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THE TRAIL HORDE

by

CHARLES ALDEN SELTZER

Author of "The Ranchman," "'Firebrand' Trevison," "The Range Boss," "The
Vengeance of Jefferson Gawne," "The Boss of the Lazy Y," Etc.

Frontispiece by P. V. E. Ivory







[Illustration: "Warden, if you move a quarter of an inch I'll blow you
to hell!"]




Chicago A.C. McClurg & Co. 1920 Copyright A. C. McClurg & Co. 1920
Published September, 1920
Copyrighted in Great Britain
M. A. Donohue & Co., Printers and Binders, Chicago




CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE
I Concerning Morals 1
II Driving a Bargain 11
III A Woman's Eyes 19
IV Rebellion 24
V A Man's Word 40
VI The Invisible Power 52
VII The Coalition 57
VIII A Woman's Mercy 64
IX The Arm of Power 80
X The Second Obstacle 99
XI The Long Trail 109
XII The Night Wind's Mystery 114
XIII The Invisible Menace 120
XIV Lawler's "Nerve" 127
XV Concerning an Outlaw 142
XVI A "Norther" 148
XVII The Line Cabin 158
XVIII Storm-Driven 165
XIX Death at a Door 172
XX The "Killing" 183
XXI Chance - and a Man 186
XXII The White Waste 191
XXIII A Woman's Wiles 196
XXIV Della's Handkerchief 208
XXV In Which a Man Plots 215
XXVI A Menace Appears 225
XXVII Evidence 229
XXVIII The Trail Horde 234
XXIX Antrim Strikes 246
XXX A Woman Lies 253
XXXI "Jail's Empty, Kane!" 257
XXXII Red King Runs 263
XXXIII The Fight at the Cabin 270
XXXIV "Good Old Shorty!" 283
XXXV Haunting Memories 288
XXXVI A Man Meditates Vengeance 298
XXXVII The Trap 303
XXXVIII The Governor's Guns 310
XXXIX Slade's Prisoner 314
XL Primitive Instincts 318
XLI The Clean-up 323
XLII Going East 331
XLIII The Majesty of Peace 341




THE TRAIL HORDE


* * * * *




CHAPTER I

CONCERNING MORALS


There were fifty thousand acres within view of the ranchhouse - virgin
grass land dotted with sage, running over a wide level, into little
hills, and so on to an upland whose rise was so gradual that it could be
seen only from a distance, best from the gallery of the ranchhouse.

The first tang of autumn was in the sage-scented breeze that swept the
county, and the tawny valley, basking in the warm sunlight that came
down from a cloudless sky, showed its rugged beauty to advantage.

Kane Lawler paused at the edge of the gallery and filled his lungs from
the sage-laden breeze, and then wheeled to face his mother.

She smiled at him.

"Have you seen Ruth Hamlin lately, Kane?"

Lawler's lips opened, then closed again, tightly. And by that token Mrs.
Lawler knew that something Kane had been on the point of saying never
would be said. For she knew her son as no other person in the country
knew him.

Kane Lawler was big. From the broad shoulders that bulged the gray
flannel shirt, down the yellow corduroy trousers that encased his legs
to the tops of the boots with their high heels and dull-roweled spurs,
Lawler looked what he was, a man who asked no favors of his kind.

Mrs. Lawler had followed him out of the house, and she now stood near
him, watching him.

There was in Lawler's lean face as he turned from his mother and peered
steadily out into the valley, a hint of volcanic force, of resistless
energy held in leash by a contrary power. That power might have been
grim humor - for his keen gray eyes were now gleaming with something akin
to humor - it might have been cynical tolerance - for his lips were
twisted into a curious, mirthless half-smile; it might have been the
stern repression that had governed him all his days.

Whatever it was it seemed to be no secret from his mother, for she
smiled understandingly, and with pride that must have been visible to
anyone who watched her.

Massed in the big valley - at a distance of two or three miles from the
big ranchhouse, was a herd of cattle. Circling them were a number of
cowboys on horses. In the huge corral that spanned a shallow, narrow
river, were other cattle. These were the result of the fall - or
beef - round-up. For a month there had been intense activity in the
section. Half the cattlemen in the county had participated in the
round-up that had centered upon Lawler's range, the Circle L: and the
cattle had been herded down in the valley because of its natural
advantages.

