype. huh?" He laughed disdainfully. an' where is he? 'Sides. had told of the old prospector's abduction." King cut in. is to search out Green an' abolish him." he swore. Wipe each other out an' leave the field clear--for me. There was an expression of malicious content on his ferrety face despite the tongue-lashing he had been twice subjected to. till yu wake up an' find yu've played my game for me. Wonder where King has him cached?" For Riley." he said. The Burdettes were not present. though if folks choose to think he did I ain't objectin'. was no evidence pointing to any particular person."Go on thinkin' that. Possessed of a certain low cunning. and he argued that Slype would be the easier of the two men to handle. King Burdette trusted no man overmuch. What I . sitting there chewing savagely at an unlighted cigar." He pondered for a moment over the prospect his mind had pictured. who combined the duties of coroner with those of marshal. I reckon." was his opening remark. See yu later. he had less command over his emotions and possibly some trace of feeling for his dead brother. They had followed their father to his last resting-place with the same dark indifference. and besides. he regarded it as a blow at himself. his brother's end had roused a demon of rage within him. smiled satirically. lounging in the doorway. Outside the ranch-house. Riley. In which. not any. King led the way to an empty room and closed the door carefully behind them. but that there. an' King'll cram my star down my throat if I don't come to heel. *** The inquiry into the death of Mart Burdette provided no sensation. sending his men back to the ranch. Slippery was playing his cards close. and if they had sworn vengeance upon the slayer it was only to serve their own ends. With a word to the landlord. scowling faces showed no sign of grief.. But his muttered monologue showed that they still rankled : "Purdie'll ride me on a rail." he replied. "Mart bein' in the discard it follows yu an' me gotta talk things over an' settle what we're goin' to do.. Green didn't do it. "Gotta find Cal. a hoarse cackle which had no mirth in it. he had himself conducted him to the hiding-place. "Mart figured thataway. at which the foreman of the C P. He was beginning to regret that he had confided in the Circle B autocrat. Riley had searched. but so far without avail. but at the burial--which took place an hour later--King and Sim rode behind the body. Slype looked at his deputy and jerked a meaning thumb at the room they had just left. I won't interfere. "First thing. "Damn them all ! I'll make this town smell hell. in a burst of confidence." Slumped in his saddle. the Black Burdettes were not given to affection.He took no notice when they went out. though --he's the trump card. It took place in "The Lucky Chance" and was conducted by Slype.

an' that's a fact. an' don't yu forget it. he went in search of Green. "Leave me to handle 'em. well. "An' she'll belong to me--if she's lucky. How could he prevent it? He was himself a Bur-dette." he said. even those who hated his family would doubt his story." he said arrogantly. but he can't hold out much longer." "What about the girl--it'll belong to her." "How yu figurin' to deal with Lu?" The elder man laughed." Sim's eyes shone at the prospect. if we can swing it. "'Lo. "He lowered his voice when he told Sim that." Sudden grinned. it was true. There's somethin' I guess yu oughta hear." Sim rejoined. if less of his courage. If. an' the other half are believin' Riley's yarn that I pushed the ol' chap in the river. like the rest of 'em round here. in the ruckus. "Has Cal opened up yet?" "No. damn him. "I'm goin' to find out where he's hidden. he had gathered that some sinister plot was projected which." He dropped his voice. I s'pose half the fellas here think I've murdered him. he has the goods this time." he said. "I'm with yu all the way. they'll attack us. It was Luce Burdette." They went downstairs. boy. he had all the other'sgreed. Luce." King clapped a hand on his shoulder. The audacity of the scheme dazzled him. won't it?" Sim suggested. Green an' Purdie get rubbed out. but I wish them skirts warn't mixed up in it. like I reckoned. "Nobody sees me anyway. and the man who had been sitting with an ear glued to the wooden partition of the adjoining room straightened up and rolled a cigarette. I know the trick of it. "Don't have to hide. "Shore listens good. unless frustrated. suspected. would bring dire misfortune upon Nan Purdie. "But that'll turn the whole town agin us." "Yu ain't no piker. no one would listen to him. He met him coming out of the store." King said coolly. Sim listened with growing unease. an' we get the ranch." the foreman retorted. Having watched his brothers ride down the street." he expostulated. "She'll do what she's told. "I've knowed all along King's game was to make us jump first. unscrupulous man who had evolved it." "Don't tell us much--easy for a Burdette to do that. His only hope was in one man. it ain't nobody's fault.want to play for is a show-down. and spoke earnestly for some moments." his brother responded roughly." "Mebbe. and his face was a picture of perplexity. what do we care? Me. "So. adding with sinister intensity." He told his tale. an outcast from them. and Sudden's face grew grave. I never did hanker for a halo anyway. where yu been hidin' lately?" the foreman smiled. "Yu needn't to worry 'bout that. "Ownin' both the ranches--to say nothin' o' the mine--I'm sayin' Windy will take notice when a Burdette talks. they have got Cal?" Luce nodded. "To hell with the town. I've a hunch we'll trip over 'em. To visit the C P was to invite a bullet. `But how's he goin' to do it? Ain't yu got a guess?" The boy shook his head. and he had unbounded faith in the clever. "Shucks." "Yu think he really has somethin' to say?" "Shore. "It'll set the C P a-bilin'. Though he had not been able to hear all the conversation." King replied." . "I aim to be King in somethin' more than name." he agreed. but shamed. "I ain't begun to persuade him yet. but it's somethin' the town won't like. an' we'll have a good excuse for wipin' 'em out." came the bitter reply.

added. some four miles from the Circle B. "Yu can go plumb to hell. get him some place where they can't grab him." California snorted. "What's the use o' bein' obstinate? Yu'll get yore share. there was a small hole to admit light. "I never thought the ol' fossil had that much venom in his system. quick-shooting ruffians who made up the Circle B outfit. "Nig. As he said afterwards. he added." The foreman nodded. He had plenty to occupy his thoughts. I want the location o' that mine. Constructed of untrimmed logs. and on the thick carpet of pine-needles the horse paced noiselessly. The wisdom of this precaution was soon apparent. So that the shadows were lengthening when he slipped over the rim-rock and plunged into the pines which masked the outer slope. it consisted of one room only. in fact. He was in time to hear his brother's first words. and set out afoot. the gold's mine an' I'll have it--spite o' the Devil hisself. He was no longer making for his old home." "Shucks. and as he turned away. I'll play fair." Luce told him. selected a route which took him towards the northern wall of the valley. few of whom would care to stand out openly against the gang of ruthless. and fumbling with the lock was the eldest Burdette. As a boy the place had appealed to his curiosity." he cogitated. "Right or wrong." the old man said stubbornly. got into his saddle. In awestruck admiration Luce listened to the spate of outlandish oaths and scarifying insults. evidently he had not entirely wasted the long hours of his captivity. cracked voice the old man poured a stream of vituperation upon his unknown gaolers. old fool. Conscious that he was nearing the spot. he dismounted. And the C P could look for little help from the citizens of Windy. he had remembered the little hut in the pine forest. King Burdette was about to strike. "Cussin' won't get yu nowhere. and rode back to the C P. and when the visitor let out an oath of exasperation. It was like a stampede o' words. but for years he had not given it a thought. His father had built it. ready to talk yet?" Nearly starved. Outside the shack stood a big roan. had a great deal to say. All he knew was that it would be directed at the ranch for which he was now virtually responsible. a-jostlin' an' a-tumblin' over one another. and he had no knowledge which would enable him to anticipate the blow. tied Silver in a clump of brush. the sun's rays being powerless to penetrate the dense roof of foliage. an' they was bilin' hot too. his old bones cramped by his bonds and eyes aching for light--he was still blindfolded--California. headed for the Circle B ranch." "I'm startin' right now. but my share'll be the wrong kind o' metal--a slug o' lead. No sooner had he entered than the watcher ran lightly forward and crouched down at the back of the hut. and a door secured with a heavy padlock. The cool." the other urged. but for what purpose he had never learned. "Cussin' . quiet and aromatic tang of the trees. ol' hoss. he had come to the conclusion that his brother would not risk taking the prospector there. "If yu can find Cal before he talks. It was almost dark in the wood. Searching in his mind for a likely hiding-place. brought relief to both body and mind. but it was not quite what his visitor had come to hear. we're shorely goin' to be shy some sleep for a spell. owing to the necessity for keeping under cover--he had no wish to be seen by any of the Burdette riders. slipping like a shadow from trunk to trunk. His progress was slow." King Burdette waited till the prisoner paused for breath and then said sarcastically. "Yeah.He sobered again. "Take care o' Nan. In his high. there's allus fellas who wanta be on the winnin' side. he went on. for. thinking the matter over as he rode." Getting no reply. "Well." Chapter XVIII LUCE. that's goin' to put a crimp in their plans.

"That's on'y a taste o' what yu get to-morrow mornin'. The fastening presented a difficulty. California.." he quavered. "Go ahead with yore murderin'. yu won't git a yap out'n me. huh?" he said wonderingly." he croaked. "I'm givin' yu yore freedom. "Sounds good. The brute who had thrown him there gave one glance to make sure he still lived and went out.won't get yu nowhere." The younger man's face became that of a fiend." He got no reply. "Well. and still muttering threats. "Do yore damnedest--I ain't speakin'.. he snatched away the bandage. Where'd yu be then? Nobody else knows where the gold is." "Didn't yu tell Green?" Burdette asked. huh?" he stormed." he said. "Laugh yore fill now. and then. yore brother. and instantly cursed himself for a thoughtless fool. "Yu dasn't do it. his mind busy with the problem of how the Circle B autocrat could have nosed out his secret. "Kill the goose. Who may yu be?" The visitor made a quick decision. as he severed the old man's bonds. The prisoner. treat me rough an'. "Hangin' by yore thumbs. don't it?" King asked sneeringly. not a cent's wuth. "Yu damned ol' bone-rack. Weak for want of food and drink. and a spark of the old pioneer spirit which had enabled him to overcome the dangers of desert and wilderness flamed again in his breast. I passin my checks. "So yu ain't him?" he said softly. "I ain't scared a mite." The unspoken threat only produced a hoarse chuckle. Once he had told . and no one else--so far as he was aware--had even a suspicion. the old man sat huddled on the rough bench which was all the furniture the shack contained. He clamped his parched lips. Defiance flashed from his faded eyes. King Burdette. so yu won't tell." The prospector stretched his stiffened limbs and swore at the pain the movement ." "Yu oughta know that him an' me ain't likely to be workin' together." he grated. He sprang forward. still prone on the ground. like the damn fool in the storybook. yu won't. "Kinda fancied he warn't the crooked sort too. lay where he had fallen. It did." Luce shrugged his shoulders.. with a slow fire under yu. Green would certainly not have told him. "Makes a difference. hardly looked at him. but what's yore price? The Black Burdettes do nothin' for nothin'. I'm old. yu don't eat again till yu do.. clutched his captive by the throat. "Think yu'll have better luck than that hell-hound." the boy said. huh? Well. The abrupt change from darkness to light made the bound man blink. "I'll make yu speak if I have to flay yu alive." The gibe exhausted Burdette's patience. "I've come to turn yu loose. "King Burdette. shook him with savage ferocity and flung him to the floor. dazed and breathless from the rough handling. an' if yu ain't ready to come clean to-morrow mornin' . yu earth-worm." California peered at him suspiciously. an' there's no strings tied to it. Luce waited until he saw the roan and its rider vanish amidst the pines and then slipped round to the front of the hut. locking the door." California shook his head. Stepping forward. mebbe won't seem so humorsome. The prisoner straightened up suddenly. as he recognized the newcomer. "Yo're a grateful cuss. ain't yu?" he said. He knew that this was the end--he could expect no mercy from the Burdettes. but in a pile of rubbish he found a rusty iron bar with which he contrived to wrench out the staple." King went on.

"The next point is. The old man looked at him with sudden suspicion. poor atom. flung it open." he replied offhandedly." Luce replied. "but a fella don't like his things took. it would continue." He essayed a grin. his keyed-up nerves gave way when escape became possible. Never thought to thank a Burdette for anythin'. and his own troubles. I'm all right now. "They'll wonder how yu got clear. The elder brother unlocked the door. Anyways." Riding slowly along the winding trail down the mountain-side. When they reached the spot where Luce had left Silver. and for as much or more. that's one bad mark I've saved the Burdette family. attuned to the solitude. "Boy. "Hell blister their lousy hides." he raved. "Hell's flames. dusk had deepened into dark. "Old age must be creepin' up on me." Early morning found King and Sim Burdette dismounting outside the hut in the pine forest. "Ain't got a chaw o' tobacker. boy." he requested." he urged." The food and drink had put new energy into Cal's old but tough carcasse. and stars were peeping out of a velvety sky when they reached the hut on Old Stormy. "Someone musta trailed yu yestiddy. "Mebbe we ain't here long. Silver. The old man yelped when he saw the thick bacon sandwich. voicing the inevitability of death. had ceased to be. "Who the devil can have knowed he was here?" Sim's expression was ironical. the roar of the river rang in the boy's ears. and then paused in bewilderment. his plans were made. yo're savin' my life a second time. The boy shook himself and laughed. he's gone!" The strips of rawhide which had bound the prisoner caught his eye and he picked them up. saw the ravaged cache. it sounded like the rolling drums of a funeral march. after he. The burro raised its voice in welcome from the corral but otherwise the place was deserted. I can tackle this on the way. Silver making light of a double burden. Brave enough when his position appeared hopeless." he decided. "Clean cut." Luce having no better plan. a threat of impending danger. where I can rustle some grub an'--such-like. Then he staggered weakly to the door and peeped out. but I'm doin' it. "No good to nobody but me. I aim to be missin' a spell yet. had it not also been a blow for him he would not have been sorry to see his cocksure brother bested for once--that was the Burdette nature." he suggested. and strode in. where d'yu want to go? Yu'll have to lie mighty low or they'll nab yu again. there ain't but one key to that lock an' it's in King's pocket right now. and the flask of whisky which followed it made his eyes glisten. Anyways." he mumbled. "Let's beat it--that devil may come back for somethin'. There was nothing in the appearance of the place to warn them of the surprise in store. He had heard it often enough. an' the dust as well." "Which I'm shorely dumb--brought this a-purpose. "Come to yore senses yet. The prospector lit the stump of a candle. they've took it. "Oh. it ain't nothin' much. and bit into it like a famished dog. but we gotta do the best we can." he chuckled. or else I'm goin' loco. To his mind." he told his horse. S'long. ." They went out and Luce drove the staple back into its place. but to-night it seemed to convey an intangible menace. The sun had dropped over the rim of the world. they set out. For tens of thousands of years it had gone on. I done forgit when I eat last. "I knows a place to hide out. and his cunning brain was busy. I s'pose? It stays the stummick. and his tone implied carelessness. Luce stemmed the stream of profanity which followed by asking what he had lost.provoked. gloom. "but let's git. Cal?" he asked harshly. and he was in a twitter to be gone. and danced with rage. "Git me to my shack. an' I ain't forgettin' what yu done. He was stepping along spryly enough now.

if them C P hombres catch yu snoopin' round yu'll likely stop lead. "King. ain't yu?" sneered the other. Magee." Sim said grimly. Yu send that note off?" "Yeah." The younger man nodded agreement. and was wondering when the fur would begin to fly. If we can get the gold. Local gossip held that King Burdette was taking the passing of his brother far too quietly. "Knave would suit yu better. ye sweat it out 'fore ye know ye've had it. "Joinin' me?" The saloon-keeper shook his head. "Suits me. and began to pick his way through the pines in the direction of Old Stormy." he replied. saw him pass.. locked it.and then King said slowly. to see if I can get a line on him there. I'm for town. that of his father. crush an' tromp him in the dust. "Time that snake was stamped on." The customer accepted the excuse--he knew it was but that--with a gesture of . the fierceness of this outburst surprised the younger man. Hot. for an even bet. "Yu reckon one of 'em got Mart?" "I dunno--yet. openly blamed the C P for the killing. "I ain't lost any Purdies. material gain bulked greater in his eyes than mere revenge. "Our dear brother. dozing behind the bar. and the knowledge that Luce had brought it about added fuel to the fire of his wrath. as part of his policy. cruel lips shaped into an ugly grin. and pointed to the patch of sand in front of the door. "Howdy. Curious glances greeted him as he rode along the street. peeping through his window. "Where d'yu s'pose the mine is. What yu want I should do?" "We gotta search out Cal. swung into his saddle. "P'r'aps yu can tell who it was?" Sim nodded."Brainy. his mind was in a ferment of fury over the escape of the prisoner. "So it was Luce. his handsome features marred by a heavy frown." Instead of the explosion he expected there was a silence. Luce walks toed-in. Now d'yu understand?" Familiar as he was with King's savage humours. Take a look at his shack--there's just a chance he's been dumb enough to go back. His thin." King replied darkly. but if both could be attained . him an' his." he muttered. The place was empty. "I'll tell yu: around Stormy--on C P land." The object of this malignant criticism dismounted at "The Lucky Chance" and went in. ain't it?" Burdette began." Quietly as the words were spoken. save for the proprietor. The marshal. "That footprint looks mighty familiar to me. Much as he hated Purdie. like an Injun. we gotta find that cursed old fool again. "Meanwhile. "I've quit--waste o' good liquor. and set out for Windy. though mebbe yu won't be no more'n a two-spot when it comes to a show-down. why fuss about the C P?" His brother whirled on him. Sim's reference to Mart recalled another mysterious taking-off. he knew him to be a fair fighter who would face his man and scorn to take a mean advantage." he said." "Can't afford to do that--the fam'ly is gettin' considerable thinned out. Though he had not betrayed the fact. huh?" he gibed. and grimaced at his broad back. King.. I guess yo're goin' the wrong way to work. Hard-shelled and devoid of scruple himself. Though he had. an' if it warn't I'd still go after Purdie. Yu'Il need to watch out. King slammed the door of the hut. yu chump?" he asked." Sim told him. "But I don't like it. there was a deadly purpose in them. he did not actually believe it. huh? I shall have to deal with him. "Somethin' queer about that.

