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cowpuncher, and like all old hands on the range they were perfectly
familiar with the amount of damage which a single armed man can do.

The thing could be done, of course, but the point was to do it with the
minimum of danger. So they waited, and talked, and ate and always from
the corners of their eyes were conscious of the slightly built,
inoffensive man who sat beside Lawlor near the head of the table. In
appearance he was surely most innocuous, but Nash had spoken, and in
such matters they were all willing to take his word with a childlike

So the meal went on, and the only sign, to the most experienced eye, was
that the chairs were placed a little far back from the edge of the
table, a most necessary condition when men may have to rise rapidly or
get at their holsters for a quick draw.

Calamity Ben bearing a mighty dish of bread pudding, passed directly
behind the chair of the stranger. The whole table watched with a sudden
keenness, and they saw Bard turn, ever so slightly, just as Calamity
passed behind the chair.

"I say," he said, "may I have a bit of hot water to put in this coffee?"

"Sure," said Calamity, and went on, but the whole table knew that the
stranger was on his guard.

The mutual suspicion gave a tenseness to the atmosphere, as if it were
charged with the electricity of a coming storm, a tingling waiting which
made the men prone to become silent and then talk again in fitful
outbursts. Or it might be said that it was like a glass full of
precipitate which only waits for the injection of a single unusual
substance before it settles to the bottom and leaves the remaining
liquid clear. It was for the unusual, then, that the entire assembly
waited, feeling momentarily that it must be coming, for the strain could
not endure.

As for Bard, he stuck by his original apparent indifference. For he
still felt sure that the real William Drew was behind this elaborate
deception and the thing for which he waited was some revelation of the
hand of the master. The trumps which he felt he held was in being
forewarned; he could not see that the others knew his hand.

He said to Lawlor: "I think a man named Nash works on this ranch. I
expected to see him at supper here."

"Nash?" answered Lawlor. "Sure, he used to be foreman here. Ain't no
more. Nope - I couldn't stand for his lip. Didn't mind him getting fresh
till he tried to ride me. Then I turned him loose. Where did you meet

"While I was riding in this direction."

"Want to see him bad?"

The other moistened his lips.

"Rather! He killed my horse."

A silence fell on these who were within hearing. They would not have
given equal attention to the story of the killing of a man.

"How'd he get away with it?"

"The Saverack was between us. Before I could get my gun out he was
riding out of range. I'll meet him and have another talk some day."

"Well, the range ain't very small."

"But my dear fellow, it's not nearly as big as my certainty of meeting
this - cur."

There is something in a low, slow voice more thrilling than the thunder
of actual rage. Those who heard glanced to one another with thoughtful
eyes. They were thinking of Nash, and thinking of him with sympathy.

Little Duffy, squat and thick-set, felt inspiration descend on him. He
turned to Bard on his left.

"That ain't a full-size forty-five, is it - that one you're packin'?"

"Doesn't it look it?" answered Bard.

"Nope. Holster seems pretty small to me."

"It's the usual gun, I'm sure," said Bard, and pulled the weapon from
the leather.

Holding the butt loosely, his trigger finger hooked clear around the far
side of the guard, he showed the gun.

"I was wrong," nodded Duffy unabashed, "that's the regular kind. Let's
have a look at it."

And he stretched out his hand. No one would ever have guessed how
closely the table followed what now happened, for each man began talking
in a voice even louder than before. It was as if they sought to cover
the stratagem of Duffy with their noise.

"There's nothing unusual about the gun," said Bard, "but I'd be glad to
let you have it except that I've formed a habit of never letting a
six-shooter get away from me. It's a foolish habit, I know, but I can't
lose it. If there's any part you'd like to see, just name it."

"Thanks," answered Duffy. "I guess I've seen all I want of it."

Calamity had failed; Duffy had failed. It began to look as if force of
downright numbers must settle the affair.



As Sally had remarked the night before, one does not pay much attention
to a toilet when one rises at 5 a.m. At least that is the rule, but
Sally, turning out with a groan in the chill, dark room, shut off the
alarm, lighted her lamp, and set about the serious task of dressing. A
woman, after all, is much like a diplomatic statesman; a hint along
certain lines is more to her than a sworn statement.