There the herd had been held while the neighboring cattlemen engaged in
the tedious task of "cutting out" - which meant that each cattle owner
took from the herd the steers that bore his "brand," with the addition
of a proportionate number of unbranded steers, and calves, designated as
"mavericks." Then the neighboring outfit had driven their stock home.

"It was a big round-up, Kane," said Mrs. Lawler, watching the herd.

"Eight thousand head," Lawler replied. "We're starting a thousand toward
Willets today."

"Have you seen Gary Warden? I mean, have you arranged with Warden to
have him take the cattle?"

Lawler smiled. "I had an agreement with Jim Lefingwell. We made it early
last spring."

"A written agreement?"

"Shucks - no. I never had a written agreement with Lefingwell. Never had
to. Jim's word was all I ever wanted from him - all I ever asked for."

"But perhaps Gary Warden's business methods are different?"

"I talked that over with Lefingwell when he sold out to Warden. Jim said
he'd already mentioned our agreement to Warden and that Warden had
agreed to carry it out."

"But suppose Warden has changed his mind?"

Lawler spoke seriously. "No man goes back on his word in this country.
But from what I've heard of Warden, he's likely to. If he does, we'll
drive the stock to Keppler, at Red Rock. Keppler isn't buying for the
same concern, but he'll pay what Lefingwell agreed to pay. We'll ship
them, don't worry."

"Red Rock means a five hundred mile drive, Kane."

Lawler replied, "You're anticipating, Mother. Warden will take them."

Lawler grinned and stepped off the gallery. A few minutes later he
emerged from the stable carrying a saddle, which he flung over one of
the top rails of the corral fence. He roped a big, red bay, smooth, with
a glossy coat that shone like a flame in the clear white light of the
morning sun.

The bay was built on heroic lines. He was tall and rangy, and the spirit
of a long line of thoroughbred ancestors was in him. It showed in the
clear white of his gleaming, indomitable eyes, in his thin, sensitive
nostrils and long, shapely muzzle; in the contour of his head and chest,
and in his slender, sinewy legs.

Man and horse were big, capable, strong-willed. They were equipped for
life in the grim, wild country that surrounded them. From the slender,
powerful limbs of the big bay, to the cartridge-studded belt that
encircled the man's middle, with a heavy pistol at the right hip, they
seemed to typify the ruggedness of the country, seemed to embody the
spirit of the Wild.

Lawler mounted, and the big bay whistled as he pranced across the
ranchhouse yard to the big corral where the cattle were confined. Lawler
brought the bay to a halt at a corner of the corral fence, where his
foreman, Blackburn, who had been breakfasting in the messhouse, advanced
to meet him, having seen Lawler step down from the gallery.

Blackburn was of medium height, swarthy, with heavy brows under which
were keen, deep-set eyes. His mouth was big, expressive, with a
slightly cynical set in repose.

"We're hittin' the trail in about an hour," said Blackburn. "Are you
wantin' me to put 'em through, or are we takin' two days to it, as
usual?"

"Two days," advised Lawler. "There's no hurry. It's a bad trail in
spots, and they'll want to feed. They'll stand the trip on the cars
better if they've had plenty of grass."

"Gary Warden is keeping Lefingwell's agreement with you, I reckon?"
asked Blackburn. He eyed Lawler intently.

"Of course." Lawler caught the expression of his foreman's eyes, and his
brows drew together. He added: "Why do you ask?"

"Just wonderin'," hesitated Blackburn; "just wonderin'. You seen this
here man, Warden?"

Lawler had not met Warden; he had not even seen the man from a distance.
That was because he had not visited Willets since Warden had bought
Lefingwell's ranch and assumed Lefingwell's position as resident buyer
for a big eastern live-stock company. Lawler had heard, though, that
Warden seemed to be capable enough; that he had entered upon the duties
of his position smoothly without appreciable commotion; he had heard
that Warden, was quiet and "easy-going," and that as a cattle buyer he
seemed to "know his business."

This information had reached Lawler's ears through the medium of
neighboring cattle owners, and he was willing to accept it as accurate,
though he was not prepared to form an estimate of Warden until he had
an opportunity to talk with him personally.

