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without a gun, but somehow nobody moved for him. He didn't look none too
easy, even without his shootin' irons. Out he goes into the night, and
we stood around starin' at each other. Everybody was upset, except Sally
and Bard.

"He says: 'Miss Fortune, this is our dance, I think.'

"'Excuse me,' says Sally, 'I almost forgot about it.'

"And they started to dance to the piano, waltzin' around among the
tables; the rest of us lit out for home because we knew that Butch would
be on his way with his gang before we got very far under cover. But hey,
Steve, where you goin'?"

"I'm going to get in on that dance," called Nash, and was gone at a
racing gallop down the street.



He found no dance in progress, however, but in the otherwise empty
eating place, which Sally owned and ran with her two capable hands and
the assistance of a cook, sat Sally herself dining at the same table
with the tenderfoot, the flirt, the horse-breaker, the tamer of

Nash stood in the shadow of the doorway watching that lean, handsome
face with the suggestion of mockery in the eyes and the trace of
sternness around the thin lips. Not a formidable figure by any means,
but since his experiences of the past few days, Nash was grown extremely

What he finally thought he caught in this most unusual tenderfoot was a
certain alertness of a more or less hair-trigger variety. Even now as he
sat at ease at the table, one elbow resting lightly upon it, apparently
enwrapped in the converse of Sally Fortune, Nash had a consciousness
that the other might be on his feet and in the most distant part of the
room within a second.

What he noted in the second instant of his observation was that Sally
was not at all loath to waste her time on the stranger. She was eating
with a truly formidable conventionality of manner, and a certain grace
with which she raised the ponderous coffee cup, made of crockery
guaranteed to resist all falls, struck awe through the heart of the
cowpuncher. She was bent on another conquest, beyond all doubt, and that
she would not make it never entered the thoughts of Nash. He set his
face to banish a natural scowl and advanced with a good-natured smile
into the room.

"Hello!" he called.

"It's old Steve!" sang out Sally, and whirling from her chair, she
advanced almost at a run to meet him, caught him by both hands, and led
him to a table next to that at which she had been sitting.

It was as gracefully done as if she had been welcoming a brother, but
Nash, knowing Sally, understood perfectly that it was only a play to
impress the eye of Bard. Nevertheless he was forced to accept it in good

"My old pal, Steve Nash," said Sally, "and this is Mr. Anthony Bard."

Just the faintest accent fell on the "Mr.," but it made Steve wince. He
rose and shook hands gravely with the tenderfoot.

"I stopped at Butler's place down the street," he said, "and been
hearin' a pile about a little play you made a while ago. It was about
time for somebody to call old Butch's bluff."

"Bluff?" cried Sally indignantly.

"Bluff?" queried Bard, with a slight raising of the eyebrows.

"Sure - bluff. Butch wasn't any more dangerous than a cat with trimmed
claws. But I guess you seen that?"

He settled down easily in his chair just as Sally resumed her place
opposite Bard.

"Steve," she said, with a quiet venom, "that bluff of his has been as
good as four-of-a-kind with you for a long time. I never seen you make
any play at Butch."

He returned amiably: "Like to sit here and have a nice social chat,
Sally, but I got to be gettin' back to the ranch, and in the meantime,
I'm sure hungry."

At the reminder of business a green light came in the fine blue eyes of
Sally. They were her only really fine features, for the nose tilted an
engaging trifle, the mouth was a little too generous, the chin so strong
that it gave, in moments of passivity, an air of sternness to her face.
That sternness was exaggerated as she rose, keeping her glare fixed upon
Nash; a thing impossible for him to bear, so he lowered his eyes and
engaged in rolling a cigarette. She turned back toward Bard.

"Sorry I got to go - before I finished eating - but business is business."

"And sometimes," suggested Bard, "a bore."

It was an excellent opening for a quarrel, but Nash was remembering
religiously a certain thousand dollars, and also a gesture of William
Drew when he seemed to be breaking an imaginary twig. So he merely
lighted his cigarette and seemed to have heard nothing.

"The whole town," he remarked casually, "seems scared stiff by this
Butch; but of course he ain't comin' back to-night."

"I suppose," said the tenderfoot, after a cold pause, "that he will

But the coldness reacted like the most genial warmth upon Nash. He had
chosen a part detestable to him but necessary to his business. He must
be a "gabber" for the nonce, a free talker, a chatterer, who would cover
up all pauses.

