"That's enough, Sue," growled the father.
"We ain't goin' to have no more show about this. I've had my supper
spoiled by it already."
"I say it's a rotten shame," broke out Sue, and she repeated, "Ralph's
too good for her. All because of a city dude - a tenderfoot!"
In the extremity of her scorn her voice drawled in a harsh murmur.
"Then take him yourself, if you can get him!" cried Lizzie. "I'm sure I
don't want him!"
Their eyes blazed at each other across the table, and Lizzie, having
scored an unexpected point, struck again.
"I think you've always had a sort of hankerin' after Ralph - oh, I've
seen your eyes rollin' at him."
The other girl coloured hotly through her tan.
"If I was fond of him I wouldn't be ashamed to let him know, you can
tell the world that. And I wouldn't keep him trottin' about like a
little pet dog till I got tired of him and give him up for the sake of a
greenhorn who" - her voice lowered to a spiteful hiss - "kissed you the
first time he even seen you!"
In vain Lizzie fought for her control; her lip trembled and her voice
"I hate you, Sue!"
"Sue, ain't you ashamed of yourself?" pleaded the mother.
"No, I ain't! Think of it; here's Ralph been sweet on Liz for two years
an' now she gives him the go-by for a skinny, affected dude like that
feller that was here. And he's forgot you already, Liz, the minute he
stopped laughing at you for bein' so easy."
"Ma, are you goin' to let Sue talk like this - right before a stranger?"
"Sue, you shut up!" commanded the father.
"I don't see nobody that can make me," she said, surly as a grown boy.
"I can't make any more of a fool out of Liz than that tenderfoot made
"Did he," asked Steve, "ride a piebald mustang?"
"D'you know him?" breathed Lizzie, forgetting the tears of shame which
had been gathering in her eyes.
"Nope. Jest heard a little about him along the road."
"What's his name?"
Then she coloured, even before Sue could say spitefully: "Didn't he even
have to tell you his name before he kissed you?"
"He did! His name is - Tony!"
"Tony!" - in deep disgust. "Well, he's dark enough to be a dago! Maybe
he's a foreign count, or something, Liz, and he'll take you back to live
in some castle or other."
But the girl queried, in spite of this badinage: "Do you know his name?"
"His name," said Nash, thinking that it could do no harm to betray as
much as this, "is Anthony Bard, I think."
"And you don't know him?"
"All I know is that the feller who used to own that piebald mustang is
pretty mad and cusses every time he thinks of him."
"He didn't steal the hoss?"
This with more bated breath than if the question had been: "He didn't
kill a man?" for indeed horse-stealing was the greater crime.
Even Nash would not make such an accusation directly, and therefore he
fell back on an innuendo almost as deadly.
"I dunno," he said non-committally, and shrugged his shoulders.
With all his soul he was concentrating on the picture of the man who
conquered a fighting horse and flirted successfully with a pretty girl
the same day; each time riding on swiftly from his conquest. The clues
on this trail were surely thick enough, but they were of such a nature
that the pleasant mind of Steve grew more and more thoughtful.
In fact, so thoughtful had Nash become, that he slept with extraordinary
lightness that night and was up at the first hint of day. Sue appeared
on the scene just in time to witness the last act of the usual drama of
bucking on the part of the roan, before it settled down to the
mechanical dog-trot with which it would wear out the ceaseless miles of
the mountain-desert all day and far into the night, if need be.
Nash now swung more to the right, cutting across the hills, for he
presumed that by this time the tenderfoot must have gotten his bearings
and would head straight for Eldara. It was a stiff two day journey, now,
the whole first day's riding having been a worse than useless detour; so
the bulldog jaw set harder and harder, and the keen eyes squinted as if
to look into the dim future.
Once each day, about noon, when the heat made even the desert and the
men of the desert drowsy, he allowed his imagination to roam freely,
counting the thousand dollars over and over again, and tasting again the
joys of a double salary. Yet even his hardy imagination rarely rose to
the height of Sally Fortune. That hour of dreaming, however, made the
day of labour almost pleasant.
This time, in the very middle of his dream, he reached the cross-roads
saloon and general merchandise store of Flanders; so he banished his
visions with a compelling shrug of the shoulders and rode for it at a
gallop, a hot dryness growing in his throat at every stride. Quick
service he was sure to get, for there were not more than half a dozen
cattle-ponies standing in front of the little building with its rickety
walls guiltless of paint save for the one great sign inscribed with
He swung from the saddle, tossed the reins over the head of the mustang,
made a stride forward - and then checked himself with a soft curse and
reached for his gun.
