Points West - B.M. Bower - ebook

Points West ebook

B.M. Bower

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B.M Bower had a gift for writing Westerns, weaving tales of adventure, intrigue, mystery, and romance – often with surprise endings. They are historical reminiscences of pioneers among the sage and bush, clearing the way for a new America. She wrote about working cowboys usually on western ranches, with the occasional visit of an eastern types. Her books were known for their factual attention to detail such as cattle branding. Cole is the son of wealth, but through no fault of his own this wealth has disappeared. The plot is well constructed with well drawn subsidiary characters and provides a number of interesting twists. Highly recommended, especially for those who love the Old Western genre.

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Liczba stron: 320

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Contents

I. BED ROCK AND UNDER

II. TO OUTRIDE TROUBLE

III. COLE FINDS A JOB

IV. THE SINKS

V. COLE SHOOTS AS HE RIDES

VI. ENTER MUTT

VII. ALSO THE WOP

VIII. THE FIGHTING COWGIRL

IX. COLE MAKES A FRIEND

X. "BULLETS AND BLOTCHED BRANDS——"

XI. "IT'S FUN, MOWING."

XII. MOTHER HARRIS ASSERTS HERSELF

XIII. JOHN ROPER AGAIN

XIV. COLE AN OUTLAW?

XV. STEVE HARRIS

XVI. TRAPPED

XVII. "THAT WORD'S GUILTY"

XVIII. NINETY DAYS AND DESPAIR

XIX. COLE RECEIVES A SHOCK

XX. COLE PLANS HIS CAMPAIGN

XXI. COLE PLAYS THE GAME

XXII. THE DEPUTY FROM BLACK RIM

XXIII. SHORTY SPRINGS A SURPRISE

XXIV. "I GOT HIM IN A CELL——"

XXV. AN HONEST RANCHER IS ROPER

XXVI. SHORTY WANTS THE TRUTH

XXVII. COLE SETTLES IT

I. BED ROCK AND UNDER

THE sheriff’s right leg swung a leisurely arc over the wild-rose pattern stamped on the cantle of his saddle and dropped to the iron stirrup that dangled stiffly below the level of his horse’s belly. The sheriff was a tall man, with wide shoulders and narrow hips, and blue eyes that sparkled rather startlingly in his leather-brown face. As his boot clicked into place, the horse moved forward, following the other riders and the herd, but the sheriff reined him back to the youth who stood leaning against the corral post, staring with expressionless face after the retreating group.

“Got any plans, Cole?” Then he hesitated. Sympathy is often a more ticklish sentiment to handle than is blame, and the sheriff found himself groping for words. “You don’t want to take it to heart, kid; about the propitty, I mean. I’m goin’ to get all I can outa the stock, and what’s left over and above the debts, of course––”

“To hell with the stock!”

“Yeah, well, that’s all right too. But it don’t get yuh nowhere, kid. What I was goin’ to say is, if you should want a job, why––”

“If I want a job I’ll get it away from here.”

The sheriff carefully selected a cigarette from the carton they were sold in; a “tailor-made,” because rolling your own takes time when a man may not have it to spare from his business. While he drew his thumb nail across a match he eyed the young man covertly from under bushy eyebrows. The kid was taking it hard–which was to be expected–but it was a hardness that might lead him into trouble. The right word–but who can say just what is the right word to speak when youth stands in dazed, impotent fury while his world crashes around him?

“Look here, Cole. Don’t get the idea that bad luck is a disgrace you’ve got to run away from. Your dad’s layin’ under-ground because he made that blunder and there wasn’t nobody there to stop him. What if the market did go down just when he figured it would go up, and he loaded up with stock there wasn’t no sale for? Hell, any man’s liable to guess wrong! What if the banks did close in on him? He ain’t the first feller that’s been crowded to the wall. Most of ‘em, kid, are able to start right at bed rock and make a comeback they can brag about afterwards. I ain’t sayin’ a word against your dad. He was a fine man, and what he done was on the spur of the moment before he had time to think it over. But don’t you go and let your pride––”

“Pride!” Cole looked up at him then and grinned with his teeth clamped together and that same impotent fury in his eyes. “I’ve got a lot to be proud of, I must say! Don’t you worry none about my pride, Mr. Carroll. That’s been tramped into the ground for keeps! My pride–oh, damn the world and everything in it! All I ask of it is to leave me alone.”

