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   Chapter 13 KATE USES HER QUIRT

Crooked Trails and Straight By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 10552

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Red-headed Bob Cullison finished making the diamond hitch and proudly called his cousin Kate to inspect the packhorse.

"You never saw the hitch thrown better, sis," he bragged, boy-like. "Uncle Luck says I do it well as he can."

"It's fine, Bob," his cousin agreed, with the proper enthusiasm in her dark eyes. "You'll have to teach me how to do it one of these days."

She was in a khaki riding skirt, and she pulled herself to the saddle of her own horse. From this position she gave him final instructions before leaving. "Stay around the house, Bob. Dad will call the ranch up this morning probably, and I want you to be where you can hear the 'phone ring. Tell him about that white-faced heifer, and to be sure to match the goods I gave him. You'll find dinner set out for you on the dining-room table."

It had been on Wednesday morning that Luck Cullison disappeared from the face of the earth. Before twenty-four hours the gossip was being whispered in the most distant ca?ons of Papago County. The riders of the Circle C knew it, but none of them had yet told either Bob or Kate.

Now it was Friday morning and Kate was beginning to wonder why her father did not call her up. Could it be that Soapy Stone was pulling off his train robbery at Tin Cup and her father so busy that he could not take time to ride to a telephone station? She did not like to leave the ranch just now, even for a few hours, but other business called her away. Sweeney was holding down the fort at the Del Oro against Fendrick's sheepherders, and his weekly supply of provisions had to be taken to him. Since she wanted to see with her own eyes how things were getting along at the ca?on, she was taking the supplies in person.

It was a beautiful morning, even for Arizona. The soft air was at its winiest best. The spring rains had carpeted the hills with an unusually fine grass, and the summer suns had not yet burnt this to the crisp brown of August. Her young heart expanded with the very joy of life. Oh, how good it was to be alive in a world of warm sunshine, of blue, unflecked sky, and of cool, light breezes. Swifts basked on the rocks or darted like arrows for safety, and lay palpitating with suspense. The clear call of the quails sounded to right and left of her. To her eager consciousness it was as if some bath of splendor had poured down overnight upon the old earth.

She rode from sunlight into shadow and from shadow to sunlight again, winding along the hill trail that took her toward the Del Oro. After hours of travel she came to the saddle from which one looked down to the gap in the ca?on walls that had been the common watering place of all men's cattle, but now was homesteaded by her father. Far below her it lay, a dwarfed picture with detail blurred to a vague impressionistic map. She could see the hut, the fence line running parallel to the stream on the other side, some grazing cattle, Sweeney's horse in the corral.

The piteous bleating of a lamb floated to her. Kate dismounted and made her way toward the sound. A pathetic little huddle of frightened life tried to struggle free at her approach. The slim leg of the lamb had become wedged at the intersection of several rocks in such a way that it could not be withdrawn.

Kate pulled the boulder away, and released the prisoner. It looked at her and bleated without attempting to move. She took the soft, woolly creature in her arms, and examined the wounded limb, all torn and raw from its efforts to escape. A wound, she recalled, ought to be washed with cold water and bound. Returning to her horse, she put the little animal in front of the saddle and continued on the trail that led down to the river.

Sweeney came out from the cabin and hailed her. He was a squat, weather-beaten man, who had ridden for her father ever since she could remember.

"What in Mexico you got there?" he asked in surprise.

She explained the circumstances under which she had found the lamb.

"And what you aiming to do with it?"

"I'm going to tie up its leg and take it across the river. Some of the C. F. herders are sure to find it before night."

"Sho! What are you fooling with Cass Fendrick's sheep for?" he grumbled.

"It isn't a sheep, but a lamb. And I'm not going to see it suffer, no matter who owns it."

She was already walking toward the river. Protestingly he followed, and lent a hand at tying up the leg with the girl's handkerchief.

"I'll just ride across and leave it outside the fence," she said.

"Lemme go. I know the river better."

Sweeney did not wait for her assent, but swung to the saddle. She handed him the lamb, and he forded the stream. At no place did the water come above the fetlocks of the horse.

"I'm so glad you know the dangerous places. Be careful you don't drown," she mocked.

The rider's laughter rang back to her. One of her jokes went a long way with Sweeney. The danger of the river had been the flimsiest of excuses. What he had been afraid of was that one of Fendrick's herders might be lurking in some arroyo beyond the fence. There was little chance that he would dare hurt her, but he might shout something unpleasant.