For the door of the bar dashed open and down the steps rushed a tall man
with light yellow moustache, so long that it literally blew on either
side over his shoulders as he ran; in either hand he carried a
revolver - -a two-gun man, fleeing, perhaps, from another murder.
For Nash recognized in him a character notorious through a thousand
miles of the range, Sandy Ferguson, nicknamed by the colour of that
famous moustache, which was envied and dreaded so far and so wide. It
was not fear that made Nash halt, for otherwise he would have finished
the motion and whipped out his gun; but at least it was something
closely akin to fear.
For that matter, there were unmistakable signs in Sandy himself of what
would have been called arrant terror in any other man. His face was so
bloodless that the pallor showed even through the leathery tan; one eye
stared wildly, the other being sheltered under a clumsy patch which
could not quite conceal the ugly bruise beneath. Under his great
moustache his lips were as puffed and swollen as the lips of a negro.
Staggering in his haste, he whirled a few paces from the house and
turned, his guns levelled. At the same moment the door opened and the
perspiring figure of little fat Flanders appeared. Scorn and anger
rather than hate or any bloodlust appeared in his face. His right arm,
hanging loosely at his side, held a revolver, and he seemed to have the
greatest unconcern for the levelled weapons of the gunman.
He made a gesture with that armed hand, and Sandy winced as though a
whiplash had flicked him.
"Steady up, damn your eyes!" bellowed Flanders, "and put them guns away.
Put 'em up; hear me?"
To the mortal astonishment of Nash, Sandy obeyed, keeping the while a
fascinated eye upon the little Dutchman.
"Now climb your hoss and beat it, and if I ever find you in reach again,
I'll send my kid out to rope you and give you a hoss-whippin'."
The gun fighter lost no time. A single leap carried him into his saddle
and he was off over the sand with a sharp rattle of the beating hoofs.
"Well," breathed Nash, "I'll be hanged."
"Sure you will," suggested Flanders, at once changing his frown for a
smile of somewhat professional good nature, as one who greeted an old
customer, "sure you will unless you come in an' have a drink on the
house. I want something myself to forget what I been doin'. I feel like
Steve, deeply meditative, strode into the room.
"Partner," he said gravely to Flanders, "I've always prided myself on
having eyes a little better than the next one, but just now I guess I
must of been seein' double. Seemed to me that that was Sandy Ferguson
that you hot-footed out of that door - or has Sandy got a double?"
"Nope," said the bartender, wiping the last of the perspiration from his
forehead, "that's Sandy, all right."
"Then gimme a big drink. I need it."
The bottle spun expertly across the bar, and the glasses tinkled after.
"Funny about him, all right," nodded Flanders, "but then it's happened
the same way with others I could tell about. As long as he was winnin'
Sandy was the king of any roost. The minute he lost a fight he wasn't
worth so many pounds of salt pork. Take a hoss; a fine hoss is often
jest the same. Long as it wins nothin' can touch some of them blooded
boys. But let 'em go under the wire second, maybe jest because they's
packing twenty pounds too much weight, and they're never any good any
more. Any second-rater can lick 'em. I lost five hundred iron boys on a
hoss that laid down like that."
"All of which means," suggested Nash, "that Sandy has been licked?"
"Licked? No, he ain't been licked, but he's been plumb annihilated,
washed off the map, cleaned out, faded, rubbed into the dirt; if there
was some stronger way of puttin' it, I would. Only last night, at that,
but now look at him. A girl that never seen a man before could tell that
he wasn't any more dangerous now than if he was made of putty; but if
the fool keeps packin' them guns he's sure to get into trouble."
He raised his glass.
"So here's to the man that Sandy was and ain't no more."
They drank solemnly.
"Maybe you took the fall out of him yourself, Flanders?"
"Nope. I ain't no fighter, Steve. You know that. The feller that downed
Sandy was - a tenderfoot. Yep, a greenhorn."
"Ah-h-h," drawled Nash softly, "I thought so."
"Anyway, let's hear the story. Another drink - on me, Flanders."
"It was like this. Along about evening of yesterday Sandy was in here
with a couple of other boys. He was pretty well lighted - the glow was
circulatin' promiscuous, in fact - when in comes a feller about your
height, Steve, but lighter. Goodlookin', thin face, big dark eyes like a
girl. He carried the signs of a long ride on him. Well, sir, he walks up
to the bar and says: 'Can you make me a very sour lemonade, Mr.
