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   Chapter 15 No.15

A Man Four-Square By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 13294

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Lee Plays a Leading R?le

A man on horseback clattered up the street and drew up at the Snaith house. He was a sandy-complexioned man with a furtive-eyed, apologetic manner. Miss Bertie Lee recognized him as one of the company riders named Dumont.

"Is yore paw home, Miss Lee?" he asked breathlessly.

"Some one to see you, dad," called the girl over her shoulder.

Wallace Snaith sauntered out to the porch. "'Lo, Dumont!"

"I claim that hundred dollars reward. I done found 'em, Mr. Snaith."

Lee, about to enter the house, stopped in her tracks.

"Where?" demanded the cattleman jubilantly.

"Down the river-hid in a dugout they done built. I'll take you-all there."

"I knew they couldn't be far away when that first hawss came in all blood-stained. Hustle up four or five of the boys, Dumont. Get 'em here on the jump." In the face of the big drover could be read a grim elation.

His daughter confronted him. "What are you going to do, dad?"

"None o' yore business, Lee. You ain't in this," he answered promptly.

"You're going out to kill those men," she charged, white to the lips.

"They'll git a trial if they surrender peaceable."

"What kind of a trial?" she asked scornfully. "They know better than to surrender. They'll fight."

"That'll suit me too."

"Don't, dad. Don't do it," the girl begged. "They're game men. They fought fair. I've made inquiries. You mustn't kill them like wolves."

"Mustn't I?" he said stubbornly. "I reckon that's just what I'm goin' to do. I'll learn Homer Webb to send his bad men to Los Portales lookin' for trouble. He can't kill my riders an' get away with it."

"You know he didn't do that. This boy-Clanton, if that's his name-had a feud with the Roush family. One of them betrayed his sister. Far as I can find out these Roush brothers were the scum of the earth," Her bosom rose and fell fast with excitement.

"Howcome you to know so much about it, girl? Not that it makes any difference. They may have been hellhounds, but they were my riders. These gunmen went into my own place an' shot 'em down. They picked the fight. There's no manner o' doubt about that."

"They didn't do it on your account. I tell you there was an old feud."

"Webb thinks he's got the world by the tail for a downhill pull. I'll show him."

"Dad, you're starting war. Don't you see that? If you shoot these men he'll get back by killing some of yours. And so it will go on."

"I reckon. But I'm not startin' the war. He did that. It was the boldest piece of cheek I ever heard tell of-those two gunmen goin' into Tolleson's and shootin' up my riders. They got to pay the price."

Lee cried out in passionate protest. "It'll be just plain murder, dad.

That's all."

"What's got into you, girl?" he demanded, seizing her by the arms. The chill of anger and suspicion filmed his light-blue eyes. "I won't stand for this kind of talk. You go right into the house an' 'tend to yore own knittin'. I've heard about enough from you."

He swung her round by the shoulders and gave a push.

Lee did not go to her room and fling herself upon the bed in an impotent storm of tears. She stood thinking, her little fists clenched and her eyes flashing. Civilization has trained women to feebleness of purpose, but this girl stood outside of conventional viewpoints. It was her habit to move directly to the thing she wanted. Her decision was swift, the action following upon it immediate.

She lifted her rifle down from the deer-horn rack where it rested and buckled the ammunition belt around her waist. Swiftly she ran to the corral, roped her bronco, saddled it, and cinched. As she galloped away she saw her father striding toward the stable. His shout reached her, but she did not wait to hear what he wanted.

The hoofs of her pony drummed down the street. She flew across the desert and struck the river just below town. The quirt attached to her wrist rose and fell. She made no allowance for prairie-dog holes, but went at racing speed through the rabbit weed and over the slippery salt-grass bumps.

In front of the cave she jerked the horse to a halt.

"Hello, in there!"

The tumble weeds moved and the head of Prince appeared. He pushed the brush aside and came out.