"Kind of strange to ride into a dark town like this," he began, "but I
could tell you a story about - "

"Oh, Steve," called the voice of Sally from the kitchen.

He rose and nodded to Bard.

"'Scuse me, I'll be back in a minute."

"Thanks," answered the other, with a somewhat grim emphasis.

In the kitchen Sally spoke without prelude. "What deviltry are you up to
now, Steve?"

"Me?" he repeated with eyes widened by innocence. "What d'you mean,

"Don't four-flush me, Steve."

"Is eating in your place deviltry?"

"Am I blind?" she answered hotly. "Have I got spring-halt, maybe? You're
too polite, Steve; I can always tell when you're on the way to a little
bell of your own making, by the way you get sort of kind and warmed up.
What is it now?"

"Kiss me, Sally, and I'll tell you why I came to town."

She said with a touch of colour: "I'll see you - " and then changing
quickly, she slipped inside his ready arms with a smile and tilted up
her face.

"Now what is it, Steve?"

"This," he answered.

"What d'you mean?"

"You know me, Sally. I've worn out the other ways of raising hell, so I
thought I'd start a little by coming to Eldara to kiss you."

Her open hand cracked sharply twice on his lean face and she was out of
his arms. He followed, laughing, but she armed herself with a red-hot
frying pan and defied him.

"You ain't even a good sport, Steve. I'm done with you! Kiss you?"

He said calmly: "I see the hell is startin', all right."

But she changed at once, and smiled up to him.

"I can't stay mad at you, Steve. I s'pose it's because of your nerve. I
want you to do something for me."


"Is that a way to take it! I've asked you a favour, Steve."

He said suspiciously: "It's got something to do with the tenderfoot in
the room out there?"

It was a palpable hit, for she coloured sharply. Then she took the bull
by the horns.

"What if it is?"

"Sally, d'you mean to say you've fallen for that cheap line of lingo he
passes out?"

"Steve, don't try to kid me."

"Why, you know who he is, don't you?"

"Sure; Anthony Bard."

"And do you know who Anthony Bard is?"

"Well?" she asked with some anxiety.

"Well, if you don't know you can find out. That's what the last girl

She wavered, and then blinked her eyes as if she were resolved to shut
out the truth.

"I asked you to do me a favour, Steve."

"And I will. You know that."

"I want you to see that Bard gets safe out of this town."

"Sure. Nothing I'd rather do."

She tilted her head a little to one side and regarded him wistfully.

"Are you double-crossin' me, Steve?"

"Why d'you suspect me? Haven't I said I'd do it?"

"But you said it too easy."

The gentleness died in her face. She said sternly: "If you do
double-cross me, you'll find I'm about as hard as any man on the range.
Get me?"


Their hands met. After all, he did not guarantee what would happen to
the tenderfoot after they were clear of the town. But perhaps this was a
distinction a little too fine for the downright mind of the girl. A sea
of troubles besieged the mind of Nash.

And to let that sea subside he wandered back to the eating room and
found the tenderfoot finishing his coffee. The latter kept an eye of
frank suspicion upon him. So the silence held for a brooding moment,
until Bard asked: "D'you know the way to the ranch of William Drew?"

It was a puzzler to Nash. Was not that his job, to go out and bring the
man to Drew's place? Here he was already on the way. He remembered just
in time that the manner of bringing was decidedly qualified.

He said aloud: "The way? Sure; I work on Drew's place."


"Yep; foreman."

"You don't happen to be going back that way to-night?"

"Not all the way; part of it."

"Mind if I went along?"

"Nobody to keep you from it," said the cowpuncher without enthusiasm.

"By the way, what sort of a man is Drew?"

"Don't you know him?"

"No. The reason I want to see him is because I want to get the right to
do some - er - fishing and hunting on a place of his on the other side of
the range."

"The place with the old house on it; the place Logan is?"

"Exactly. Also I wish to see Logan again. I've got several little things
I'd like to have him explain."

"H-m!" grunted Nash without apparent interest.

"And Drew?"

"He's a big feller; big and grey."

"Ah-h-h," said the other, and drew in his breath, as though he were

It seemed to Nash that he had never seen such an unpleasant smile.

"You'll get what you want out of Drew. He's generous."

"I hope so," nodded the other, with far-off eyes. "I've got a lot to ask
of him."



