B.M. Bower.

The Lonesome Trail and Other Stories online

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"Why, yuh going to pull out while your hide's whole?" bantered the
cowboy, with the freedom which long acquaintance breeds.

"I've got business out uh town, and I want to be back time the stage
pulls in."

"Well, Limpy's still holding the ribbons over them buckskins uh his,
and he ain't varied five minutes in five years," responded the
bartender. "So I guess yuh can look for him same old time."

Weary's eyes opened a bit wider, then drooped humorously. "Oh, all
right," he murmured, as though thoroughly enlightened rather than being
rather more in the dark than before. In the name of Irish he found it
expedient to take another modest drink, and then excused himself with a
"See yuh later, boys," and went out and mounted Glory.

Ten miles nearer the railroad - which at that was not what even a
Montanan would call close - he had that day established headquarters and
was holding a bunch of saddle horses pending the arrival of help. He
rode out on the trail thoughtfully, a bit surprised that he had not
found the situation more amusing. To be taken for Irish was a joke,
and to learn thereby of Irish's little romance should be funny. But it
wasn't.

Weary wondered how Irish got mixed up in a deal like that, which
somehow did not seem to be in line with his character. And he wished,
a bit vindictively, that this Spikes Weber _could_ meet Irish. He
rather thought that Spikes needed the chastening effects of such a
meeting. Weary, while not in the least quarrelsome on his own account,
was ever the staunch defender of a friend.

Just where another brown trail branched off and wandered away over a
hill to the east, a woman rode out and met him face to face. She
pulled up and gave a little cry that brought Weary involuntarily to a
halt.

"You!" she exclaimed, in a tone that Weary felt he had no right to hear
from any but his little schoolma'am. "But I knew you'd come back when
you heard I - Have - have you seen Spikes, Ira?"

Weary flushed embarrassment; this was no joke. "No," he stammered, in
some doubt just how to proceed. "The fact is, you've made a little
mistake. I'm not - "

"Oh, you needn't go on," she interrupted, and her voice, had Weary
known it better, heralded the pouring out of a woman's heart. "I know
I've made a mistake, all right; you don't need to tell me that. And I
suppose you want to tell me that you've got over - things; that you
don't care, any more. Maybe you don't, but it'll take a lot to make me
believe it. Because you _did_ care, Ira. You _cared_, all right
enough!" She laughed in the way that makes one very uncomfortable.

"And maybe you'll tell me that I didn't. But I did, and I do yet. I
ain't ashamed to say it, if I did marry Spikes Weber just to spite you.
That's all it was, and you'd have found it out if you hadn't gone off
the way you did. I _hate_ Spikes Weber; and he knows it, Ira. He
knows I - care - for you, and he's making my life a hell. Oh, maybe I
deserve it - but you won't - Now you've come back, you can have it out
with him; and I - I almost hope you'll kill him! I do, and I don't care
if it is wicked. I - I don't care for anything much, but - you." She
had big, soft brown eyes, and a sweet, weak mouth, and she stopped and
looked at Weary in a way that he could easily imagine would be
irresistible - to a man who cared.

Weary felt that he was quite helpless. She had hurried out sentences
that sealed his lips. He could not tell her now that she had made a
mistake; that he was not Ira Mallory, but a perfect stranger. The only
thing to do now was to carry the thing through as tactfully as
possible, and get away as soon as he could. Playing he was Irish, he
found, was not without its disadvantages.

"What particular brand of hell has he been making for you?" he asked
her sympathetically.

"I wouldn't think, knowing Spikes as you do, you'd need to ask," she
said impatiently. "The same old brand, I guess. He gets drunk, and
then - I told him, right out, just after we were married, that I liked
you the best, and he don't forget it; and he don't let me. He swears
he'll shoot you on sight - as if that would do any good! He hates you,
Ira." She laughed again unpleasantly.