had she been a man he would have hit her. she saw his jaw tighten and the fingers of his right hand bunch up. Lavigne buried her face in her hands. Certainly the tears were there. though." The man glowed at her." she murmured. "The amusing part is that you should think it mattered to me." he returned callously." His brooding brows came together." he growled. are you?" Her apparent interest stung him. two miners wrangling over a game of seven-up representing the total. and then made his way to "The Plaza. "I am not. whatsa use? I ain't grievin'. And then he laughed. if yu play tricks on me. Burdette stayed a few moments longer. huh?" Burdette fleered. but there's a better reason. "Anythin' funny about Green shinin' up to Purdie's gal?" "No." The saloon-keeper pushed forward the bottle. "Mebbe yo're right. divined the evil in his mind. "I don't think he'd shoot a man from behind. "Seen anythin' o' that fella Green lately?" She shook her head. running a Western saloon in the bad old days was no job for a weakling. King's sallow face flushed at the open defiance. chatting casually. "Why not? He ain't no shinin' white angel. "Green's too busy runnin' around after Nan Purdie to give yu a thought." "Green's his friend. "Don't be childish." she said. and it roused her to retaliate." he gibed." "Mebbe Riley was right." she chided." Her defence of the puncher added to his anger. She knew he was meaning to hurt. but they were those of merriment. but I ain't takin' orders neither. The blow went home. but her twinkling eyes belied the statement. shoulders shaking convulsively. you'll be the death of me one day.indifference. "Oh." he told her." The effect of this assertion surprised him." the saloon-keeper retorted." he said. "S'pose yu know why yu haven't seen him?" he asked. casually." Burdette suggested slyly. it might be bad--for trade. "Yo're damn right I will. anxious to make the other talk." He waited to let the covert threat sink in." she replied. you men ! " she gasped. "His foreman. "yo're takin' one order anyways--I want another drink. "Shucks. "No call to go on the prod. "Mebbe he was not." he laughed. "I'd name that fella for a direct descindant o' Mister Ananias. ol'-timer. "An' the pair av thim is straight as a string. he knew quite well that the Circle B man would not forget the incident. sympathy in her dark eyes." "Takin' sides with the C P. King. "It sticks in me moind they've made away wid him. for Mrs. which ain't jist th' same thing. but he kept his temper." . For an instant he was deceived--he thought she was weeping--and then she peeped at him between her fingers." Here again customers were scarce. I'd say. "you are not suspecting him. but he was not deceived by this display of good nature. Yago saw Cal after Green had gone. Lu Lavigne stretched a hand across the bar. "Any news o' that miner who was missin'?" "Divil a whisper. and he struck back. But he was not scared. I'm so sorry--about Mart. "King. King. an' I've knowed Bill a consid'able whiles." the Irishman said. and then. "Better not spread the notion about though. my girl." Magee corrected." King persisted. "I'd like to meet the coyote what did it. "I expect he's afraid of you." Magee replied bluntly. "Suit yoreseif. "King.

added. restored his good humour. He was realizing that since the advent of Green the dominance of the Burdettes had seriously suffered.." he said shortly." he replied. "Then he'll know . "What's this talk in the town of Cal strikin' it good an' bein' held till he opens up?" "Ain't heard it." He swung away. and there was consternation in his voice. He cursed the citizens contemptuously. Lu?" She slanted a mischievous look at him." "Shucks. Inwardly he was wondering how a theory so near the truth had got abroad. and he thinks the old man is being kept prisoner somewhere. if your Majesty will excuse me." She bobbed an impudent curtsey and tripped away to serve the newcomers. as more customers came in.. King lingered a moment and then went out. "Point is." she smiled. "I was certainly meanin' to ask if yu'd heard any tidin's o' California?" "I haven't. take it I'm plain jealous. When yu goin' to pay that visit to the Circle B. yeah." Though she spoke casually. With a careless shrug he said: "Pretty far-fetched notion. an' they got the story pretty straight. well. "Yu know I think a lot o' yu. the man was aware that she was watching him." he threatened. I'll learn all your secrets then. promising himself that he would whip them to heel when his hour of triumph arrived." "Oh." King assured him. The marshal heard his story in silence. Sim reckons it was Luce--claims he recognized a footprint. Yu better keep tabs on him. and with a smile. "Whatever for?" "Goldy's idea is that Cal has struck it rich and is being held until he tells. My guess would be that the buzzards has picked the old boy's bones by now. "Damnation! Yu lost him. but others took no notice. anybody could use that shack." he said placatingly. Goldy Evans was in last night. "Well. and cursing Riley for a chatterbox. who's got him now? He ain't showed up in Windy. "What did you come to find out?" "I came to see yu. we gotta find the of devil." "Do that an' I'll have to keep yu there--a prisoner. Then he almost collided with Riley." the cowboy cried. and then said." Burdette informed him. "Wonder if he's double-crossin' yu?" The same suspicion had already occurred to the Circle B rider--it was what he would ." she teased. Riley waited until he saw him riding the eastern trail." the man replied. King Burdette had abundant self-control when he chose to exercise it. and schooled his features to indifference. Lu." King's eyebrows went up. and then. and when she emphatically shook her sleek head. I have." King said mendaciously." "He's got away. Some of the men greeted him. "Where is Cal?" Riley stared at him. "Want yu. and then dived into Slype's quarters." the cowboy lied stolidly. Yu been yappin'?" "Is it likely? My neck's long enough--I don't want it stretched none. "Think yu'd like it?" "I don't know--yet. an' he thinks it was Green put him there. "Now I've got to be busy.The tone and look which accompanied the words convinced him that he had made a fool of himself. "Aw. unwilling to let the man know too much. "Which it will be if this town learns the truth. strangely enough. which brought the scowl back to his face. "How in hell should I know? Yu took him off yoreself. and added a few particulars. "Some day--when you're not there. and.

Riley. was universally known. got the of mare back in the brush--Turkey said for me to borry her. as belonging to a lad who did odd jobs at the hotel. the world would have looked very good indeed had it not been for the shadow of the recent tragedy and the trouble likely to come of it. at any moment. "See yu go by an' took out after yu." "Turkey" was the name by which McTurk. The slanting rays of the sun were not yet too hot for comfort. and he knew his limitations. have you?" "No'm." he urged. Chapter XIX To Nan Purdie. "I was headin' for the ranch. "If yu find out anythin'. spicy with the odour of the pines. but he believed that. come to me. "But why were you going to the ranch?" Timmie's face opened in an expansive grin. "An' was havin' a rest--guess I dozed some"--rather sheepishly. but it was the kind that requires the odds to be slightly in its favour. he was choosing the lesser. the proprietor of Windy's one hotel." the boy explained. A shrill. I've brung this for yu. These blame' boots warn't made for runnin'--none whatever. loping along the trail to the valley. Nan divined the working of the youthful mind. not that he had any illusions regarding the honesty of the marshal. freckled face. She had not visited the spot since the day Luce had delivered her from his brother. of two rogues. Sabe?" Riley agreed." the boy added philosophically. "Why. he would never have dreamed of drawing a gun upon Whitey. Timmie. squirrels chattered. "My hunch is he was givin' me the goods. and a light breeze. "Quite right of you to give her a rest. but she was a good cow-hoss once. "She ain't much. "Hi. Birds twittered in the trees. become actively hostile. Riley had courage. treble voice from behind brought her back to realities. for the trodden-over boots into which the tops of his ragged pants were thrust had been originally the property of a grown man. For instance. an' we all gotta git old. with its tousled head of tow-coloured hair. and a man she sometimes met there. Her mind was dwelling on a certain glade. Speed was a matter of difficulty. I reckon. Yu an' me can put this through together. Somehow this morning the handsome. what has brought you into this neck o' the woods?" she smiled. Conscious as she was of the beauty around her--for she loved the land she lived in. stirred the foliage and dappled her pathway with moving patches of shade. debonair face of the eldest Burdette would intrude. "Someone has stole a march on him. The warm glow which filled her heart when she thought of Luce changed to a cold fear when her mind reverted to the other. and therefore the prospect of a "run in" with the slayer of the Circle B gunman aroused no enthusiasm in his breast." she told him. "Well. "King Burdette couldn't act straight if he wanted to. which he never does. Also." he said. shambling along the trail in pursuit of her came a boy of twelve. I'm a-goin' to sleep on that young fella's trail." The marshal nodded. darn my whiskers if I warn't near forgettin'." He dived into his one sound pocket and produced a somewhat .have done himself--but he shook his head. who might. and a tiny stream sang as it merrily danced down the hillside. he wanted the officer's protection against Green. an' likely enough it was Luce." "But you haven't walked. Miss Nan ! " She pulled up her pony and turned. insolent. and its many phases were a never-ending source of delight--yet she was not thinking of it. Nan recognized the broad.

Nan rode on and presently pulled out the mysterious missive. Then. "It's just a little present--something to buy cartridges with. He was going away--she would never see him again." For a moment the girl thought her heart had ceased to function. so that you can kill that thieving old coyote I've heard about. "Yessir--miss." A suspicion as to the identity of the sender fetched a warm flush to her cheeks. Timmie. despite her resistance." the girl explained. but then. Will you be at the old place to-morrow morning? Please come. and the suffocating folds of a blanket which was being drawn around her head. one glance told her no one was there. "Now." he protested manfully. Somewhat to his disappointment. a difficult proposition in a land where those lean grey prowlers of the night were prevalent. thus enabling her to reach the glade earlier than he might expect. saw that it bore her name and was marked "Private. She turned only to encounter a blackness which blotted out the sunshine.crumpled and soiled envelope. the effect of which the boy noted." he suggested.. and. and tied. open nature. Nan felt that she must see him. she remembered that no time had been specified. the money was bestowed where the letter had been. forced together. Timmie. In that instant she comprehended what this enemy of the Purdie family had come to mean to her. for the sum was more than he earned in a week. life without Luce was going to be harder than she had feared. So absorbed was she that a faint rustling of the bushes behind failed to attract her attention --until too late. the note inside appeared to be no more than a hurried scrawl. "She's as purty as a spotted pup. At the same moment her wrists were gripped. and now. It did not take her long to reach the place. and a sad little smile trembled upon her lips as she read and re-read it.. an' I bet I'll git that of pirut nex' time. and pulling a lock of hair--he had no hat--he went whistling cheerfully in search of the mare." he said. turning her pony's head in the direction of the glade. it was the nearest approach to a love-letter she had ever received. you must thank Mister McTurk for the trouble he has taken. and her feeling of disappointment frightened her. that such an act might be unmaidenly did not occur to her frank. in pencil. she .. I reckon I'm some lucky meetin' up with yu." Nan smiled. "Then I'll send one of the boys in with it. LuCE. she took out the note again. Hopeless as it all was. the man she had instantly thought of had never written to her.." For Timmie's mother was trying to raise chickens. "DEAR NAN. Seated upon the fallen tree. Also. "Turkey tol' me to give it when yu was alone. I don't want no pay doin' things for yu." The boy looked at the coin she slid into his hand. she knew that Luce cared. She did not know the writing.. she tucked the letter unopened into the pocket of her shirt-waist. I got to see you before I go." was his unspoken criticism. Trying to account for his absence. Impulsively she swung off the trail. "Shucks. Miss Nan. "Mebbe there's an answer. "That isn't pay. she too. studying it." The girl took the missive. I mean. Though he had never spoken of it. the writer could not have foreseen that his messenger would meet her on the way. I am leaving the country--can't stand it any longer. She decided to wait. The boy brightened up--this altered the case. Tremulously she tore upon the envelope.

His insolent. Nan came of a fighting stock--the daughter of a woman who had dared the dangers of the wilderness and fought Indians side by side with her man. appraising eyes travelled over her from head to foot. Miss Purdie. "I ain't aimin' to make a secret of it. honey. King Burdette! She recalled his threats and his hatred for her father. . raising and drawing her writhing form to his. subsided upon a seat of sorts." he snarled. Occasionally. indicated that they were travelling a new or little-used route. the youthful beauty of her features." she cried. if I decide to concede yu a ceremony. incredulous laugh moved him. and the disgust in voice and look roused a demon of rage in him. "You unspeakable beast. even though yu are a Purdie. it could be no other. "You must be mad.was dragged along the ground. Lifted down. "I'll make that good. "Do you imagine they'll believe that lie?" "Why not? Yu won't be able to tell 'em any different." he said carelessly." he replied. an' the fellas won't do a thing when they hear that yu came of yore own accord. "Yu said it." The girl faced him with stormy. lifted to the back of a horse. and that branches brushed against her body. o' course. clutching her round the waist. but the fact that her mount swished through long grass. but it shows how eager we were to have yu. and. "How long do you think you can keep me here without it being known. and then only in low tones so that words and voices were indistinguishable. One grain of comfort presented itself--her lover was not leaving the country. "Welcome to the Circle B. She had no means of ascertaining where she was being taken. slipped and slithered down stony declivities." he said." If he expected this outrageous insult to cow the girl he was woefully mistaken. up some stairs. but in yore case it may suit me. and that she had never been in greater danger. At length. She gathered that there were several in her escort. when a mis-step on the part of her steed caused her to sway in the saddle. however. includes yu. baited by a letter which was not from Luce. When yo're my wife Her scornful. "Just everythin' I want. which. triumphant face of King Burdette." she told him. "An' that. Then the blanket was removed and she looked into the grinning. but his face showed no sign of it. she was led into a building. "So far. undaunted eyes. Under that searching scrutiny Nan felt the hot blood flame in her cheeks. following a curt order. In that grip of steel she was well-nigh powerless." he said. Burdette nodded slowly as he continued : "That is. she could not know that beneath his cold exterior the man's heart was pounding with passion. He bowed mockingly. "The invite was a trifle pressin' mebbe. but they spoke little. was not of the breed to scare easily. o' course. the ride proved exhausting enough to the prisoner. following a gruff command." With the speed of a striking snake his arms shot out. it came to an end. With a sinking heart she divined that she had fallen into a trap. taking in the supple slimness of her rounded form." Her gesture was contemptuous. Who were the abductors? A sudden chill came over her as she remembered that only one man knew of their meetings in the glade. began to move. and what will the men in town do to you when they hear?" He smiled. weighing her up as he might have done a horse he contemplated buying. a hand gripped her arm. "What do you expect to gain by this outrage?" she asked. Nearly choked by the stifling folds of the blanket and wearied by the constant effort to stay in the saddle. it hasn't been my custom.

"Yu look a heap younger out here. forced them down. could become ice-cold and deadly in menace." she said. no man or woman ever struck King Burdette an' got away with it. fight. "Fight. Roses has thorns. the saddled pony. and she heard the key turn in the lock. Not until he reached her did she look up. copying his own slow drawl." The puncher grinned. "I reckon every livin' thing has to fight some way orother for existence. easy grace. I love yu for it. wiping away a little smear of red. I thought better of you. "That'll do--for now." he said. my beauty." he cried. It was her voice that had drawn the C P foreman from the trail. it ees my so brave deliverer of distressed damsels. senor." She held up a Spanish bayonet.but as the leering. on occasion." He went out. "An' Nature provides the weapons accordin'. supple young man with the spare. he flung her from him so violently that she staggered and fell." Sudden smiled. "But thees time." she decided. "That's the spirit. with its sheaf of creamy. "Has a tongue--an' it's a-plenty. and then she was prettily surprised. waxen blossoms. the girl covertly studying this long. and swung Nigger beside her. and she was helpless. She admired the careless confidence with which he sat his mount. lustful face neared her own she lifted her bound fists and brought them down full upon it. Then despair claimed her and for long she lay sobbing on the floor." she reproached." she said. and sat there smiling." he finished. "Doesn't look dangerous. Silence held them for a time." She pointed to a scratch on her slender wrist. "I don't think you are a bit nice. It made a charming picture. Then he laughed again. reins hanging . how ungallant. as her body went limp in his grasp." he told her. Senor." she cried. and the seated girl. but King Burdette only laughed in savage glee. "Why." "It's somethin' that yu thought of me a-tall. contentedly nibbling the grass." A quick snatch with his left hand imprisoned her wrists. "I think they're so--pure. and brought a tinge of colour into her softly-brown cheeks. reins trailing. but yu will. "As a punishment I shall inflict my company on you for a while. I don't give a damn for woman or hoss without some devil. letting the flowers fall. moving with a swift. the shadowy dell with its green carpet gaily spangled with flowers and slashed with golden light where the sunbeams penetrated the leafy branches overhead. "Yu have some right pretty blooms there. "Shore is. and set her pony moving. arranging a lap-full of blossoms and crooning an old Mexican love-song. and for a little he sat watching her. cats has claws" "And poor woman?" she queried. contentedly. his hands clenched convulsively. She stood up. Sick with horror. does it? Yet see what I got when I gathered it. before riding forward. "Yu ain't begun to pay for that yet. She expected he would kill her." he retorted." "I love flowers. "Li'l Miss Tenderfoot is shore learnin'. "But. bronzed face and smiling eyes which. and then. and regarded him in mock displeasure. my pony no run away. but that ain't no reason for the baby-talk. she felt his hot lips bruising her own. battling with the desire which turned his blood to liquid fire. His hand went to his face. For some seconds he stood over her." Before he could get down to help her she was in the saddle." he agreed. "to accuse a lady of speaking childishly.

He talked like a Texan too." he offered. curious to know something of his past. and again the red blood stained her cheeks." "Bill can have that. His eyes too were busy." "I had a good friend. "As a bathin'-pool the Sluice is certainly over-rated. The long stirrup-leathers. but there were times when his voice dropped to a low. indolent drawl. She knew he meant exactly that. "Shucks. and the . marries her and lives happy ever after. but she tried again. She rode well." she mused. "I can't understand how you ever got out. She could not repress a shudder. "What brought you here?" "A restless nature an' this black lump of iniquity I'm a-top of." he reproved.loosely. "I was raised in Texas an' used to ride 'Pache fashion. Watching her eyes. the slightest pressure of a knee seeming sufficient to guide the animal. and shivered. "The lady ain't liable to be in deadly peril. and his next words were spoken more to himself than to her. "This ain't no dime novel. which left the rider nearly standing. "I'm game to try anythin' once. The picture drew unrestrained merriment from her companion." she said. and then. reminding her of a man from Virginia whom she had known. "Yu don't have to. she could not place him. "I reckon this is more comfortable. Impatiently she shook her head. while the braided rawhide lariat and heavy Visaliatree'd. She saw that he was not to be drawn." Sudden said simply." he replied. good-humoured cowboy had suddenly become a grim. Some men would have left you there in the hope of getting your job. Though the words were spoken casually there was an under-current of feeling which carried conviction. "Yet you haven't known him long. his face grew hard as granite. He shot a sharp look at her. wondering if there was anything behind the remark. Again the conversation halted. "Yes. She was considering him." was his noncommittal reply. Lavigne put a blunt question. single-cinch saddle spoke eloquently of Texas. knees up. an' her affections unless I'm mistook--is already corralled." The mirth died out. As for the 'handsome stranger' "--he grinned joyously as he repeated the phrase--"he's got a job that'll keep him driftin' mebbe for years." In that single flash the girl saw a phase of him she had not suspected--the careless. Mister Yago." he answered lightly." was the calm reply. he had divined what was in her mind. wasn't it? I think it was fine of him. relentless instrument of vengeance. She caught one of his admiring glances. "I gotta find two men before I think of--one woman. it was no mere figure of speech. or anythin' else I got--there's no limit." he pointed out. The sardonic voice of the puncher recalled her straying thoughts. patting the neck of his mount. "What's been happenin' here?" They were passing through the glade which had been the scene of Nan's capture." she bantered. rescues her from deadly peril. but I ain't a hawg." Mrs. told of California. She spoke hastily: "I hope you haven't been swimming again?" The corners of his mouth puckered up. "The handsome stranger falls in love with his employer's daughter. I'm talkin' like a dime novel my own self. There was death in the chilled gaze--death for those two men." "I went to see it--a horrible place. his life even was included in the sweeping statement. her body swaying in rhythm with her pony's movements.

