MoboReader > Literature > A Man Four-Square

   Chapter 19 No.19

A Man Four-Square By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 10736

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

A Two-Gun Man

Webb delivered his beeves at the Fort and endured with what fortitude he could the heavy cut which the inspector chose to inflict on him. He paid off his men and let them shift for themselves. Billie secured a wood contract at the reservation, employed half a dozen men and teams, cleaned up a thousand dollars in a couple of months, and rode back to Los Portales in the late fall.

He had money in his pocket and youth in his heart. The day was waning as he rode up the street and in the sunlight the shadows of himself and his horse were attenuated to farcical lengths. Little dust whirls rose in the road, spun round in inverted cones like huge tops, and scurried out of sight across the prairie. Horses drowsed lazily in front of Tolleson's, anchored to the spot by the simple process of throwing the bridle to the ground. It all looked good to Billie. He had been hard at work for many months and he wanted to play.

A voice hailed him from across the street. "Hello, you Billie!"

Jim Clanton and Pauline Roubideau were coming out of a store. He descended from his horse and they fell upon him gayly.

"'Jour, monsieur," the girl cried, and she gave him warmly both her hands.

The honest eyes of Billie devoured her. "Didn't know you were within a hundred miles of here. This is great."

"We've moved. We live about twenty miles from town now. But I'm in a good deal because Jean has bought the livery stable," she explained.

"I'm sure glad to hear that."

"You're to come and see us to-night. Supper will be ready in an hour. You bring him, Jim," ordered the girl. "I'll leave you boys alone now. You must have heaps to talk about."

The gaze of the cowpuncher followed her as she went down the street light and graceful as a fawn. Not since spring had he seen her, though in the night watches he had often heard the sound of her gay voice, seen the flash of her bright eyes, and recalled the sweet and gallant buoyancy that was the dear note of her comradeship.

Billie looked after his horse and walked with Jim to the Proctor House. His mind was already busy appraising the changes in his friend. Clanton was now a "two-gun" man. From each hip hung a heavy revolver, the lower ends of the holsters tied down in order not to interfere with lightning rapidity of action. The young man showed no signs of nervousness, but his chill eyes watched without ceasing the street, doors and windows of buildings, the faces of passers-by and corner loafers. What Prince had foreseen was coming to pass. He was paying the penalty of his reputation as a bad man. Already incessant wariness was the price of life for him.

A second surprise awaited Billie at the Roubideau house. Polly was in the kitchen and looked out of the door only to wave a big spoon at them as they approached. Another young woman welcomed them. At sight of Billie a deep flush burned under her dark skin. It was, perhaps, because of this sign of emotion that her greeting was very cavalier.

"You're back, I see!"

Prince ignored the hint of hostility in her manner. His big hand gripped her little one firmly.

"Yes, I'm back, Miss Lee, and right glad to see you lookin' so well. I'll never forget the last time we met."

Neither would she, but she did not care to tell him so. The memory of the adventure by the river-bank recurred persistently. This lean, sunbaked cowpuncher with the kind eyes and quiet efficiency of bearing had impressed himself upon her as no other man had. There was a touch of scorn in her feeling for herself, because she knew she wanted him for her mate more than anything else on earth. In the night, alone in the friendly darkness, her hot face pressed into the cool pillows, she confessed to herself that she loved him and longed for the sight of his strong, good-looking face with its smile of whimsical humor. But that was when she was safe from the eyes of the world. Now, to punish herself and to prevent him from suspecting the truth, she devoted her attention mainly to Clanton.

Jim was openly her admirer. He wanted Lee to know it and did not care who else observed his devotion. Pauline for one guessed the boy's state of mind and smiled at it, but Billie wondered whether the smile hid an aching heart. He knew that little Polly had a very tender feeling for the boy who had saved her life. More than once during supper it seemed to him that her soft eyes yearned for the reckless young fellow talking so gayly to Miss Snaith. The conviction grew in Prince-it found lodgment in his mind with a pang of despair-that the girl he cared for had given her love to his friend. He fought against the thought, tried resolutely to push it from him, but again and again it returned.

Not until supper was well under way did Jean Roubideau come in from the corral. He shook hands with Billie and at the same time explained to Polly his tardiness.

"Billie is not the only stranger in town to-night. Two or three blew in just before I left and kept me a few minutes. That Mysterious Pete Champa was one. You know him, don't you, Jim?"

The question was asked carelessly, casually, but Prince read in it a warning to his friend. It meant that he was to be ready for any emergency which might arise.

After they had eaten Billie went out to the porch to smoke with Jean.

"Is there goin' to be trouble between

Mysterious Pete an' Jim?" he asked.

