Raiders of Spanish Peaks - Zane Grey - ebook

Raiders of Spanish Peaks ebook

Zane Grey

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Laramie Nelson and partners Lonesome Mulhall and Ted „Tracks” Williams work their way out to eastern Colorado to Spanish Peaks Ranch. There they meet a family from Ohio that has come west to start a new life and hopefully allow the husband and father to get well in the high and dryer climate. They purchase a ranch and then are in the process of loosing everything. As they soon find out, though, this deserted fort is equally suited for both protection and imprisonment. In fact, they’ve been swindled into buying the longtime headquarters and hideout for a band of thieves and rustlers. Laramie, Lonesome and Tracks want to save this family. But in a place where there is no law but the law of the gun, can they? First published in 1938, the greatest writer of the American West, Zane Grey, brings a classic tale of drama on the frontier. „Raiders of Spanish Peaks” is a thrilling tale of a how a man’s home is truly his castle.

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER I

LARAMIE’S horse went lame, and as Wingfoot was the only living creature he had to care for, he halted at midday, without thought of his own needs.

That long journey of yesterday, calculated to put a hundred miles between Laramie and a certain Kansas ranch where his old habit of gun-play on little provocation had rendered him unpopular, had aggravated a sprained tendon Wingfoot favored. Laramie slid out of the saddle.

“Heah, let me see, yu uncomplainin’ deceivin’ hawse,” said the rider. “How was I to know about it?”

Wingfoot might have traveled miles farther without serious result, but Laramie chose not to take the risk. He liked the pleasant prospect at hand–a widening valley bright with the spring green of cottonwoods and willows, and a gleam of water. He would camp there until the following day. It was nothing for Laramie to go hungry.

“Wal, Wingfoot, heah we stop,” he drawled as he removed the saddle. “Plenty grass an’ water for yu. If I see a cottontail I’ll shore make up for thet pore shootin’… . I’ve a pinch of salt left… . Now yu be around heah in the mawnin’.”

Wingfoot was not so lame that he could not roll. After thus indulging himself he made for the running stream and the patch of green on the bank. Laramie packed the burdened saddle beyond the edge of the grove to a willow thicket. Another of his range habits was that of caution. He needed sleep about as much as Wingfoot needed rest, but he decided to exhaust the meat possibilities of this valley before lying down. To that end he spread his saddle blankets to dry in the sun, and cut an armload of willows for a bed, after which he went hunting.

This particular section of southern central Kansas was unknown to him. It was a cattle country, a vast sweeping prairie-land, rolling and grassy, where a steer appeared to be as hard to find as a needle in a haystack. Few indeed had been the hoof tracks he had crossed that day. A long tramp down this winding lonesome swale earned Laramie no more than an appreciation of the ranch possibilities of the place. How many beautiful, fertile, lonely bits of rangeland had inspired the same desire for a farm, a few horses and cattle, a home! That hope never died, though Laramie was well on, as years counted at that time. Still, as many riders of twenty-five died with their boots on as lived to herd cattle.

Somewhere to the northwest lay the railroad and Dodge, for which Laramie was headed. Cattlemen and riders were as thick there as flies on a freshly skinned cowhide. He would get another job and try again, knowing that sooner or later he would straddle Wingfoot again for a grub-line ride. Thinking of meat made him more than usually keen-eyed, with the result that soon he espied a rabbit. It ran off a few rods, and then made the mistake to stop and squat down, after the manner of cottontails. Laramie shot the top of its head off.

“Wal, dog-gone!” he ejaculated, very pleased. “I reckoned I couldn’t hit nothin’ no more. Now if thet had happened to be Luke Arlidge …”

Laramie did not end his speculation. He skinned and dressed the cottontail, and returning to camp built a little fire over which he broiled the rabbit to a nice brown. The addition of some salt made it so toothsome that Laramie wanted to devour it all. But he saved half for the morrow.