"Well," went on Blackburn; "them that's looked him over don't hesitate
to say he don't measure up to Jim Lefingwell's size."

"Jim was a mighty big man - in size and principles," said Lawler.

"Now you're shoutin'! There wasn't no man bigger'n Jim, sideways,
edgeways, or up an' down. I reckon any man would have a hard time
measurin' up to Jim Lefingwell. Mebbe that's what's wrong with Warden.
Folks has got Jim Lefingwell on their minds, an' they're not givin'
Warden what's comin' to him, them bein' biased." He squinted at Lawler.
"Folks is hintin' that Warden don't own Jim Lefingwell's ranch a-tall;
that some eastern guys bought it, an' that Warden's just managin' it.
Seems like they's a woman at the Lefingwell's old place, keepin' Warden
company. She's eastern, too, they say. Got a old maid with her to keep
her company - a chapper-own, they say - which ain't in no ways
illuminatin' my think-tank none. Which is a chapper-own?"

"A kind of a moral monitor, Blackburn," grinned Lawler. "Some folks need
them. If you're thinking of getting one - - "

"Bah!" Blackburn's eyes were vitriolic with disgust. "I sabe what you
are hintin' at when you gas of morals - which I'm a heap acquainted with
because I ain't got none to speak of. But I'm plumb flabbergasted when
you go to connectin' a battleship with anything that's got a whole lot
to do with morals. Accordin' to my schoolin', a monitor is a thing
which blows the stuffin' out of - - "

"A monitor of morals could do that," gravely said Lawler. "In fact,
according to the best authorities, there have been many monitors who
have blown the stuffing out of the reputations of their charges."

Blackburn gulped. He was puzzled, and his eyes were glazed with the
incomprehension which had seized him. Twice again as he watched Lawler's
grave face he gulped. And then he eyed Lawler belligerently.

"I reckon them monitors is eastern. I've never seen one galivantin'
around these parts."

"They're a lot eastern," assented Lawler. "I've never seen one, but I've
read about them in books. And once my mother saw one - she tells me the
East raises them by the hundred."

"That accounts for it," declared Blackburn; "anything which comes from
the East is likely to be a heap shy on hoss sense."

He now squinted at Lawler, watching him keenly.

"Accordin' to report Joe Hamlin ought to go around draggin' one of them
monitors."

Blackburn shrewdly noted the quickening of Lawler's eyes, and the dull
red that stole into his face.

"What do you mean, Blackburn?"

"Davies an' Harris hit town ag'in last night; an' comin' back they run
plumb into Joe Hamlin. He was in the upper end of the box arroyo. He'd
roped an' hog-tied a Circle L cow an' was blottin' our brand out."

"What happened?" Lawler's lips were set in grim lines.

"Nothin' - followin' your orders regardin' the cuss. Davies an' Harris
let him go - after warnin' him. Somethin' ought to be done. It ain't
addin' a heap to the morals of the outfit for the men to know a man can
rustle cattle that promiscuous - an' the boss not battin' an eyewinker.
This is the fourth time he's been caught with the goods - to say nothin'
of the times he's done it without nobody gittin' wise - an' the boys is
beginnin' to ask questions, bein' a heap puzzled because somethin' don't
happen to Joe."

Lawler's face was expressionless. Except for the flush in his cheeks he
seemed to be unaffected by Blackburn's words. His voice was a trifle
cold when he spoke:

"I'll attend to Hamlin. I'll stop at the Two Bar on my way to Willets.
By the time you reach town with the cattle I'll have the deal with
Warden clinched."

Blackburn nodded, and Lawler wheeled the bay, heading him northward.

As he rode, Lawler's face changed expression. He frowned, and his lips
set stiffly.

What he had been almost on the point of telling his mother was that he
knew why Ruth Hamlin had refused him. It was pride, nothing less. Lawler
suspected that Ruth knew her father was a rustler. In fact, there had
been times when he had seen that knowledge lying naked in her eyes when
she looked at her parent. Accusation and disgust had been there, but
mingling with them was the persistent loyalty that had always governed
the girl; the protective instinct, and a hope of reformation.