She had secured a large mirror, and in front of this she laboured
patiently for a full ten minutes, twisting her hair this way and that,
and using the comb and brush vigorously. Now and then, as she worked,
she became aware that a fluff of hair rolling down low over her forehead
did amazing things to her face and brought her from Sally Fortune into
the strange dignity of a "lady." But she could not complete any of the
manoeuvres, no matter how promisingly they started. In the end she
dashed a handful of hairpins on the floor and wound the hair about her
head with a few swift turns.

She studied the sullen, boyish visage which looked back at her. After
all, she would be unmercifully joked if she were to appear with her hair
grown suddenly fluffy and womanly - it would become impossible for her to
run the eating-place without the assistance of a man, and a fighting man
at that. So what was the use? She threw the mirror crashing on the
floor; it splintered in a thousand pieces.

"After all," she murmured aloud, "do I want to be a woman?"

The sullen mouth undoubtedly answered "No"; the wistful eyes undoubtedly
replied in another key. She shrugged the question away and stepped out
of her room toward the kitchen, whistling a tune to raise her spirits.

"Late, Sally," said the cook, tossing another hot cake on the growing
pile which surmounted the warmer.

"Sure; I busted my mirror," said Sally.

The cook stared at her in such astonishment that he allowed a quantity
of dough to fall from the dish cupped in the hollow of his arm; it
overflowed the griddle-iron.

"Blockhead!" shouted Sally. "Watch your step!"

She resumed, when the dough had been rescued by somewhat questionable
means: "D'you think a girl can dress in the dark?"

But the cook had had too much experience with his employer to press what
seemed a tender point. He confined his attention to the pancakes.

"There ain't no fool worse than a he-fool," continued Sally bitterly.
"Which maybe you think a girl can dress without a mirror?"

Since this taunt brought no response from her victim, she went on into
the eating-room. It was already filling, and the duties of her strenuous
day began.

They continued without interruption hour after hour, for the popularity
of her restaurant had driven all competition out of Eldara, a result
which filled the pocket-book and fattened the bank account of Sally
Fortune, but loaded unnumbered burdens onto her strong shoulders. For
she could not hire a waiter to take her place; every man who came into
the eating-room expected to be served by the slim hands of Sally
herself, and he expected also some trifling repartee which would make
him pay his bill with a grin.

The repartee dragged with Sally to-day, almost to sullenness, and when
she began to grow weary in the early afternoon, there was no reserve
strength on which she could fall back. She suddenly became aware that
she wanted support, aid, comfort. Finally she spilled a great armful of
"empties" down on the long drain-board of the sink, turned to the wall,
and buried her face in her hands. The cook, Bert, though he cast a
startled glance at her would not have dared to speak, after that
encounter of the morning, but a rather explosive sniff was too eloquent
an appeal to his manliness.

His left sleeve having fallen, he rolled it back, tied the strings of
the apron tighter about his plump middle, and advanced to the battle.
His hand touched the shoulder of the girl.


"Shut your face!" moaned a stifled voice.

But he took his courage between his teeth and persisted.

"Sally, somethin' is wrong."

"Nothin' you can right, Fatty," said the same woe-stricken voice.

"Sally, if somebody's been gettin' fresh with you - "

Her arms jerked down; she whirled and faced him with clenched fists;
her eyes shining more brightly for the mist which was in them.

"Fresh with me? Why, you poor, one-horned yearling, d'you think there's
anybody in Eldara man enough to get fresh with me?"

Bert retreated a step; caution was a moving element in his nature. From
a vantage point behind a table, however, he ventured: "Then what is

Her woe, apparently, was greater than her wrath.

She said sadly: "I dunno, Bert. I ain't the man I used to be - I mean,
the woman."

He waited, his small eyes gentle. What woman can altogether resist
sympathy, even from a fat man and a cook? Not even the redoubtable soul
of a Sally.

She confessed: "I feel sort of hollow and gone - around the stomach,

"Eat," suggested the cook. "I just took out a pie that would - "

"But it ain't the stomach. It's like bein' hungry and wantin' no food.
Fatty, d'you think I'm sick?"

"You look kind of whitish."

"Fatty, I feel - "

She hesitated, as though too great a confession were at her lips, but
she stumbled on: "I feel as if I was afraid of somethin', or someone."

"That," said Bert confidently, "ain't possible. It's the stomach, Sally.
Something ain't agreed with you."

She turned from him with a vague gesture of despair.

"If this here feelin' is goin' to keep up - why, I wisht I was dead - I
wisht I was dead!"