"I grabbed the edge of the bar and hung tight.
"'A which?' says I.
"'Lemonade, if you please.'
"I rolled an eye at Sandy, who was standin' there with his jaw falling,
and then I got busy with lemons and the squeezer, but pretty soon
Ferguson walks up to the stranger.
"'Are you English?' he asks.
"I knew by his tone what was comin', so I slid the gun I keep behind the
bar closer and got prepared for a lot of damaged crockery.
"'I?' says the tenderfoot. 'Why, no. What makes you ask?'
"'Your damned funny way of talkin',' says Sandy.
"'Oh,' says the greenhorn, nodding as if he was thinkin' this over and
discovering a little truth in it. 'I suppose the way I talk is a little
"'A little rotten,' says Sandy. 'Did I hear you askin' for a lemonade?'
"'Would I seem to be askin' too many questions,' says Sandy, terrible
polite, 'if I inquires if bar whisky ain't good enough for you?'
"The tenderfoot, he stands there jest as easy as you an' me stand here
now, and he laughed.
"He says: 'The bar whisky I've tasted around this country is not very
good for any one, unless, perhaps, after a snake has bitten you. Then it
works on the principle of poison fight poison, eh?'
"Sandy says after a minute: 'I'm the most quietest, gentle, innercent
cowpuncher that ever rode the range, but I'd tell a man that it riles me
to hear good bar whisky insulted like this. Look at me! Do I look as if
whisky ain't good for a man?'
"'Why,' says the tenderfoot, 'you look sort of funny to me.'
"He said it as easy as if he was passin' the morning with Ferguson, but
I seen that it was the last straw with Sandy. He hefted out both guns
and trained 'em on the greenhorn.
"I yelled: 'Sandy, for God's sake, don't be killin' a tenderfoot!'
"'If whisky will kill him he's goin' to die,' says Sandy. 'Flanders,
pour out a drink of rye for this gent.'
"I did it, though my hand was shaking a lot, and the chap takes the
glass and raises it polite, and looks at the colour of it. I thought he
was goin' to drink, and starts wipin' the sweat off'n my forehead.
"But this chap, he sets down the glass and smiles over to Sandy.
"'Listen,' he says, still grinnin', 'in the old days I suppose this
would have been a pretty bluff, but it won't work with me now. You want
me to drink this glass of very bad whisky, but I'm sure that you don't
want it badly enough to shoot me.
"'There are many reasons. In the old days a man shot down another and
then rode off on his horse and was forgotten, but in these days the
telegraph is faster than any horse that was ever foaled. They'd be sure
to get you, sir, though you might dodge them for a while. And I believe
that for a crime such as you threaten, they have recently installed a
little electric chair which is a perfectly good inducer of sleep - in
fact, it is better than a cradle. Taking these things all into
consideration, I take it for granted that you are bluffing, my friend,
and one of my favourite occupations is calling a bluff. You look
dangerous, but I've an idea that you are as yellow as your moustache.'
"Sandy, he sort of swelled up all over like a poisoned dog.
"He says: 'I begin to see your style. You want a clean man-handlin',
which suits me uncommon well.'
"With that, he lays down his guns, soft and careful, and puts up his
fists, and goes for the other gent.
"He makes his pass, which should have sent the other gent into kingdom
come. But it didn't. No, sir, the tenderfoot, he seemed to evaporate. He
wasn't there when the fist of Ferguson come along. Ferguson, he checked
up short and wheeled around and charged again like a bull. And he missed
again. And so they kept on playin' a sort of a game of tag over the
place, the stranger jest side-steppin' like a prize-fighter, the
prettiest you ever seen, and not developin' when Sandy started on one of
"At last one of Sandy's fists grazed him on the shoulder and sort of
peeved him, it looked like. He ducks under Sandy's next punch, steps in,
and wallops Sandy over the eye - that punch didn't travel more'n six
inches. But it slammed Sandy down in a corner like he's been shot.
"He was too surprised to be much hurt, though, and drags himself up to
his feet, makin' a pass at his pocket at the same time. Then he came
again, silent and thinkin' of blood, I s'pose, with a knife in his hand.
"This time the tenderfoot didn't wait. He went in with a sort of hitch
step, like a dancer. Ferguson's knife carved the air beside the
tenderfoot's head, and then the skinny boy jerked up his right and his
left - one, two - into Sandy's mouth. Down he goes again - slumps down as
if all the bones in his body was busted - right down on his face. The
other feller grabs his shoulder and jerks him over on his back.