The pride that Mrs. Lawler had exhibited was not less strong in the
girl's heart. By various signs Lawler knew the girl loved him; he knew
it as positively as he knew she would not marry him while the stigma of
guilt rested upon her parent. And he was convinced that she was ignorant
of the fact that Lawler shared her secret. That was why Lawler had
permitted Hamlin to escape; it was why he had issued orders to his men
to suffer Hamlin's misdeeds without exacting the expiation that custom
provided. Lawler did not want Ruth to know that he knew.

He sent the big bay forward at a steady, even pace, and in an hour he
had crossed the sweep of upland and was riding a narrow trail that
veered gradually from the trail to Willets. The character of the land
had changed, and Lawler was now riding over a great level, thickly
dotted with bunch grass, with stretches of bars, hard sand, clumps of
cactus and greasewood.

He held to the narrow trail. It took him through a section of dead,
crumbling lava and rotting rock; through a little stretch of timber, and
finally along the bank of a shallow river - the Wolf - which ran after
doubling many times, through the Circle L valley.

In time he reached a little grass level that lay close to the river. A
small cabin squatted near the center of the clearing, surrounded by
several outbuildings in a semi-dilapidated condition, and a corral, in
which there were several horses.

Lawler sent Red King straight toward the cabin. When he reached the
cabin he swung off and walked toward the door, his lips set in straight
lines, his manner decisive.

He had taken only several steps when a voice greeted him, coming from
the interior of the cabin - a man's voice, snarling, venomous:

"You come another step, Kane Lawler, an' I'll bore you!"

Lawler halted, facing the door. The door was closed, but a little slide
in the upper part of it was open. Through the aperture projected the
muzzle of a rifle, and behind the rifle appeared a man's face - dark,
bearded, with eyes that gleamed with ferocious malignancy.




CHAPTER II

DRIVING A BARGAIN


Lawler stiffened. There was no mistaking the deadly threat of the rifle
and the man's menacing manner. Lawler's face was pale, but his eyes were
unwavering as they looked into those that glared out at him through the
aperture in the door.

Guilt and fear were the emotions that had driven Hamlin to this rather
hysterical threat. Lawler resisted an impulse to laugh, though he felt a
pulse of grim humor shoot through him.

To his knowledge - excepting Hamlin's predilection to rustle cattle - the
man was harmless. He never had been known to draw a gun, even in
self-defense, and Lawler was convinced that there was not sufficient
provocation for him to break one of the rules that had governed him
until now. Hamlin might be goaded, or frightened, into using the rifle,
but Lawler had no intention of goading or frightening him. In fact,
being aware of the reason for Hamlin's belligerence, he had no intention
of acquainting the man with the knowledge of what had happened the night
before. At least, not at this instant.

Lawler's lips wore a shadowy smile.

"I reckon you don't know me, Hamlin?" he said.

"I know you mighty well, Lawler," snapped Hamlin; "you heard me mention
your name!"

"Then you've got a new way of greeting your friends, eh - with a rifle.
Well, put it down and open the door. There's some things I want to say
to you."

"What about?" asked Hamlin, suspiciously. Overwhelming every other
thought in his mind was the conviction that Davies and Harris had
apprised Lawler of what had happened the night before, and that Lawler
had come to capture him, single-handed.

"About Ruth."

The wild gleam in Hamlin's eyes began to dull. However, he was still
suspicious.

"You seen any of your men this mornin' - Davies or Harris?" he asked.

"Davies and Harris went to town last night. I reckon they didn't get
back yet. What's Davies and Harris got to do with me visiting you?"

"Nothin'." There was relief in Hamlin's voice. The muzzle of the rifle
wavered; the weapon was withdrawn and the slide closed. Then the door
slowly opened, and Hamlin appeared in it, a six-shooter in hand.

"If you're foolin' me, Kane Lawler, I'll sure bore you a-plenty!" he
threatened.

"Shucks!" Lawler advanced to the door, ignoring the heavy pistol, which
was shoved close to his body as he walked into the cabin, Hamlin
retreating before him.

"Hamlin, you're losing whatever sense you had," said Lawler as he halted
near the center of the big room. There were three rooms, their doors
opening from the one in which Lawler and Hamlin stood.

"Meanin' what?" demanded Hamlin, nervously fingering the six-shooter.

It was clear that Hamlin was impressed with the repressed force that he
could see in Lawler; with the slumbering energy that Lawler's lithe,
sinewy body suggested; with the man's complete lack of fear and with the
cold confidence that swam in his steady eyes.