The heat of the day was passing. Wingfoot grazed contentedly down the valley. Laramie left his fire to look around. There was not even a bird to see. He had come from the north and had a curiosity to see what it looked like to the west, up over the low slope. But with the thought that there was no sense looking for trouble he went back to the willows and was soon asleep.

Upon being rudely awakened by some noise, Laramie thought he had scarcely closed his eyes. He heard a thud of hoofbeats on soft ground and then a harsh voice:

“We’re goin’ to string yu up to this heah cottonwood, thet’s what.”

“Fer no more’n yu’ve done yourself, Price,” came the reply in a young, bitter voice.

“If I done so, nobody ever ketched me. Haw! Haw!”

Laramie considered himself a judge of men through their voices. He sat up silently, a cold little thrill stiffening his spine, and peeped out between the willow leaves.

Four horsemen had ridden under the great spreading cottonwood, three of whom were in the act of halting. The foremost, a boy of about twenty, was short and sturdy, his figure bearing the hallmarks of a rider. His homely face might have been red ordinarily, but now it was tense and pale. He had singularly fine eyes, neither dark nor light, and on the moment an expression of scorn appeared stronger than a somber horror. He was too young to face hanging with a spirit which no doubt would have been his in later years. Price was a typical cattleman of the period, no longer young, and characterized by a lean hard face of bluish cast under his short beard, and slits of fire for eyes. He looked more at home in the saddle than on the ground, and packed a blue Colt gun in the hip pocket of his jeans. The position of that gun told Laramie much. The other two riders were mere boys, even more youthful than the one they were about to hang. They did not look formidable, wherefore Laramie wasted no second glance on them.

“Price, yu ain’t goin’ through with it?” asked the doomed rider, hoarsely.

“Didn’t I ketch yu dead to rights?”

“Yes, an’ it wasn’t the first time I done the same. But yu hadn’t paid me a dollar fer six months… . An’ the boss was away… . An’ I had to have some money.”

“Say, Mulhall, air yu tryin’ to make excuses for rustlin’?” queried Price, loosening out a small deadly-looking noose in his lasso.

“Show me a rider who never stole a head of stock–if yu split hairs on it!” ejaculated Mulhall, passionately.

“I ain’t splittin’ hairs. Yu’re a rustler.”

“Yu’re a liar. If yu wasn’t every damn rider on this range would be a rustler. Yu would an’ yu know it.”

Price gave the noose a little careless toss and it fell perfectly over Mulhall’s head. He flinched in his saddle. And Laramie, watching with intent eyes, felt that shock communicated to him. Such brutal justice had become the law of the range. In this case it might have been deserved and on the other hand it might not. Laramie thought it no business of his. But could he sit there and see them go through with it?

“Thet’s my answer, Mulhall,” replied Price, curtly. “I’ll tell somebody yu took yore medicine yellow.”

“––!” burst out the bound rider, furiously. “I knowed it. Yu’re hangin’ me ’cause she has no use fer yu… . Go ahead an’ string me up yu ––! … She’ll be onto yu. Hank or Bill will give yu away some day. An’ she’ll hate yu––”

“Shet up,” snapped Price, jerking the lasso so tight round Mulhall’s neck as to cut short his speech and sway him in the saddle.

“Aw–Price!” interposed the older of the other two riders. He was pale and it was plain he wanted to intercede. “Let Mulhall off–this time.”

Whereupon Price cursed him roundly, and then flinging his end of the rope over the branch just above Mulhall’s head he leisurely dismounted to pick it up.

“I’ve seen more’n one of yore brand dangle from this cottonwood,” he said, with a coarse grim humor that failed to hide passion.

This inflection of tone decided Laramie, who had been wavering. Silently he arose, and strode out from behind his covert. Price appeared about to haul the lasso taut and tie it to a sapling. The ashen-faced Mulhall saw Laramie first and gave expression to a more violent start.

“Bill, get set to kick his hoss out from under him,” ordered Price.

