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   Chapter 28 No.28

A Man Four-Square By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 16034

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Sheriff Prince Functions

"Yippy yip yip yip!"

Old Reb, Quantrell's ex-guerrilla, now boss of mule-skinners for Prince, galloped down the street waving an old dusty white hat. Women and children and old men dribbled out from the houses, all eager for the news.

"Billie he found Miss Lee in the Mal-Pais. That boy sure had his lucky pants on to-day. She's all right too. I done seen her myself-just a mite tuckered out, as you might say," explained the former cowpuncher.

Live-Oaks shook hands with itself in exuberant joy. For an hour the school bell pealed out the good news. A big bonfire blazed in the court-house square. Wise dames busied themselves baking bread and frying doughnuts and roasting beef for the rescue party now homeward bound. It was a certainty that their men-folks would all be hungry and ready for a big feed.

By noon most of the searchers were back in town and the saloons were doing big business. When Prince drove down the main street of Live-Oaks an hour later, the road was jammed as for a Fourth-of-July celebration. Tired though she was, Lee had not the heart to disappoint these good friends. She went to the picnic ground at Fremont's Grove and was hugged and kissed by all the woman at the dinner. She wept and was wept over till her lover decided she had had all the emotion that was good for her, whereupon he took her back to the home of her aunt and with all the newborn authority of his position ordered her to bed.

"But it's only three o'clock in the afternoon," Lee protested.

"Good-night," answered Billie inexorably.

She surrendered meekly. "If you say I must, my lord. I am awf'lly tired." Little globes of gladness welled up in her eyes. "Everybody's so good to me, Billie. I didn't know folks were so kind. I can't think what I can ever do to pay them back."

"I'll tell you how. You be good to yourself, honey," he told her with a sudden wave of emotion as he caught and held her tight in his arms. "You quit takin' chances with blizzards an' crazy gunmen an'-"

"-And horsethieves hidden in the chaparral?" she asked with a flash of demure eyes.

"You're goin' to take an awful big chance with one ex-horsethief. Lee,

I'm the luckiest fellow on earth."

She nestled closer to him. Her lips trembled to his kiss.

"Billie, you're sure, aren't you?" she whispered. "It wasn't just pity for me."

He chose to reassure her after the fashion of a lover, in that wordless language which is as old as Eden.

His heart was full of her as he swung down the street buoyantly. He had known her saucy, scornful, and imperious. He had known her gay and gallant, had been the victim of her temper. Occasionally he had seen glimpses of tenderness toward Pauline and of motherliness toward Jim Clanton. But never until last night had he found her dependent and clinging. Her defense against him had been a manner of cool self-reliance. In the stress of her need that had been swept aside to show her flamy and yet shy, quick with innocent passion. She wanted him for a mate, just as he wanted her, and she made no concealment of it. In the candor of her love he exulted.

Lee slept round the clock almost twice and appeared for a late breakfast.

Her aunt told her some news with which Live-Oaks was buzzing.

Go-Get-'Em Jim had ridden into town, stopped at the sheriff's office, and demanded cynically the thousand dollars offered by the Webb estate for his arrest.

"He'll come to no good end," prophesied Miss Snaith, senior.

"You don't quite understand him, aunt," protested Lee. "That's just his way. He likes to grand-stand, and he does it rather well. But he isn't half so bad as he makes out. He says he did not shoot Mr. Webb, and we feel sure he didn't."

"Of course he says so," replied the older woman indignantly. "Why wouldn't he say so? But Dad Wrayburn was there and saw it all. There has been a lot too much promiscuous killing and he's one of the worst of the lot, your Jim Clanton is. Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em, indeed! I hope the law goes and gets him now it has a chance."

The opinion of Lee's aunt was in accord with the general sentiment. Washington County had within the past year suffered a change of heart. It had put behind its back the wild and reckless days of its youth when every man was a law to himself. Bar-room orators talked virtuously of law and order. They said it behooved the county to live down its evil reputation as the worst in the United States. Times had changed. The watchword now should be progress. It ought no longer to be a recommendation to a man that he could bend a six-gun surer and quicker than other folks. "Movers" in white-topped wagons were settling up the country. A railroad had pushed in to Live-Oaks. There was a lot of talk about Eastern capital becoming interested in irrigation and mining. It was high time to remember that Live-Oaks and Los Portales were not now frontier camps, but young cities.

Since Live-Oaks had been good for so short a time it wanted to prove by a shining example how it abhorred the lawlessness of its youth. At this inopportune moment Clanton gave himself up to be tried for the murder of Homer Webb.