Weary, sitting uneasily in the saddle looking at her, wondered if Irish
really cared; or if, in Weary's place, he would have sat there so
calmly and just looked at her. She was rather pretty, in a pink and
white, weak way. He could easily imagine her marrying Spikes Weber for
mere spite; what he could not imagine, was Irish in love with her.

It seemed almost as if she caught a glimmer of his thoughts, for she
reined closer, and her teeth were digging into her lower lip. "Well,
aren't you going to _do_ anything?" she demanded desperately. "You're
here, and I've told you I - care. Are you going to leave me to bear
Spikes' abuse always?"

"You married him," Weary remarked mildly and a bit defensively. It
seemed to him that loyalty to Irish impelled him.

She tossed her head contemptuously. "It's nice to throw that at me. I
might get back at you and say you loved me. You did, you know."

"And you married Spikes; what can _I_ do about it?"

"What - can - you - do - about it? Did you come back to ask me that?"
There was a well defined, white line around her mouth, and her eyes
were growing ominously bright.

Weary did not like the look of her, nor her tone. He felt, somehow,
glad that it was not Irish, but himself; Irish might have felt the
thrall of old times - whatever they were - and have been tempted. His
eyes, also, grew ominous, but his voice was very smooth. (Irish, too,
had that trait of being quietest when he was most roused.)

"I came back on business; I will confess I didn't come to see you," he
said. "I'm only a bone-headed cowpuncher, but even cowpunchers can
play square. They don't, as a rule step in between a man and his wife.
You married Spikes, and according to your own tell, you did it to spite
me. So I say again, what can _I_ do about it?"

She looked at him dazedly.

"Uh course," he went on gently, "I won't stand to see any man abuse his
wife, or bandy her name or mine around the country. If I should happen
to meet up with Spikes, there'll likely be some dust raised. And if I
was you, and Spikes abused me, I'd quit him cold."

"Oh, I see," she said sharply, with an exaggeration of scorn. "You
have got over it, then. There's someone else. I might have known a
man can't be trusted to care for the same woman long. You ran after me
and acted the fool, and kept on till you made me believe you really
meant all you said - "

"And you married Spikes," Weary reiterated - ungenerously, perhaps; but
it was the only card he felt sure of. There was no gainsaying that
fact, it seemed. She had married Spikes in a fit of pique at Irish.
Still, it was not well to remind her of it too often. In the next five
minutes of tumultuous recrimination, Weary had cause to remember what
Shakespeare has to say about a woman scorned, and he wondered, more
than ever, if Irish had really cared. The girl - even now he did not
know what name to call her - was showing a strain of coarse temper; the
temper that must descend to personalities and the calling of
unflattering names. Weary, not being that type of male human who can
retort in kind, sat helpless and speechless the while she berated him.
When at last he found opportunity for closing the interview and riding
on, her anger-sharpened voice followed him shrewishly afar. Weary
breathed deep relief when the distance swallowed it, and lifted his
gray hat to wipe his beaded forehead.

"Mamma mine!" he said fervently to Glory. "Irish was sure playing big
luck when she _did_ marry Spikes; and I don't wonder at the poor devil
taking to drink. I would, too, if my little schoolma'am - "

At the ranch, he hastened to make it quite plain that he was not Ira
Mallory, but merely his cousin, Will Davidson. He was quite determined
to put a stop to all this annoying mixing up of identities. And as for
Spikes Weber, since meeting the woman Spikes claimed from him something
very like sympathy; only Weary had no mind to stand calmly and hear
Irish maligned by anybody.

The next day he rode again to Sleepy Trail to meet the stage, hoping
fervently that he would get some word - and that favorable - from Chip.
He was thinking, just then, a great deal about his own affairs and not
at all about the affairs of Irish. So that he was inside the saloon
before he remembered that the bartender knew him for Irish.

The bartender nodded to him in friendly fashion, and jerked his head
warningly toward a far corner where two men sat playing seven-up
half-heartedly. Weary looked, saw that both were strangers, and
puzzled a minute over the mysterious gesture of the bartender. It did
not occur to him, just then, that one of the men might be Spikes Weber.