When Bill failed to move and, moreover, betrayed his alarm, Price wheeled. Laramie had advanced half of the distance from the willows. He halted, standing slightly sidewise. His posture, as well as his appearance, would have given any Westerner pause. Laramie had counted on this many a time, though in this instance it was more habit than design.

“Hullo!” cut out Price, suddenly springing erect. He was genuinely astounded.

“Howdy yoreself,” returned Laramie, in slow, cool speech. “See yu’re aimin’ at a necktie party.”

“Yu ain’t blind, stranger,” replied Price, sharply, as his gaze roved over Laramie, to grasp the significance of his stand. “Where’d yu come from?”

“Down the draw heah with my outfit. Been huntin’ rabbits an’ happened to see hawses.”

“Rabbits, huh?” rejoined Price, slowly. “Wal, go on with yore huntin’.”

“Shore, when it suits me.”

“This ain’t no bizness of yourn.”

“I’m makin’ it mine.”

“Hell yu say! … Who might yu be, stranger?”

“No matter. I’m just ridin’ through.”

“Wal, go back to yore outfit an’ ride on. Mixin’ in heah might not be healthy.”

“Wal, somehow I’ve thrived on unhealthy soil.”

Price threw down the end of the lasso and reddened in angry amaze: “What yu up to?”

“I cain’t fool about heah an’ see yu hang thet boy,” drawled Laramie.

“He’s a rustler. We ketched him brandin’ calves fer an outfit who’s been payin’ him.”

“Shore. I heahed yu talkin’.”

“Hell then, man! Don’t yu know this country?” fumed the cattleman.

“Wal, yes, if yu reckon Texas, Abilene, Dodge, an’ the Pan Handle.”

“Ahuh. Texas rider. One of them Chisholm Trail drivers?”

“Shore. If thet means anythin’ to yu, Mister Price.”

It meant considerable, as was plain by the man’s visible vacillation in the face of a doubtful issue. Laramie had gauged him shrewdly.

“But what fur, damn yu? Mulhall ain’t nothin’ to yu. He’s admitted his guilt.”

“Yes, an’ the way he did it is why I’m callin’ yore bluff.”

“Bluff! … There ain’t no bluff in a rope.”

“Yu’d swung him shore if I hadn’t come along. But I did–an’ now yu won’t.”

That was the gauntlet flung in this matured rider’s face. It flamed. He was the kind whom rage gave rein to impulses, but obviously there was something about Laramie’s front that restrained him.

“Yu’d fight fer this calf-stealin’ boy?” burst out Price, incredulously.

“Shore. Reckon I’ve fought fer less. But if yu want to know, Price, I just don’t like yore face an’ yore talk.”

“No? I ain’t takin’ a hell of a fancy to yourn,” retorted Price, sarcastically.

“Wal, I’m a better judge of men than yu are,” retorted Laramie, with even more sarcasm.

“Like hell yu air! Willin’ to take chances an’ fight fer a cow-puncher who admits he stole! Yu must be hard up fer a fight, stranger. As fer me–I pass. Mulhall ain’t even wuth gettin’ scratched fer.”

Price’s spurs jangled a discord as he stamped to his horse and flung himself in the saddle.

“Hold up a minute,” replied Laramie, dryly, as he walked around Price to see if he had a rifle on his saddle. The saddles of the other two riders were likewise minus a long-range gun. “Price, I size yu up to be some punkin on talkin’, an’ thet’s aboot all. Mozy along.”

The chagrined rider complied, while his two companions reined their horses in beside his.

“Take him an’ be damned!” shouted Price, over his shoulder. “He’ll thank yu by stealin’ yore shirt.”

“Hey, Price, all I ever stole from yu was yore gurl,” Mulhall shouted after him, in fiendish glee.

The rider called Bill looked back and his young face gleamed.

