The fighting edge, p.1
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       The Fighting Edge, p.1
 

          
The Fighting Edge


  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  THE FIGHTING EDGE

  ByWILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE

  Author of"Man-Size," "Gunsight Pass," "Tangled Trails," Etc.

  Boston and New YorkHOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANYThe Riverside Press Cambridge1922

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  COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINEALL RIGHTS RESERVEDThe Riverside PressCAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTSPRINTED IN THE U.S.A.

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  TOMY MOTHER

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  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER PAGE I. Pete's Girl 1 II. "A Spunky Li'l' Devil" 7 III. Pals 12 IV. Clipped Wings 17 V. June asks Questions 25 VI. "Don't You Touch Him!" 33 VII. An Elopement 41 VIII. Blister Gives Advice 50 IX. The White Feather 58 X. In the Image of God 68 XI. June Prays 76 XII. Mollie Takes Charge 86 XIII. Bear Cat Asks Questions 93 XIV. Houck Takes a Ride 100 XV. A Scandal Scotched 106 XVI. Blister as Deus ex Machina 110 XVII. The Back of a Bronc 117 XVIII. The First Day 123 XIX. Dud Qualifies as Court Jester 127 XX. "The Bigger the Hat the Smaller the Herd" 135 XXI. June Discovers a New World 141 XXII. An Alternative Proposed and Declined 145 XXIII. Bob Crawls his Hump Sudden 150 XXIV. In the Saddle 158 XXV. The Rio Blanco puts in a Claim 162 XXVI. Cutting Sign 171 XXVII. Partners in Peril 179 XXVIII. June is Glad 189 XXIX. "Injuns" 194 XXX. A Recruit Joins the Rangers 200 XXXI. "Don't you like me any more?" 207 XXXII. A Cup of Cold Water 214 XXXIII. "Keep A-Comin', Red Haid" 222 XXXIV. An Obstinate Man stands Pat 230 XXXV. Three in a Pit 237 XXXVI. A Hero is Embarrassed 242 XXXVII. A Responsible Citizen 249XXXVIII. Bear Cat Asleep 253 XXXIX. Bear Cat Awake 258 XL. Big-Game Hunters at Work 262 XLI. In a Lady's Chamber 266 XLII. A Walk in the Park 270 XLIII. Not even Powder-burnt 278 XLIV. Bob holds his Red Haid high 284 XLV. The Outlaw gets a Bad Break 290 XLVI. The End of a Crooked Trail 297 XLVII. The Kingdom of Joy 301

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  THE FIGHTING EDGE

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  THE FIGHTING EDGE

  CHAPTER I

  PETE'S GIRL

  She stood in the doorway, a patched and ragged Cinderella of the desert.Upon her slim, ill-poised figure the descending sun slanted a shaft ofglory. It caught in a spotlight the cheap, dingy gown, the coarsestockings through the holes of which white flesh peeped, the heavy,broken brogans that disfigured the feet. It beat upon a small head with amass of black, wild-flying hair, on red lips curved with discontent, intodark eyes passionate and resentful at what fate had made of her younglife. A silent, sullen lass, one might have guessed, and the judgmentwould have been true as most first impressions.

  The girl watched her father drive half a dozen dogies into the mountaincorral perched precariously on the hillside. Soon now it would be dusk.She went back into the cabin and began to prepare supper.

  In the rickety stove she made a fire of cottonwood. There was abusiness-like efficiency in the way she peeled potatoes, prepared thevenison for the frying-pan, and mixed the biscuit dough.

  June Tolliver and her father lived alone on Piceance[1] Creek. Theirnearest neighbor was a trapper on Eighteen-Mile Hill. From one month'send to another she did not see a woman. The still repression in thegirl's face was due not wholly to loneliness. She lived on the edge of asecret she intuitively felt was shameful. It colored her thoughts andfeelings, set her apart from the rest of the world. Her physicalreactions were dominated by it. Yet what this secret was she could onlyguess at.

  A knock sounded on the door.

  June brushed back a rebellious lock of hair from her eyes with the wristabove a flour-whitened hand. "Come in."

  A big dark man stood on the threshold. His glance swept the girl,searched the room, and came back to her.

  "Pete Tolliver live here?"

  "Yes. He's lookin' after the stock. Be in soon, likely."

  The man closed the door. June dragged a chair from a corner and returnedto her cooking.

  From his seat the man watched her. His regard was disturbing. It had aquality of insistence. His eyes were cold yet devouring. They werepossessive, not clear but opaque. They did not look at her as other eyesdid. She felt the blood burning in her cheeks.

  Presently, as she passed from the table to the stove to look at thesputtering venison, she flashed a resentful glance at him. It did nottouch his effrontery.

  "You Pete's girl?" he asked.

  "Yes."

  "You've grown. Knew you when you was learnin' to crawl."

  "In Brown's Park?" The words were out before she could stop them.

  "You done said it." He smiled, not pleasantly, she thought. "I'm a realold friend of yore father."