When the news spread that Clanton had been given a change of venue and was to be tried at Santa Fe, the citizens of Live-Oaks were distinctly annoyed. It was known that the sheriff had always been a good friend of the accused man. The whisper passed that if he ever took Go-Get-'Em Jim out of the county the killer would be given a chance to escape.

Into town from the chaparral drifted the enemies Clanton had made during his career as a gunman. Yankie and Albeen and Dumont and Bancock moved to and fro in the crowds at the different gambling places and saloons. Even Roush, who in the past three years had never given young Clanton an opportunity to meet him face to face, stole furtively into the tendejons of the Mexican quarter and spent money freely in treating. Among the natives Go-Get-'Em Jim was in ill-repute for shooting a bad man named Juan Ortez who had attempted to terrorize the town while on a spree.

"We're spendin' a lot of good money on this job. We'd ought to pull it off," Dumont whispered to Albeen.

"Whose money?" asked the one-armed man cynically.

It struck him as an ironic jest that the money they had got from the sale of Homer Webb's cattle should be spent to bring about the lynching of the man who had killed him.

Both the sheriff and his deputy were out of town rounding up a half-breed Mexican who had stabbed another at a dance. They reached Live-Oaks with their prisoner about the middle of the afternoon. Lee was waiting for them impatiently at the court-house.

"They're planning to lynch Jim," she told Prince abruptly.

"Who's goin' to do all that?" he asked.

"The riff-raff of the county are back of it, but the worst of it is that they've got a lot of good people in with them. Some of the Flying V Y riders are in town too. I never saw so much drinking before."

"When is it to be?"

"I don't know."

"Who told you?"

"Bud Proctor. He says Yankie and Albeen and that crowd are spending hundreds of dollars at the bars."

"I knew there was somethin' on foot soon as we hit town-felt it in the air." The sheriff looked at his watch. "We can just catch the afternoon train, Jack. Take this bird downstairs an' lock him up. I'll join you in a minute."

"What are you going to do?" asked Lee as soon as they were alone.

"Goin' to slip Jim aboard the train an' take him to Santa Fe."

"Can you do it without being seen?"

"I'll tell you that later," he answered with a grim smile. "Much obliged, honey. I'm goin' to be right busy now, but I'll see you soon as I get back to town."

Lee nodded good-bye and wait out. She liked it in him that just now he had no time even for her. From the door she glanced back. Already he was busy getting his guns ready.

Prince got his keys and unlocked the room where Clanton was. Jim was on the bed reading an old newsp


"Hello, Billie," he grinned.

"We're leaving on the afternoon train, Jim. Get a move on you an' hustle yore things together."

"Thought you weren't goin' till next week."

"Changed my mind. Jim, there's trouble afoot. Yore enemies are all in town. I want to get you away."

Clanton did not bat an eye. "Plannin' a necktie party, are they?"

"They've got notions. Mine are different." "Do I get a gun if it comes to a showdown, Billie?"

"You do. I'll appoint you a deputy."

Jim laughed. "That sounds reasonable."

Goodheart joined them. The three men left the back door of the court-house and cut across the square. The station was three blocks distant. Before they had covered a hundred yards a boy on the other side of the street stopped, stared at them, and disappeared into the nearest saloon.

The prisoner looked at his friend and grinned gayly. "Somethin' stirrin' soon. We're liable to have a breeze in this neighborhood, looks like."

They reached the station without being molested, but down the street could be seen much bustle of men running to and fro. Prince looked at them anxiously.

"The clans are gathering," murmured Clanton nonchalantly, his hands in his pockets. "Don't you reckon maybe you'll have to feed me to the wolves after all, Billie?"

A saddled horse blinked in the sun beside the depot, the bridle rein trailing on the ground. Its owner sat on a dry-goods box and whittled. Jim glanced at the bronco casually. Jack Goodheart also observed the cowpony. He whispered to the sheriff.

Prince turned to his prisoner. "Jim, you can take that horse an' hit the dust, if you like."

"Meanin' that you can't protect me?"

The salient jaw of the sheriff tightened. He looked what he was, a man among ten thousand, quiet and forceful, strong as tested steel.

"You'll have exactly the same chance to weather this that we will."

A mob of men was moving down the street in loose formation. There was still time for a man to fling himself into the saddle and gallop away.

"You'd rather I'd stay, Billie."

"Yes. I'm sheriff. I'd like to show this drunken outfit they can't take a prisoner from me."

Clanton gave a little whoop of delight. "Go to it, son. You're law west of the Pecos. Let's see you make it stick."

Live-Oaks was as yet the terminus of the railroad. The train backed into the station just as the first of the mob arrived.

"Nothin' doin', Prince," announced Yankie, swaggering forward. "You're not goin' to take this fellow Clanton away. We've come to get him."