She went on to the swinging door, paused there to dab her eyes swiftly,
started to whistle a tune, and in this fashion marched back to the
eating-room. Fatty, turning back to the stove, shook his head; he was
more than ever convinced in his secret theory that all women are crazy.

Sally found that a new man had entered, one whom she could not remember
having seen before. She went to him at once, for it seemed to her that
she would die, indeed, if she had to look much longer on the familiar,
unshaven faces of the other men in the room.

"Anything you got," said the stranger, who was broad of hands and thick
of neck and he cast an anxious eye on her. "I hear you seen something of
a thinnish, dark feller named Bard."

"What d'_you_ want with him?" asked Sally with dangerous calm.

"I was aimin' to meet up with him. That's all."

"Partner, if you want to stand in solid around here, don't let out that
you're a friend of his. He ain't none too popular; that's straight and
puttin' it nice and easy."

"Which who said I was his friend?" said the other with heat.

She turned away to the kitchen and reappeared shortly, bearing his meal.
The frown with which she departed had disappeared, and she was smiling
as brightly as ever while she arranged the dishes in front of him. He
paid no attention to the food.

"Now," she said, resting both hands on the table and leaning so that she
could look him directly in the eye: "What's Bard done now?
Horse - gun-fighter - woman; which?"

The other loosened the bandanna which circled his bull neck.

"Woman," he said hoarsely, and the blood swelled his throat and face
with veins of purple.

"Ah-h-h," drawled the girl, and straightening, she dropped both hands on
her hips. It was a struggle, but she managed to summon another smile.

"Wife - sister - sweetheart?"

The man stared dubiously on her, and Sally, mother to five hundred wild
rangers, knew the symptoms of a man eager for a confidant. She slipped
into the opposite chair.

"It might be any of the three," she went on gently, "and I know because
I've seen him work."

"Damn his soul!" growled the other by way of a prefix to his story. "It
ain't any of the three with me. This Bard - maybe he tried his hand with

Whether it was rage or scorn that made her start and redden he could not

"Me?" she repeated. "A tenderfoot get fresh with me? Stranger, you ain't
been long in Eldara or you wouldn't pull a bonehead like that."

"'Scuse me. I was hopin' that maybe you took a fall out of him, that's

He studied the blue eyes. They had been tinted with ugly green a moment
before, but now they were clear, deep, dark, guileless blue. He could
not resist. The very nearness of the woman was like a gentle, cool hand
caressing his forehead and rubbing away the troubles.

"It was like this," he began. "Me and Lizzie had been thick for a couple
of years and was jest waitin' till I'd corralled enough cash for a
start. Then the other day along comes this feller Bard with a queer way
of talkin' school language. Made you feel like you was readin' a bit out
of a dictionary jest to listen to him for a minute. Liz, she never
heard nothin' like it, I figure. She got all eyes and sat still and
listened. Bein' like that he plumb made a fool out of Liz. Kidded her
along and wound up by kissing her good-bye. I didn't see none of this; I
jest heard about it later. When I come up and started talkin' jest
friendly with Liz she got sore and passed me the frosty stare. I didn't
think she could be doin' more than kiddin' me a bit, so I kept right on
and it ended up with Liz sayin' that all was over between us."

He paused on his tragedy, set his teeth over a sigh, and went on: "The
feller ain't no good. I know that from a chap that come to the house a
few hours after Bard left. Nash was his name - "


"Nash. Feller built husky around the shoulders - looks like a fighter.
Know him?"

"Pretty well. D'you say he come to your house right after Bard left it?"

"Yep. Why?"

"How long ago was this?"

"About three days."

"Three days?"

"What's wrong?"


"You look like you was goin' to murder some one, lady."

Her laughter ended with a jerk and jar.

"Maybe I am. G'wan! Tell me some more about what Nash said."

"Why, he didn't say much. Hinted around that maybe Bard had walked off
with the piebald hoss he was ridin'."

"That's a lie."

"Lady," said the other a little coldly, "you say that like you was a
friend of Bard's."

"Me? There ain't nobody around these parts man enough to say to my face
that I'm a friend of that tenderfoot."

"I'm glad of that. My name's Ralph Boardman."

"I'm Sally Fortune."

"Sure; I've heard of you - a lot. Say, you couldn't tip me off where I
could hit the trail of Bard?"