He reminded Nash of some big puma cub warming itself at a hearth like a
common tabby cat, a tame puma thrusting out its claws and turning its
yellow eyes up to its owner - tame, but with infinite possibilities of
danger. For the information which Nash had given seemed to remove all
his distrust of the moment before and he became instantly genial,
pleasant. In fact, he voiced this sentiment with a disarming frankness

"Perhaps I've seemed to be carrying a chip on my shoulder, Mr. Nash. You
see, I'm not long in the West, and the people I've met seem to be ready
to fight first and ask questions afterward. So I've caught the habit, I

"Which a habit like that ain't uncommon. The graveyards are full of
fellers that had that habit and they're going to be fuller still of the
same kind."

Here Sally entered, carrying the meal of the cowpuncher, arranged it,
and then sat on the edge of Bard's table, turning from one to the other
as a bird on a spray of leaves turns from sunlight to shadow and cannot
make a choice.

"Bard," stated Nash, "is going out to the ranch with me to-night."

"Long ride for to-night, isn't it?"

"Yes, but we'll bunk on the way and finish up early in the morning."

"Then you'll have a chance to teach him Western manners on the way,

"Manners?" queried the Easterner, smiling up to the girl.

She turned, caught him beneath the chin with one hand, tilting his face,
and raised the lessoning forefinger of the other while she stared down
at him with a half frown and a half smile like a schoolteacher about to
discipline a recalcitrant boy.

"Western manners," she said, "mean first not to doubt a man till he
tries to double-cross you, and not to trust him till he saves your life;
to keep your gun inside the leather till you're backed up against the
wall, and then to start shootin' as soon as the muzzle is past the
holster. Then the thing to remember is that the fast shootin' is fine,
but sure shootin' is a lot better. D'you get me?"

"That's a fine sermon," smiled Bard, "but you're too young to make a
convincing preacher, Miss Fortune."

"Misfortune," said the girl quickly, "don't have to be old to do a lot
of teachin'."

She sat back and regarded him with something of a frown and with folded

He said with a sudden earnestness: "You seem to take it for granted that
I'm due for a lot of trouble."

But she shook her head gloomily.

"I know what you're due for; I can see it in your eyes; I can hear it in
your way of talkin'. If you was to ride the range with a sheriff on one
side of you and a marshal on the other you couldn't help fallin' into

"As a fortune-teller," remarked Nash, "you'd make a good undertaker,

"Shut up, Steve. I've seen this bird in action and I know what I'm
talking about. When you coming back this way, Bard?"

He said thoughtfully: "Perhaps to-morrow night - perhaps - "

"It ought to be to-morrow night," she said pointedly, her eyes on Nash.

The latter had pushed his chair back a trifle and sat now with downward
head and his right hand resting lightly on his thigh. Only the place in
which they sat was illumined by the two lamps, and the forward part of
the room, nearer the street, was a sea of shadows, wavering when the
wind stirred the flame in one of the lamps or sent it smoking up the
chimney. Sally and Bard sat with their backs to the door, and Nash half
facing it.

"Steve," she said, with a sudden low tenseness of voice that sent a
chill up Bard's spinal cord, "Steve, what's wrong?"

"This," answered the cowboy calmly, and whirling in his chair, his gun
flashed and exploded.

They sprang up in time to see the bulky form of Butch Conklin rise out
of the shadows in the front part of the room with outstretched arms,
from one of which a revolver dropped clattering to the floor. Backward
he reeled as though a hand were pulling him from behind, and then
measured his length with a crash on the floor.

Bard, standing erect, quite forgot to touch his weapon, but Sally had
produced a ponderous forty-five with mysterious speed and now crouched
behind a table with the gun poised. Nash, bending low, ran forward to
the fallen man.

"Nicked, but not done for," he called.

"Thank God!" cried Sally, and the two joined Nash about the prostrate

That bullet had had very certain intentions, but by a freak of chance
it had been deflected on the angle of the skull and merely ploughed a
bloody furrow through the mat of hair from forehead to the back of the
skull. He was stunned, but hardly more seriously hurt than if he had
been knocked down by a club.

"I've an idea," said the Easterner calmly, "that I owe my life to you,
Mr. Nash."

"Let that drop," answered the other.

"A quarter of an inch lower," said the girl, who was examining the
wound, "and Butch would have kissed the world good-bye."