“And that’s meant for me, I reckon. Well, have it your own way–you will anyhow. As I was saying, I’ll get all I can outa the stock, and turn over what’s left to you. And if you want a job you better get it with some of the outfits where you’re known. You’ll get a better break here than you will among strangers, kid. You never had to work for wages, and it’s liable to come hard till you get used to it. You’ve got quite a little string of horses of your own–want to sell any of ‘em, Cole?”

“No.”

“Well, they ain’t a vast herd, but it’s better than being down to your bed roll and that wore out. Better come along in with me till I see what I can save outa the wreck for yuh.”

“Thanks, no. I’m heading in the other direction.”

“Any idee where?”

“To the devil, maybe.”

“Wel-l, they say he works his men pretty hard, and he’s damn poor pay. But I wish yuh luck, kid, and I hope––”

Whatever he hoped, the sheriff thought better of mentioning it and tilted his spurs against the smooth coat of the sorrel as a signal to be moving. He flung up a hand in wordless adieu and rode off after his men without once looking back. For when all was said that could be said, Cole Lawson, Junior, would have to live his life in his own way and solve his problems for himself.

With his teeth still clamped together so hard that afterward he found his jaws aching, Cole watched the receding dust cloud that hid the last of the Lawson herds. The cattle had gone on foreclosure of the bank when the ranch mortgage fell due, and that was the day before Cole Lawson, Senior, had taken the muzzle of his six-shooter between his teeth and pulled the trigger. Pride, the sheriff had called that impulse. Maybe it was; who knows?

“Thank the Lord Mother died before everything went to hell,” Cole found himself saying aloud, and bit his underlip painfully when he realized where that thought would lead him. At any rate it was better than having to see her suffer for his father’s last, mad impulse. An upward tilt of the old six-shooter, a crook of the trigger finger–so slight an effort as that, and the brain that had planned and schemed and loved and hated became scattered, spongy stuff.

And one was life, and that other, ugly thing was death! And the wealth that had been his–what was that, save words written upon paper? Thousands of cattle branded with the C Bar L–that had been wealth for Cole Lawson and his son and sole heir. Well, the cattle had not died; they still fed contentedly on the range that had always been their home, but they were not Lawson cattle now. Certain words written on a sheet of foolscap had changed all that, just as certain words on another piece of paper had taken the Lawson lands and given them to a bank.

“Bed rock and under!” Cole said to himself with a bitter twist of his lips. “They think I’m licked. They–hell, the whole darn bunch is sorry for me! Heir of the C Bar L–son of a suicide and heir to the disgrace of a quitter!”

He pulled his hot, rebellious stare away from the dust cloud now shrinking to the level of the ridge over which the last of the Lawson stock had been driven, and turned a long, calculating look upon the rambling old house where he had been born. The place looked as strange and unfamiliar to him now as though he had never seen it before in his life. Empty; a mere thing of boards and glass, half hidden under vines that were trying to conceal the stark desolation of the place. And that was the result of words written on a sheet of paper, and of a lump of lead no bigger than the end of his finger. His eyes narrowed appraisingly as he stared and wondered why it was that he felt so much a stranger here now, when a few days ago the place had been so deeply embedded in his thoughts and his plans that he had never dreamed of living his life apart from the C Bar L. Why, even a week ago he had taken it for granted that they were rich, and that his father would grow old in the customary activities of a prosperous cattleman. Boxed and buried in commiserating silence–even now Cole could not quite sense the enormity of the catastrophe that had come to his father.

A reckless impulse seized him to mount his horse and ride away with the clothes he stood in and what loose silver was in his pocket, but his practical common sense forbade that gesture of childish defiance of fate. Instead he walked deliberately to the empty house, entered rooms that had never before echoed so hollowly to his tread, and began to pack his most cherished–and portable–possessions. A stranger might have smiled at some of the things Cole considered of value: a quilt which his mother had pieced together from scraps of her own dresses and aprons, each one of which Cole remembered poignantly, though many of them had been worn years ago when he was a little boy who loved to sit in her lap and be rocked; a guitar, small and cheap but nevertheless prized because it was her gift, proudly presented to him on his twelfth birthday; a few books which she had also given him, and finally a buckskin bag of gold coins.

This, too, was the gift of his mother. A bag with his initials worked in beads on one side. On his fifteenth birthday it had been laid beside his plate at breakfast, with a ten-dollar gold piece inside, stamped with the year of his birth. She had laughed and said that it was the beginning of a nest egg which she expected him to save. The idea had pleased Cole, and he had declared that he would save a piece of gold money for every year of his life, and have the dates to match. Well, he had stuck to that notion closer than he had to some others, and while his mother lived she had helped and encouraged him in making the collection complete. Now he weighed the bag in his hands and thought of the gold as money that could be spent if ever he were pushed to that desperate point. A tragic awakening for the son of Lawson the cattle king, who was reputed to be well on his way to a quarter of a million in horses, cattle and land!