Hamlin did not know at this minute whether or not he had meant to shoot
Lawler. He believed that if Lawler had told him he had come to take him
for blotting out the Circle L brand in the arroyo the preceding night he
would have killed Lawler. But he was not sure. Something about Lawler
made the thought of shooting him seem ridiculous. It would take a lot of
provocation for _any_ man to kill Lawler, for something about Lawler
seemed to hint that it couldn't be done.

"Meaning that you are old enough to know that you can't keep on rustling
my cattle without getting in trouble."

"Ah!" exclaimed Hamlin, his breath hissing through his teeth as he
sucked it in with a gasp; "you sneaked on me, damn you!"

He threw the muzzle of the pistol up, his body stiffening, his eyes
glittering with the malignance that had been in them when he had been
looking out at Lawler through the aperture in the door.

"You know about that deal, an' you've come for me. You tried to fool me,
eh - tellin' me that you didn't see Davies an' Harris. Well, damn your
hide you ain't goin' to take me; I'll blow you to hell first!"

Lawler's eyes were steady and unblinking as he watched Hamlin; they
bored into Hamlin's with a compelling intensity, that brought a
conviction of futility into Hamlin's soul. They were cold eyes - cold as
icebergs, Hamlin thought as he watched them; but they seemed to flame
also, to flame with a fire that was cold as the ice in them.

The terrible power of them, and the promise of volcanic action back in
them; the awful confidence that shone in them; the threat compelling
Hamlin against his will, deadening his muscles, jumbling his
thoughts - brought chaos into the man's brain, and he stood, his mouth
agape with wonder over the thing that was happening to him, as Lawler
walked steadily to him. He made no resistance as Lawler deliberately
wrenched the pistol from his hand and as deliberately walked to a side
wall and placed it upon a shelf.

Hamlin stood, nerveless and pallid, for an instant, watching Lawler's
movements - until Lawler turned and faced him again. Then he staggered to
a chair and dropped into it, lowering his head dejectedly, sitting with
his hands folded, completely subjected.

Lawler would hang him, now. Lawler would take him to the Circle L and
turn him over to Blackburn and the other men of the outfit. And
Blackburn would hang him, for Blackburn had told him he would. Or, if
Lawler didn't take him to Blackburn he would take him to the sheriff. He
would be hanged then, but he would go to the new prison at the capital,
and Ruth would have to stay on here to do the real suffering for his
misdeeds.

"You damned fool!" came Lawler's voice into the vacuumlike stillness of
the cabin. "You haven't got nerve enough to shoot a coyote!"

Hamlin knew it; he knew, now, at least, that he hadn't had nerve enough
to shoot Lawler. He cringed under Lawler's contemptuous tone. And then
he became aware that Lawler was speaking again.

"I'm giving you another chance. I'm letting you off, clean. For Ruth's
sake.

"Look here, Hamlin!"

Hamlin's chin was caught in an iron grasp and he found himself looking
into the terrible eyes. He saw grim pity in the eyes and he shuddered.

"Ruth knows you're stealing cattle. Everybody knows it, now. Who is
buying them?"

"Singleton."

"Singleton!" Lawler's voice snapped with astonishment. "Dave Singleton,
Lefingwell's old range boss?"

Hamlin nodded. And then the grip of Lawler's fingers on his chin
relaxed. He heard Lawler step back, but he did not lift his head for a
few minutes, during which a strained silence descended upon the room.
Then he covertly raised his head, to see Lawler standing with his arms
folded over his chest, watching him.

Lawler had not suspected Singleton. Between himself and Singleton there
had always been a lack of ordinary cordiality, a constraint closely
approaching dislike; but Lawler had never entertained a suspicion that
Lefingwell's range boss was dishonest.

Hamlin was a moral weakling, he knew. Everybody in the Wolf River
section knew it. Hamlin was lazy and shiftless, seemingly contented to
drift along in an aimless way, regardless of what happened to him. There
was at Hamlin's feet some of the wealth that other cattlemen of the
district were gaining. He had proved on a quarter-section of good grass
land amid plenty of water, and yet he chose to steal cattle rather than
raise them.

Lawler's pity for the man was stronger than the resentment he felt.


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