The man who was facing him nipped the corners of the cards idly
together and glanced up; saw Weary standing there with an elbow on the
bar looking at him, and pushed back his chair with an oath unmistakably
warlike. Weary resettled his hat and looked mildly surprised. The
bartender moved out of range and watched breathlessly.

"You - - - - - - - - !" swore Spikes Weber, coming truculently
forward, hand to hip. He was of medium height and stockily built, with
the bull neck and little, deep-set eyes that go often with a nature
quarrelsome.

Weary still leaned his elbow on the bar and smiled at him tolerantly.
"Feel bad anywhere?" he wanted to know, when the other was very close.

Spikes Weber, from very surprise, stopped and regarded Weary for a
space before he began swearing again. His hand was still at his hip,
but the gun it touched remained in his pocket. Plainly, he had not
expected just this attitude.

Weary waited, smothering a yawn, until the other finished a
particularly pungent paragraph. "A good jolt uh brandy 'll sometimes
cure a bad case uh colic," he remarked. "Better have our friend here
fix yuh up - but it'll be on you. I ain't paying for drinks just now."

Spikes snorted and began upon the pedigree and general character of
Irish. Weary took his elbow off the bar, and his eyes lost their
sunniness and became a hard blue, darker than was usual. It took a
good deal to rouse Weary to the fighting point, and it is saying much
for the tongue of Spikes that Weary was roused thoroughly.

"That'll be about enough," he said sharply, cutting short a sentence
from the other. "I kinda hated to start in and take yuh all to
pieces - but yuh better saw off right there, or I can't be responsible - "

A gun barrel caught the light menacingly, and Weary sprang like the
pounce of a cat, wrested the gun from the hand of Spikes and rapped him
smartly over the head with the barrel. "Yuh would, eh?" he snarled,
and tossed the gun upon the bar, where the bartender caught it as it
slid along the smooth surface and put it out of reach.

After that, chairs went spinning out of the way, and glasses jingled to
the impact of a body striking the floor with much force. Came the
slapping sound of hammering fists and the scuffling of booted feet,
together with the hard breathing of fighting men.

Spikes, on his back, looked up into the blazing eyes he thought were
the eyes of Irish and silently acknowledged defeat. But Weary would
not let it go at that.

"Are yuh whipped to a finish, so that yuh don't want any more trouble
with anybody?" he wanted to know.

Spikes hesitated but the fraction of a second before he growled a
reluctant yes.

"Are yuh a low-down, lying sneak of a woman-fighter, that ain't got
nerve enough to stand up square to a ten-year-old boy?"

Spikes acknowledged that he was. Before the impromptu catechism was
ended, Spikes had acknowledged other and more humiliating things - to
the delectation of the bartender, the stage driver and two or three men
of leisure who were listening.

When Spikes had owned to being every mean, unknowable thing that Weary
could call to mind - and his imagination was never of the barren
sort - Weary generously permitted him to get upon his feet and skulk out
to where his horse was tied. After that, Weary gave his unruffled
attention to the stage driver and discovered the unwelcome fact that
there was no letter and no telegram for one William Davidson, who
looked a bit glum when he heard it.

So he, too, went out and mounted Glory and rode away to the ranch where
waited the horses; and as he went he thought, for perhaps the first
time in his life, some hard and unflattering things of Chip Bennett.
He had never dreamed Chip would calmly overlook his needs and leave him
in the lurch like this.

At the ranch, when he had unsaddled Glory and gone to the bunk-house,
he discovered Irish, Pink and Happy Jack wrangling amicably over whom a
certain cross-eyed girl on the train had been looking at most of the
time. Since each one claimed all the glances for himself, and since
there seemed no possible way of settling the dispute, they gave over
the attempt gladly when Weary appeared, and wanted to know, first
thing, who or what had been gouging the hide off his face.