These things he packed in a weather-proof, sole-leather bag made to order after the pattern of a mail sack that could be strapped around the top and padlocked. He left the house then and carried the bag to the corral, where he saddled Johnnie, his own pet saddle horse. He considered that he was entitled to a roll of bedding, a small tepee tent and what food he would need for his journey into the unknown world where lay his future, and these things he assembled quickly, in haste to be gone from the place before sundown.

Such was the precision of his movements that the sheriff and his men had not driven the last of the C Bar L horse herd five miles down the trail before Cole himself was mounted and taking the less used trail to the eastward, two lightly packed saddle horses and the three-year-old colt, Hawk, following trustfully behind Johnnie. Cole did not know where he was going nor what he would do when he got there. He did not care. All he wanted was to put the C Bar L and its tragic downfall behind him, to outride the sympathy of those who had witnessed the crash, and to find some isolated neighborhood where he could look into men’s eyes and read there no compassionate knowledge of his hurt.

II. TO OUTRIDE TROUBLE

MANY a man has attempted to outride his troubles, and few have ever succeeded; but who has ever yet been able to outstrip his own thoughts and the ruthless memory that calls others trooping up to harry the fugitive?

In those first few days of flight Cole Lawson would have been no more miserable had he stayed on the ranch or ridden in with the sheriff, as he had been invited to do. He was trying, for one thing, to outride the memory of that horrible minute when he had stood aghast beside the still quivering body of his father. Cole had loved his dad in an inarticulate, shy way that never found open expression. He had never suspected him of being in any deep trouble, and he could not account for the instant chill of apprehension which flashed over him when he had heard the shot in the room his father had used for an office. Gunshots were not so infrequent on the ranch, where target shooting was a popular sport and there were always hawks sailing up in the hope of pouncing upon a chicken and making off undetected. His father always had an eye out for these pests and never failed to send a shot after any hawk he discovered within range. Yet this particular report had sent Cole racing to the house with his heart pounding heavily in his throat, and so he would carry a gruesome picture indelibly painted in his mind; and ride as he would it flashed before him at unexpected moments when he thought he was thinking of something altogether different.

He rode out of the Black Rim country by way of Thunder Pass which sloped steeply up between Gospel Peak and Sheepeater Mountain, and so came down the steep trail into Burroback Valley which seemed remote, sufficient unto itself, a world apart from the range land across the mountains. Cole had heard rumors of Burroback country. It was said to be tough. But then, Black Rim county was no saints’ rest, so far as that went, and the toughness did not trouble him in the least, save that it put him a bit on guard.

Burroback Valley was long and deep, with a creek running the entire length of it and many little gulches and canyons twisting back into the hills so that a map of it in detail would somewhat resemble the back and ribs of a great fish. The nearest railroad was miles away, and it seemed to Cole that he might safely ride up to some ranch and ask for work.

The place he chanced upon first was the Muleshoe, a bachelor establishment which lay just down the valley from Thunder Pass and seemed to hug close to the ribbed side of Gospel Mountain. A secluded looking ranch which looked as though it held itself purposely aloof from the rest of the world; sinister too, if a man were old enough and experienced enough to read the signs. But Cole was neither, and the entire absence of normal activity around the squalid ranch buildings served only to impress him further with the idea that here would be a sanctuary from his tragic past. Folks wouldn’t know anything about what happened outside the valley, and would care less.

A hard-faced, shifty-eyed man with a high beak of a nose came forward to the gate, as Cole rode up, and leaned over it with his arms folded upon the top rail, one hand drooping significantly toward his left side where the brown butt of a .45 stood loosely in its holster. Afterward, Cole heard the owner of the Muleshoe called Bart Nelson, but now in the soft light of the afterglow he never dreamed that so unsavory a character as Bart Nelson confronted him. He had not lived his life among killers, and the sag of Bart’s right hand went unnoticed, and he thought the man was squinting against the light of the western sky and so looked at him innocently through half-closed lids.

Cole asked for work bluntly, without preface, because he did not know how to go about it and wanted the distasteful question out and done with.

Bart Nelson studied him, studied the four horses–good-looking mounts they were too–and spat tobacco juice expertly at a white rock near by.

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