"Buenos tardes, se?orita. Didn't know you were comin' back again to-day."

"You've been seen," she told him hurriedly as she dismounted. "Dad's gathering his men. He means to make you trouble."

Billie looked away in the direction of the town. A mile or more away he saw a cloud of dust. It was moving toward them.

"I see he does," he answered quietly.

"Quick! Get your friend out. Take my horse."

He shook his head slowly. "No use. They would see us an' run us down.

We'll make a stand here."

"But you can't do that. They'll surround you. They'll send for more men if they need 'em."

"Likely. But Jim couldn't stand such a ride even if there was a chance-and there isn't, not with yore horse carryin' double. We'll hold the fort, Miss Lee, while you make yore get-away into the hills. An' thank you for comin'. We'll never forget all you've done for us these days."

"I'm not going."

"Not goin'?"

"I'm going to stay right here. They won't dare to shoot at you if I'm here."

"I never did see such a girl as you," admitted Prince, smiling at her.

"You take the cake. But we can't let you do that for us. We can't skulk

behind a young lady's skirts to save our hides. It's not etiquette on the

Pecos."

The red color burned through her dusky skin. "I'm not doing it for you," she said stiffly. "It's dad I'm thinking about. I don't want him mixed up in such a business. I won't have it either."

"You'd better go to him and talk it over, then."

"No. I'll stay here. He wouldn't listen to me a minute."

Billie was still patient with her. "I don't think you'd better stay, Miss Lee. I know just how you feel. But there are a lot of folks won't understand howcome you to take up with yore father's enemies. They'll talk a lot of foolishness likely."

The cowpuncher blushed at his own awkward phrasing of the situation, yet the thing had to be said and he knew no other way to say it.

She flashed a resentful glance at him. Her cheeks, too, flamed.

"I don't care what they say since it won't be true," she answered proudly. "You needn't argue. I've staked out a claim here."

"I wish you'd go. There's still time."

The girl turned on him angrily with swift, animal grace. "I tell you it's none of your business whether I go or stay. I'll do just as I please."

Prince gave up his attempt to change her mind. If she wo

uld stay, she would. He set about arranging the defense.

Young Clanton crept out to the mouth of the cave and lay down with his rifle beside him. His friend piled up the tumble weeds in front of him.

"We're right enough in front-easy enough to stand 'em off there," reflected Billie, aloud. "But I'd like to know what's to prevent us from being attacked in the rear. They can crawl up through the brush till they're right on top of the bank. They can post sharpshooters in the mesquite across the river so that if we come out to check those snakin' forward, the snipers can get us."

"I'll sit on the bank above the cave and watch 'em," announced Lee.

"An' what if they mistook you for one of us?" asked Prince dryly.

"They can't, with me wearing a red coat."

"You're bound to be in this, aren't you?" His smile was more friendly than the words. It admitted reluctant admiration of her.

The party on the other side of the river was in plain sight now. Jim counted four-five-six of them as they deployed. Presently Prince threw a bullet into the dust at the feet of one of the horses as they moved forward. It was meant as a warning not to come closer and accepted as one.

After a minute of consultation a single horseman rode to the bank of the stream.

"You over there," he shouted.

"It's dad," said Lee.

"You'd better surrender peaceable. We've come to git you alive or dead," shouted Snaith.

"What do you want us for?" asked Prince.

"You know well enough what for. You killed one of my punchers."

Clanton groaned. "Only one?"

"An' another may die any day. Come out with yore hands up."

"We'd rather stay here, thank you," Billie called back.

Snaith leaned forward in the saddle. "Is that you over there, Lee?"

"Yes, dad."

"Gone back on yore father and taken up with Webb's scalawags, have you?"

"No, I haven't," she called back. "But I'm going to see they get fair play."

"You git out of there, girl, and on this side of the river!" Snaith roared angrily. "Pronto! Do you hear?"