"He stands lookin' down at him for a moment, and then he says, sort of
thoughtful: 'He isn't badly hurt, but I suppose I shouldn't have hit him
"Can you beat that, Steve? You can't!
"When Sandy come to he got up to his feet, wobbling - seen his guns - went
over and scooped 'em up, with the eye of the tenderfoot on him all the
time - scooped 'em up - stood with 'em all poised - and so he backed out
through the door. It wasn't any pretty thing to see. The tenderfoot, he
turned to the bar again.
"'If you don't mind,' he says, 'I think I'll switch my order and take
that whisky instead. I seem to need it.'
"'Son!' says I, 'there ain't nothin' in the house you can't have for the
askin'. Try some of this!'
"And I pulled out a bottle of my private stock - you know the stuff; I've
had it twenty-five years, and it was ten years old when I got it. That
ain't as much of a lie as it sounds.
"He takes a glass of it and sips it, sort of suspicious, like a wolf
scentin' the wind for an elk in winter. Then his face lighted up like a
lantern had been flashed on it. You'd of thought that he was lookin' his
long-lost brother in the eye from the way he smiled at me. He holds the
glass up and lets the light come through it, showin' the little traces
and bubbles of oil.
"'May I know your name?' he says.
"It made me feel like Rockerbilt, hearin' him say that, in _that_
"'Me,' says I, 'I'm Flanders.'
"'It's an honour to know you, Mr. Flanders,' he says. 'My name is
"We shook hands, and his grip was three fourths man, I'll tell the
"'Good liquor,' says he, 'is like a fine lady. Only a gentleman can
appreciate it. I drink to you, sir.'
"So that's how Sandy Ferguson went under the sod. To-day? Well, I
couldn't let Ferguson stand in a barroom where a gentleman had been,
THE DARKNESS IN ELDARA
Even the stout roan grew weary during the third day, and when they
topped the last rise of hills, and looked down to darker shadows in
Eldara in the black heart of the hollow, the mustang stood with hanging
head, and one ear flopped forward. Cruel indeed had been the pace which
Nash maintained, yet they had never been able to overhaul the flying
piebald of Anthony Bard.
As they trotted down the slope, Nash looked to his equipment, handled
his revolver, felt the strands of the lariat, and resting only his toes
in the stirrups, eased all his muscles to make sure that they were
uncramped from the long journey. He was fit; there was no doubt of that.
Coming down the main street - for Eldara boasted no fewer than three
thoroughfares - the first houses which Nash passed showed no lights. As
far as he could see, the blinds were all drawn; not even the glimmer of
a candle showed, and the voices which he heard were muffled and low.
He thought of plague or some other disaster which might have overtaken
the little village and wiped out nine tenths of the populace in a day.
Only such a thing could account for silence in Eldara. There should have
been bursts and roars of laughter here and there, and now and then a
harsh stream of cursing. There should have been clatter of kitchen tins;
there should have been neighing of horses; there should have been the
quiver and tingle of children's voices at play in the dusty streets. But
there was none of this. The silence was as thick and oppressive as the
unbroken dark of the night. Even Butler's saloon was closed!
This, however, was something which he would not believe, no matter what
testimony his eyes gave him. He rode up to a shuttered window and kicked
it with his heel.
Only the echoes of that racket replied to him from the interior of the
place. He swore, somewhat touched with awe, and kicked again.
A faint voice called: "Who's there?"
"Steve Nash. What the devil's happened to Eldara?"
The boards of the shutter stirred, opened, so that the man within could
"Is it Steve, honest?"
"Damn it, Butler, don't you know my voice? What's turned Eldara into a
"Cemetery's right. 'Butch' Conklin and his gang are going to raid the
And Nash whistled long and low.
"But why the devil don't the boys get together if they know Butch is
coming with his gunmen?"
"That's what they've done. Every able-bodied man in town is out in the
hills trying to surprise Conklin's gang before they hit town with their
Butler was a one-legged man, so Nash kept back the question which
naturally formed in his mind.
"How do they know Conklin is coming? Who gave the tip?"
"What? Has he been in town?"
"Right. Came in roaring drunk."
"Why'd they let him get away again?"
"Because the sheriff's a bonehead and because our marshal is solid
ivory. That's why."
"Butch came in drunk, as I was saying, which he generally is, but he
wasn't giving no trouble at all, and nobody felt particular called on to
cross him and ask questions. He was real sociable, in fact, and that's
how the mess was started."
