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   Chapter 34 No.34

A Man Four-Square By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 6358

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Primrose Paths

When Billie Prince had finished the job that had been given him to do, he went back quietly to Live-Oaks without knowing that he had led the last campaign of a revolution in the social life of Washington County. Because a strong, determined man had carried law into the mesquite, citizens could henceforth go about their business without fear or dread.

The rule of the "bad man" was over. Revolvers were no longer a part of the necessary wearing apparel of gentlemen of spirit. Life became safe and humdrum. The frontier world gave itself to ploughing fields and building fences and digging irrigation ditches and planting orchards. As a corollary it married and reared children and built little red schoolhouses.

But before all this came to pass some details had to be arranged in the lives of certain young people of the country. In one instance, at least, Lee Snaith appointed herself adjuster in behalf of Cupid.

Goodheart reached town a few hours earlier than his chief. Lee met him just before supper in front of the court-house.

"Where's Billie?" she asked with characteristic directness.

"He's on his way back. A wounded man couldn't be moved an' he had to stay with him a while. The man was Joe Yankie. A messenger just got in to say he died."

"Billie isn't wounded?"

"No. Not his fault, though. When we had the rustlers cornered, he crawled in through the brush to their camp. Fool business, I told him. Never saw anything gamer. Lucky for him Albeen had made his get-away."

The eyes of the girl thanked the deputy for this indirect praise. Little patches of red burned in her dusky cheeks. The way to make a life friend of her was to be fond of Billie.

Lee changed the subject abruptly. "Jack, you haven't half the sense I thought you had."

"Much obliged," he answered sardonically. She was looking straight at him and he knew what was in her mind.

"If I was a man-and if the nicest girl in the world was in love with me-I'd try not to be as stiff as a poker."

"I'm as stiff as a poker, am I?"

"Yes." The dark eyes of the young woman were eager pools of light. "She's the truest-hearted girl I ever saw-the best friend, the loyalest comrade. I should think you'd be ashamed to set yourself up to judge her."

"Of course, you're not settin' yourself up to judge me, Lee?"

"I'm going to tell you what I think. The others are afraid of you because you can put on that high-and-mighty, stand-offish air. Well, I'm not."

"I see you're not."

"She told me all about it. Since she was Polly Roubideau she had to help Jim escape. Can't you see that? She knew he was innocent, and it turned out she was right. Suppose she made a mistake-and I don't admit it for a minute. Can't you make allowance for other folks' judgment being different from yours? Are you never wrong yourself?"

"It isn't a question of judgment."

He hesitated and decided to say no more. How could he tell Lee that Pauline had deliberately misled him to give Clanton a better chance of escape? He had fought it out a hundred times in his mind, but he could not escape the conviction that she had made a tool of his love.

The girl w

ent to the heart of the matter. "Polly loves you, and she is breaking her heart because of your wretched pride. If you don't go straight to her and beg her pardon for your want of faith in her, you're not half the man I think you are, Jack Goodheart."

A warm glow of hope flushed through his blood.

"How do you know she loves me?"

"Because-because-" Lee stopped. She did not intend to betray any confidences. "I know it. That's enough."

He threw away impulsively the prudent pride that he had been nourishing.

"Where can I find Polly?"

"You're being invited to supper at my aunt's this evening. I'll not be home for half an hour, but if you go right up, maybe you can find some one to entertain you."

He buried her little hand in his big paw and strode away. She watched him, a soft tenderness shining in her eyes. Lee was a lover herself, and she wanted everybody in the world to be as happy as she was.

Two horsemen rode down the street toward her. She looked up. One of them was Billie Prince, the other Jim Clanton.

The younger man gave a shout of gay greeting. "Yip-ee yippy yip." He leaned from the cowpony and gave her his gloved hand. "I've brought him back to you. He sure did make a good clean-up. I'm the only bad man left in Washington County."

She met his impudent little smile with friendly eyes. "Dad Wrayburn's back from Santa Fe with the pardon, Jim. I'm so glad."

"I'm some glad myself. Do you want me to shut my eyes whilst you an'

Billie-"

The sheriff knocked the rest of the sentence out of him with a vigorous thump on the back.

While Lee and her lover shook hands their eyes held fast to each other.

"Good to see you, Billie," she said.

"Same here, Lee."

"When you and Jim have put up your horses I want you to come up to aunt's for supper."

"We'll be there."

It was not a very gay little supper. Pauline and Jack Goodheart had very little to say for themselves, but in their eyes were bright pools of happiness. Clanton sustained the burden of the talk, assisted in a desultory fashion by Lee and Billie. But there was so much quiet joy at the table that for years the hour was one fenced off from all the others of their lives. Even Jim, who for the first time felt himself almost an outsider, since he did not belong to the close communion of lovers, could find plenty for which to be thankful.

He made an announcement before he left. "There's no room here for me now

that you lads are marryin' all my girls. I'm goin' to hit the trail. It's

Texas for me. I've got a letter in my pocket offerin' me a job as a

Ranger an' I'm goin' to take it."

They shook hands with him in warm congratulation. Their friend was no longer a killer. He had definitely turned his back on lawlessness and would henceforth walk with the law. The problem of what was to become of Go-Get-'Em Jim was solved.

As to the problem of their own futures, that did not disturb these happy egoists in the least. Life beckoned them to primrose paths. It is the good fortune of lovers that their vision never pierces the shadows in which lie the sorrows of the years and the griefs that wear them gray.

THE END

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