"There's no use shouting yourself hoarse, dad. I can hear you easily, and

I'm not coming."

"Not comin'! D'ye mean you've taken up with a pair of killers, of outlaws we 're goin' to put out of business? You talk like a-like a-"

"Go slow, Snaith!" cut in Prince sharply. "Can't you see she's tryin' to save you from murder?"

"We're goin' to take those boys back to Los Portales with us-or their bodies. I don't care a whole lot which. You light a shuck out of there, Lee."

"No," she answered stubbornly. "If you're so bent on shooting at some one you can shoot at me."

The cattleman stormed and threatened, but in the end he had to give up the point. His daughter was as obstinate as he was. He retired in volcanic humor.

"I never could get dad to give up swearing," his daughter told her new friends by way of humorous apology. "Wonder what he'll do now."

"Wait till night an' drive us out of our hole, I expect," replied Prince.

"Will he wait? I'm not so sure of that," said Jim. "See. His men are scattering. They're up to somethin'."

"They're going down to cross the river to get behind us just as you said they would," predicted Lee.

She was right. Half an hour later, from her position on the bank above the cave, she caught a glimpse of a man slipping forward through the brush. She called to Prince, who crept out from behind the tumble weeds to join her. A bullet dug into the soft clay not ten inches from his head. He scrambled up and lay down behind a patch of soapweed a few yards from the girl. Another bullet from across the river whistled past the cowpuncher.

Lee rose and walked across to the bushes where he lay crouched. Very deliberately she stood there, shading her eyes from the sun as she looked toward the sharpshooters. Twice they had taken a chance, because of the distance between her and Prince. She intended they should know how close she was to him now.

Billie could not conceal his anxiety for her. "Why don't you get back where you were? I got as far as I could from you on purpose. What's the sense of you comin' right up to me when you see they're shootin' at me?"

"That's why I came up closer. They'll have to stop it as long as I'm here."

"You can't stay there the rest of yore natural life, can you?" he asked with manifest annoyance. Even if he got out of his present danger alive-and Billie had to admit to himself that the chances did not look good-he knew it would be cast up to him some day that he had used Lee Snaith's presence as a shield against his enemies. "Why don't you act reasonable an' ride back to town, like a girl ought to do? You've been a good friend to us. There's nothin' more you can do. It's up to us to fight our way out."

He took careful aim and fired. A man in the bushes two hundred yards back of them scuttled to his feet and ran limping off. Billie covered the dodging man with his rifle carefully, then lowered his gun without firing.

"Let him go," said Prince aloud. "Mr. Dumont won't bother us a whole lot.

He's gun-shy anyhow."

From across the river came a scatter of bullets.

"They've got to hit closeter to that before they worry me," Jim called to the two above.

"I don't think they shot to hit. They're tryin' to scare Miss Lee away," called down Billie.

"As if I didn't know dad wouldn't let 'em take any chances with me here," the girl said confidently "If we can hold out till night I can stay here and keep shooting while you two slip away and hide. Before morning your friends ought to arrive."

"If they got yore message."

"Oh, they got it. Jack Goodheart carried it."

The riflemen across the river were silent for a time. When they began sniping again, it was from such an angle that they could aim at the cave without endangering those above. Both Clanton and Prince returned the fire.

Presently Lee touched on the shoulder the man beside her.

"Look!"

She pointed to a cloud of smoke behind them. From it tongues of fire leaped up into the air. Farther to the right a second puff of smoke could be seen, and beyond it another and still a fourth jet.

After a moment of dead silence Prince spoke. "They've fired the prairie.

The wind is blowin' toward us. They mean to smoke us out."

"Yes."

"We'll be driven down into the open bed of the river where they can pick us off."

The girl nodded.

"Now, will you leave us?" Billie turned on her triumphantly. He could at least choose the conditions of the last stand they must make. "They've called our bluff. It's a showdown."

"Now I'll go less than ever," she said quietly.

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