Weary, not aware until the moment that he was wounded, answered that he
had done it shaving; at which the three hooted derision and wanted to
know since when he had taken to shaving his nose. Weary smiled
inscrutably and began talking of something else until he had weaned
them from the subject, and learned that they had bribed the stage
driver to let them off at this particular ranch; for the stage driver
knew Irish, and knew also that a man he had taken to be Irish was
making this place his headquarters. The stage driver was one of those
male gossips who know everything.

When he could conveniently do so, Weary took Irish out of hearing of
the others and told him about Spikes Weber. Irish merely swore. After
that, Weary told him about Spikes Weber's wife, in secret fear and with
much tact, but in grim detail. Irish listened with never a word to say.

"I done what looked to me the best thing, under the circumstances,"
Weary apologized at the last, "and I hope I haven't mixed yuh up a
bunch uh trouble. Mamma mine! she's sure on the fight, though, and
she's got a large, black opinion of yuh as a constant lover. If yuh
want to square yourself with her, Irish, you've got a big contract."

"I don't want to square myself," Irish retorted, grinning a bit. "I
did have it bad, I admit; but when she went and got tied up to Spikes,
that cured me right off. She's kinda pretty, and girls were scarce,
and - oh, hell! you know how it goes with a man. I'd a married her and
found out afterwards that her mind was like a little paper windmill
stuck up on the gatepost with a shingle nail - only she saved me the
trouble. Uh course, I was some sore over the deal for awhile; but I
made up my mind long ago that Spikes was the only one in the bunch that
had any sympathy coming. If he's been acting up like you say, I change
the verdict: there ain't anything coming to him but a big bunch uh
trouble. I'm much obliged to yuh, Weary; you done me a good turn and
earnt a lot uh gratitude, which is yours for keeps. Wonder if supper
ain't about due; I've the appetite of a Billy goat, if anybody should
ask yuh."

At supper Irish was uncommonly silent, and did some things without
thinking; such as pouring a generous stream of condensed cream into his
coffee. Weary, knowing well that Irish drank his coffee without cream,
watched him a bit closer than he would otherwise have done; Irish was
the sort of man who does not always act by rule.

After supper Weary missed him quite suddenly, and went to the door of
the bunk-house to see where he had gone. He did not see Irish, but on
a hilltop, in the trail that led to Sleepy Trail, he saw a flurry of
dust. Two minutes of watching saw it drift out of sight over the hill,
which proved that the maker was traveling rapidly away from the ranch.
Weary settled his hat down to his eyebrows and went out to find the
foreman.

The foreman, down at the stable, said that Irish had borrowed a horse
from him, unsacked his saddle as if he were in a hurry about something,
and had pulled out on a high lope. No, he had not told the foreman
where he was headed for, and the foreman knew Irish too well to ask.
Yes, now Weary spoke of it, Irish did have his gun buckled on him, and
he headed for Sleepy Trail.

Weary waited for no further information. He threw his saddle on a
horse that he knew could get out and drift, if need came: presently he,
too, was chasing a brown dust cloud over the hill toward Sleepy Trail.

That Irish had gone to find Spikes Weber, Weary was positive; that
Spikes was not a man who could be trusted to fight fair, he was even
more positive. Weary, however, was not afraid for Irish - he was merely
a bit uneasy and a bit anxious to be on hand when came the meeting. He
spurred along the trail darkening with the afterglow of a sun departed
and night creeping down upon the land, and wondered whether he would be
able to come up with Irish before he reached town.

At the place where the trail forked - the place where he had met the
wife of Spikes, he saw from a distance another rider gallop out of the
dusk and follow in the way that Irish had gone. Without other evidence
than mere instinct, he knew the horseman for Spikes. When, further
along, the horseman left the trail and angled away down a narrow
coulee, Weary rode a bit faster. He did not know the country very
well, and was not sure of where that coulee led; but he knew the nature
of a man like Spikes Weber, and his uneasiness was not lulled at the
sight. He meant to overtake Irish, if he could; after that he had no
plan whatever.