"I don't need help to kill a snake. she whirled her pony and trotted down the trail." he mused." Sudden said firmly." And since he very evidently meant it. I reckon." The rancher snorted his disbelief." "Slow down." And then. "This ain't my business." "I'm goin' along. had to admit that this was unusual. we don't know that Luce Burdette sent that note.foreman's keen eyes had at once noted the hoof-torn." "Nothin' could be more serious than my girl's carryin' on with one o' that crowd. but I'm thinkin' different. Then he picked up a crumpled scrap of paper--the note the girl had received. an' she knows the country. An inquiry for Nan elicited the fact that she had gone out early for her morning ride and had not returned for the mid-day meal. but they would scarcely have left the tell-tale note behind. and sat down to wait for his employer." she said. an' askin' her to meet him?" he stormed. I'll." Sudden said quietly. "Nan was raised here. "That skunk writin' to Nan. Lu Lavigne watched him wonderingly. Nig. "She mighta gone to town. Sudden sent Curly to Windy. on such occasions she always asked if supplies were needed. as he mounted again. In the bushes at the back of the fallen tree he found traces of waiting riders. "I'll have to see Purdie right away. "Happen her hoss has played out on her. climbed into the saddle. "Li'l Miss Tenderfoot can take care o' herself. Purple with passion. "No call for yu to come. "Hell. When he returned. "Somethin' queer 'bout this. we got no time for dreamin'. His gaze followed the trim form until it vanished amid the trees. but he's a white one. It was two hours later that Purdie came in and learned of his daughter's absence. and the dark eyes were a shade reproachful." the old man said savagely. "I'm real distressed I can't see yu on yore way. All the same. Jim. and sent his pony down the trail on a dead run. "Get me a hoss." the foreman suggested. "If Luce had anythin' to do with this business I'll not interfere. that boy may be a Burdette. argument would be useless. trampled grass near the prostrate tree." He reached the ranch-house only to find that Purdie was out on the range." he evaded. "Yu'd shore make a staunch one too." he remarked. partner. spun the cylinder to make sure it was in order." he said. He slid from his saddle to examine the marks more closely.. The trip to town was accomplished in silence. but asked no question. "You don't trust anyone overmuch. and there would have . Shake a bit o' life into them legs o' your'n. thereby raising herself in his estimation. but the kitchen autocrat negatived the notion. do you?" she said. Purdie." But his attitude altered abruptly when the foreman produced the scrap of paper and told how and when it had been found. The elder man was too full of anger to talk. He pulled out his gun. which had fallen unnoticed from her hand when she had been overpowered --and read it with knitted brow. "By God." The foreman saw that in the rancher's present state of mind. Purdie slammed one fist into another. I'm gettin' soft in the head. and said grimly. and the younger's mind was busy with the problem of what had happened in the glade. he found the cattleman striding up and down the verandah. Do yu reckon yu can find yore way back?" She looked at him. who supplied the information." he said. riding Nigger and leading another horse. she smiled and again mimicked his own speech. the cook.. "I've a hunch it's more serious than just a love affair. "Partner. With a wave of her hand. It was possible that Luce and the girl had cut the knot of their perplexities by running away together. but they told him nothing save that a struggle had taken place. At first he appeared little concerned.

Daylight had departed when they reached Windy." "Yu didn't write or send it?" Sudden persisted.. and told as much as they knew. "Well." Luce admitted. "Guess not. Burdette read it with widening eyes. that she could not marry a Burdette. an' I ain't seen him since. Outside the saloons. "See here." Purdie said. "Yu met her there afore?" "Two-three times--allus by chance. "Why should a writin' from yu fetch my gal to this place?" he asked. "He'd have put his hoss in the corral. it ain't. I'd give my life to keep her from harm. The foreman came to the point at once. "I wouldn't have the nerve anyway." "She told yu that?" "No. lighted the lamp in a small sitting-room. Luce?" he questioned. and the father's hard face grew grimmer and his fingers knotted into fists as he heard the story. thinks a lot o' that grey. can we have a word with yu--private?" The boy led the way upstairs." he said immediately. Even Purdie. The C P pair dismounted at the hotel and inquired for Luce." was the reply. an' it ain't there. an' that's why I couldn't pull on yu a piece back. his war-bags is in his room. From "The Plaza" came the tinkle of a guitar and the chorus of a cowboy ditty. "Think he's at 'The Lucky Chance'?" he asked." the foreman explained. I was present. "If young Burdette shows up --" "Who wants me?" a quiet voice asked. prejudiced though he was. But another aspect of the matter was rankling in the rancher's mind. listless face hardened when he saw the elder of the visitors. and then faced them. If Luce had not written the note. he does." McTurk informed them. bewilderment." He went on to describe what had taken place at his last meeting with Nan in the glade. or of hidden riders. we never had no love-talk. and placed the pencilled note before him. Purdie. "She never let out a word. "He rid out this mornin'. behind a cabin the dismal howl of a dog ended in a yelp of pain and a curse of content as some unseen sufferer hurled a rock successfully." he muttered. and then looked the old man squarely in the face." was the reply. but if yu think there's anythin' between us yo're insultin' her. rows of patient ponies announced that the usual evening entertainments had commenced. She once said. could not doubt his ignorance. What's it all mean?" "We're tryin' to find out. Sudden stepped forward. On the boy's face as he listened.been no indications of a struggle. his tired. "Is that yore writin'. and the town was a blur in which occasional blotches of pale light from a window here and there only served to accentuate the surrounding gloom. in my hearin'.." "We'll be back. I'm ownin' to bein' in love with yore daughter. "I did not. what is it now?" he asked wearily. suspicion and anger displayed themselves in turn. but whether she cares for me I dunno. "No. Things bein' as they are. "but it's a pretty fair imitation. "No." The rancher's face grew darker. "Warn't there trouble enough a'ready between yore family an' mine?" . "Luce. yu may as well hear it all. she said it to King. "Why should she?" Luce asked bitterly. Jim. The man they were seeking had just entered.

" he replied. "By heaven. "If Nan is harmed I'll send King Burdette to hell myself. "Yu gotta remember too that he has twenty men--trained fighters--an' he'll be expectin' yu. "I dunno. "I aim to get her out of it. "By the way." ." The glare he received left him unmoved. chin sunk in his chest. Once she's clear o' King's clutches"--he looked at the rancher--"Yu an' yore outfit can go ahead. "He dasn't harm her. The boy's eyes brightened at this grudging admission. "Who else?" the boy retorted. I found Cal--they had him cached in the pines to the north o' the Circle B. and when he spoke it was with the assurance of a man speaking to men. "Better keep all this to ourselves. and Sudden saw the rancher regarding the boy curiously. and whose reputation regarding women was of the worst. Purdie. "What damn business is it o' yores?" he asked harshly. the foreman essayed a word of comfort : "No need to worry about Miss Nan--yet." young Burdette said firmly. Jim. "My name has been used to get yore girl into a trap." he muttered." Chris Purdie stood up. "Mebbe I can find out where she is an' steal her away. In the last few moments he seemed to have sloughed his youth. "If yu think that yu don't know my brother. and his voice was cold. we'll go get the boys an' clean up the Circle B right now. What's goin' to happen to her if yu move against him?" The rancher's flushed face paled." he said. brother though he may be. an' to go up there in force would be just what he's hopin' for." he said. whether yu agree or not. he was evidently getting a new angle on this member of a hated family. 'Sides." he said. Presently he looked up." the young man pointed out. "I'll do it. Never until this moment had this dour frontier fighter known fear." Luce shook his head. "Said he had a hide-out where he'd be safe." young Burdette replied steadily. Riding back to the ranch. "He alone knew of our friendship--must 'a' seen us there one time. they got nothin' out of him. she's King Burdette's best bet. "Yu won't have to. One hideous fact blotted out everything else--his daughter was at the mercy of one who laughed at the laws of God and man. "While King has Miss Nan all the town can't help yu. passionless. "Yu don't s'pose he'd trust me. "Yo're overlookin' the fact that if King holds Miss Purdie he has yu hog-tied." "Where is he now?" Sudden asked. we don't want anythin' started that'll force King's hand till Luce has had his chance." "I'll get her or they'll get me." The old man sat thinking. an' he knows it. set with resolve." A hot gust of rage shattered his control. if he hurts a hair of her head I'll kill him. "If yu can bring Nan back I'll be willin' to believe there can be some good even in a Burdette.and turned to his employer. The cattleman scowled at him. Purdie." Luce told him. his lined features drawn and grey." the foreman added. do yu?" "Yu done a good job." the foreman said hearteningly. Luce?" "I know the Circle B. Luce'll fetch her back. he's got sand. an' he'd have some o' my writin' to copy. "Yu can't do that. that boy. and to the puncher." He smiled wryly. This must be the move he was talkin' about to Sim." was the grim reply. Got any plan."An' yore guess is that King has carried her off?" the foreman queried. the blow had hit him hard." "He's talkin' sense.

Chapter XX BREAKFAST in the C P bunkhouse on the following morning was not the usual cheerful function. . and. do yu fancy I wanta be under any obligation to one o' that breed?" he snapped.But this rubbed a raw place. yearned for action. after the manner of their kind. and relapsed into a moody silence. they guessed shrewdly. for the strange disappearance of their young mistress had a depressing effect on the riders. Jim. "Damnation. Though they did not know.

"What's come to the Old Man?" Curly said querulously." he returned. "Sooner occupy my mind with rattlers." Moody surmised." "I reckon yu'd be right at that. "If yu fellas had longer ears it'd be damned hard to tell yu from jackasses." Yago said contemptuously." "Is that why we're pointin' for his place?" "Yu've ringed the bell first rattle. hunched form of the man before him. Apparently the scrutiny pleased. "Slype ain't no dawg--not even a yaller one. and held up a hand to enjoin silence as a clink of iron against stone reached them. and said tersely. "We'll keep an eye on that jigger." Later. for he don't seem the long-sufferin' sort." Sudden conceded. Ramon." the foreman decided." The guess proved a good one." "Which is why we're goin'. cunning eyes were studying the diminutive. "What I weesh to say is ver' private. "He's a coyote." Yago joined in the laugh. and crawled to the edge of the ravine." he said pleasantly. they figure the Circle B has run on the rope a-plenty. had selected a roundabout route. "Shoot." Bill grinned. "Awright. tied his mount. centipedes. and sat down facing the man who had evidently been awaiting him. Curious to know who it could be. for a sly smile flickered across his face. "But what part's he playin' in this yer game?" "He's Burdette's dawg. "Mebbe he's meetin' somebody. "O' course. but the fact that the marshal." he said. as he and the foreman were riding for the northern rim of the valley. senor. A perfectly natural proceeding. dropped the reins. I'm beginning to have ideas 'bout that fella." "If yo're wantin' to see him it's odds yu won't. an' poison toads. a cigarette drooping from his thin lips." The Mexican appeared to be in no hurry. an' a cunnin' one. "What's yore notion." his foreman told him." If he was fishing for information the attempt failed dismally." Flatty informed the company. he ain't there much. he remarked casually : "The boys are spoilin' for a scrap. like they themselves. "Too lazy to ride in huh?" "Walls have ears. on'y burros has more brains. Sudden slid to the ground and stepped to the brush-fringed rim of the ravine along the side of which they were riding. seemed suspicious. for after less than a mile had been covered they heard the marshal utter a surly. . The marshal descended from his saddle. the man they had been speaking of was jog-trotting in the direction of his ranch. Bill was born later. Thirty feet below. yu sabe?" Slype pulled out a black cigar. draggin' me out here?" he growled. was the Mexican half-breed. lit up. his dark. The foreman's gesture was one of disagreement. "Howdy. the answer he got was a question : "What yu think o' the marshal?" "Don't think of him--nasty subject. yu chumps. "Odd too. "Solomon was the wisest man ever lived--up to his time." Ramon replied. "Ain't them Burdettes prodded him enough a'ready?" "Huh! Reckon it's Green holdin' him off." From the head of the table Yago grinned at the malcontents. to be petted or kicked at his master's pleasure. in the bed of the gully. "Yu'll get yore bit o' blood-lettin' yet." Promptly they dismounted. Squatting cross-legged on the ground.

"There's Purdie an' his outfit to be reckoned with first. ze C P ranch." he said with savage sarcasm." he explained. "Ze Circle B an' ze C P are ze lion an'" "I'm the coyote. "Now. huh?" This time he scored a bull. "Once I see two mountain lion fight over ze carcase of a deer. "Yu know where he go?" he went on. "Hell's bells! " the marshal exploded." In fact. He recognized that by this daring move Burdette had made himself master of the situation. but I shall. huh?" rasped the marshal. an' mebbe ze gol'-mine California deescover. where he been watchin'. palm outward. "It ees true. but Meester Slype play a beeger one. The sudden crumbling of his own cherished scheme brought a bitter curse to his lips. and he. "What the hell yu drivin' at?" the marshal snapped. . he vanish. a little smile of satisfaction on his sinister features. brooding over the astounding information. Slype. zey keel each other. and with a sneer. Yu know King Burdette have keednap Miss Purdie. though his eyes had gleamed wickedly at the epithet." Ramon pointed out. "P'raps yu can tell me where he is?" Ramon shook his head. "What does King expect to git by that?" "He get ze girl. "I t'ink I make it ver' plain. "Yu dirty" Ramon lifted a hand. The marshal sat silent. this was a man he could mould." the other said softly. she is at ze Circle B now. His informant nodded." The Mexican raised his shoulders. An' zen a coyote sleenk outa ze brush. senor?" he began." "King Burdette play ze beeg game. senor. "Merely a--how yu say--feeger of speech. senor. and his crew of cut-throats was strong enough to protect him. ze miner. an' when it was feenish both ze lion was dead. The owner of the two big ranches would practically rule the town. "Take a peep at what Slippery calls his face." Ramon replied. an' he get ze meat. "I'm damned if he don't look like a coyote. "Yu tryin' to be funny?" he growled. yu sabe. ze coyote did not keel Ol' Man Burdette. yu yeller dawg. in my leetle story. "Yeah." He saw the start of surprise. "King Burdette collared him an' somebody snaked him away. an' George Washington's dead they tell me. huh?" he asked slyly. "King holds ze girl. The marshal glared at him." whispered Yago." Slype retorted. and exulted inwardly. "I don't know--yet. It was one great battle. evil." The little parable produced an almost audible chuckle from the unsuspected listeners on the rock-rim above. The Mexican watched him narrowly." he said quietly." he said. the officer's snarling lips and savage little eyes were sufficiently animal-like to justify the companion. "Yu bin asleep the last two-three weeks?" Ramon was unperturbed. "I tell one leetle story. Si."Yu know California. the flash of fear in his listener's eyes. with Nan in his power he could dictate what terms he chose. the marshal sat up with a jolt. with an expression which gave the words an ugly significance." Slype argued. he was a little surprised to find that some of his news was not news. an' a poor specimen at that. staring unbelievingly. but he replied confidently enough. but lacking the usual dominant quality of the "Gringo. "Talk straight. would remain the nonentity he had always been.

The raw spirit put a little strength into the wounded man." Ramon replied. a gun in the right hand spat viciously--once. an' that was when to keep yore mouth shut. flung himself into the saddle. a spark of hatred shone in the glazing eyes. "An' make out it was ze work of ze C P. and the horses made the descent safely. "We'd oughta fetched skids.the chance shot had gone home. and then suddenly his arms fell apart. The deed itself caused him little uneasiness. a white man. he. "I dunno nothin' ahout it. As the marshal fled. and passed over a small flask of whisky." Sudden searched. Mart do that. was at the mercy of a "Greaser"--his own paid hand." A hundred yards further along they found a spot where the bank was less vertical. but wit' me. the killing had come like a clap of thunder. huh?" the marshal mimicked. and folded his arms. Ramon fell back with a bullet through his chest. twisting in agony on the sand. "An' yore price?" he asked. and the Mexican's body shuddered and was still. Upon the two spectators of the drama. the assassin scrambled to his feet and bent over his victim. Yu know why King shoot Kit Purdie an' try to peen ze deed on his brother Luce." Slype's crafty eyes narrowed. and took down the dying man's statement. He leant forward and the taunt vanished from his tone. Gasping for breath. when his foreman's eyebrows went up. "I t'ink King deescover Nan Purdie look kindly at hees brother an' he want her heemself. "One 'ting yu didn't savvy anyways. senor. and gripping the pencil in nerveless fingers. and though the slaying of a Mexican was no great matter. "Carry it in case o' snake-bite. "The marshal--do--this. The shots might have been heard. who. Shaking with passion." Ramon resumed. "My share to include--Nan Purdie. "Luce in hees way. he had no wish to be seen in the vicinity. Almos' yu help heem when yu nearly hang Luce for bushwhackin' Green." the Mexican said. Yago's hand went to his pistol. Mingled with his fear was a cold rage which was growing steadily stronger. ze game is too beeg for one man." For a long moment the marshal sat silent. found pencil and a fragment of paper. which they had already heard. "Water!" "This'll do him more good. "Mebbe the Greaser ain't cashed. mostly on their rumps. was making feeble efforts to reach his own weapon. Shall I tell yu who keel heem too?" The marshal shivered. my bronc has damn near rubbed his tail off. said. "Yu seem to know a hell of a lot. senor?" With an effort the marshal got control of himself. He opened his eyes when Yago raised his head and gasped. galloped up the gorge." he said. "We split ze profit two ways--feefty-feefty. and with never a backward glance. yu can win." Bill." he explained with a wink. Then a ." With trembling fingers he untied his horse. Ramon told his story. Then he fired again." he said sullenly." he muttered. When they reached the Mexican they found that Sud-den's surmise was correct--he was not yet dead. "Write--write --I put name. this fleering devil with the soft purring voice had him in his power. though it was obviously only a matter of moments. "I make it my beesness to know--everyt'ing. his explanation that the fellow had threatened him would be accepted. every word a conscious effort." was all he could find to say. and with it came a desire for vengeance. but his foreman stopped him. "I put my cards on ze table. He coolly continued. scrawled his signature." Bill complained. "Let the reptile go--we can get him any time. "Know every'ting.

but until the girl is back at the C P again. "Nothin'--yet." "Fightin' an' bitin'. satirical face. The marshal could vision him with his outfit riding headlong for the Circle B. Leaving his horse among the trees and carrying his lariat." Two hours later he was threading a thicket of live-oaks which masked the slope at the rear of the Circle B ranch-house. ." he continued. and said slowly. stood up. "I'd be like him--buzzard-meat. He struck the table fiercely. They caught a last whisper. damn him. "Oughta planted him. reloaded the empty chambers. as they rode south along the ravine. the "leetle story" might yet come true." the boy groaned. . senores. wrapped the corpse in a blanket. "Gracias. suggested fearful possibilities. scanning the building.. callous nature. with its mocking smile of triumph. but yu shore died fightin'. "Hell. He wanted to think. yu was a Greaser. "Saves us a journey. . the place was in darkness. He grinned devilishly. which was his objective. beads of cold sweat oozed from his brow when he thought of the danger he had been in." his friend decided. That might happen--or could be made to. he's on our side.. that far. and a shudder shook him as he recalled the stark still form he had left in the ravine. "An' he's kin to me." Sudden said." The marshal rode rapidly towards the town. corpses can't chatter.dreadful smile contorted his features and his head fell forward." Yago laid the dead man gently on the ground.." He drew his gun. Here he paused. and heaped rocks above to prevent a prowling coyote from disturbing the murdered man's last rest. not while I live. I reckon he knows now that them critters has got teeth." he croaked aloud. an' I'd sooner call yu `brother' than the vermin what put yore light out. The darkly handsome. Purdie would go up in the air when he heard about his daughter. Fortunately for his purpose the night was dark. "Coyote." "Sufferin' snakes. rose before him." With hands and knives they scooped out a shallow trench. he approached on foot." the foreman agreed. There would be a battle and Purdie would lose it--maybe his life as well. "No need to go snoopin' round Slype's place now. Ramon had said the mountain lions had slain each other." "Shore would. huh? Well. walking Indian-like on the balls of his feet and testing each step lest a cracking twig should betray him. if King knowed that Slippery bumped off his Ol' Man there'd be proceedin's. For the rest. fists clenched. "We'll let him play his hand a bit longer. . Adios.. King has us where the hair's short. and pulled his horse down to a steady lope. "I reckon he's earned a quiet grave. his heart filled with a bitter fury against the man who had done this thing. but presently he reached a strip of open ground where he would have to risk being seen. . If the Mexican had taken his tale to King Burdette . a marksman hidden in the brush." "What we goin' to do 'bout that jasper?" Bill inquired. eyes staring into vacancy. There was a lighted window just opposite to where he was crouching--the kitchen. I s'pose. Despite the blazing sun." The corners of his mouth came down in an ugly sneer as his mind reverted to the "leetle story" the dead man had used. It was a slow business. and coupled with this knowledge of King's cruel. If he's double-crossin' Burdette. "Well. Chapter XXI FOR a while after his visitors had gone Luce Burdette sat slumped in a chair. "He shan't have her. Perhaps King too. amigo.