“Good-bye, Mull. I’m glad we––”

Price swung a vicious hand on Bill’s lips, nearly unseating him. Then the riders rode on, breaking from trot to canter, and disappeared under the cottonwoods.

Laramie drew a knife with which he carefully cut the cord around Mulhall’s wrists. The boy swiftly lifted his hands to tear the noose off his neck so violently as to dislodge his sombrero. It went flying with the rope.

“My God, stranger!” he burst out, in terrible relief. “Price’d hung me–but fer yu!”

“I reckon. There’s many a slip, though,” responded Laramie as he bent to recover both lasso and sombrero. The latter he handed up to Mulhall, then began to coil the lasso. “It’d be bad luck, boy, not to keep this… . Any chance of Price fetchin’ back an outfit?”

“Aw, hell! He wouldn’t have the nerve if he had any more outfit,” replied the rider, contemptuously, as he rubbed his red wrists.

“Wal, in thet case we needn’t be in such a hurry,” replied Laramie. “I’m alone. Was ridin’ through, an’ my hawse went lame. An’ while restin’ him I was takin’ a nap heah in the willows. Yu waked me up.”

“It was sure a good wakin’ fer me, stranger,” rejoined Mulhall, fervently, and swinging a leg over the pommel he began to roll a cigarette. His fingers trembled slightly. Then he met Laramie’s upward glance. Their eyes locked–the one shamed, grateful, curious, the other grave, searching, kindly. Naturally such an exchange of looks could not have been ordinary, but this developed into something unusually strong and potent.

“What’s yore name?” queried Mulhall.

“Yu can call me Laramie.”

“Mine’s Mulhall. Yu can call me Lonesome.”

“Funny handle for yu. Bet yu’re not the lone-prairie kind . . . Mulhall… . Any kin to thet big stockman, Silas Mulhall?”

“No kin to nobody,” replied Lonesome, hurriedly, with evident distaste or a habit of evasiveness. “I’m alone in the wurr-ld.”

“Wal, yu came dog-gone near takin’ a trip alone,” concluded Laramie, dryly. “Let’s move out of this heah neck of the woods.”

Laramie dragged his saddle and things out of the willows, and dividing these with the rider made his way down the valley, keeping to the thick plots of grass.

“Reckon it’d take a good tracker some time workin’ our trail out,” remarked Laramie, thoughtfully, as he picked his way.

“Sure. But say, Laramie, I had a pard once thet could track a bird,” returned Mulhall, enthusiastically. “Honest to Gawd, he was the grandest boy on a trail! His name was Ted Williams, an’ I called him Tracks. Stuck to him, too… . Heigho!–dear old Ted! Wonder where’n hell he is now… . We was pards two years.”

“What became of him? Stop some lead?”

“No! He made the other fellow do thet. Ted was slick with a gun–leanin’ toward bein’ a gunman, they said.”

“I see. But yu’re not tellin’ me about him.”

“It happened over in Nebraskie. We was ridin’ for a cattleman–what was his name? … Spencer or somethin’. Anyway, he ran an X-Bar outfit, an’ he had a daughter. I was only sixteen an’ she was twenty. Red-headed girl!–Gosh, she was peaches an’ cream. About to marry a stock-buyer, a mean cuss, with lots of money. I didn’t want to get sweet on her–dog-gone it! She was to blame. Stockman’s name was Cheesbrough. Never will forget thet, because it was my callin’ him a big cheese thet led to the fight. He beat me somethin’ awful. Ted rode in, found me all bunged up. An’ he called Cheesbrough out an’ shot him… . I’ve never seen Ted since then. Thet’s what made me a roamin’, lonesome, grub-line rider.”

“Wal, yu must be hell on girls,” drawled Laramie, as he walked on, looking under the trees for his horse.