"Dunno. Wait; lemme see."

She studied, with closed eyes. What she was thinking was that if Nash
had been so close to Bard three days before he was surely on the trail
of the tenderfoot and certainly that meeting in her place had not been a
casual one. She set her teeth, thinking of the promise Nash had given to
her. Undoubtedly he had laughed at it afterward. And now Bard probably
lay stretched on his back somewhere among the silent hills looking up to
the pitiless brightness of the sky with eyes which could never shut.

The hollow feeling of which Sally had complained to Bert grew to a
positive ache, and the tears stood up closer to her eyes.

"Wait around town," she said in a changed voice. "I think I heard him
say something of riding out, but he'll be back before long. That's the
only tip I can give you, partner."

So she rose and hurried back to the kitchen.

"Bert," she said, "I'm off for the rest of the day. You got to handle
the place."

He panted: "But the heavy rush - it ain't started yet."

"It's started for me."

"What d'you mean?"

"Nothin'. I'm on my way. S'long, Bert. Back in the mornin' bright and

If she could not find Bard at least she could find Nash at the ranch of
Drew, and in that direction she headed her racing horse.



Jansen, the big Swede, was the first to finish his meal in Drew's
dining-room. For that matter, he was always first. He ate with
astonishing expedition, lowering his head till that tremendous,
shapeless mouth was close to the plate and then working knife and fork
alternately with an unfaltering industry. To-night, spurred on by a
desire to pass through this mechanical effort and be prepared for the
coming action, his speed was something truly marvellous. He did not
appear to eat; the food simply vanished from the plate; it was absorbed
like a mist before the wind. While the others were barely growing
settled in their places, Jansen was already through.

He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, produced Durham and papers,
and proceeded to light up. Lawlor, struggling still to re-establish
himself in the eyes of Bard as the real William Drew, seized the
opportunity to exert a show of authority. He smashed his big fist on
the table.

"Jansen!" he roared.

"Eh?" grunted the Swede.

"Where was you raised?"


"You, square-head."


"Are you sneezin' or talkin' English?"

Jansen, irritated, bellowed: "Elvaruheimarstadhaven! That's where I was

"That's where you was born? Elvaru - damn such a language! No wonder you
Swedes don't know nothin'. It takes all your time learnin' how to talk
your lingo. But if you ain't never had no special trainin' in manners,
I'm goin' to make a late start with you now. Put out that cigarette!"

The pale eyes of Jansen stared, fascinated; the vast mouth fell agape.

"Maybe," he began, and then finished weakly: "I be damned!"

"There ain't no reasonable way of doubtin' that unless you put out that
smoke. Hear me?"

Shorty Kilrain, coming from the kitchen, grinned broadly. Having felt
the lash of discipline himself, he was glad to see it fall in another
place. He continued his gleeful course around that side of the table.

And big Jansen slowly, imperturbably, raised the cigarette and inhaled a
mighty cloud of smoke which issued at once in a rushing, fine blue mist,
impelled by a snort.

"Maybe," he rumbled, completing his thought, "maybe you're one damn

"I'm going to learn you who's boss in these parts," boomed Lawlor. "Put
out that cigarette! Don't you know no better than to smoke at the

Jansen pushed back his chair and started to rise. There was no doubt as
to his intentions; they were advertised in the dull and growing red
which flamed in his face. But Kilrain, as though he had known such a
moment would come, caught the Swede by the shoulders and forced him back
into the chair. As he did so he whispered something in the ear of

"Let him go!" bellowed Lawlor. "Let him come on. Don't hold him. I ain't
had work for my hands for five years. I need exercise, I do."

The mouth of Jansen stirred, but no words came. A hopeless yearning was
in his eyes. But he dropped the cigarette and ground it under his heel.

"I thought," growled Lawlor, "that you knew your master, but don't make
no mistake again. Speakin' personal, I don't think no more of knockin'
down a Swede than I do of flickin' the ashes off'n a cigar."

He indulged in a side glance at Bard to see if the latter were properly
impressed, but Anthony was staring blankly straight before him, unable,
to all appearances, to see anything of what was happening.

"Kilrain," went on Lawlor, "trot out some cigars. You know where they're

Kilrain falling to the temptation, asked: "Where's the key to the

For Drew kept his tobacco in a small cabinet, locked because of long
experience with tobacco-loving employees. Lawlor started to speak,
checked himself, fumbled through his pockets, and then roared: "Smash
the door open. I misplaced the key."