"King'll sho'ly take the hide off'n my back if he knows. Pretty soon we light on a burned cabin an' two bodies. "Yo needn't to be. These things had hurt him." Luce told her.' " He bent forward so that he could see her face and said earnestly."Hell. `Brand an' throw him in de herd. "No." the old woman said. was alone. playing cards. found much to confirm it." "I was feared o' grievin' yo. Mammy. Yo ain't a Burdette.. when we was crossin' Injun country on de way hyar. Mis' Burdette figured dey was yo folks an' 'lowed she'd 'dopt yo." Still she hesitated. dat King. "Lawdy. "God! It makes me ashamed to know I'm a Burdette. who's in the house?" "Dey ain't nobody but me. Yo don' oughta be hyar. I dunno who she is--they done hustled me outa de way when she was fotched in. Mandy. calling her by the name he knew she liked him to use. looking back. "Dem King an' Sim done went out. it ain't like yu to lie to me. he'll make a Burdette one day. she peered out and then cautiously raised the sash. honey. an attitude he had put down to his age." she whispered tremulously. but he was not a Burdette.. for his brothers she had little but dread. "Good old Mammy. Now. Mammy. pulled two ways by affection for the lad before her and terror of his elder brother." she told him. his eyes shining. nor invited to join in those periodic mysterious expeditions from which the men returned weary with riding and sometimes wounded. "Are yu shore there is no one in the house but yoreself?" At this question Mandy recoiled and the whites of her eyes showed big. Nameless and of unknown origin he might be. but now he was glad. and. "I ain't goin' to be `cotched." The deep disgust and anguish in his voice made the old Negress look at him strangely. Father and brothers had always treated him with a sort of good-natured contempt. the old coloured cook. and yarning. As he had expected and hoped. . it's the grandest news I ever heard." To the boy the revelation and all it meant to him swept everything else from his mind. de damn li'l maverick. "Why. fifty yards distant. he massacree yo if he cotch you aroun'. I ain't out o' ma haid--I'm tellin' yo true. don't yo care . allus dere was a difference. and he could hear voices. and then. reached the window and looked in." the boy said. Mammy. At the thought of her he drew himself up. Ol' Man Burdette fin' yo cryin' in de brush--yo was 'bout knee-high to a jackrabbit. honey. "Say. the former triumphed. Light shone from the bunkhouse. and Nan . if yu'd on'y told me afore." she said huskily. The Ol' Man say.. Massa Luce. he sprinted across the shadowy space." "It's Nan Purdie. it cain't be yo. dey was white an' dat was all we--but I don' need to tell yo 'bout dem red devils. far as he could tell. as she read his expression.. A sudden decision firmed her face." There was a mingling of fear and affection in her voice --Luce had always been her favourite." she said. This was not the merry lighthearted lad to whom she had been a mother. Mammy. Long time back. Even after the Old Man's death he had not been admitted to the family's councils. mebbe dey is in de bunkhouse wid de boys.' But yo nevah did." he replied. "Dey's a gal locked up in yo ol' room. some of the outfit would be there. honey. ain't I tol' yo?" she quavered. He did not doubt the story. Familiar taps on the pane brought her waddling hurriedly. "Care?" he echoed. "Shore is. an' yo nevah was one. "Foh de Ian's sake. but Luce interrupted sternly : "Come clean.

Do yu reckon yu can walk?" "Yes. he thrust up the unlatched sash and whispered : "Miss Purdie--Nan. He struck a match. With feet braced against the wall. "Why. an' I'm not a Burdette. Luce paid out the rope slowly when he felt the girl's weight upon it. a handkerchief knotted over the lower part of her face. Fire." A muffled mumble was the answer. we'll go together." "I'd a thousand times sooner be that than a Black Burdette." Luce retorted passionately. huh?" he sneered. "Yu couldn't kill one o' yore own kin. "Yu ain't--hurt--any?" His voice shook as he asked the question. stealing along Until he stood beneath the window of his old room." "He ain't that. Then he retraced his way along the branch and in a moment was by her side. it shore was funny to see yu swaggerin' around. "No.. almost smiling as he recalled how often. and. warn me. "Nothin' to prevent yu?" he repeated. King Burdette was standing a few yards in front of them. a stout branch of which passed above the window. "Yu don't." the boy rasped. It was nearly ten feet above his head--for the Circle B ranch-house boasted two storeys--but he was prepared for that." said a hated voice. "Now. an' instead o' one admirer Miss Purdie'll have quite a number. one thumb hooked in his belt and a jeering grin on his face. of course. an' be damned to yu. "Yu ain't that. "Oh. puttin' on frills as one o' the family when allatime yu was on'y a nameless brat. "No time to explain now--we gotta hustle. as a boy. Kneeling upon the sill. and a lifted lantern drove away the darkness. "The door's locked. Your brother. "Stand outa the way or I'll send yu to hell pronto. King laughed again. shielding the light in his cupped hands that it might not show outside." The fiendish threat underlying the last words drove the blood from the rescuer's cheeks. A mocking laugh answered her.horrible man." Luce told her. He looked around and saw dark forms with levelled revolvers step from the shadows into the . and then an expression of joy drove the fear away." All went well. I gotta get Miss Purdie outa this. stretching her cramped limbs experimentally. The girl was seated on the bed--his bed once--her hands and feet tied. Dark as it was. there's a dozen guns coverin' yu right now.. yu couldn't know. so I'll have to let yu down from the window. "Luce--you?" she breathed. as his finger tightened on the trigger." she whispered. Close by stood a big cottonwood." Luce told her exultantly." he assured her." The elder man snarled a curse. and soon a whisper from below apprised him that she had landed safely. yu young fool. "Well. "Where do we go now?" she asked." he went on." "That's what I'm here for. "Only frightened of that. and slipped the loop of his rope beneath her armpits. "Found that out at last."Shore. Luce. She trembled as he removed the gag. "All yu gotta do is sit on the sill an' slide off. he soon found the familiar hand and footholds." He melted into the shadow of the building. he had done the same thing with no other object than to enter unknown to his fatherand brothers." he said. and in a few moments had swung himself along the branch. Like a flash Luce whipped out his gun and covered him. he began to climb the tree." came the retort. With great staring eyes she gazed at him. If you hear anythin'. take me from this dreadful place. thank God. as he severed the bonds. Hanging the lariat round his neck. The threatened man laughed. "I've warned yu that there's nothin' to prevent me shootin' yu down." she replied. Nan.

A different man this smiling. strangely enough. "So that's how the cards lie." He growled an order to his followers. be she princess or peasant." King said. The gibe sank in. He might have killed King. "I'm not afraid now. with her trim. "I'll be learnin' yu aplenty afore I'm through. my fine fella--it's the on'y one yu'll get. "Reckon I've on'y made things worse for yu. dear--never. honey. gaudily-coloured Navajo blankets and a fine grizzly pelt concealing the bareness of walls and floor. He was trapped." "That's a trick I taught yu. for. "Don't push on yore reins." Luce reminded him. "Unbuckle yore belt an' let it drop." King replied. and her tone was a caress. yu got me all wrong. "No. It was a pleasant place. low-voiced.lamp-light." She reached up and kissed the astonished boy full on the lips. an' Luce can have her for all I care. boy. Time comes I want a mistress for the C P yu know where I'll look. triumphantly. Nan. "I'll do that. * In her own little sitting-room at "The Plaza. was fully aware of the fact. an' then cut that damn tree down." Luce looked at his fellow-prisoner. it was in keeping with the cruel humour of the man.." he said miserably. The threat did not have the effect he expected--it only roused the girl's fighting spirit. as he complied with the order." The girl smiled bravely. King's face became a mask of malignity. and in case this coward means what he says . huh? Well. but he would lose his own life and leave Nan at the mercy of men who did not know the meaning of the word. "I'll never forget. King nodded. "Tie an' lock 'em up--apart. if the move he was now about to make proved successful. the game was won. it was fine of you to come. I'm a good teacher. Lu. He was speaking softly. "Shucks. Sim. but he repressed his rage and substituted a sneer: "Make the most of it. and was soon on the way to Windy. with all her independence. in this mood he could bend her to his will." "Better tell him good-bye." Lu Lavigne listened with growing astonishment while King Burdette outlined the situation. went to the corral for his horse. sweetness?" ." he hissed." "And I'm to help you to the C P ranch and--a wife?" she queried resentfully." He turned to his men. was not the least of the room's attractions. lounging easily in a chair." King mocked. Luce." the younger brother assured him. "Thank you. don't yu." "Yu needn't to worry--they'll be here. "When Purdie hands over the ranch he gets the girl back. persuasively. "I'm sorry." she said quietly.. Doubtless King had been watching for some such attempt--Luce knew Mandy would not betray him--and had enjoyed allowing it to almost succeed. tastefully furnished. He was in an exultant mood. Luce. and the visitor." she replied. and then. To have his taunt flung back in his face was more than Burdette had bargained for. The daintily-dressed girl. With a smothered groan he holstered his weapon. handsome fellow to the cynical." he concluded. Once more the hateful laugh rang out. "Learnin' sense." she whispered. I hold yu responsible till I come back. the rest'll be mine. Luce must be made to tell where the miner was hiding. things were going as he had planned--with one exception --the escape of California. yu won't be seein' him again. this was the King Burdette she feared. "All we gotta do is lay the hand down an' rake in the pot. ruthless devil she knew he could be. and. "Take 'em away. his bold eyes paying her the homage dear to the heart of every woman. on the centre table stood a great jar of flowers. deep eyes. shining head and wide.

" he explained. "Hey. he hadn't the sand to come himself an' sends a woman. The cattleman stopped and whirled. seated in a large chair. He looked at the lady." the messenger replied tonelessly. I get my girl back unharmed." Sudden nodded. Purdie?" he asked. "So Luce failed?" "King was watching. "Do yu reckon he'd dare do what he threatens to my daughter?" . wouldn't it?" she retorted. wooden face devoid of all expression. The only qualm she experienced was when she thought of the C P foreman. the sort yu might expect from such a dirty road-agent." he replied fiercely. the foreman strode to the ranch-house. though she told herself she was a fool to mix in the affair." Sudden did not reply at once. and Burdette had been at pains to fabricate a grievance against Chris Purdie." he rapped out. Moreover. "Yeah. and that she resolutely dismissed from her mind. "I have no part in King Burdette's business--he is merely a friend." The girl flushed. the Ol' Man's just bin aroun'--said for yu to go see him as soon as yu showed up. and convinced her that he was speaking the truth." Lu Lavigne shrugged her slim shoulders. an' in return. Purdie paused again in his perambulation. "An' if the paper ain't signed?" he said at last. he had told her plainly that women could have no part in his life. "Glad yu've come. and he could picture his unholy glee in thus playing cat and mouse with his captives. Because of it she consented to do his bidding. and on stepping into the living-room he saw the lady herself. He paused as the foreman entered." the rancher grimly agreed. and your daughter. he let them almost escape. "I'm to sign a paper that woman has fetched." Turning his horse over to Bill. and the fascination King Burdette had for her was still strong. The foreman judged it was time to put in a word: "Burdette makin' an offer. the magnitude and audacity of the demand staggered him." she protested. "Luce Burdette will die. who was pacing up and down in an obvious attempt to overcome his passion. it was a jest which would appeal to the elder Burdette. Chapter XXII WHEN Sudden and Yago returned to the C P in the early afternoon the cook came from the bunkhouse on the run. and then her attention went back to Purdie." "He was damn right too. "It would have helped your daughter so much. Even in this far-off corner of the earth a woman who ran a saloon could not hope to meet on equal terms the daughter of a big cattleman. makin' over my ranch an' cattle to him for value received. Jim. "That's my way o' treatin' vermin.The caressing tone and the ardent look which accompanied the words brought a flush to the girl's cheeks. Tied to the rail of the verandah was the pony Lu Lavigne rode." He waved a hand savagely at his guest. Jim. Nan Purdie lived on a different plane and theywere not even acquainted. "That's not true. Mister Purdie. He asked me to bring his message because he expected to be shot on sight if he showed himself here. that troubled her not at all. and growled. As to the morality of what King was attempting. "I'm bettin' suthin' has broke loose--he was lookin' as mad as a singed cat. in those days too often might was right. sitting there with a set. will want to. "One o' Burdette's creatures. "He can kill Luce an' welcome--it's on'y a Burdette less in the world an' all to the good. She greeted him with a cool nod. and his thoughts went straying.

" "How'd yu propose to get around it?" the rancher asked dully. Jim. an' that's final. "Yu can tell Burdette he'll have his answer in the mornin'. who appeared to be searching for something." Lu Lavigne smiled bitterly. "Nan Purdie is a superior being. an' it'll need sleepin' on. I ain't trustin' him as far as I could throw a steer." For a space no one spoke. but yu--don't. Lavigne's laugh was genuine. ain't yu?" The girl's manner was instantly hostile again. The girl's eyes were downcast. "I'm lookin' for that foreman yu was mentionin'." he said quizzically. "Shore looks thataway. sir." "Which means we ain't respectable. with a college education. "Yo're one o' the cards he don't hold at the moment." she murmured. His face." Purdie. "I'm a nasty little spitfire. Lavigne" --it was the first time he had used her name. It'll mean startin' life all over again--for every-thin' I got is in the ranch--but sooner that than hurt should come to Nan." she retorted. "Is there any way yu can help us. "I've gotta sign." Sudden told him." Then he added gravely. "No. he explained. and far too proud to look at the keeper of a drinking-saloon. "Ma'am." Sudden smiled." he said presently. ma'am?" She shook her head. "Do you really imagine King would let that interfere with his plans?" she asked. Why." Her voice took on a touch of acid. I'm thankin' yu. Why should I worry what happens to her? How should it concern me if you and King Burdette have a difference and he takes his own way of settling it?" The foreman was watching her. "I can do nothing. even your most respectable foreman will tell you that it wouldn't do at all. It won't be the first time I've been set afoot. quietly : "Possibly yu have a right to think like that." he . grey and haggard. Mister Purdie. "I take it all back. a wealthy father. "You should study your enemies better. "I figure it might have. "Has that anything to do with it?" she said icily. the speaker was watching Sudden. "But this ain't helpin' us. The disarming grin. drove the ill-humour from the girl's face and brought a look of contrition instead. scornful tirade ended. which brought tiny crinkles at the corners of his eyes." he said." The cattleman's harsh voice cut in : "Yo're a particular friend o' his. she is not a woman like myself. "And what would the town think? A most respectable citizen entertaining a dance-hall drab at his most respectable ranch in the absence of his most respectable daughter. The C P is another card Burdette don't hold--yet. and it brought the ghost of a smile to her lips--"says." he said slowly. "An' yu stand for that?" he asked. and under the steady scrutiny of those grey-blue eyes her own dropped. He turned to the messenger." The gibing. sign that paper an' yu fill his hand." the visitor said coldly. Then he spoke. who had thrown himself into a chair. "What is it to do with me?" "She's a woman--like yoreself." the rancher replied. glaring moodily at the ground. now looked up. was set with resolve. King Burdette holds all the cards. Noting her interested gaze. and the foreman appeared to be concerned only in the construction of a cigarette. "As Mrs. The old man glared at her. Who's to guarantee he'll keep his word? Me. s'pose we keep yu here?" Mrs."I am quite sure of it. he holds the cards. "but there's a kink in the rope that has to be straightened out first. Purdie. "That's what we gotta figure out.

but in a different way. If I can't get them." The knuckles of the rancher's clenched hands showed white beneath the tanned skin. gloomily fingering the document which would take away practically all he possessed and rob him of the result of his life's work. "You are taking a big risk. "He figures he's got us cinched." "An' I gotta sit here doin' nothin'?" Purdie grumbled. Spill yore plan." With a gesture of impatience. "I said `mebbe. he wants Miss Purdie hisself--which is one reason why he won't play fair. the face of one who could be crushed but never heaten while breath was in his body. but they gotta get away without anyone knowin'. Always this sardonic." he smiled." Sudden told him. are yu?" "He went there to save yore daughter. or yu wouldn't take the chance o' Burdette not waitin'. "You know Purdie will have to sign in the morning--there is no other way. she sent her pony clattering down the trail." Sudden reminded. But Chris Purdie had lived a life full of hard lessons and had learned to "take his medicine" without whining. tough as he was. but the very name o' Burdette is pizen to me. Yu got any friends yu can trust in town?" Purdie nodded. "Yu ain't goin' to bother about that Burdette fella. "I'm s'posin' yu got one. The owner of the C P was a fair-minded man. "Send 'em word to meet yu some place. grief-lined but determined. Sudden watched till she rounded the bend. Jim.said. Yu ain't said how yu propose to get 'em. but Luce has told us different." he grinned. He found Purdie hunched up at the table. "I'd sooner see her dead than tied to that spawn o' the Devil. Lu Lavigne went without a word and the foreman followed her." Sudden said confidently." "I reckon yo're right--mebbe." "I'm goin' to try Luce's trick." he agreed. with apparent irrelevance." he finished awkwardly. Jim." she urged.' Mrs." "He'll do that. following the loss of his son and the peril in which his daughter was placed.." "She's the on'y chance--the place'll be guarded. "I'm used to it. "Not any. "But that woman said " he began. round up the boys. "That's so. she disdained his proffered help and swung into her saddle. fixed for trouble. and opened the door leading to the verandah. So that it was a fighting face which greeted the foreman. Tell 'em to come. . The elder man rasped out an oath. with narrowed eyes and clamped jaw. but I was raised amongst redskins. "Well. I don't cotton to the notion o' yu bein' alone. "Takin' risks is the salt o' life--for a man." the foreman pointed out. what's the idea?" he asked. "Signin' that paper won't fetch Miss Purdie back. not afraid to admit when he was in the wrong.. near to breaking-point. yo're goin' to have one busy session. gravely-smiling man baffled her. "It'll mean Injun work. an' besides. "Yu are too nice a woman to be mixed up in a mess o' this sort." she said. before turning to re-enter the ranch-house. With a little shrug of despair. "But where's the sense in it? At the first sign of attack on the Circle B the girl--pays. Lavigne. "He's double-crossin' her--she's been persuaded that he's on'y usin' yore girl to get the ranch. Soon as I'm away." Then. had brought him. This." "Them?" interrupted the rancher brusquely. though it might save her somethin'. Jim. sorry I forgot. Not until she was standing beside her pony did she venture a protest.