“I can’t help it if they like me,” declared Lonesome, stoutly. “An’ I couldn’t help lovin’ any girl to save my life… . This deal of Price’s yu mussed up–thet was all on account of a girl. Annie Lakin. She couldn’t read or write, but she was sure there on looks. Rancher up the draw three or four miles. Bruce Allson, a fine man to ride for when he was flush. But he’s been broke ever since thet big raid some rustlers worked awhile back. Annie is the daughter of Allson’s sister, who’d come to be housekeeper for him. Natural she upset the Triangle outfit. Price is foreman, an’ was loony over Annie. He had a chance, the boys said, till I rode along a few weeks ago. Thet fellow sure hated me. He’d done for me, too! Hung me! . . .”

“But how aboot Annie?” interposed Laramie.

“Thet girl! … I was sure sweet on her. Cross-eyed little skunk! Laramie, I don’t know if yu’ve had experience with girls, but I’m tellin’ yu they’re no good, as a rule. But I had one onct thet… . This Annie was crookeder than any rail fence yu ever seen in yore life, an’ just as sweet. She had all the boys on Allson’s ranch an’ everywhere daft about her. When I come–well, I was new an’ somethin’ to egg the other fellows along with. An’ all the time she was lettin’ Price make up to her! On the sly, thet was. But I queered his game if I didn’t do nothin’ else… . My Gawd! how thet kid could hug an’ kiss. An’ dance–say, I’ve seen her dance the whole outfit so done they couldn’t get their boots off.”

“Wal, then it’s not breakin’ yore heart much to leave heah?” went on Laramie.

“Not so terrible much, now I think of it. But I’d liked to have had a little money from Allson. I’m clean busted.”

“Yu’re welcome to some of mine… . Heah’s my hawse. I’d begun to worry thet he’d strayed up the draw.”

Laramie secured Wingfoot, and throwing blankets and saddle loosely over him, and the bridle round his neck, led off down the widening valley, with Mulhall beside him. Cottonwoods grew thickly here, and the stream was lined with green willows.

“Yore hoss is a little lame, Laramie,” observed Mulhall.

“Yes, thet’s what kept yu from havin’ a new hemp necktie. But he’s not so lame as he was. A night’s rest will make him fit again.”

“Travelin’ light, I see,” went on Lonesome.

“Light an’ hungry.”

“No grub atall?”

“Half a rabbit an’ some salt.”

Mulhall appeared frankly curious, and not without misgivings concerning this new-found friend; nevertheless he restrained his feelings.

“Let’s camp here,” he said, halting. “We’d have to come back up this draw, an’ it’s travel for nothin’. We can kill a couple of rabbits anywheres. Where yu headin’ for?”

“Just haidin’ away, Lonesome,” drawled Laramie.

“Ahuh!–I sure had a curl up my spine when I seen yu step out of them willows… . It’s a funny world… . By ridin’ forty miles tomorrow we can strike a cattle-camp. Next day Dodge.”

“Suits me. Haven’t hit Dodge for a couple of years,” rejoined Laramie, reminiscently.

“She’s a hummer these days.”

“If Dodge is any livelier than Abilene or Hays City, excuse me… . Pile off, Lonesome. We’ll camp heah an’ have some hot biscuits, applesauce, a lamb chop, an’ some coffee with cream.”

“Say, I’d kinda like you even if you hadn’t saved my neck,” observed Lonesome, thoughtfully. “An’ for me to like a man is sure a compliment.”

They found a thicket with a little grass plot inside where they made beds.

“Reckon we better hunt some more meat,” said Laramie, when their tasks were done.

“I’ll go with you, Laramie. There ain’t a damn bit of use in my huntin’ alone. I can’t hit a flock of barns. An’ if I happened on to one of Price’s calves I’d run it down.”

So they set out together, stepping quietly and watching sharply. Lonesome sighted the first rabbit and as he drew Laramie closer to where it was squatting it hopped away. Laramie killed it on the move. Lonesome gasped his amazement, and thudding across the open space he picked up the kicking quarry.

“Top of his head gone!”

“Wal, shore thet was a lucky shot,” drawled Laramie, looking to his gun.