"Don't know. Wouldn't wonder if that was why Champa came to town. If I was Jim I'd keep an eye in the back of my head when I walked. It's a cinch Pete will try to get him-if he tries it at all-with all the breaks in his favor."

"Is it generally known that Jim was the man who killed Warren?"

"Yes." Jean stuffed and lit his pipe before he, said anything more. "The kid can't get away from it now. Folks think of him as a killer. They watch him when he comes into a bar-room an' they're careful not to cross him. He's a bad man whether he wants to be or not."

Billie nodded. "I was afraid it would be that way, but I'm more afraid of somethin' else. The worst thing that can happen to any man, except to get killed himself, is to shoot another in cold blood. 'Most always it gives the fellow a cravin' to kill again. Haven't you noticed it? A kind of madness gets into the veins of a killer."

"Sure I've noticed it. He has to be watchin'-watchin'-watchin' all the time to make sure nobody gits him. His mind is on that one idea every minute. Consequence is, he's always ready to shoot. So as not to take any chances, he makes it a habit to be sudden death with a six-gun."

"That's it. Most of 'em are sure-thing killers. Jim's not like that. He's game as they make 'em. But I'd give every cent I'm worth if he hadn't gone out an' got Peg-Leg,"

"He never had any bringin' up, or at least he had the wrong kind." He listened a moment with a little smile. From the kitchen, where Jim was helping the young women wash the dishes, came a murmur of voices and occasionally a laugh. "Funny how all good women are mothers in their hearts. Polly's tryin' to save that boy from himself, an' I reckon maybe Miss Lee is too. In a way they got no business to have him here at all. I like him. That ain't the point. But he's got off wrong foot first. He's declared himself out of their class."

"And yore sister won't see it that way?"

"Not a bit of it. She's goin' to fight for his soul, as you might say, an' bring him back if she can do it. Polly's a mighty loyal little friend, if I am her brother that tells it."

"She's right," decided Prince. "It can't hurt her any. Nothin' that's wrong can do her any harm, because she's so fine she sees only the good. An' it's certainly goin' to do the kid good to know her."

"If he'd git out of here he might have a chance yet. But he won't. An' when he meets up with Champa or Dave Roush he's got to forget mighty prompt everything that Polly has told him."

"I heard Roush was on the mend. Is he up again?"

"Yes. He had a narrow squeak, but pulled through. Roush rode into town with Mysterious Pete to-night."

"Then they've probably come to gun Jim. I'll stay right with him for a day or two if I can."

"What for?" demanded Roubideau bluntly. "You're not in this thing. You've got no call to mix up in it. The boy saved Polly, an' I'll go this far. If I'm on the spot when he meets Champa or Roush-an' I'll try to be there-I won't let'em both come at him without takin' a hand. But he has got to choose his own way in life. I can't stand between him an' the consequences of his acts. He's got to play his own hand."

"Did Dave Roush an' Mysterious Pete seem pretty friendly?"

"Thicker than three in a bed."

"Looks bad." Billie came to another phase of the situation. "How does it happen that Snaith's outfit have let Jim stay here without gettin' after him? Nothin' but a necktie party would suit 'em when we left in the spring."

"Times have changed," explained Roubideau. "This is quite a trail town now. The big outfits are bringin' in a good deal of money. Snaith can't run things with so high a hand as he did. Besides, there are a good many of the trail punchers in town now. I reckon Wally Snaith has given orders not to start anything."

"Maybe Roush an' Champa have been given orders to take care of Jim."

Jean doubted this and said so. "Snaith doesn't play his hand under the table. But, of course, Sanders may have tipped 'em off to do it."

Clanton joined them presently and the three men walked downtown. The gay smile dropped from Jim's face the moment he stepped down from the porch. Already his eyes had narrowed and over them had come a kind of film. They searched every dark spot on the road.

"Let's go to Tolleson's," he proposed abruptly.

There was a moment of silence before Billie made a counter-proposition.

"No, let's go back to the hotel."

"All right. You fellows go to the hotel. Meet you there later."

The eyes of Prince and Roubideau met. Not another word was spoken. Both of them knew that Clanton intended to show himself in public where any one that wanted him might find him. They turned toward Tolleson's, but took the precaution to enter by the back door.

The sound of shuffling feet, of tinkling piano and whining fiddle, gave notice in advance that the dancers were on the floor. Clanton took the precaution to ease the guns in their holsters in order to make sure of a swift draw.

His forethought was unnecessary. Neither Roush nor Mysterious Pete was among the dancers, the gamblers, or at the bar. The three friends passed out of the front door and walked to the Proctor House. Clanton had done all that he felt was required of him and was willing to drop the matter for the night.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top