"They'll be good. "King Burdette has shore got his gal." ." he assured. the prospect of action was meat and drink to him. Weapons were carefully overhauled. which elicited a wail from Levens. with his whimsical grin. knowing full well that he libelled his friend grossly. there'll be hell to pay an' no pitch hot." the foreman retorted. Bill followed. I'm a mite curious how yu aim to do it?" "Ain't got it worked out yet. "Any hombre yu throw down on has on'y gotta stand still to be safe. "That's my shirt yo're usin'. 'Sides. but in a different direction." A grim smile flitted across the cattleman's rugged features. if ungrammatical. "Don't yu worry 'bout that. For the Circle B had stepped into the open--the abduction of Nan Purdie tipped the balance--and the opportunity of paying for many months of stealthy aggression and studied insult had come at last. I'll want 'em all my own self." he supplemented. Yu gotta hold the boys back. but only the menace of their preparations betrayed the fact that the men were about to engage in an enterprise which might result fatally to some of their number. I don't know how long it will take me. but beneath the light banter there was a substratum of grim resolution. Flatty ducked sideways and got the missile in the neck. they think a heap o' Nan." "Yore idea would be to sit back an' let King Burdette take all the tricks. and for months the outfits had but waited the word to fly at one another's throats. "On'y proves what I said. huh?" he said. at which the thrower chuckled gleefully. "When yo're all set. They did not know the whole of the story--there was no need--the rancour between the two ranches was of long standing." he said pointedly. "Why didn't yu stay put." Yago departed with a snort of disgust. an' damn near as much o' yu. now. having first given orders which turned the hunkhouse into a hive of frenzied activity. "My idea is that two heads is better'n one." the foreman evaded." Flatty responded. if they start the ruckus too soon. To Bill Yago he was no more communicative. "Yeah. yu thief. grabbing the nearest article to dry himself.'specially the marshal." Moody's reply to this libel on his marksmanship took the form of a chunk of wet soap. I s'pose?" Sudden rejoined. "Them wagons yu walk on would make as much noise trampin' through the brush as a herd o' cattle. and the little man voiced his views plainly. an' at once. "Well. fella?" he gibed. That'll mean we're clear o' the house an' yu can start to clean up. His air of despondency had vanished and his eyes were shining." Flatty relinquished the box of cartridges of which he was about to take toll. "Goin' to take another fool chance. for he did not wish to dash Purdie's hopes with details of the desperate endeavour he had in mind. drop them shells. but it's a matter o' feet not heads. which will be a 'Pache war-cry--twice. the Ol' Man wants yu. Yu Babe?" The rancher nodded again. "Tell yu all about it later--mebbe. belts stuffed with ammunition. and when he returned Sudden had set out. Not one of them thought of this. fetch the men to the Circle B an' plant 'em in the brush to wait for the signal. "An' that's whatever. Get the prisoners in the open an' we'll give them Battle Butte bushwhackers somethin' else to occupy 'em. pronto." Moody said. but I figure yu won't get that signal till around daybreak." was the sage. "Hi. with a sly glance at the generous extremities of the grumbler. I'm admittin' that up to now yore luck shore has been amazin'--too damn good to last. reply.

he was perspiring freely. For the first time in his life he was in sole charge of the C P. but it grew steeper as he went on and soon. scratched by thorns and bruised by encounters with protruding rocks invisible in the gloom. lit a pipe and sat down. "Hope they bring back Miss Nan an' hang every thief at the Circle B. Moreover. and through a break in the trees Sudden could make out a huge black mass looming up ahead of them. he found himself in a blind alley which necessitated retracing his steps and trying again. But this he dared not use--it would certainly be watched. The appearance of their employer put an end to the joshing. "I feel like a blasted pincushion m'self. I feel like I'd been washed an' wrung out. guessing the reason." He dragged a chair to the door. he began to climb the scrub-covered slope. the success of his audacious attempt depending entirely on a surprise. Owing to the tardy appearance of scattered stars the light was a trifle better. I can't help yu." Well. who. a loaded shotgun across his knees. twisting. you must get out again. "Hell! Rustlin' grub ain't no job for a man. At long intervals they found open spaces across which they moved swiftly only to renew the battle with the brush on the other side. every man of the outfit save the cook. Slipping. He made good progress at first."Well. For another half-hour man and beast pursued their painful progress. "Soap won't hurt it none--time it saw some anyways. Picketing his horse in a grassy grove. boys." he told the world. huh?" he said. and decided that he was not far from the wagon road which slashed the face of the butte and formed the usual approach to the Circle B." was Curly's contribution. he at length reached a tiny shelf and flung himself down to rest." "Strip allus washes his shirt once a year." For what seemed like hours the weary struggle went on. Though the need for watchfulness was constant. an' we gotta be on hand when he wants us. but he soon discovered that he had underestimated the difficulties. He had calculated that this way of approach would take twice as long as the open trail. "Durn it. "If yu get into a mess. "Get a wiggle on. Something less than a mile from Windy. It was imperative he should not be seen. it did not make the picking of a path through dense thorny undergrowth easier. despite the chilly night air. for the rise was gentle. He felt his horse wince and quiver beneath him. and guessed they had reached the end of the valley. Sudden swung off to the left and began the task of finding a way through the brush and thicket-clad northern slope of the valley. "Thorn. watched till the darkness blotted them out. He tried to locate his position. and whether he could get out remained to be seen." the offender told him. Sudden's subconscious mind reverted to the man who was really responsible for his being there--that quiet little citizen with the compelling grey eyes which had twinkled when he said in all seriousness. "Jim may be through quicker'n he figured. "Hell. a'most wish I'd chanced the trail. he had to rely on his sense of direction." A few moments later they set out. from the bunkhouse door. The night was dark--no moon or stars in the black void overhead--and while he was grateful for that. heading in the direction he believed the ranch-house to lie. and he did not intend to be caught napping." he muttered. and as progress meant frequent twists and turns to avoid impassable obstacles there was danger of losing his way. for the twentieth time perhaps. hauling his body up by sheer strength. whether she needs it or not." he soliloquized. he was in a mess." he urged. I don't mind--much. "I'd give a month's pay . as.

a bottle of spirit on the table beside him. and King Burdette was there--alone. An acid voice cautioned him. peering and listening. Chapter XXIII "PuT 'em up. lifted his head cautiously and peeped in. Then. the puncher went upwards until he was conscious that the incline had almost ceased." He had no means of discovering the hour. keeping under cover of the growths which skirted the edge of the plateau. a dim shape. With unbelieving eyes he stared at the granite-hard face of the man he hated and whose presence there he could scarcely credit. Dropping down. cold-blooded killer." the visitor said grimly. Approaching from the side. His complaining voice reached him: "Damn this job. drawling voice had metamorphosed into a lean-faced. "Good for yu. squatting. the Circle B man appeared to be half asleep. One glance told him all he wanted to know. . and then to the lamp. Here the ascent was less abrupt and the carpet of pine-needles provided easy going. "Purdie an' the boys should be along soon. as the threatening gun-muzzle dropped an inch and he saw the thumb holding back the hammer relax. He had discarded his belt. he was facing the faint breeze. where again fortune favoured him. he must be nearing the plateau on which the Circle B was built. an' them rabbits in Windy don't have the guts to move. harsh command brought the dozing man to his senses like a dash of ice-cold water. Sudden crawled slowly forward. he felt an unaccustomed chill in the region of his spine. therefore the smoker must be ahead. a swift downward chop of the steel barrel. he pushed his hands above his head. Reclining in a big chair. Then a faint shaft of yellow light shone through the foliage." King Burdette knew it was no bluff--this man would have shot him down without hesitation. and notwithstanding his hardihood. apprising him that the end of his journey was at hand. he slipped over the rail of the verandah and creeping along in the shadow until he was beneath the lighted window. What's King scared of. evidently the sentinel was relieving his feelings by talking to the air. a fact the visitor noted with a grin of approval. gagged and hound him with his own neckerchief and belt." He flexed his aching muscles and the resultant pain produced a grunt. and the sentinel sagged senseless where he sat. The intruder smiled forbiddingly and continued his advance. Sudden dragged the fellow further into the gloom. feeling every foot of the ground in front before making a movement--the snapping of a tiny twig might mean ruin to his hopes. With an effort he flung off the feeling and regained something of his usual bravado." he commented softly." Another short burst of strenuous endeavour brought him to a patch of stunted pine. and himself for being caught without his weapons. he found it unfastened. Presently he could see the fellow. Gliding swiftly and silently from tree to tree. anyways? He's got the C P tied. the puncher with the sardonic smile and lazy. Inwardly he was cursing his men for letting the fellow pass. His eyes went to them. Burdette ! " The low. back against a tree and a rifle across his thighs. and then. made his way towards the ranch-house. "Yu were just one second away from hell when yu done that. For long moments he stood motionless in the deep shadow. When he was within two yards of the unsuspecting guard he rose to his feet and drew a gun. "Luck is shore runnin' my way. but calculated that it was well past midnight. A whiff of a familiar odour--burning tobacco--came to him." There was no reply. it was the living-room. which was hanging on the back of another chair some feet away. and cat-footed to the front door. "Sittin' here won't buy me nothin' --gotta keep movin'. Two silent strides.for a smoke.

unlocked and threw open a door." the puncher said. his subtle brain busily seeking a means of turning the tables on the man who had trapped him. and the man went away muttering." "Yu better hope they don't spot us. But he could see no chance." he hissed." His eyes narrowed when he saw her bound wrists. Sudden. head for the brush an' get Miss Nan as far from here as possible. save for old Mandy and the prisoners. his brothers and the outfit being either on guard or in the bunkhouse. They crossed the open space at the back of the ranch-house safely and were about to plunge into the undergrowth when fortune forsook them. flung him violently forward." Footsteps sounded outside. relaxed them again before the deadly menace of the warning. consoling himself with the thought that his men were watching every avenue of escape." he snapped. Stand up--slow--an' lead the way to Miss Purdie. "If anythin' breaks loose. "Send him on his way. trod on a loose stone. "Now we gotta collect yore brother. sitting with bent shoulders on the side of the bed."Yu couldn't make it. her eyes wide with fear when she saw the Circle B owner." Burdette. When he had been released. Luce. but to die uselessly was no part of his programme. "Nervy. "We'll go out the back way. "Come ahead. and then." Sudden said. an' welcome. Burdette turned a jeering face upon them. King had courage. So he nodded suddenly and stepped to the door. Any attempt to summon them meant instant death. furious at the ignominious part he was being forced to play. hastened to comply. and the threatening gun backed up the order. "My men has orders to shoot first an' inquire after. he was alone in the house." the visitor curtly commanded. "Everythin' all right. "Turn her loose. Instantly Burdette was upon him. and King. Boss?" asked a voice. I shan't. 'cause if they miss yu. he led the way upstairs. ain't yu?" he sneered." Sudden told him.. "Get to hell outa here. bound hand and foot. "An' now--what? Goin' to hold me here till one o' my men comes in?" "Yu better pray hard that don't happen--it'll be yore death-warrant. At their entrance she started up. "It's all right.. knowing that the shadow of death was very near to him at that moment." Sudden's voice assured her. if things don't go slick. who had tensed his muscles in readiness to thrust the table over and jump for his guns." They found the other prisoner in the next room. "What's the next bright move?" he asked." A streak of faint grey light on the eastern horizon heralded the birth of a new day." He handed one of the guns to the boy. an' mind this. In the dim light of the coming dawn they saw Nan Purdie. Well aware of the gun-barrel nudging his ribs. Miss Purdie. clutching his gun arm." King shouted. "Mister Burdette has had a change of heart--he's here to help yu. but the valley below the Butte was still a pool of blackness. this grim-faced gunman who had slain Whitey was definitely not a man to gamble with. For some seconds King hesitated. "Don't call that sneakin'. and . intent on watching their conductor. which. The fools might get clear of the house. "Seem' I got a use for yu that'd be a pity. Burdette. King emitted a savage snarl. don't think of nothin' else whatever. I'm hopin' yu will." he ordered. but"--the fell eagerness was evident--"I'd admire for yu to try. and Sudden slid behind the half-open door. He locked his hands behind his head and laughed. "Yu can have him. turning under his foot. he ain't worth the price of a rope. white-livered cur brother to me. yu will.

and pounding feet as the hands in the bunkhouse answered their employer's call. as he fell. he went doggedly on. and in a flash he remembered how he had escaped from that bear-hug which had so nearly proved fatal. but Luce knew that the terrific exertion was telling upon his companion. he closed his eyes. while it impeded also served to hide them. while the other squeezed his throat. but her panting breath and lagging steps were eloquent. one hand pinning down his gun. furious at the failure of his plans and the humiliation the puncher had put upon him. and with leaden legs. and swore as the foreman's fist caught him full in the face. and in dire need of a respite himself. and darted after the fugitives. the longer he could give the fugitives the better chance they had of evading pursuit in the tangled scrub.shouting lustily for his men. Half-choked. following a . with the primitive instinct of a cornered animal to die biting. "Take care o' the houn' till I come back. "Can't scare us with that old trick. Lacerated by thorns they had no time to avoid. Instantly. so. got yu good. he dragged her into the brush. She did not complain. Again Sudden struck. hopelessly. One deep breath of air was all the puncher dared allow himself. the pain in his throat was paralysing. a second. In that vice-like grip the foreman was unable to give the promised signal. and now knelt across his prostrate body. intent only on putting distance between themselves and their prison. Believing his man to be beaten. breaking a way through the dense vegetation which. the runaways scrambled on. Conscious that aid was coming for the other man and that he had only a few moments. Fiercely as he hated leaving their deliverer. trying to catch a jabbing fist. the boy obeyed. the man they had left behind was fighting for time as well as life. let his head fall back and his whole body slacken. bidding the girl follow him. and Burdette. King Burdette. they could hear a medley of yells. No sooner was it uttered than King was on him again. and then from his tortured throat the one-time dreaded Apache war-cry rang out--twice. They were only just in time. Mart's mighty arms were crushing him again. had to fling out his right hand to save himself from being thrown headlong. Sudden exerted himself to the utmost in an effort to break that murderous hold. Luce. blindly. In an odd way his failing senses carried him back to his battle with this man's brother. curses. With his free hand he struck feebly at his foe. "Got yu this time. for as they panted up the slope which sheltered the ranch-house. Burdette had dropped upon him. the foreman could not answer. digging his heels into the ground. "Get the girl away." King cried. Burdette relaxed a little of the pressure. and then it seemed to Sudden that the whole of Battle Butte had fallen upon him. Gripping Nan by the wrist. got caught by it himself and retired to spit out teeth and curses. Luce knew he must obey orders. run like hell!" Little as he liked it. From below they could hear someone thrashing through the brush in pursuit. he knew he could not get away. my friend. Mister Green. Even had he wished to. They had not got far--the steepness of the rise made speed impossible." he jeered. wondering how much longer his ribs would bear the terrible strain to which they were being subjected. the puncher knew he could not bear the intolerable pressure much longer. fought like a tiger-cat. Meanwhile. The hate-filled eyes and snarling lips told that the man on top knew it too. heedless of direction. for. taken by surprise. Sudden's unlucky slip had handicapped him almost hopelessly. The ruse succeeded." he panted. Sudden bucked like an outlaw pony. King Burdette. Suddenly ceasing to struggle. One went down with a gasp of agony as the foreman's heel landed in his stomach. Burdette's followers were joining in the tussle. his starved lungs aching for air. But Burdette was a powerful man and his mad rage doubled his strength. Sudden's voice rang out low and vibrant.

however. not far away. In a moment or so he was back again." Leaving the sentence unfinished. Cal. Cal. for in another moment their pursuers would be upon them... we've razzledazzled that triflin' relative o' yores this time. and the miner's bright. stooped to crawl along a narrow tunnel. The boy turned. hurried her towards it as King Burdette burst from the bushes. "Yu got us out of a tight place. stumbling. sir. but. "Yu gotta obey orders." he replied." the other cut in. saw a ghostly hand beckoning from the blackness. he was on his feet again." "Yo're right. And then the miracle happened. "They's a-fightin' down there. holding under the candle-light a chip of rock he had picked up from the floor. there's gold here. Following whispered instructions. Nan was on her feet again. "Reckon King has bit off more than he can chaw for once. Luce. It was too late to resume flight. unless. and behind him." he began." he said. "I'm guessin' the C P is takin' a hand in the game." he told them. One glance at the grimy. The boy looked uncomfortable. his shoulders shaking with malign mirth. "So yu ain't a Burdette. muffled explosions reached their ears. Luce. The boy's face grew hard. . "I'm sorry--to be--such a drag. "Ain't no `buts'. "Hey." A string of dull." a husky voice murmured. "So yore mine ain't on Ol' Stormy?" . son. When that foreman fella talks he sez somethin'. others. "King won't find us. They could hear him.. Why. son?" Luce was moving towards the exit. an' we're mighty glad to see yu. In a moment. an' it's hard to sit still when . "Didn't he tell yu to stay with the gal?" he asked. "Mebbe I can do somethin'" California shook a gnarled finger at him. Here the light of a solitary candle showed them that their deliverer was none other than the missing miner. to find themselves in a small cave. "Didn't figure on findin' me hyarabouts." she groaned wearily. they can't get behind us anyways. huh?" "Shore didn't. scored face told him the truth. "Don't yu worry. . squirrel-like eyes twinkled. he seated himself by the side of Nan on the shakedown of spruce-tops covered by a blanket." the old man chuckled as he saw their amazed expressions. at the foot of a steep wall of rock which shot up out of the verdure. and the old man dived into the tunnel. that's good hearin'. duck in here. and they were standing in the deeper shadow of a big bush which partly masked the wall of the cliff." he explained. Nan slipped and fell." The prospector read his thoughts. Cal." Luce replied. "Yes. "Yu knew?" he added. I've bin livin' here since yu took me outa that hut. Presently. but I owe him more'n yu know. someone had tripped and fallen.. "He. arter all? Well. What's in yore mind. "This is a good place to stand 'em off." he said excitedly. which was all the furniture the place could boast. and drew his pistol." The crackling noise of trampled twigs and branches was very near now and then came a louder crash and a rumbled oath." "Yu've been splendid. lots o' folk just make a noise. No. he. and seizing Nan by the wrist. cursing. gained ground on them rapidly. "Why.path already made and not hampered by a slower person who needed help at difficult places." was his comment. How come he's chasm' the pair o' yu?" The young man told the story. they squeezed through a jagged crevice in the rock wall. "I just can't go on. "I'm afraid they've got Green.