“I’m reservin’ opinions till I see you shoot again. But I’ve the same hunch Price must have had.”

“An’ what’s thet, Lonesome?”

“It ain’t wise to try to throw a gun on some men,” returned Mulhall, his eyes bright and keen.

“Thet’s so,” admitted Laramie. “I’ve met a few I’d hate to have tried it on.”

“Humph. Who, for instance?” asked Lonesome, as he took out a knife to skin the rabbit.

“Buck Duane, Wess Harkin’, King Fisher–to mention three.”

“All Texans. Ain’t there any other Westerners quick on the draw?”

“Heaps of them, if yu can believe range talk. Wild Bill Hickok shore is one. I seen him kill five men all in a row. Thet was at Hays City.”

“He’s sheriff over at Hays. We won’t go … Look! Another rabbit. He’s stoppin’ under thet bushy cottonwood. By the little bush… . Laramie, if you hit him from here I’ll––”

Laramie espied the rabbit and interrupted Mulhall with a quick shot. This one flopped over without a kick.

“Dog-gone! I’m shootin’ lucky today. Reckon it’s because I’m so hungry,” said Laramie, in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Ahuh. So I see,” rejoined Lonesome, sagely.

They went back to camp, where Lonesome busied himself in the task of dressing the rabbits for broiling. He declared frankly that he was a first rate camp cook. He built a hot fire and let it burn down to a bed of red coals. Then, having spitted the rabbits on clean whittled willow sticks, he broiled them close to the coals, by turning them over and over.

Laramie watched him covertly. How many boys like Lonesome had he seen enter and exit on the hard stage of the range! Lonesome had the qualities to make him liked around a cow-camp, but scarely those that might insure his survival. He was easy, careless, amiable, probably a drifter and perhaps not above the evils of the outdoor life. Still, he did not show any signs of being addicted to liquor–that bane of riders. Laramie felt a strange pleasure in having saved his neck and in his presence now. Long years had Laramie been a lone wolf. By this experience he was brought face to face with the fact of his loneliness.

“Come an’ get it, Laramie,” called Lonesome. “An’ dig up your bag of salt. We could fare worse.”

“Done to a brown,” declared Laramie as he took the spitted rabbit tendered him. It had a most persuasive scent.

Whereupon the two sat cross-legged on the grass and enjoyed their meal. Lonesome, however, showed his improvident character by eating all of his rabbit while Laramie again saved half of his.

Meanwhile sunset had come and the grove of cottonwoods was a place of color and beauty. A tiny brook tinkled by under a grassy bank; mockingbirds were singing off somewhere in the distance; a raven croaked overhead. The grass shone like black-barred gold and there was a redness in the west. Tranquil, lonely, and sad, the end of day roused feelings in Laramie that had rendered his breast heavy many a time before.

“Nice place for a little ranch,” he said, presently.

“Ain’t it, though? I was just thinkin’ thet. A bunch of cattle, some good hosses, plenty of wood, water, an’ grass–a home… . Heigho! … It’s a hell of a life if you don’t weaken.”

Laramie had touched on a sensitive chord in his companion’s heart. Somehow this simple fact seemed to draw them closer together, in a community of longing, if no more.

“Wal, when yu said home yu said a heap, boy… . Home! Thet means a woman–a wife.”

“Sure. But I never got so far in reckonin’ as thet,” replied Lonesome, thoughtfully.

“Lonesome, why don’t yu marry one of these girls yu swear bob up heah an’ there?”

“My Gawd! What an idear! … Thet’s one thing thet never struck me before,” ejaculated Mulhall, profoundly stirred, and his homely young face was good to see on the moment.

“Wal, since it has struck yu now, how about it?” went on Laramie.

Lonesome threw his rabbit bones away in a violence of contention, with alluring but impossible ideas.

“Marry some girl? On this range–this lone prairee where the wind howls down the wolves? Where there ain’t any girls or any cabins for the takin’. When a poor rider can’t hold a steady job… . When–Aw, hell, Laramie, what’s the use talkin’.”