Not till then did the full horror of the thing dawn on Bard. The girl
was no more excited than one of her Eastern cousins would have been over
a game of bridge, and the man in the most matter-of-fact manner, was
slipping another cartridge into the cylinder of the revolver, which he
then restored to the holster.

It still seemed incredible that the man could have drawn his gun and
fired it in that flash of time. He recalled his adventure with Butch
earlier that evening and with Sandy Ferguson before; for the first time
he realized what he had done and a cold horror possessed him like the
man who has nerves to walk the tight rope across the chasm and faints
when he looks back on the gorge from the safety of the other side. The
girl took command.

"Steve, run down to the marshal's office; Deputy Glendin is there."

She took the wet cloth and made a deft bandage for the head of Conklin.
With his shaggy hair covered, and all his face sagging with lines of
weariness, the gun-fighter seemed no more than a middle-aged man asleep,
worn out by trouble.

"Is there a doctor?" asked Bard anxiously.

"That ain't a case for a doctor - look here; you're in a blue faint. What
is the matter?"

"I don't know; I'm thinking of that quarter of an inch which would have
meant the difference to poor Conklin."

"'Poor' Conklin? Why, you fish, he was sneakin' in here to try his hand
on you. He found out he couldn't get his gang into town, so he slipped
in by himself. He'll get ten years for this - and a thousand if they hold
him up for the other things he's done."

"I know - and this fellow Nash was as quiet as the strike of a snake. If
he'd been a fraction of a second slower I might be where Conklin is now.
I'll never forget Nash for this."

She said pointedly: "No, he's a bad one to forget; keep an eye on him.
You spoke of a snake - that's how smooth Steve is."

"Remember your own motto, Miss Fortune. He saved my life; therefore I
must trust him."

She answered sullenly: "You're your own boss."

"What's wrong with Nash?"

"Find out for yourself."

"Are all these fellows something other than they seem?"

"What about yourself?"

"How do you mean that?"

"What trail are you on, Bard? Don't look so innocent. Oh, I seen you was
after something a long time ago."

"I am. After excitement, you know."

"Ain't you finding enough?"

"I've got two things ahead of me."


"This trip, and when I come back I think making love to you would be
more exciting than gun-plays."

They regarded each other with bantering smiles.

"A tenderfoot like you make love to me? That would be exciting, all
right, if it wasn't so funny."

"As for the competition," he said serenely, "that would be simply a good

"Hate yourself, don't you, Bard?" she grinned.

"The rest of these boys are all very well, but they don't see that what
you want is the velvet touch."

"What's that?"

She was as frankly curious as some boy hearing a new game described.

"You've only been loved in one way. These rough-handed fellows come in
and throw an arm around you and ask you to marry them; isn't that it?
What you really need, is an old, simple, but very effective method."

Though her eyes were shining, she yawned.

"It don't interest me, Bard."

"On the contrary, you're getting quite excited."

"So does a horse before it gets ready to buck."

"Exactly. If I thought it would be easy I wouldn't be tempted."

"Well, if you like fighting you've sure mapped out a nice sizeable
quarrel with me, Bud."

"Good. I'm certainly coming back to Eldara. Now about this method of
mine - "

"Throwing your cards on the table, eh? What you got, Bard, a royal

"Right again. It's a very simple method but you couldn't beat it."

"Bud, you ain't half old enough to kid me."

"What you need," he persisted calmly, "is someone who would sit down
and simply talk good, plain English to you."

"Let 'er go."

"In the first place I will call attention to your method of dressing."

"Anything wrong with it?"

"I knew you'd be interested."

She slipped into a chair and sat cross-legged in it, her elbows on her
knees and her chin cupped in both her hands.

"Sure I'm interested. If there's a new way fixin' ham-and, serve it

"I would begin," he went on judiciously, "by saying that you dressed in
five minutes in the dark."

"It's generally dark at 5 a.m.," she admitted.

"You look, on the whole, as if you'd fallen into your clothes."

The wounded man stirred and groaned faintly.

She called: "Lie down, Butch; I'm busy. Go on, Bard."

"If you keep a mirror it's a wall decoration - not for personal use."

"Maybe this is an old method, Bard; but around this place it'd be a
quick way of gettin' shot."


"You'd peeve a mule."

"This was only an introduction. The next thing is to sit close beside
you and shift the lamp so that the light would shine on your face; then
take your hand - "

He suited his action to his word.