I dunno what he was aimin' to do . "Yo're goin' to be my pardner." Moody complained." "He ain't the chatterin' kind--didn't tell me neither--but I'm bettin' he'll make the grade.." She smiled teasingly." A cool little hand slid into his." "Day ain't broke yet. if the foreman failed. an' now I'm 'most sorry I've found it. The night air was cold. Purdie and his men used the regular trail until they were near the Circle B. He could understand the cattleman's anxiety. and they dared not smoke. afore." Purdie said heavily. Yessir. when they dismounted and approached on foot. coupled with the inaction. Out of a deeper blotch of blackness which they knew must be the ranch-house a lighted window gleamed like an eye. "The ruckus is still proceedin'." she said." he chuckled. who had slipped down to the entrance of the cave. "We've been here an hour." His employer grunted doubtfully." he told her tenderly. He coughed ostentatiously as he emerged into the light. "Like I told yu. "I'm glad you are to be rich. there ain't no `buts. they waited for the signal." he cackled in his high-pitched voice. Luce. though yu mightn't think it. "Not any. "Jim is our one hope. "This of gopher ain't so dumb as some o' yu reckons. and as the moments crawled sluggishly by.? This suggested a new angle." Bill said confidently. when they stood up. the front of the ranch-house was visible. "Damn this doin' nothin'--looks like things has gone wrong. wouldn't yu?" . Cal?" the boy bantered. Nan. "I didn't hear that I was included." Yago pointed out." "Yu know what I mean." he whispered.' I've spent all my life lookin' for the durn stuff." he grumbled. Cal. Split up into pairs.. "Been young myself once. . Purdie grew impatient. "S'pose we don't git that signal. came back. what then?" he asked. The miner shook his head knowingly." he said soberly. Somewhere an owl hooted dismally. . elsewhere was darkness. In a lesser degree some of the other men were feeling the same. "He. son. "We gotta fade--without firin' a shot--an' Burdette takes the C P. "It's going to mean a lot to us. the silence and suspense. Wouldn't King r'ar up if he knowed the gold he was tryin' to steal laid right under his nose?" "Ain't yu scared I'll tell. he. "I'd be the poorest man in the world without yu. Flatty and Moody. "We'll git the word all right. "Wish they'd start the damn dance--my toes is froze... won't have nothin' to live for. fooled yu too. "An' yu would pick a catclaw to camp in. an' I reckon we better stay put till we know who's goin' to win out. and at intervals a stealthy movement in the brush denoted a four-footed prowler in search of prey." Save that they kept well away from Windy. Waiting proved weary work. were telling on his nerves. "Yu'd think he'd lost a fortune 'stead o' findin' one." Luce looked at the girl in amused surprise. and he was still holding it when Cal. youth can rarely realize that achievement is not an unmixed blessing. if it hadn't bin for yu I'd likely be toastin' my toes where gold melts mighty quick. holed up together in a clump of brush from which. were also getting restive.The old man's face split into a grin." The protest was cut short. spread out in a line along the slope facing the ranch buildings and securely hidden in the scrub." "But.

quickly and emphatically. "Tally one for the C P. A movement in the scrub or a shadow near one of the shattered windows of the building instantly brought the questing lead. rimming the surrounding ridges with silver." Moody said. for the cover of the attacking force was woefully thin. and then toppled over. "I'm feared Jim has slipped up. and it soon became evident that Burdette's followers knew how to use a rifle. shattering the silence. boys. swore in sudden agony as a bullet zipped past. Then came a shout from the plateau. above the shouts and curses. an' he was a-runnin' too. The growing light would give them a greater advantage." he said gruffly. from the other side of the bush." was the unthankful retort. and they meant to put it over. Lights appeared." his friend replied complacently. That first volley had told them they had a job of work to do. Was that?" "Yeah. "Ain't that blasted day ever comin'?" "She shore is. an' don't forget this yer catclaw ain't bullet-proof. "Yu hit?" Getting no reply. he said a great deal. satisfied that his girl was no longer a prisoner he was determined to give the abductors a lesson they would not forget. but it had set the Circle B humming like a hornets' nest. ." They could not see what was happening on the plateau. Unable to see the enemy. tarantula--on'y a little 'un. and to cross the open plateau to rush the ranch-house would be little less than suicide. "Got any spiders yet?" he inquired."She's a good place. go to blazes. they fired at the flashes. racing for the ranch-house. Then. his topics comprising bloody-minded bandits. they had strict orders to wait for the signal." "On'y proves what I said. "No. "If he wants us he'll let us know. or yu will. "See that. no. he well knew Flatty's antipathy for that poisonous pest. furtively shifting a cramped limb. Bill?" "Stay put." Flatty retorted. and the bunkhouse came to life. "Afeard o' gettin' yore lily-white skin scratched." the marksman warned." Moody lied. and dark figures tumbled out in answer to the call of their leader. "Whatsa matter?" asked his companion." the little man advised. a door gaped. I'd sooner be bit. huh?" Moody's reply was a quiet but vigorous slap on his own thigh. once--twice--the eagerly-awaited signal rang out. but." Moody called out exultingly. . Flatty? I got him." "Aw. peering out cautiously in the hope of a second success. "Ain't dead. Moody. and jackass cow-punchers who . "If he'd stood still . he added anxiously. stopped suddenly. But the Circle B men had all gone to ground and were lying close. but keep under cover. "If yu feel a ticklin' shall I come an' pat yu?" he went on solicitously. although inwardly he was cursing the fact himself. "Can't we do nothin'. but the valley was still a sea of ink. Chris Purdie swore. From a dozen points along the slope vicious spits of flame stahbed the gloom. though it was against the grain. Behind the Butte a pale grey glow was spreading over the sky. are yu? Can't yu say somethin'?" Moody could and did. he did not know what to do. catclaw bushes as cover. "Let 'em have it. the firing on both sides slackened and became a matter of marksmanship. and chortled as he heard his friend's feet fidgeting. Purdie recognized this. One of them. "Gawd. The men in ambush watched in perplexity." Purdie cried. though. After the first furious fusillade. and before that unexpected hail of lead the Circle B riders fled for shelter.

his shoulder perforated. He was extracting further thorns from his epidermis. "The damn fool would take a risk--I done told him them hombres could shoot. Cursing. or Purdie would 'a' been forced to let up." Mandy said. Flatty gathered that the bullet had driven sundry thorns into his friend's cheek. a key turned in the lock. I heard yu the first time. but it was almost full daylight. she had an open clasp-knife in her hand." he said. dat King neah kill me for dis." . Sudden had heard the boy speak of her. as the mist cleared from his brain. His ruse succeeded. "Awright. he could only lie and wait. Sudden hoisted himself to his feet." came the reply. but his bonds would not permit this. the black cook. Incidentally. Sudden groaned." he reasoned. "We gotta get away from here plenty quick. the speaker paused. So far as he could remember. He wondered if the pair had got away? "Guess they made it. He understood--the cleaning up of the Circle B was in progress. "So it ain't really fallin' apart. and when the storm of words began again. He tried to get up. "Sounds like yu was a bit peeved. a ruined. listening to the intermittent crash of rifle-fire. and the noise came from without. A strange voice would frighten her away. which throbbed incessantly. Then. At the sight of the bound figure she started back in alarm. yo dah?" asked a low. he was in the room from which he had rescued Nan Purdie." the puncher explained. He listened spellbound until. "Solly's got his--plumb through the throat. "Why didn't Burdette bump me off at once? Aims to use me to bargain with. but she stooped and hacked through the thongs on wrists and ankles. A woman--it could only be Mandy. Moody did not reply. I reckon he would like for yu to cut me loose. the weapon was jerked from his tingling fingers. useless thing. Luce has told me of yu. one hand feeling gingerly at the back of his head." For some time he lay there. but no blood. mebbe. her eyes big with terror. and grinned. "I'm figurin' he's got his hands middlin' full just now." he said. Noiselessly they stole down the stairs. He found a noble bump. and when he poked his rifle out to reply to this scandalous onslaught. he recognized that though his head throbbed with pain." Flatty chuckled. "Yu must be Mandy. Presently his quick ear caught the sound of a stealthy step outside the door. As they passed the door of the living-room a choking cry and a curse announced that a bullet had found a billet. "Guess if we ain't got him he's discouraged a whole lot. and the fight must have been on for some time. The frequent crack of a rifle and the thud of striking lead told that the battle was not yet over. Chapter XXIV SUDDEN'S first conscious thought was that someone was banging his head on the floor and causing a cracking kind of explosion each time.selected them as such. whereupon the pair of them directed an unceasing stream of lead at the window. quavering voice. A voice called a hoarse question." "End upstairs window to the left." the foreman assured her. "Yo don't be Massa Luce. from sheer lack of breath." "Yassuh. Where did that jasper fire from? Let's argue with him." Moody growled. Were they coming to finish him off? "Massa Luce. "I'm his friend--I came here to help him an' got catched myself. he went in search of a bandage and a safer position. if things go against him. The man crouching behind it had his hat snatched from his head." she said. and the painful process moved him to speech again--vitriolic speech. weak and tottery." She was shaking with fear. He did not know the hour. and the Negress entered. he was alone.

I'll hang the skunk who did that with my own hands!" With the spring of a panther. "Hey.. I suah will do jus' dat.. For a long ten minutes. The fatal shot had been fired but a bare dozen yards from where he was standing." the cattleman called out. He had seen the sun glinting on the gun-barrel without a suspicion of what was to follow. vanish in the thick brush. "The marshal. when he spoke. and he arrived only in time to see the killer. and a voice called out. he said. Purdie. the slanting rays of the early suntrickled through the trees. an' if Burdette's sort ." he mused. arms swinging. sagging limply. Around him birds were chirping. Sudden headed for the scene of the conflict. Mandy. hawg-tied upstairs. sneering face. "Another killer. with its shining armour of spines. a wisp of smoke still curling from the muzzle of his weapon." he ejaculated. a stick with a soiled white rag tied to it was thrust from a shattered window. "What the devil. "Reckon yo're safe now. a tiny rivulet bubbled with mirth as he stepped across it. dominant note characteristic of the Black Burdettes. I had nothin' to do with it. King had no fear of heing outflanked--darted across the cleared space and plunged into the welcome shelter of the trees. That's--" Somewhere in the scrub a rifle barked." came the rancher's reply. Sim Burdette stepped into view. Turning helplessly to Yago. had the harsh. head down." he said. forced him to circle round. sat down to await whatever the gods might send." Savagely he struck down the white flag and slowly bore his burden back into the building. so've we. and with the fatalistic resignation of her race. and the slim figure on the verandah staggered as from a blow and fell forward across the rail. A howl of rage came from the ranch-house. He carried no gun. Well. "But he's gotta live. There was a smear of blood on his dark.?" . Sudden led the way. lifted the body of his brother. "Do yore damnedest." she replied. we'll take care o' yu. Green. and his lips set in a wry smile as he reflected that only a few hundred yards away men were striving to slay their kind. "We've got yore foreman. yu've signed Green's death-warrant.. Sudden stared. yu dirty coward. twisting and turning in the densest of the scrub. "What in hell am I to do?" The appalling tragedy had produced a paralysing effect on all save two of the spectators. and then he paused. "I'd 'a' give my right hand sooner than it should 'a' happened. and above it the voice of Chris Purdie rang out: "Who fired? By God." Which sage conclusion brought him to a little rise from whence he could see the ranch-house verandah. I got somethin' to say. "Wait here till the firin' stops an' then come in.. and his voice. One of these was the assassin. Sudden himself. The foul deed stirred him to instant action. "Purdie. Far up in the sky a great hawk swept in a wide circle.They found the back door unguarded--with the steep Butte behind him. Shucks! Mebbe it's hard to justify. "If yu wanta see him again--alive--yu better call this fight off right now." A jeering laugh was the only answer he received. and shook a furious fist. Yu willin' to listen?" "Speak yore piece." he began. "King. and he hurried towards the spot. King Burdette leapt through the window." he shouted. and there was much of his elder brother's jaunty impudence in his attitude as he rested his hands on the verandah rail and coolly faced the foes he could not see. but it's gotta be did. "Yassuh. and the other. Even as he looked. A natural hedge of prickly pear.

As King raced up the stairs the firing outside recommenced. "That black bitch has turned him loose." Meanwhile. this fella." Purdie was hardly listening. for the lynx-eyed marksmen in the brush allowed no movement to escape their attention. He shouted a scornful gibe: "Shoot. a perfect hail of lead spattering the building. tell the boys to give 'em hell." "So yu fetched the marshal along after all. it was of more immediate importance to let Purdie know he was at liberty." he stormed. in the Circle B ranch-house. he said grimly. smoke-grimed faces they waited for their leader's orders. and he began to remember that if he was beaten now. "Burdette is four-flushin'. had he laid hands on Mandy then he would have killed her. Yago slapped his back." "The cowardly coyote. an' he figured it would mean my finish--which it shorely would if I'd waited.. "I'll.. "The card he thinks he has up his sleeve is here." the foreman told him." he said." The effect of his arrival was ludicrous. Purdie. Bill. The rancher's face clouded for a moment. kicking the kitchen furniture to kindling wood and smashing everything within reach. All he could say was. the fit passed." but his hand-clasp spoke volumes. King was also getting a surprise.He did not pursue the man. "He wanted the ruckus to go on. two had slight wounds. Having laid his brother's body on a form. His violence served its purpose. They knew they were fighting a losing battle. an' I will. yu won't save him thataway. it was Slype who shot Sim Burdette." Purdie wiped beads of cold sweat from his brow. his mind was puzzling over what he had just heard. and then." the foreman pointed out. .. "He don't like me a lot. he strode from the room. I'm damned glad to see yu. He had control of himself again when he re-entered the big room. his handsome face distorted to that of a devil. Mister Green. Only when he had vanished did one of them speak: "Good-bye. "I said I'd hang the cur. Then he saw the thongs lying on the floor and snatched them up. only to find that she too had gone. Looking round. to-morrow was another day.. and of these. and turned triumphantly to his employer. One look told him they had been cut. "Got as many lives as a cat. swore in sheer delight." he muttered." Mad with rage and disappointment." Purdie growled. Yu can call his bluff. "Jim. "I certainly did not--gave particular orders to prevent his knowin'. "But he's a Burdette man hisself." Sudden remarked. reckless. and he guessed the truth. His men watched him in stern silence. and added an ugly laugh. "When we've cleaned up here there's another mess waitin' in Windy. "An' Nan?" "Safe somewheres with Luce." he said quietly. To approach the windows meant death or disablement. he sprang down the stairs in search of the Negress. If he'd downed me now ." Sudden told him. "Then we can finish the job. "Can't see why he should kill Sim." "Slype?" ejaculated the rancher. For a few moments he went berserk." On the threshold of the room into which Sudden had been thrown he paused in bewilderment. yu fools." "There's depths to that fella yu ain't plumbed yet. he saw that eight men only were left on their legs. star an' all. He hurried along the slope and appeared on the scene just as the rancher asked his despairing question. "Didn't I tell yu he'd make it?" he crowed." "Somebody's got a loose tongue. With hard. as he realized what the news meant.

"Green's gone, boys, an' the jig's up," King said curtly. "No sense in stayin' here to be wiped out. We can beat it up the Butte--there's hosses in the corral at the top an' some cattle we can take along. They needn't know we've vamoosed till we're well on our way, an' I guess they won't follow. Anyhody got other ideas?" "Reckon yo're right, King," one of them said. "We lose this time, but we can allus come back." "Yo're shoutin', Dandy," Burdette said darkly. "I aim to come back; don't doubt it." Their preparations did not take long, and soon, one by one, they crossed the cleared space at the rear of the ranch-house and disappeared in the undergrowth. King was the last to leave, his set face showing no sign of the raging fire which burned within him. The shots from the slope became less frequent and presently ceased altogether when the attackers realized that no response was coming from the battered building. Silence ensued for a time, and then Strip Levens, who had been creeping nearer and nearer, suddenly made a dash for the verandah. One look confirmed what he had suspected. "Come ahead, fellas," he yelled. "They've skedaddled." The place presented a picture of death and destruction. Glass had disappeared from the windows and the frames hung in fragments. The walls of the living-room were scored and pitted by bullets, and on the floor were the huddled, twisted forms of the fallen. Yago counted them. "Five, includin' Sim, an' the two outside who dropped at the first rattle," he said. "Must be some more upstairs." There were four, and one of them, a craggy-faced fellow of over forty, stirred as Yago bent over him and regarded the C P man maliciously. "Too late, ol'-timer," he said. "Where's King an' the rest?" yago asked. "Half-way to Windy by now," the man lied loyally. "Half-way to hell," Bill retorted. "Same--thing," the fellow gasped. His head fell back and his lower jaw dropped in what appeared to be a ghastly grin at his last grim joke. Yago straightened the body out. "Yu had yore own notions o' livin', hombre, but yu shore knowed how to die," was his comment. He joined Purdie and the foreman in front of the ranchhouse and made his report. "Seven or eight, of 'em musta got away," he concluded. "Hey, boss, look who's comin'." His excited cry was drowned in a whoop of delight from other members of the outfit as their young mistress came running across the plateau to fling herself into her father's arms. She was followed by Luce, and Mandy, whom they had found sitting stolidly where Sudden had left her. "Gosh, girl, but it's good to have yu back, safe an' sound," Purdie said, when he had heard her story. "As for yu, Jim, I'll never be able to pay what I owe yu. If I'd 'a' knowed yu was goin' to hold up that thievin' devil single-handed ..." "Shucks! Forget it, Purdie," the foreman smiled. "Not while I got breath in my body," the rancher returned warmly. His eyes went to Luce. "I never thought the day would come when I'd thank a Burdette for any-thin', but I guess I gotta," he added, slowly putting out a hand. From the shelter of her father's shoulder Nan laughed shyly. "Hurts your pride, daddy mine, doesn't it?" she whispered. "But it need not--Luce is no more a Burdette than you are." "What do yu mean, girl?" he asked. Nan told the news, and Mandy, with many nods, confirmed it. Purdie looked at Luce