When, however, he came to the place where Spikes had turned off. Weary
turned off also and followed down the coulee; and he did not explain
why, even to himself. He only hurried to overtake the other, or at
least to keep him in sight.

The darkness lightened to bright starlight, with a moon not yet in its
prime to throw shadows black and mysterious against the coulee sides.
The coulee itself, Weary observed, was erratic in the matter of height,
width and general direction. Places there were where the width
dwindled until there was scant room for the cow trail his horse
conscientiously followed; places there were where the walls were easy
slopes to climb, and others where the rocks hung, a sheer hundred feet,
above him.

One of the easy slopes came near throwing him off the trail of Spikes.
He climbed the slope, and Weary would have ridden by, only that he
caught a brief glimpse of something on the hilltop; something that
moved, and that looked like a horseman. Puzzled but persistent, Weary
turned back where the slope was easiest, and climbed also. He did not
know the country well enough to tell, in that come-and-go light made
uncertain by drifting clouds, just where he was or where he would bring
up; he only knew instinctively that where Spikes rode, trouble rode
also.

Quite suddenly at the last came further knowledge. It was when, still
following, he rode along a steeply sloping ridge that narrowed
perceptibly, that he looked down, down, and saw, winding brownly in the
starlight, a trail that must be the trail he had left at the coulee
head.

"Mamma!" he ejaculated softly, and strained eyes under his hatbrim to
glimpse the figure he knew rode before. Then, looking down again, he
saw a horseman galloping rapidly towards the ridge, and pulled up short
when he should have done the opposite - for it was then that seconds
counted.

When the second glance showed the horseman to be Irish, Weary drove in
his spurs and galloped forward. Ten leaps perhaps he made, when a
rifle shot came sharply ahead. He glanced down and saw horse and rider
lying, a blotch of indefinable shape, in the trail. Weary drew his own
gun and went on, his teeth set tight together. Now, when it was too
late, he understood thoroughly the situation.

He came clattering out of the gloom to the very, point of the bluff,
just where it was highest and where it crowded closest the trail a long
hundred feet below. A man stood there on the very edge, with a rifle
in his hands. He may have been crouching, just before, but now he was
standing erect, looking fixedly down at the dark heap in the trail
below, and his figure, alert yet unwatchful, was silhouetted sharply
against the sky.

When Weary, gun at aim, charged furiously down upon him, he whirled,
ready to give battle for his life; saw the man he supposed was lying
down there dead in the trail, and started backward with a yell of pure
terror. "Irish!" He toppled, threw the rifle from him in a single
convulsive movement and went backward, down and down. -

Weary got off his horse and, gun still gripped firmly, walked to the
edge and looked down. In his face, dimly revealed in the fitful
moonlight, there was no pity but a look of baffled vengeance. Down at
the foot of the bluff the shadows lay deep and hid all they held, but
out in the trail something moved, rose up and stood still a moment, his
face turned upward to where stood Weary.

"Are yuh hurt, Irish?" Weary called anxiously down to him.

"Never touched me," came the answer from below. "He got my horse, damn
him! and I just laid still and kept cases on what he'd do next. Come
on down!"

Weary was already climbing recklessly down to where the shadows reached
long arms up to him. It was not safe, in that uncertain light, but
Weary was used to taking chances. Irish, standing still beside the
dead horse, watched and listened to the rattle of small stones
slithering down, and the clink of spur chains upon the rocks.

Together the two went into the shadows and stood over a heap of
something that had been a man.

"I never did kill a man," Weary remarked, touching the heap lightly
with his foot. "But I sure would have, that time, if he hadn't dropped
just before I cut loose on him."

Irish turned and looked at him. Standing so, one would have puzzled
long to know them apart. "You've done a lot for me, Weary, this trip,"
he said gravely. "I'm sure obliged."



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