"Let go my hand, Bard. It's like the rest of me - not a decoration but
for use."

"Afraid of me, Sally?"

"Not of a regiment like you."

"Then of my method?"

"Go on; I'm game."

"But this is all there is to it."

"What d'you mean?"

"Just what I say. Having observed that you haven't set off any of your
advantages, I will sit here and look into your face in silence, which is
as much as to say that no matter how you dress you can't spoil a very
excellent figure, Sally. I suppose you've heard that before?"

"Lots of times," she muttered.

"But you wouldn't hear it from me. All I would do would be to sit and
stare and let you imagine what I'm thinking. And you'd begin to see that
in spite of the way you do your hair you can't spoil its colour nor its

He raised his other hand and touched it.

"Like silk, Sally."

He studied her closely, noting the flush which began to touch her

"Part of the game is for you to keep looking me in the eye."

"Well, I'll be - Go on, I'm game."

"Is it hard to sit like this - silently? Do I do it badly?"

"No, you show lots of practice. How many have you tried this method on,

He made a vague gesture and then, smiling: "Millions, Sally, and they
all liked it."

"So do I."

And they laughed together, and grew serious at the same instant.

"All silence - like this?" she queried.

"No; after a while I would say: 'You are beautiful.'"

"You don't get a blue ribbon for that, Bard."

"Not for the words, but the way they're said, which shows I mean them."

She blinked as though to clear her eyes and then met his stare again.

"You know you are beautiful, Sally."

"With a pug nose - freckles - and all that?"

"Just a tip-tilt in the nose, Sally. Why, it's charming. And you have
everything else - young, strong, graceful, clear."

"What d'you mean by that?"

"Clear? Fresh and colourful like the sunset over the desert. Do you

Her eyes went down to consider.

"I s'pose I do."

"With a touch of awe in it, because the silence and the night are
coming, and the stars walk down, one by one - one by one. And the wind is
low, soft, musical, whispering, as you do now - What if this were not a
game of suppose, Sally?"

She wrenched herself suddenly away, rising.

"I'm tired of supposing!" she cried.

"Then we'll call it all real. What of that?"

That colour was unmistakably high now; it ran down from her cheeks and
even stained the pure white of the throat where the flap of the shirt
was open. He was excited as a hunter who has tracked some new and
dangerous animal and at last driven it to bay, holding his gun poised,
and not knowing whether or not it will prove vulnerable.

He stepped close, eager, prepared for any wild burst of temper; but she
let him take her hands, let him draw her close, bend back her head; hold
her closer still, till the warmth and softness of her body reached him,
but when his lips came close she said quietly: "Are you a rotter,

He stiffened and the smile went out on his lips. He stepped back.

She repeated: "Are you a rotter?"

He raised the one hand which he still retained and touched it to his

"I am very sorry," said Anthony, "will you forgive me?"

And with her eyes large and grave upon him she answered: "I wonder if I

Butch Conklin looked up, raising his bandaged head slowly, like a white
flag of truce, with a stain of red growing through the cloth. He stared
at the two, raised a hand to his head as though to rub away the dream,
found a pain too real for a dream, and then, like a crab which has grown
almost too old to walk, waddled on hands and knees, slowly, from the
room and melted silently into the dark beyond.



A sharp noise of running feet leaped from the dust of the street and
clattered through the doorway; the two turned. A swarthy man, broad of
shoulder, was the first, and afterward appeared Nash.

"Conklin?" called Deputy Glendin, and swept the room with his startled
glance. "Where's Conklin?"

He was not there; only a red stain remained on the floor to show where
he had lain.

"Where's Conklin?" called Nash.

"I'm afraid," whispered Bard quickly to the girl, "that it was more than
a game of suppose."

He said easily to the other two: "He had enough. His share of trouble
came to-night; I let him go."

"Young feller," growled Glendin, "you ain't been in town a long while,
but I've heard a pile too much about you already. What you mean by
takin' the law into your own hands?"

"Wait," said Nash, his keen eyes on the two, "I guess I understand."

"Let's have it, then."

Still the steady eyes of Nash passed from Sally Fortune to Bard and back

"This feller bein' a tenderfoot, he don't understand our ways; maybe he
thinks the range is a bit freer than it is."

"That's the trouble," answered Glendin, "he thinks too damned much."

"And does quite a pile besides thinkin'," murmured Nash, but too low for
the others to hear it.

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