again, and saw what blind prejudice had prevented him from recognizing before: this red-headed, open-faced boy, who did not in any way resemble the Black Burdettes, could not have treacherously slain his son. Chris Purdie was a white man; his hand came out readily enough now. "I'm right glad, Luce," he said simply, and meant it. "I've had some hard thoughts about yu, but I'm hopin' yu'll forget it." The boy gripped the extended hand. "That's done a'ready," he said. "The way things looked, I couldn't blame yu." Purdie gazed round. "Seems I gotta thank Mandy too," he went on. "An' that of scamp, Cal, an' all the boys. Reckon I'll have to sell the C P to meet my ohligations." He grinned hugely; the recovery of his daughter and the paying of an old score had put him in great good humour. "I'm bettin' we've seen the last o' King Burdette." "Yu'd lose, Purdie," Sudden said quietly. A little later, Yago called the foreman aside. "Thought yu'd like to know I found a .38 rifle an' fodder cached in a cupboard in King's bedroom," he said. "Sorta bears out Ramon's story, don't it?" "Shore does," Sudden agreed. "Don't tell nobody else; we got trouble enough ahead without gettin' Purdie on the rampage again." "What d'yu reckon King'll come back for?" yago asked. "To do yu a good turn, Bill," Sudden said, and smiled at his friend's puzzled expression. "Yeah, he's goin' to try an' make yu foreman o' the C P." The little man understood, and his comment was vivid. Chapter XXV SAM SLYPE sat in his office, teeth clamped on a black cigar, brows knitted in thought. It was a blazing afternoon and the street outside was deserted. Two days had passed since the fight at Battle Butte and the excitement had to some extent died down. Save to the more lawless element, the crushing of the Circle B had brought satisfaction--Windy had long resented the arrogance and domination of the Burdettes and their riders. The marshal's own position had been delicate, but he flattered himself that he had adopted the right attitude. While, in deference to his office, he deprecated Purdie's appeal to force, he was careful to also make it clear that, in abducting the girl, King had placed himself outside the pale. He smiled sourly as he remembered that these sentiments had met with general approval as being those of a fair-minded man who held a public position. But the marshal was by no means satisfied. The Burdettes were shattered, and this he had longed and schemed for, but Green remained. For he both hated and feared this capable young man who, drifting casually into the town, had at once began to make his presence felt. When, following an overheard remark, he had trailed the attackers to the Circle B, it had been in the hope of a furtive shot which would pass unnoticed. It might have been King, Green, or Purdie; it chanced to be Sim, who died because he was a Bur-dette, and, as the slayer had argued, his death would infallibly bring about that of the C P foreman. It was this disappointment over which he was brooding. "Cuss the crooked luck," he muttered aloud. "Conscience troublin' yu, Slippery?" asked a cool, amused voice. It was King Burdette, and the marshal was aware of an inner icy chill which nearly stopped the beating of his heart. So absorbed had he been in his meditations that he had not heard the door open. Before his bulging eyes pale phantoms of the Burdettes he had so foully murdered seemed to stand beside this one and gibber at him. One thought obsessed him--had King learned

the truth? He was smiling, but he was of the type who smiled as they strike. "Anybody'd think yu weren't pleased to see me," the visitor went on, leaning lazily against the closed door. The marshal collected his scattered wits. "I was thinkin' o' yu right when yu walked in, King," he stammered. "Grievin', huh? The town don't appear to be mournin' none." "Yore friends is sorry." "But bein' in the minority an' wise men--as my friends would be--they're doin' the Br'er Rabbit act an' layin' low; oughtn't to blame 'em for that, I s'pose. What action yu takin', Sam?" The unexpected question gave the officer a nasty jar. "Me?" he cried, and his amazement was real enough. "What can I do?" Burdette surveyed him with very evident disgust. "Yo're the marshal," he reminded. "See here, Purdie rounds up an army--there was townsfolk in it--shoots me up, killin' eleven o' my men an' damagin' my property. Yu goin' to tell me that's accordin' to law?" "Yu stole his gal, King," Slype protested. "Stole nothin'--she come of her own free will," came the easy lie. "When it got out, we pretended she was a prisoner to save her good name. I sent word to Purdie that I'd marry her an' end the trouble between the two families. Yu know what his answer was." "Sounds fair to me, King, but her tale don't tally." "O' course not; did yu think it would?" The marshal had not thought so; he knew the story was an invention to hit Purdie through his daughter, but that did not concern him. What he wanted to know was why Burdette had come to him, for the pretext of appealing to the law did not deceive him for an instant; he knew the Burdette nature better than that. Summoning his nerve, he put the question. "I want justice," King told him sternly, and Slype's face turned to a sickly yellow. It was coming now; this savage devil would shoot him down without mercy unless ... Fear was driving him to snatch at his own gun in sheer desperation when the visitor spoke again. "Purdie must make good the damage he an' his men have done." The marshal's suspended breath expelled itself in a gasp of relief, and, satisfied that his hide was not in danger, his cunning brain got busy. He could not fathom Burdette's attitude, but an inspiration came to him. "Purdie figures yu've gone for good," he said. "I hear he's givin' the Circle B to Green." King straightened up, his careless, cynical expression changing to one of fierce surprise. "An' Green don't aim to be lonely up there on the Butte--he's bin at `The Plaza' most all day," Slype supplemented. "Betcha he's there now." The poisoned shaft bit deep. Burdette was cruel, heartless, incapable of real affection, but he had his pride. The muscles of his jaw tightened, his lips curled back to uncover the clenched teeth, one hand went to his gun as he leaned forward. "Yu lie," he hissed. The marshal's puny soul shrivelled within him; he saw death itself staring out of those narrowed, flaming eyes. One moment of weakness would be the end--for him. His statement regarding the Circle B and Green was a deliberate invention, made to inflame the visitor, and despite the latter's fierce denial, Slype knew it had succeeded. He fought down his fears and answered steadily: "I'm givin' yu the straight goods. Actin' friendly to yu don't buy a fella much, King." The other ignored the reproach, but relaxed the tenseness of his attitude. The marshal's

he had no choice. "See yu later. already covered by the gun of a man who was killing-mad. He ventured a question. brought a savage gibe to King's lips." Slype tried hard to keep the exultation out of his voice. he paced slowly down the street. "Do yu s'pose I'm scared o' this rabbit-warren? If anybody wants to argue with me I'll he right pleased. through the town. . and then. an' the guts to put it through." got down. "I hope yu get him an' that he gets yu." Almost before they looked up the men at the card-table were obeying the command--they recognized the voice. "Mebbe yu ain't so plucky as some." was the reply. seemed more desirable than ever. "Well. Green. "Good huntin'. "Yu didn't come in alone. For a few seconds he stood glaring like a wild beast. and facing the newcomer unflinchingly. He did not enter immediately. . and Burdette gritted his teeth at this apparent substantiation of what the marshal had told him. and he would have ridiculed the suggestion that he might be dangerous. there'll on'y be Purdie to deal with. "I'm on'y sayin' it once. Rabbits! They believed he had run away. and that was one reason why he had returned to ride. She was smiling at something the puncher had just said. Full of his fell purpose. with its coils of shining black hair. to him the fellow was a mere tool. unconcerned and unattended. have yu?" . Only five men were in the place. and the sneer on his tight lips grew more pronounced as he proceeded. blast yu both. sitting carelessly in the saddle. they knew too that when King Burdette threatened lie was apt' to keep his word. why not?" he retorted. No one accosted him. and the other. King. Burdette's return was going to prove a godsend after all. added venomously." Sitting slackly in his chair." And when he was sure his visitor had gone. and trailed the reins. Her low-cut. and replaced it carefully in the holster. With these two men out of the way his path would be easy. I reckon.heart skipped a beat when King pulled out a gun. The prestige of the Black Burdettes was still powerful. sparkling eyes. "All prinked up for yore new lover. A peep through the window confirmed this and supplied what else he needed to know." he told himself. If Riley has searched out Cal's secret. he waited hopefully for the sound he wanted to hear--the crack of exploding cartridges. and insolent eyes challenging the curious glances of the few men he met. though he was still trembling with the fright it had given him. four of them playing poker at a table on the left of the entrance. Sam. and they had done--nothing. . did yu?" The tall man looked down at him disdainfully. and delicately-tinted cheeks. and jealousy fanned the flame of his hatred to a white heat. in broad daylight. pulling both guns. huh? Yu ain't lost any time. Sudden followed suit. The girl only disregarded the order. he kicked open the swing-door and stepped in." Had Burdette heard the conclusion of the marshal's valediction it would probably have aroused only amused contempt. "Reach for the roof--all o' yu ! " he spat out. The shapely head. He had dared them. though the presence of the big black horse at the hitch-rail indicated that the man he sought was within. a fella has a right to protect his own property. leaning against the bar chatting with Lu Lavigne. At the moment he had forgotten Slype entirely. stepping calmly from her place behind the bar. spun the cylinder. "Yeah. short-skirted dress showing her white shoulders and slim." "What yu aim to do?" "I'm goin' to make shore that Mister Green don't get what belongs to me. He pulled up outside "The Plaza. head thrown back. silk-clad ankles. "but yu got the savvy to plan big. but I got a little business to 'tend to first." he said.

Yu die." "So that's the tale that lyin' houn' has been tellin' yu?" Burdette burst in angrily. King. yu Jezebel. he knew that the moment had come. I'll do anything you ask. A growl of rage from the card-table apprised him of his own danger--the men were reaching for ." she told him quietly. and from whom you ran away when it was a question of an even break." he sneered. Mrs. "I didn't need telling. his mouth was twisted in a feral snarl. and the horrified spectators saw the girl drop limply into Sudden's arms. "Except the man who is facing you now. "Shut yore cursed mouth.. With the shadow of Death hovering over him his one concern was for her safety. The sight of the man who had beaten him at every point of the game. yu coward. "You must be mad or drunk. King Burdette stood as if turned to stone." His voice was steady and his grave eyes stressed the request. hoping that some interruption might occur to prevent him carrying out his deadly purpose. "Shoot an' be damned. Standing half-crouched."I have no new lover. "Hark to her. His swift glare at the card-players provoked no response. and even in the grip of passion could not miss at that short range. I'm King Burdette. "Keep outa this. in effect." she cried impulsively. It was one chance in a thousand against a good gunman. or I'll send yu along with him. a movement would mean instant death to two or three of them." Sudden drew himself up and looked coolly at the menacing muzzle. to come back to a town where every man's hand is against you. and her heart told her she must save him--at any cost. "I haven't discussed you with anyone. an' may shoot wild. unarmed." she replied. "Yu might get hurt. "Willin' to buy yore triflin' life with her beautiful body. for the moment he came in she knew he was there to kill Green. Lu Lavigne looked at him wonderingly. King. But the price ain't nearly high enough." he said. "Go away now and I will come with you. He's loco." "Hell." A hideous laugh cut her short. . had turned him into a fiend indeed. with a cry of "No. "Don't do this thing. They sat in their places as though petrified." King jeered. King. it was plain enough. and--as he believed--stolen the woman for whom he at least lusted. "Perhaps I thought I had." he raved. The crash of the report was followed by a tiny slap as of a drivenrain-drop on a window-pane. King.. but he wanted her to. you shall not kill him. He had faced death before. but not being heiress to a ranch . be your slave--your toy . He did not for an instant believe what he had said. "And no old one either it seems." There was a touch of bitterness in her tone as she went on. and prepared to fling himself forward in a desperate effort to beat the bullet. and shooting at one who was." the puncher urged. The words cut him like a knife. Murderous hate blazed in his slitted eyes. He was on the point of pulling the trigger when the girl's cool voice intervened. Burdette's finger was actually squeezing the trigger when Lu Lavigne. Burdette was a master of his weapon. an' there ain't one of 'em dare face me. alert for every movement. had dealt it to others. no. his levelled guns dominated the room. Green--there's devotion. and was not afraid. stunned by the crime he had committed. . Lavigne. alight with the lust to slay." she said scathingly. She had never met a man like this." stepped swiftly in front of the threatened man." She was playing for time. Watching the killer's eyes. they knew what he could do with a six-shooter.

and the fugitive soon became aware that he was followed. the completeness of the catastrophe had overwhelmed him." she whispered. at his feet. gave one look at a distant cloud of dust on the trail through the valley." growled one. Would you .. His mind slid back into the past. "Did yu see his face? If Burdette owed me money I'd call it a total loss right now. he had had only one thought--to get away. driving the body forward in a tireless. Damn it. For he had threatened to kill the girl. darted to the door. "We gotta do it. When the foreman stood up his face was a mask of bronze. Without quite knowing why. But though such a plea might salve his own conscience he knew it would carry no weight in Windy. he would show his master." "Green'll get him. one arm supporting her head." Her voice faltered. "I gotta 'tend to him. "Don't be too sorry for li'l Miss Tenderfoot. The first few miles of the trail to the Circle B ran straight along the open floor of the valley. Slowly but surely the black was gaining ground. If he wished to live he must move quickly. and he strove to find excuses. and that was the end. It was an accident--he could not have foreseen that she would stepin front of the puncher. asked one excited question. Nig. ?" Sudden read the request in the big dark eyes and bent his lips to hers. Her eyes opened. comfort before his own. when he had seen another lad slashing beautiful wild blooms with a stick for the selfish pleasure of seeing them fall. to an incident of his boyhood. or shoot it?" He knew why. but was never unkind. The bullet had struck her just above the heart. hurled himself on his horse. from every building men popped out. The big horse pricked up its ears and settled down to the job in earnest. and raced down the trail. like well-oiled pistons. One hurried backward glance told him who it was--there could be no mistaking the horse--and he cursed himself for an oversight. The accusing dark eyes in the flower-like face rose before him now. who sometimes asked a great deal. Lu Lavigne had been well liked. wanton waste. Sim had been right. The noise of the shot would bring others. what he could do." Soon after the puncher had left. and raced for "The Plaza. "Tell the boys good-bye. this thing he had done would be dealt with in only one way. Behind him the town was in a ferment. yu betcha. Nigger's. even if we go to the edge o' the world. leaping stride. " 'Tend to her. whose right arm hung useless. and sent Nigger charging after it. an armed band of dour-faced riders followed him. he had tripped over a skirt." another said grimly. and the crash of the fall . and who always saw to his.. "An' I hope he gets him. The great corded muscles slid easily to and fro beneath the skin. a rope and the nearest tree would be his portion if he were taken." and stepped swiftly from the saloon. "I always knew it would be King. In a land where men were hanged for even attempting to steal a beast.their guns. In the saloon Sudden was kneeling beside the girl who had given her life for his. "Why'n hell didn't I turn the hoss loose. and he knew there was no hope." Sudden swung into his saddle. "If he hadn't been so blame' quick I'd 'a' nailed the skunk my own self. Sudden rode like a man whose brain has been numbed." he muttered. bruised and broken. his voice sounded strange and unnatural. And now--he must catch the man in front. save that it had seemed a pitiful. and without waiting to see the result. With lightning swiftness he sent two bullets at the card-players. and then." he said. "you are a good man--Jeem"--her brave attempt to smile was heartbreaking--"but women are fools and don't always find it out--in time. Not often was he allowed to run as he liked. he had thrashed that boy." she murmured.

Was this to be the end? Tough as was his nature. . put a foot in a hollow and pitched forward. under a new name.. he waited. In an instant the black thunderbolt was upon them. His horse was nearly exhausted. as fresh as when it started. and his own mount was visibly tiring. Sudden shook his head." The puncher explained. it missed the struggling pony but caught the man." was the grave reply. and life could be sweet. and was thrown headlong. giving him an even break? yes. he could not repress a shudder. He. with heaving sides and every limb trembling. but could not keep it up. conscious that he would soon be overtaken. They were nearing the point where the trail skirted the broken. He saw Green's hat fly from his head and cursed in bitter disappointment. For a moment or two the animal pluckily responded. his pony. heard a shriek of agony. and if he could contrive to cripple the black or his rider he would have time to disappear before the posse came up.. Foot by foot the black was drawing closer and. while that of his pursuer appeared to be running easily. ." he muttered. the last of the Burdettes. fired twice. Burdette was a fine rider. This savage act proved his undoing.. Again he flung two shots behind him. that was the sort of fool he was. and the man's eyes widened." "Well.. he told himself savagely. already dying on its legs. A turn of the head told him that Green was now perilously near--sufficiently so to shoot him down if he wished. wrenching impotently at his reins. only the hammering hoofs grew more distinct. His thin lips twisted in a scornful grimace. A bare twenty yards separated them. was fleeing for his life from one man. and stooped low over the neck of his pony to escape an answering bullet. ringing like a death-knell in his ears. He was still young. Swiftly he slewed round in his saddle. and then--silence. a clammy wetness bedewed Burdette's brow. Bur-dette knew what this signified. But the expected shot did not come. could not save himself. broken body of King Bur-dette.. "I hadn't figured it thataway. Holding the weapon in front of his body. Into the hunted man's eyes crept a gleam of hope. . while the posse was still some distance away. an inch or two lower. What would Green do? Shoot it out. "We heard shootin'. shivering a little as he recalled the reason for his having to do so. In a sudden spate of despairing ferocity King used his bloodied spurs cruelly. Desperately his brain worked on the problem. dust-grimed features hardened.had shattered his nerve." another said callously. "My hoss trampled him--broke his back. Sudden. lunged blindly. Hell! It was her own fault. notwithstanding the intense heat. "Why the blazes didn't yu cut down on the coyote?" he wanted to know. Furtively he got out his gun and reloaded the three empty chambers.. it don't matter so long as he's cashed. I reckon. The black horse was nearer now--noticeably nearer--and further back along the trail was a bigger smother of dust in which dark spots moved swiftly. "Hell's fire! If I down Green they'll get me. None came. King's haggard. I couldn't stop him in time. In another country. One man! Why not stay and shoot it out? He stole a look rearward. caught unawares in the act of turning to fire one more chance shot. and savagely spurred and quirted the racing beast between his knees to a greater burst of speed. wooded country around the base of Battle Butte. but. "So yu got him?" one of the men said. The drumming beat of the oncoming black was louder now. The posse scampered up to find the C P foreman looking down upon the huddled. The pony had scrambled to its feet again and now stood head down. and snarled an oath. had a brief glimpse of a fear-riven face. There were places . but travelling at such a pace it was impossible to aim with accuracy. But first he must deal with the relentless devil behind.