No semblance of a smile altered the faces of the cowpunchers around the
table, but glances of vague meaning were interchanged. Kilrain
reappeared almost at once, bearing a large box of cigars under each arm.

"The eats bein' over," announced Lawlor, "we can now light up. Open them
boxes, Shorty. Am I goin' to work on you the rest of my life teachin'
you how to serve cigars?"

Kilrain sighed deeply, but obeyed, presenting the open boxes in turn to
Bard, who thanked him, and to Lawlor, who bit off the end of his smoke
continued: "A match, Kilrain."

And he waited, swelling with pleasure, his eyes fixed upon space.
Kilrain lighted a match and held it for the two in turn. Two rows of
waiting, expectant eyes were turned from the whole length, of the table,
toward the cigars.

"Shall I pass on the cigars?" suggested Bard.

"_These_ smokes?" breathed Lawlor. "Waste 'em on common hands? Partner,
you ain't serious, are you?"

A breath like the faint sighing of wind reached them; the cowpunchers
were resigned, and started now to roll their Durham. But it seemed as if
a chuckle came from above; it was only some sound in the gasoline lamp,
a big fixture which hung suspended by a slender chain from the centre of
the ceiling and immediately above the table.

"Civilizin' cowpunchers," went on Lawlor, tilting back in his chair and
bracing his feet against the edge of the table, "civilizin' cowpunchers
is worse'n breakin' mustangs. They's some that say it can't be done.
But look at this crew. Do they look like rough uns?"

A stir had passed among the cowpunchers and solemn stares of hate
transfixed Lawlor, but he went on: "I'm askin' you, do these look

"I should say," answered Bard courteously, "that you have a pretty
experienced lot of cattle-men."

"Experienced? Well, they'll pass. They've had experience with bar whisky
and talkin' to their cards at poker, but aside from bein' pretty much
drunks and crookin' the cards, they ain't anything uncommon. But when I
got 'em they was wild, they was. Why, if I'd talked like this in front
of 'em they'd of been guns pulled. But look at 'em now. I ask you: Look
at 'em now! Ain't they tame? They hear me call 'em what they are, but
they don't even bat an eye. Yes, sir, I've tamed 'em. They took a lot of
lickin', but now they're tamed. Hello!"

For through the door stalked a newcomer. He paused and cast a curious
eye up the table to Lawlor.

"What the hell!" he remarked naively. "Where's the chief?"

"Fired!" bellowed Lawlor without a moment of hesitation.

"Who fired him?" asked the new man, with an expectant smile, like one
who waits for the point of a joke, but he caught a series of strange
signals from men at the table and many a broad wink.

"I fired him, Gregory," answered Lawlor. "I fired Nash!"

He turned to Bard.

"You see," he said rather weakly, "the boys is used to callin' Nash 'the

"Ah, yes," said Bard, "I understand."

And Lawlor felt that he did understand, and too well.

Gregory, in the meantime, silenced by the mysterious signs from his
fellow cowpunchers, took his place and began eating without another
word. No one spoke to him, but as if he caught the tenseness of the
situation, his eyes finally turned and glanced up the table to Bard.

It was easy for Anthony to understand that glance. It is the sort of
look which the curious turn on the man accused of a great crime and
sitting in the court room guilty. His trial in silence had continued
until he was found guilty. Apparently, he was now to be both judged and
executed at the same time.

There could not be long delay. The entrance of Gregory had almost been
the precipitant of action, and though it had been smoothed over to an
extent, still the air was each moment more charged with suspense. The
men were lighting their second cigarette. With each second it grew
clearer that they were waiting for something. And as if thoughtful of
the work before them, they no longer talked so fluently.

Finally there was no talk at all, save for sporadic outbursts, and the
blue smoke and the brown curled up slowly in undisturbed drifts toward
the ceiling until a bright halo formed around the gasoline lamp. A
childish thought came to Bard that where the smoke was so thick the fire
could not be long delayed.

A second form appeared in the doorway, lithe, graceful, and the light
made her hair almost golden.

"Ev'nin', fellers," called Sally jauntily. "Hello, Lawlor; what you
doin' at the head of the table?"



The bluff was ended. It was as if the wind blew a cloud suddenly from
the face of the sun and let the yellow sunlight pour brightly over the

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