"That's right," agreed Albeen.

Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em grinned. "Makes twice now you've come to get me."

"We didn't make it go last time. Different now," said Bancock, moving forward.

"That's near enough," ordered Prince. "You've made a mistake, boys. I'm sheriff of Washington County, and this man's my prisoner."

"He's yore old side kick, too, ain't he?" jeered Yankie.

Goodheart, following the orders he had received, moved forward to the engine and climbed into the cab beside the engineer and fireman. The sheriff and his prisoner backed to the steps of the smoking-car. Billie had had a word with the brakeman, his young friend Bud Proctor, who had at once locked the door at the other end of the smoker.

"Now," said Prince in a low voice.

Jim ran up lightly to the platform of the coach and passed inside. A howl of anger rose from the mob. There was a rush forward. Billie was on the lower step. His long leg lifted, the toe caught Yankie on the point of the chin, and the rustler went back head first into the crowd as though he had been shot from a catapult.

Instantly Prince leaped for the platform and whirled on the mob. He held now a gun in each hand. His eyes glittered dangerously as they swept the upturned faces. They carried to every man in the crowd the message that his prisoner could not be taken as long as the sheriff was alive.

Clanton threw open a window of the coach, rested his arms on the sill, and looked out. Again there was a roar of rage and a forward surge of the dense pack on the station platform.

"He ain't even got irons on the man's hands!" a voice shouted. "It's a frame-up to git him away from us!"

"Don't hide back there in the rear, Roush. Come right up to the front an' tell me that," called back Prince. "You're right about one thing. I don't need to handcuff Clanton. He has surrendered for trial, an' I'm here to see he gets a fair one. I'll do it if I have to put irons in his hands-shootin' irons."

Jim Clanton, his head framed in the window, laughed insolently. He was a picture of raffish, devil-may-care ease.

"Don't let Billie bluff you, boys. We can't bump off more'n a dozen or so of you. Hop to it."

"You won't laugh so loud when the rope's round yore gullet," retorted


"That rope ain't woven, yet," flung back the young fellow coolly.

Even as he spoke a lariat whistled through the air. Jim threw up a hand and the loop slid harmlessly down the side of the car. One of the riders of the Flying V Y had tried to drag the prisoner out with a reata.

"You mean well, but you'll never win a roping contest, Syd," jeered Clanton. "Good of you an' all my old friends to gather here to see me off, I see you back there, Roush. It's been some years since we met, an' me always lookin' for you to say to you a few well-chosen words. I'll shoot straighter next time."

The vigilantes raised a howl of fury. They were like a wolf pack eager for the kill. Between them and their prey stood one man, cool, indomitable, steady as a rock. He held death in each hand, every man present knew it. They could get Clanton if they were willing to pay the price, but though there were game men in the mob, not one of them wanted to be the first to put his foot on the lower step of the coach.

From the other end of the car came the sudden noise of hammering. Some one had found a sledge in the baggage-room and with a dozen armed men back of him was trying to break down the door.

Prince called to his prisoner. "You've got to get in this, Jim. I appoint you deputy sheriff. Unstrap this belt from my waist. Take the other end of the car an' hold it. No shootin' unless it comes to a showdown. Understand?"

Clanton nodded. His eyes gleamed. "I'll behave proper, Billie."

Five seconds later the beating on the door stopped. The eyes of the big blacksmith with the hammer popped out with a ludicrous terror. Go-Get-'Em Jim was standing in the aisle grinning at him with a six-gun in each hand. With a wild whoop the horseshoer dropped the sledge and turned. He flung himself down the steps carrying with him half a dozen others. Not till he was safe in his own shop two blocks away did he stop running.

A shrill whistle rang out from the side of the train farthest from the station. The wheels began to move slowly. There was a rush for the engine. Jack Goodheart stood in the door of the cab ready for business.

"No passengers allowed here, boys," he announced calmly. "Take the coaches in the rear."

A dozen revolvers cracked. There was a rattle of breaking windows. The engine, baggage-car, and smoker moved forward, leaving the rest of the train on the track.

Men, swarming like ants, had climbed to the top of the cars, evidently with some idea of getting at their victim from above. Some of these were on the forward coaches. They began to drop off hurriedly as the station fell to the rear.

The wheels turned faster. Bud Proctor swung aboard and joined the sheriff.

"I cut off the other cars and gave the signal to start," he explained triumphantly.

"Good boy, Bud. Knew I could tie to you," Prince answered with the warm smile that always won him friends.

They passed into the car together. Clanton was leaning far out of the window waving a mocking hand of farewell to the crowd on the platform. He drew his head in and handed the weapons back to his friend.

"Don't I make a good deputy, Billie? I didn't fire even once."

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