In point of fact, Sweeney saw some one disappear into a wash as he reached the fence. The

rider held up the lamb, jabbered a sentence of broncho Spanish at the spot where the man had been, put down his bleating burden, and cantered back to his own side of the river without unnecessary delay. No bullets had yet been fired in the Cullison-Fendrick feud, but a "greaser" was liable to do anything, according to the old puncher's notion. Anyhow, he did not want to be a temptation to anyone with a gun in his hand.

An hour later, Kate, on the return trip, topped the rise where she had found the lamb. Pulling up her pony, to rest the horse from its climb, she gazed back across the river to the rolling ridges among which lay the C. F. ranch. Oddly enough, she had never seen Cass Fendrick. He had come to Papago County a few years before, and had bought the place from an earlier settler. In the disagreement that had fallen between the two men, she was wholly on the side of her father. Sometimes she had wondered what manner of man this Cass Fendrick might be; disagreeable, of course, but after precisely what fashion.

"Your property, I believe, Miss Cullison."

She turned at sound of the suave, amused drawl, and looked upon a dark, slim young man of picturesque appearance. He was bowing to her with an obvious intention of overdoing it. Voice and manner had the habit of the South rather than of the West. A kind of indolent irony sat easily upon the swarthy face crowned with a black sleek head of hair.

Her instinct told the girl who he was. She did not need to ask herself any longer what Cass Fendrick looked like.

He was holding out to her the bloodstained kerchief that had been tied to the lamb's leg.

"I didn't care to have it returned," she told him with cold civility.

"Now, if you'd only left a note to say so, it would have saved me a quite considerable climb," he suggested.

In spite of herself a flicker of amusement lit her eyes. She had a sense of humor, "I did not think of that, and since you have troubled to return it to me, I can only say thank you."

She held out her hand for the kerchief, but he did not move. "I don't know but what I'll keep it, after all, for a souvenir. Just to remind me that Luck Cullison's daughter went out of her way to help one of Cass Fendrick's sheep."

She ignored his sardonic mockery. "I don't let live creatures suffer when I can help it. Are you going to give me my handkerchief?"

"Haven't made up my mind yet. Perhaps I'll have it washed and bring it home to you."

She decided that he was trying to flirt with her, and turned the head of her horse to start.

"Now your father has pulled his freight, I expect it will be safe to call," he added.

The bridle rein tightened. "What nonsense are you saying about my father?"

"No news, Miss Cullison; just what everybody is saying, that he has gone to cover on account of the hold-up."

A chill fear drenched her heart. "Do you mean the hold-up of the Limited at Tin Cup?"

"No, I don't." He looked at her sharply. "Mean to say you haven't heard of the hold-up of the W.& S. Express Company at Saguache?"

"No. When was it?"

"Tuesday night. The man got away with twenty thousand dollars."

"And what has my father to do with that?" she demanded haughtily.

A satisfied spleen purred in his voice. "My dear young lady, that is what everyone is asking."

"What do you mean? Say it." There was fear as well as anger in her voice. Had her father somehow got into trouble trying to save Sam?

"Oh, I'm saying nothing. But what Sheriff Bolt means is that when he gets his handcuffs on Luck Cullison, he'll have the man that can tell him where that twenty thousand is."

"It's a lie."

He waved his hand airily, as one who declined responsibility in the matter, but his dark, saturnine face sparkled with malice.

"Maybe so. Seems to be some evidence, but I reckon he can explain that away-when he comes back. The hold-up dropped a hat with the initials L. C. in the band, since identified as his. He had lost a lot of money at poker. Next day he paid it. He had no money in the bank, but maybe he found it growing on a cactus bush."

"You liar!" she panted, eyes blazing.

"I'll take that from you, my dear, because you look so blamed pretty when you're mad; but I wouldn't take it from him-from your father, who is hiding out in the hills somewhere."

Anger uncurbed welled from her in an inarticulate cry. He had come close to her, and was standing beside the stirrup, one bold hand upon the rein. Her quirt went swiftly up and down, cut like a thin bar of red-hot iron across his uplifted face. He stumbled back, half blind with the pain. Before he could realize what had happened the spur on her little boot touched the side of the pony, and it was off with a bound. She was galloping wildly down the trail toward home.

He looked after her, fingers caressing the welt that burned his cheek.

"You'll pay for that, Kate Cullison," he said aloud to himself.

Anger stung him, but deeper than his rage was a growing admiration. How she had lashed out at him because he had taunted her of her father. By Jove, a girl like that would be worth taming! His cold eyes glittered as he put the bloodstained kerchief in his pocket. She was not through with him yet-not by a good deal.

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