The sheriffs son, p.1
The Sheriff's Son, p.1William MacLeod Raine
THE SHERIFF'S SON
WILLIAM MACLEOD RAINE
Author ofThe Yukon Trail, Wyoming, etc.
Illustrated by Harold Cue
[Frontispiece: When Meldrum came in answer to her summons, he met theshock of his life.]
New YorkGrosset & DunlapPublishersMade in the United States of AmericaCopyright, 1917 and 1918, by Frank A. Munsey CompanyCopyright, 1918, by William Macleod RaineAll Rights ReservedPublished April 1918
ROBERT H. DAVIS
WHO WITH HIS USUAL GENEROSITY TO WRITERS
MADE THE AUTHOR A PRESENT
OF THE GERM IDEA
OF THIS PLOT
Foreword I. Dingwell Gives Three Cheers. II. Dave Caches a Gunnysack III. The Old-Timer Sits into a Big Game IV. Royal Beaudry Hears a Call V. The Hill Girl VI. "Cherokee Street" VII. Jess Tighe Spins a Web VIII. Beulah Asks Questions IX. The Man on the Bed X. Dave Takes a Ride XI. Tighe Weaves his Web Tighter XII. Stark Fear XIII. Beulah Interferes XIV. Personally Escorted XV. The Bad Man XVI. Roy is Invited to Take a Drink XVII. Roy Improves the Shining Hours XVIII. Rutherford Answers Questions XIX. Beaudry Blows a Smoke Wreath XX. At the Lazy Double D XXI. Roy Rides his Paint Hoss XXII. Miss Rutherford Speaks her Mind XXIII. In the Pit XXIV. The Bad Man Decides not to Shoot XXV. Two and a Camp-Fire XXVI. The Sins of the Fathers XXVII. The Quicksands XXVIII. Pat Ryan Evens an Old Score XXIX. A New Leaf
The Sheriff's Son
Through the mesquite a horse moved deviously, following the crookedtrail of least resistance. A man was in the saddle and in front of hima little boy nodding with sleep. The arm of the rider cradled theyoungster against the lurches of the pony's gait.
The owner of the arm looked down at the tired little bundle it wassupporting. A wistful tenderness was in the leathery face. To therest of the world he was a man of iron. To this wee bit of humanity hewas a nurse, a playmate, a slave.
"We're 'most to the creek now, son. Onc't we get there, we'll throwoff and camp. You can eat a snack and tumble right off to bye-lowland," he promised.
The five-year-old smiled faintly and snuggled closer. His long lashesdrooped again to the soft cheeks. With the innocent selfishness of achild he accepted the love that sheltered him from all troubles.
A valley opened below the mesa, the trail falling abruptly almost fromthe hoofs of the horse. Beaudry drew up and looked down. From rim torim the meadow was perhaps half a mile across. Seen from above, thebed of it was like an emerald lake through which wound a ribbon ofsilver. This ribbon was Big Creek. To the right it emerged from adraw in the foothills where green reaches of forest rose tier aftertier toward the purple mountains. Far up among these peaks Big Creekhad its source in Lost Lake, which lay at the foot of a glacier nearthe top of the world.
The saw-toothed range lifted its crest into a sky of violet haze. Halfan hour since the sun had set in a blaze of splendor behind a crotch ofthe hills, but dusk had softened the vivid tints of orange and crimsonand scarlet to a faint pink glow. Already the mountain silhouette hadlost its sharp edge and the outlines were blurring. Soon night wouldsift down over the roof of the continent.
The eyes of the man searched warily the valley below. They restedclosely on the willows by the ford, the cottonwood grove to the left,and the big rocks beyond the creek. From its case beneath his leg hetook the sawed-off shotgun loaded with buckshot. It rested on thepommel of the saddle while his long and careful scrutiny swept thepanorama. The spot was an ideal one for an ambush.
His unease communicated itself to the boy, who began to whimper softly.Beaudry, distressed, tried to comfort him.
"Now, don't you, son--don't you. Dad ain't going to let anything hurtyou-all."
Presently he touched the flank of his roan with a spur and the animalbegan to pick its way down the steep trail among the loose rubble. Notfor an instant did the rider relax his vigilance as he descended. Atthe ford he examined the ground carefully to make sure that nobody hadcrossed since the shower of the afternoon. Swinging to the saddleagain, he put his horse to the water and splashed through to theopposite shore. Once more he dismounted and studied the approach tothe creek. No tracks had written their story on the sand in the pastfew hours. Yet with every sense alert he led the way to the cottonwoodgrove where he intended to camp. Not till he had made a tour of thebig rocks and a clump of prickly pears adjoining was his mind easy.
He came back to find the boy crying. "What's the matter, big son?" hecalled cheerily. "Nothing a-tall to be afraid of. This nicecamping-ground fits us like a coat of paint. You-all take forty winkswhile dad fixes up some supper."
He spread his slicker and rolled his coat for a pillow, fitting itsnugly to the child's head. While he lit a fire he beguiled the timewith animated talk. One might have guessed that he was trying to makethe little fellow forget the alarm that had been stirred in his mind.
"Sing the li'l' ole hawss," commanded the boy, reducing his sobs.
Beaudry followed orders in a tuneless voice that hopped gayly up anddown. He had invented words and music years ago as a lullaby and thesong was in frequent demand.
"Li'l' ole hawss an' li'l' ole cow, Amblin' along by the ole haymow, Li'l' ole hawss took a bite an' a chew, 'Durned if I don't,' says the ole cow, too."