"Reckon I got it." he replied. remembered that he had brought young Purdie home in just the same fashion. So it was decided. and naturally the menaced man. "If it does. And King had bushwhacked Purdie! His mind reverted to "The Plaza. Naturally there was only one topic--the day's doings--and the opinions of Slype and his assistant were singularly alike. "I reckon Sam'll want to see the last of his boss. "I pass. "I'm for takin' him in to town. had purposely made a belated appearance at "The Plaza. "Bit high-handed o' King. "He died too easy. pacing behind the gruesome burden. He put forward a somewhat altered explanation of the kidnapping . Burdette was dead. I'm willin' to say. and sat thinking." The slaying of Lu Lavigne was an obvious accident for which. "He was a big man hereabout--once. Chapter XXVI THAT evening. and the exciting events of the day. listening in his office to the shooting. That fella's too damn lucky. Because of that. too spry with his guns." Slype admitted. finding his enemy in "The Plaza. we gotta git rid o' him. the game's our'n. Green was really responsible. Slippery. huh?" his chief sneered. The death of King Burdette was not all that Slype had hoped for. "Shore I am." the marshal said. Yu certainly have got a headpiece. "An' so are yu. an' likewise." Weldon said." arriving after the posse had departed. "Won't nobody be able to heave rocks at yu neither. He had announced that he would shoot Burdette on sight." he agreed. and Sudden." For the marshal." someone remarked." "The Plaza" was closed. "I guess it's up to yu." came the bitter reflection. mixing with group after group of the customers and joining in the conversation. When King. Cal's back an' we can make him come clean when we want. and there was no harm in hanging a halo on him." "I figure it will work--for us. the marshal and his deputy had a lengthy conversation." "Scared. behind the bolted door of his quarters. "Git a-movin'." "This'll be bad news for Slippery. "but that don't justify Purdie wipin' out the Circle B like he done. Presently he looked up." "Yu ain't forgettin' Purdie?" Slype snapped his fingers. "Without Green he'll be easy." and a gust of anger moved him." he said. "The Lucky Chance" and smaller drinking-places were crowded." "Yu can guess again. "She's a great notion." Weldon said grimly." Slype scowled. half demented at having killed the woman he worshipped Slype inwardly smirked when he ." the other admitted." Riley replied unhesitatingly. From one to another of these the marshal and his deputy severally gravitated. but he voiced a doubt as to whether the Circle B boss was quite so blameworthy as appeared." he said. "That cursed cow-punch is still blockin' the trail. King Burdette made his last journey to Windy slung over the back of his pony. "We'll have to find some way. adding bluntly.Burdette believed he had a legitimate claim against the C P and was holding the girl to enforce it in order to avoid bloodshed--a laudable object. little dreaming how near he was to the literal truth. but did not deny the imputation. Riley. according to the marshal." had got the drop on him. The marshal did not state it in that way. in the tone of one anxious to be fair to both sides. "How comes he ain't here?" "Said suthin' about ridin' to his ranch this afternoon.A discussion arose as to the disposal of the body. How about this?" The deputy smiled crookedly when he had heard the scheme.

used the word--rushed away. "Don't shoot." he remarked. Green knocks him off his busted bronc an' lets that black brute o' his tromp King to death." the boy expostulated. but" --there was a little break in the childish voice--"she was mighty kind to me." Purdie smiled. "Slippery sent me up to git yu. sounded plausible enough. Windy had not attained the dignity of a court-house." the cattleman said." "One bein' a common thief an' hold-up. "Where's Luce?" "Gone ridin' with Miss Nan." he said." By midnight." Sudden. on his way to his employer. I'll come quiet. "Mornin'." he greeted. and meetings of any public importance took place in a large room adjoining "The Lucky Chance" which had been originally created for a dance-hall. There was further talk of strangers who drifted in and tried to "run the town." he promised. "Cut along an' see the cook." Sudden replied. son. and pulled the brim of his battered hat as Purdie stepped from the house. Seated behind a table borrowed from the bar was the marshal. the evidence . "Hello. when backed up by liberal doses of free liquor. Purdie. such is the mercurial quality of public opinion. the puncher followed. The result of the marshal's activities was evidenced early next morning when a freckled-faced lad rode up to the C P and in a shrill treble yelled." the marshal reproved. "Middlin' young for a deppity. caught him. "They's holdin' a inquiry on King an' Mrs." All of which. "Just a friendly meetin' to investigate the passin' o' two prominent citizens." He turned to his foreman. "Fact is. and proceeded to answer his own question: " 'Stead o' shootin' it out man to man as any fair-minded gent would." Purdie said caustically. to whom the spectacular lawlessness of the Black Burdettes had appealed. Here. "I sort of expected it." Slype returned. and having the better horse. we'll be along." the rancher told him.. I ain't grievin' none 'bout him. "An' what happens?" the marshal asked. It did not come. lolling on forms or leaning against the walls. "Two breakfasts never did hurt a boy yet." "Get Bill an' half a dozen o' the boys." Timmie confessed. there's times he reminds me powerful o' Kit. "Reckon we can manage without him. Timmie?" "Aw. the late owner of the Circle B was being almost regretted and the man who had beaten him correspondingly condemned. "Was there any need to fetch along a young army?" The rancher looked around. "I warn't . ain't yu.. stopped short and surveyed the young visitor and his aged mount with a good-natured grin." And then." "That's all right." The foreman flung up his hands in mock alarm. Jim. Lavigne this mornin'. I had that boy figured up all wrong. quit yore joshin'. Purdie just nodded. "We ain't takin' on hands for the round-up yet." Whereat the foreman smiled covertly and was wisely dumb. with a rush. the C P contingent found most of the citizens. The boy squirmed in his saddle. What's the fuss about?" "No fuss a-tall. "My boys got as much right to be here as yu have. with his deputy near at hand. "That ain't no way to speak o' the dead. and waited for the explosion. "Fed yet?" "Shore seems a while ago. the house. His face darkened when he saw that Sudden had not come unsupported. and said. especially to the turbulent faction of the community. "What's back o' this caper?" Sudden's face was set. seh. "Slippery is puttin' up his last bluff. an' I aim to call it. "Where is it?" he asked. sonny.

they possessed the instinctive respect of their type for the weaker sex." "An' instead o' givin' him a chance. an' he's bin the hub of it. Riley there. King sends his gunman. this was Burdette's fourth try at puttin' me outa business. I reckon yu gotta git a new foreman." The questioner shrugged his shoulders. Rough." The statement brought forth oaths of surprise and indignation from the audience. "Sheer bluff.. Allasame." ." Purdie stepped forward. Mart bushwhacks me at Dark Canyon.." he said. But we're driftin' from the point. pushes me in the Sluice an' sends a couple o' slugs after me for company. uncultured. hard-shelled as these men were. ever since this fella Green appeared this town's had trouble. "Listen to me. and there was a flicker of a smile on his grim lips. so he had the drop on me from the start. "On the top o' that. yu rode over him?" "What chance was he givin' me in `The Plaza'?" the puncher retorted. Then another of his men." "Bah! She warn't in no danger. "All right. an' yu nearly hang Luce for it. Whitey. get on with the whitewashin'.'pears to show Burdette warn't as bad as his reputation." he went on. Sudden told the story. "An' he buzzed four bullets at me when I overtook him. The marshal's cunning eyes glinted with satisfaction when it was finished." Slype began. "Yu claim King's hoss throwed him--one o' the best riders hereabouts. "All I owed the Circle B could be paid with a bullet. His guns were out when he came into the saloon. "She cared for King." The marshal nodded sagely." Purdie told him. Burdette's word to me was that unless I made over my ranch an' cattle to him he'd throw my daughter to his men. then. I wanted to shoot him. "There yu lie in yore throat. "Burdette wanted to git yu on yore knees without a battle. incredulity patent in his tone. Slippery. yu damn fool. "Did yu suppose I wanted to congratulate him?" The faint amusement faded from his face." "Yu had threatened to shoot him on sight." Sudden said sternly. "Yo're admittin' that the killin' o' the woman warn't intentional?" "Shore--the shot was meant for me. King carries off Miss Purdie. "He was twisted in his saddle to fire at me when his bronc went down." he asserted. "That's. She ran into it. an' I figure she didn't want to see him commit murder. "So did everyone else. "He was just usin' her to collect his debt from her father." "That's not true. which is this. be she never such a poor example of it. Purdie. I tried to avoid the tramplin'. First. plainly and briefly. his face flaming." "Huh! He musta had a hell of a reputation." the marshal sneered." "The truth--an' yu know it." "This meetin' would like to hear yore foreman's account o' what happened yestiddy." The deputy sprang to his feet." he cried." "Yu meant to kill King although yu knowed what he had just done was an accident?" Slype said quickly. and several of those present smiled audibly. "Why should she protect yu. "I knowed it." the rancher retorted. The marshal saw the effect created and hastened to destroy it. an' when he fails to turn the trick. without waitin' to warn me too. Green?" was the next question. "I certainly did. Slype." Sudden said.

and jealous of their rights as free and independent citizens." The marshal stood up." Sudden smiled mirthlessly." The marshal jumped as though jerked with a string. He laughed evilly. Half-dazed." Sudden replied evenly. he had not looked for so easy a victory. the C P owner was wishing he had brought more of his outfit. Many of them were hard and hostile. marshal." he protested. Ere the stinging retort which might have precipitated a fracas could leave the rancher's lips. gibe." he answered. the blacksmith. Weldon. yore stay is liable to be plenty permanent. while all expressed curiosity. "Why." Slype sneered." "All damn nonsense. marshal?" he quietly asked. "When yu bumped off Mart Burdette . the foreman interposed. The hiss of indrawn breath betokened the amazement of the spectators of this strange scene. the deputy's work was done. his thin. but I ain't thankin' yu.." "An' so was Sim. This statement restored the marshal to normality. "Yu left before he did. the marshal. Leaning indolently against the wall. sardonically scanning the coarse. The fellow was a four-flusher after all. All eyes were focused on the man in the chair. he began to bluster. huh? Yet yu shot him down under a flag o' truce in the fight at the Circle B. "I'm lettin' yu down easy. Bill Yago opened his mouth and closed it again without speaking when he caught his foreman's eye. and a ripple of surprise ran through the spectators. What was a United States deputy-sheriff doing in Windy? Upon Slype the appearance of an officer whose authority far exceeded his own fell like an avalanche. Sabe?" A confirming growl told him he had struck the right note. "Good enough. which would help when yu tried to throw suspicion on me. the marshal was on top. "Yu know what that is?" he questioned. "Mart was a friend. the man who had been so unceremoniously told to "pull his freight" looked at the ring of faces. had nothing to fear from him. rodent-like jaws working. He knew too the swift certainty with which they would strike when once they had come to a decision. he heard the C P foreman explain that he had been sent to investigate the Black Burdettes. "Yu did. Slype's expression was one of mingled triumph and amazement. `Yu got till sundown. Sudden. his thumbs tucked in his belt. he disclosed a metal star sewn on the inside. the Battle Butte gang was broken. for the moment." rolled a cigarette and lighted it. "Raw work. there' was little sound. marshal. who from being accuser had so swiftly become the ." he rasped. an' turned my hoss loose so that I'd be delayed. easily stirred to passion. He dropped the match. "Why didn't yu come to me right away an' declare yoreself?" he asked." the cold voice continued. after that. placed his foot upon it. Holding open one flap of his vest. Someone sniggered at the.. but it ain't goin' to stand for yores. I was in the bar there when the fight ended."Meanin' yu aim to run him out?" the rancher asked. They all did." he replied. others contemptuous. Deliberately he got out his "makings. moved as though about to say something. but changed his mind when Sudden shook his head. savage faces around the room. He knew the shallow minds of these men. tales of whose plunderings for a hundred miles round had come to the Governor's ears. "How long yu givin' me to leave. "This yer town stood for Burdette's bullying. He glanced at Purdie and guessed his thought. "I'll see yu in hell first. Satisfied on this point. that'll give me time to complete what I came to these parts to do. Save for the scuffle of restless feet as men leant forward. and straightened up as though he had reached a decision. saw that. "I could 'a' helped yu." he said. The puncher's friends could scarcely believe their ears. he.

an' would 'a' got King in time." Sudden heard a muttered exclamation. took his cue from the latter. yu didn't yoreself. yore object was to bring the ill-feeling between the two ranches to an open rupture." He affected a jocularity he was by no means feeling as he nodded at the deputy-sheriff.. "He came straight from yore office to `The Plaza." Slippery shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. Sudden's voice. and knew that Purdie's last lingering doubt of his daughter's suitor had vanished. and daring. an' if yu'd come to me at the start it might 'a' bin put through in better shape. Some o' yu may think it was a sneaky way o' doin'. "I kept cases on 'em an' waited for opportunities." A sly glance at his hearers told him he had scored a point. These fools would swallow it. "Might as well claim I wiped out King too while yo're about it. I s'pose I gotta explain." The marshal's agile brain was racing. an' if I'd come out into the open. when yu go after a wolf yu don't give him a chance to bite." "Gawd A'mighty." Sudden returned. "For quite a while I've knowed the Burdettes was bad medicine --robbers. "." he sneered." came the wheezy. Because the Burdettes were a threat to the town he had made war upon them.. but. such a procedure was only too common in those turbulent times." he began. "Well. His methods might be questionable. Then he looked at his accuser. but he was not the first law-officer to strain his powers and shoot a criminal instead of arresting him.. For the rest. How much did this damned interloper know? He must gain time to think. some nodded meaningly as if to say they had known it all along. and shivered. His story was clever. cracked voice of California. I got Mart an' Sim. He turned to the waiting. Slype. rustlers. told him that the battle was not yet over. "Shore thought yu was on Purdie's side an' that mebbe yu didn't notice the flag." he said. conscious of excited whispering. hopin' we'd kill one another." he said.accused. Yore plan seemed to be succeedin' when King shot young Purdie an' let Luce shoulder the blame. "Me an' yu was workin' on the same job. When yu murdered Old Man Burdette . an' let the C P be suspected." he said. yu are a liar from yore toes up. scanning their faces narrowly. but yu had to do with it. and his remark was followed by profane expressions of astonishment from all parts of the room. "seein' I was in town an' asleep at the time. "A fella what represents the law don't allus have to show his hand. did Slippery do that too?" Weldon shouted. . marshal or no? Well. while others appeared incredulous. the needed flash of inspiration had come. coldly impassive." "But friends o' yores.. breathless company. The two crimes yu have confessed to were committed not by virtue of yore office but for yore own ends." He slumped back in his chair and mopped his brow. The marshal's laugh was not convincing. plausible. how long would I 'a' lasted. here was a man who would not. Green. doin' this yer town the biggest service any fella could." came the acid reminder. "I saw yu at the moment yu fired. boys. "Slype. "Not exactly. "Musta bin a wonderful shot. "That goes for me too. For in the narrowed eyes he read the scornful disbelief of one who knows what he has heard to be untrue. Purdie not havin' asked for my assistance.' an' I figure you sent him in search o' me. an' killers. was his thought. The marshal achieved a passable chuckle. but the puncher's next statement stilled it. "I let 'em think so. and he thought he saw a way out." This remark caused some merriment.

He had a swift vision of the pain-wrecked. a smart lawyer could find excuses for putting off the trial. "Yu played ze beeg game. a few weeks. and when he spoke again his words fell like hammer-blows upon the numbed brain of the man to whom they were addressed. expressionless. his eyes cold. shot him twice. Also. his eyes were cavernous pools of stark fear." Sudden's expression was withering. hurled others into the unknown. He ." he said. In an ashen mask. saw an' heard everythin'. "Yu ain't proved anythin' yet. if they wiped one another out. He realized that he was doomed." The scrap of paper he produced passed rapidly from hand to hand. yu pulled that double-barrelled derringer yu wear under yore left shoulder."Easy to pin things on a fella if yu kill him first. "When I came here the Governor gave me a free hand. Slype's lips moved." Sudden said sternly." he said slowly. and to the abject. an' when he made his proposition. but no sound came from them. or even hours seemed a priceless boon." he scoffed. unnatural voice he made his last bid. but his brain seemed to be paralysed." So life-like was the imitation that the marshal started and glanced fearfully round the room." As the puncher passed through the empty bar Slype's agonized accents followed him. he might escape on the journey. "These men made yu marshall it is for them to judge yu. I demand to be taken to the country seat. and then his voice changed. considering. The puncher's next words dispelled the illusion. Slype. an' galloped away. He warn't dead when we got to him. broken wretch who felt death clawing at his throat. Why should I want the Purdies an' Burdettes a-scrappin'?" "So that. yu wanted Cal's gold mine. "Green. up on the rim. with its wide-open. In any case he would procure a respite. terror spurred his frozen faculties to action. an' he signed this before he cashed in. the jury would be composed of strangers. he must say something--but what? When at length his trembling lips formed the words he did not recognize his own voice: "He tried to down me. lying in the sun-drenched gully. glazing eyes. yu made shore o' that. Ramon is not here. "I don't remember any talk o' the country seat when yu were lettin' 'em hang Luce Burdette. Do yu remember the `leetle story' he told before yu shot him down?" Under the shock of this further blow the marshal shivered. almost convinced that it was the dead Mexican who had spoken. Even if he did not." It was his only chance. "What's the use o' lyin'--Ramon never went for a weapon. a few moments of agony and then--what? The thought appalled him. relentless faces was enough to tell him this. twisted body. The country seat was weeks distant." He paused a moment. Yu an' the Mex were sittin' face to face. yu could grab their ranches--yu knew neither o' the families had any kin. The net was closing. What else did he know. senor. his clothes hung loosely upon him. He had. and the cowering man in the chair knew that he was being condemned. in a hoarse. Shaking as with an ague. Yu folded yore arms. "Me an' Bill Yago. he was in deadly peril. Sudden's narrowed gaze swept the silent assembly. days. he looked fearfully at the man who held his fate in his hands. one look at the ring of silent. in the lapse of time evidence might cease to be available. the eyes of each man as he read it going to the drooping figure in the chair. without a qualm. Somehow the marshal seemed to have shrunk. and now the Dark Destroyer was at his own elbow. they would hang him and go back to their work or play with a scornful jest on their lips. this saturnine devil of a deputy-sheriff who had dropped from the clouds? He tried to think. He knew these men--had drank and gamed with many of them--and yet. yo're an officer o' the law. "No. The deputy-sheriff's face was that of a statue.

who knew what it was. Some weeks later a rider. THE END . "Mebbe Death will be--kinder. snorted in disgust. but Miss Nan has promised . the steel-like eyes which could be so forbidding were gentle. I got a good reason for goin' an' none for stoppin'--now. out into the sunlight. In the depths of the valley an opalescent haze was lifting.. Jim. he turned to face a world which.. hell. and the whistling of the birds accentuated the silent peacefulness. and the outfit generally. paced slowly in the direction of the tiny cemetery. "I won't be here. "Aw. after a pause. ol-timer. "I wish he had got me. To all Purdie's offers--they had been more than generous--he had but one reply: "That little Governor fella will be wantin' my repawt. a spirit of adventure inherited from some filibustering forbear--she had Spanish blood in her--or a rank rebellion against the restraints of civilization? He would never know now." he whispered. There were little currents of air. Hesitation claimed him for an instant. even misty. The hard lines which playing a man's part in a world of men had graven upon his young face had gone.could vision the fellow. It was early morning." "Not if I wait for 'em to come to me. and then another picture presented itself--that of a little grey-eyed man who had said sternly. yu'll never find them hombres. And Bill would scarcely have known him. frantically appealing on his knees for the mercy he could not hope to receive. Sudden had said good-bye to the C P." Which cryptic remark Yago might have better understood had he seen his late foreman bending over the recent grave to lay upon it an armful of blooms gathered in a certain glade which had taken him somewhat out of his way. and the oblique rays of the rising sun filtered through the foliage and blotched the track along which he rode with dancing splashes of shadow." He went on. ma'am. "I reckon Life gave yu a raw deal. seemed strangely empty. crazed by the dread of death." he said softly." He rose and stood. and it had not been easy." And then. And Bill." Slowly mounting his horse." Sudden had replied. pine-laden. all at once. "Make a clean job of it. but to Bill Yago --whose pride in his promotion to the post of foreman was entirely submerged by the fact that in gaining it he lost a friend--he gave a different reason--he had another task. What freak of fate had brought her to this wild corner of the world? Misfortune. looking down upon the simple mound beneath which lay the gay. on a big black horse. tempestuous girl who had given her life for him. hat in hand. "Yu was fond o' flowers. "No." To the young couple who owed him so much. he used the same excuse.

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