"Go on. I don't get your drift."
"Everybody was treatin' Butch like he was the king of the earth and not
passin' out any backtalk, all except one tenderfoot - - "
But here a stream of tremendous profanity burst from Nash. It rose, it
rushed on, it seemed an exhaustless vocabulary built up by long practice
on mustangs and cattle.
At length: "Is that damned fool in Eldara?"
"D'you know him?"
"No. Anyway, go on. What happened?"
"I was sayin' that Butch was feelin' pretty sociable. It went all right
in the bars. He was in here and didn't do nothin' wrong. Even paid for
all the drinks for everybody in the house, which nobody could ask more
even from a white man. But then Butch got hungry and went up the street
to Sally Fortune's place."
A snarl came from Nash.
"Did they let that swine go in there?"
"Who'd stop him? Would you?"
"I'd try my damnedest."
"Anyway, in he went and got the centre table and called for ten dollars'
worth of bacon and eggs - which there hasn't been an egg in Eldara this
week. Sally, she told him, not being afraid even of Butch. He got pretty
sore at that and said that it was a frame-up and everyone was ag'in'
him. But finally he allowed that if she'd sit down to the table and keep
him company he'd manage to make out on whatever her cook had ready to
"And Sally done it?" groaned Nash.
"Sure; it was like a dare - and you know Sally. She'd risk her whole
place any time for the sake of a bet."
"I know it, but don't rub it in."
"She fetched out a steak and served Butch as if he'd been a king and
then sat down beside him and started kiddin' him along, with all the
gang of us sittin' or standin' around and laughin' fit to bust, but not
loud for fear Butch would get annoyed.
"Then two things come in together and spoiled the prettiest little party
that was ever started in Eldara. First was that player piano which Sally
got shipped in and paid God-knows-how-much for; the second was this
greenhorn I was tellin' you about."
"Go on," said Nash, the little snarl coming back in his voice. "Tell me
how the tenderfoot walked up and kicked Butch out of the place."
"Somebody been tellin' you?"
"No; I just been readin' the mind of Eldara."
"It was a nice play, though. This Bard - we found out later that was his
name - walks in, takes a table, and not being served none too quick, he
walks over and slips a nickel in the slot of the piano. Out she starts
with a piece of rippin' ragtime - you know how loud it plays? Butch, he
kept on talkin' for a minute, but couldn't hear himself think. Finally
he bellers: 'Who turned that damned tin-pan loose?'
"This Bard walks up and bows. He says: 'Sir, I came here to find food,
and since I can't get service, I'll take music as a substitute.'
"Them was the words he used, Steve, honest to God. Used them to Butch!
"Well, Conklin was too flabbergasted to budge, and Bard, he leaned over
and says to Sally: 'This floor is fairly smooth. Suppose you and I dance
till I get a chance to eat?'
"We didn't know whether to laugh or to cheer, but most of us compromised
by keeping an eye on Butch's gun.
"Sally says, 'Sure I'll dance,' and gets up.
"'Wait!' hollers Butch; 'are you leavin' me for this wall-eyed galoot?'
"There ain't nothin' Sally loves more'n a fight - we all know that. But
this time I guess she took pity on the poor tenderfoot, or maybe she
jest didn't want to get her floor all messed up.
"'Keep your hat on, Butch,' she says, 'all I want to do is to give him
some motherly advice.'
"'If you're acting that part,' says Bard, calm as you please, 'I've got
to tell mother that she's been keeping some pretty bad company.'
"'Some what?' bellers Butch, not believin' his ears.
"And young Bard, he steps around the girl and stands over Butch.
"'Bad company is what I said,' he repeats, 'but maybe I can be
"'Easy,' says Butch, and reaches for his gun.
"We all dived for the door, but me being held up on account of my
missing leg, I was slow an' couldn't help seein' what happened. Butch
was fast, but the young feller was faster. He had Butch by the wrist
before the gun came clear - just gave a little twist - and there he stood
with the gun in his hand pointin' into Butch's face, and Butch sittin'
there like a feller in a trance or wakin' up out of a bad dream.
"Then he gets up, slow and dignified, though he had enough liquor in him
to float a ship.
"'I been mobbed,' he says, 'it's easy to see that. I come here peaceful
and quiet, and here I been mobbed. But I'm comin' back, boys, and I
ain't comin' alone.'
"There was our chance to get him, while he was walking out of that place