  Curiosity touched with apprehension began to stir in her. For those earlyyears she had only memory to rely upon. Tolliver never referred to them.On that subject the barriers were up between the two. Fugitive flashes ofthat first home came back to June. She remembered a sweet, dark-eyedwoman nuzzling her little body with kisses after the bath, an hour whenthat mother wept as though her heart would break and she had put littlebaby arms in tight embrace round her neck by way of comfort. That dearwoman was not in any of the later pictures. A pile of stones on ahillside in Brown's Park marked the grave.

  Between the day of 'Lindy Tolliver's outburst of grief and the child'snext recollection was a gap. The setting of the succeeding memories was aframe house on a dusty road at the edge of a frontier town. In front ofit jolted big freight wagons, three of them fastened together and drawnby a double row of oxen so long she could not count them. The place wasRawlins, Wyoming, and it was an outfitting point for a back country inColorado hundreds of miles from the railroad. The chief figure in June'shorizon was a stern-eyed, angular aunt who took the place of both fatherand mother and did her duty implacably. The two lived together forever,it seemed to the child.

  June wakened one night from the light of a lamp in her aunt's hand. A manwas standing beside her. He was gaunt and pallid, in his eyes a look ofhunger that reminded her of a hunted coyote. When he took her tightly inhis arms she began to cry. He had murmured, "My li'l' baby, don't you bescared of yore paw." As mysteriously as he had come to life, so PeteTolliver disappeared again.

  Afterward there was a journey with a freight outfit which lasted days anddays. June was in charge of a bullwhacker. All she remembered about himwas that he had been kind to her and had expende
d a crackling vocabularyon his oxen. The end of the trek brought her to Piceance Creek and afather now heavily bearded and with long, unkempt hair. They had livedhere ever since.

  Did this big man by the window belong to her father's covered past? Wasthere menace in his coming? Vaguely June felt that there was.

  The door opened and Tolliver stepped in. He was rather under middle-size,dressed in down-at-the-heel boots, butternut jeans, cotton shirt, anddusty, ragged slouch hat. The grizzled beard hid the weak mouth, but theskim-milk eyes, the expression of the small-featured face, betrayed theman's lack of force. You may meet ten thousand like him west of theMississippi. He lives in every village, up every creek, in every valley,and always he is the cat's-paw of stronger men who use him for good orill to serve their ends.

  The nester stopped in his tracks. It was impossible for June to miss thedismay that found outlet in the fallen jaw and startled eyes.

  In the stranger's grin was triumphant malice. "You sure look glad to seeme, Pete, and us such old friends too. Le's see, I ain't seen yousince--since--" He stopped, as though his memory were at fault, but Junesensed the hint of a threat in the uncompleted sentence.

  Reluctantly Tolliver took the offered hand. His consternation seemed tohave stricken him dumb.

  "Ain't you going to introduce yore old pal to the girl?" the big manasked.

  Not willingly, the rancher found the necessary words. "June, meet Mr.Houck."

  June was putting the biscuits in the oven. She nodded an acknowledgmentof the introduction. Back of the resentful eyes the girl's brain wasbusy.

  "Old side pardners, ain't we, Pete?" Houck was jeering at him almostopenly.

  The older man mumbled what might be taken for an assent.

  "Branded a heap of cattle, you 'n' me. Eh, Pete?" The stranger settleddeeper in the chair. "Jake Houck an' you could talk over old times allnight. We was frolicsome colts."

  Tolliver felt his hand forced. "Put off yore hat and wash up, Jake.You'll stay to-night, o' course."

  "Don't mind if I do. I'm headed for Glenwood. Reckon I'd better put thehorse up first."

  The two men left the cabin. When they returned half an hour later, thesupper was on the table. June sat on the side nearest the stove andsupplied the needs of the men. Coffee, hot biscuits, more venison, asecond dish of gravy: no trained waiter could have anticipated theirwants any better. If she was a bit sulky, she had reason for it. Houck'sgaze followed her like a searchlight. It noted the dark good looks of hertousled head, the slimness of the figure which moved so awkwardly, acertain flash of spirit in the undisciplined young face.

  "How old's yore girl?" the man asked his host.

  Tolliver hesitated, trying to remember. "How old are you, June?"

  "Going on sixteen," she answered, eyes smouldering angrily.

  This man's cool, impudent appraisal of her was hateful, she felt.

  He laughed at her manner, easily, insolently, for he was of the type thatfinds pleasure in the umbrage of women annoyed by his effrontery. Of thethree the guest was the only one quite at his ease. Tolliver'singratiating jokes and the heartiness of his voice rang false. He wastroubled, uncertain how to face the situation that had arisen.

  His daughter reflected this constraint. Why did her father fear this bigdominating fellow? What was the relation between them? Why did his verypresence bring with it a message of alarm?

  She left them before the stove as soon as the dishes were washed,retiring to the bedroom at the other end of the log cabin. Far into thenight she heard them talking, in low voices that made an indistinctmurmur. To the sound of them she fell asleep.

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  [1] Pronounced _Pee-ance_.

 
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