“Wal, I wasn’t puttin’ the difficulties before yu, but just the idee.”

“Ahuh. I wisht you hadn’t. I’ve got a weak place in me. Never knowed what it was. But thet’s it.”

“Like to have a corner to work on–a homestead where every turn of a spade was for yoreself–where every calf an’ colt added to yore ranch? Thet how it strikes yu?”

“Sure. I’ve got pioneer blood. Most of us riders have. But only a few of us beat red liquor, gamblin’-hells, loose wimmin, ropes an’ guns.”

“Yu said somethin’ to think about,” mused Laramie.

“Laramie, have you beat them things?”

“I reckon, except mebbe guns–an’ I’ve done tolerable well about them.”

“I take it you’re ridin’ a grub-line, same as I have to now?”

“Shore. But more, Lonesome. I’m ridin’ out of this country. Colorado for me, or New Mexico–mebbe even Arizona.”

“Laramie, if I ain’t too personal–air you on the dodge?”

“Nope. I’ve a clean slate,” retorted Laramie, with the curtness of the Southerner.

“I’m thunderin’ glad to hear thet,” burst out Lonesome, as if relieved. “I wisht to Gawd I had the nerve to ask you–Aw! never mind. My feelin’s run away with me at times.”

“Ask me what, Lonesome?” queried Laramie. “I’ll lend yu some money, if yu want it.”

“Money, hell! You’re good to offer, knowin’ it’d never be paid back… . I meant to let me ride with you out of this flat Kansas prairie–away off some place where you can get on a hill.”

“Wal, why not? If yu’ll take a chance on me I will on yu.”

Lonesome strangled a wild eagerness. The light in his eyes then decided Laramie upon the real deeper possibility of this lad.

“But I’m no good, Laramie, no good atall,” he burst out. “I can ride, I like cattle, I ain’t lazy, an’ I’m a good camp cook. But thet lets me out.”

“How about whisky?”

“Haven’t had a drink for six months an’ don’t care a damn if I never have another. I’m a pore gambler, too, an’ a wuss shot. Reckon I’m some punkins with the girls. But where’d thet ever get a fellow?”

“Lonesome, all yu say ’pears a pretty good reference, if I needed any.”

“But you heard Price accuse me of rustlin’… . It’s true… . An’ thet wasn’t the first time by a darn sight.” Lonesome evidently found this confession a shameful thing to make. No doubt Laramie had roused a respect which drove him to be loyal to the best in himself.

“Boy, it’s only the last couple of years thet cattlemen have counted haids. An’ it’s no crime to kill a beef to eat,” rejoined Laramie.

“But, Laramie, it ain’t only cattle,” rushed on Lonesome, hoarsely. “I–I got an itch to–to approperate any damn thing thet ain’t tied down.”

Laramie laughed at the boy’s distress, not at the content of his confession.

“Wal, then, all the more reason for somebody to look after yu,” he replied.

“By thunder! I told you, an’ thet’s more’n I ever did before,” declared Mulhall, in the righteousness of sacrifice. “But I ain’t guaranteein’ no more… . I’m afraid I’m just no good atall.”

“Yu make me sick,” replied Laramie, with severity. “Hidin’ facts about yore people–talkin’ about wantin’ a girl, a ranch, a home, an’ all thet. Then in yore next breath tryin’ to make yoreself out a low-down thief! I cain’t believe both, an’ I choose to believe the first.”

“Gawd only knows what a pard like you might do for me! … But I’ve told you, Laramie, I’ve told you.”

“Shore. An’ as likeable a boy as yu must turn out a straight shooter. Yu’ll have to if yu trail with me. Let’s go to bed, Lonesome.”

Long after dark, and after his companion had fallen asleep Laramie lay awake, vaguely pleased with himself and more than usually given to hopeful speculations as to the future.

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