Seventeen stanzas detailed the adventures of this amazing horse andpredatory cow. Somewhere near the middle of the epic little RoyalBeaudry usually dropped asleep. The rhythmic tale always comfortedhim. These nameless animals were very real friends of his. They hadbeen companions of his tenderest years. He loved them with a devotionfrom which no fairy tale could wean him.
Before he had quite surrendered to the lullaby, his father aroused himto share the bacon and the flapjacks he had cooked.
"Come and get it, big son," Beaudry called with an imitation of manlyroughness.
The boy ate drowsily before the fire, nodding between bites.
Presently the father wrapped the lad up snugly in his blankets andprompted him while he said his prayers. No woman's hands could havebeen tenderer than the calloused ones of this frontiersman. The boywas his life. For the girl-bride of John Beaudry had died to give thisson birth.
Beaudry sat by the dying fire and smoked. The hills had faded toblack, shadowy outlines beneath a night of a million stars. During theday the mountains were companions, heaven was the home of warm friendlysunshine that poured down lance-straight upon the traveler. But nowthe black, jagged peaks were guards that shut him into a vast prison ofloneliness. He was alone with God, an atom of no consequence. Many atime, when he had looked up into the sky vault from the saddle that washis pillow, he had known that sense of insignificance.
To-night the thoughts of John Beaudry were somber. He looked over hispast with a strange feeling that he had lived his life and come to theend of it. He was not yet forty, a well-set, bow-legged man of mediumheight, in perfect health, sound as to every organ. From an old warwound he had got while raiding with Morgan he limped a little. Twomore recent bullet scars marked his body. But none of these interferedwith his activity. He was in the virile prime of life; yet a bell rangin his heart the warning that he was soon to die. That was why he wastaking his little son out of the country to safety.
He took all the precautions that one could, but he knew that in the endthese would fail him. The Rutherfords would get him. Of that he hadno doubt. They would probably have killed him, anyhow, but he had madehis sentence sure when he had shot Anse Rutherford and wounded EliSchaick ten days ago. That it had been done by him in self-defensemade no differenc
Out of the Civil War John Beaudry had come looking only for peace. Hehad moved West and been flung into the wild, turbulent life of thefrontier. In the Big Creek country there was no peace for strong menin the seventies. It was a time and place for rustlers andhorse-thieves to flourish at the expense of honest settlers. Theyelected their friends to office and laughed at the law.
But the tide of civilization laps forward. A cattlemen's associationhad been formed. Beaudry, active as an organizer, had been chosen itsfirst president. With all his energy he had fought the rustlers. Whenthe time came to make a stand the association nominated Beaudry forsheriff and elected him. He had prosecuted the thieves remorselesslyin spite of threats and shots in the dark. Two of them had been put byhim behind bars. Others were awaiting trial. The climax had come whenhe met Anse Rutherford and his companion at Battle Butte, had defeatedthem both single-handed, and had left one dead on the field and theother badly wounded.
Men said that John Beaudry was one of the great sheriffs of the West.Perhaps he was, but he would have to pay the price that such areputation exacts. The Rutherford gang had sworn his death and he knewthey would keep the oath.
The man sat with one hand resting on the slim body of the sleeping boy.His heart was troubled. What was to become of little Royal withouteither father or mother? After the manner of men who live much alonein the open he spoke his thoughts aloud.
"Son, one of these here days they're sure a-goin' to get yore dad.Maybe he'll ride out of town and after a while the hawss will comegalloping back with an empty saddle. A man can be mighty unpopular anddie of old age, but not if he keeps bustin' up the plans of rampageoustwo-gun men, not if he shoots them up when they're full of the deviland bad whiskey. It ain't on the cyards for me to beat them to thedraw every time, let alone that they'll see to it all the breaks arewith them. No, sir. I reckon one of these days you're goin' to be anorphan, little son."
He stooped over the child and wrapped the blankets closer. The musclesof his tanned face twitched. Long he held the warm, slender body ofthe boy as close to him as he dared for fear of wakening him.
The man lay tense and rigid, his set face staring up into the starrynight. It was his hour of trial. A rising tide was sweeping him away.He had to clutch at every straw to hold his footing. But something inthe man--his lifetime habit of facing the duty that he saw--held himsteady.
"You got to stand the gaff, Jack Beaudry. Can't run away from yourjob, can you? Got to go through, haven't you? Well, then!"
Peace came at last to the tormented man. He fell asleep. Hours laterhe opened his eyes upon a world bathed in light. It was such a bravewarm world that the fears which had gripped him in the chill nightseemed sinister dreams. In this clear, limpid atmosphere only a sicksoul could believe in a blind alley from which there was no escape.
But facts are facts. He might hope for escape, but even now he couldnot delude himself with the thought that he might win through without afight.
While they ate breakfast he told the boy about the mother whom he hadnever seen. John Beaudry had always intended to tell Royal the storyof his love for the slender, sweet-lipped girl whose grace and beautyhad flooded his soul. But the reticence of shyness had sealed hislips. He had cared for her with a reverence too deep for words.
She was the daughter of well-to-do people visiting in the West. Theyoung cattleman and she had fallen in love almost at sight and hadremained lovers till the day of her death. After one year of happinesstragedy had stalked their lives. Beaudry, even then the object of therustlers' rage, had been intercepted on the way from Battle Butte tohis ranch. His wife, riding to meet him, heard shots and gallopedforward. From the mesa she looked down into a draw and saw her husbandfighting for his life. He was at bay in a bed of boulders, so wellcovered by the big rocks that the rustlers could not easily get at him.His enemies, scattered fanshape across the entrance to the arroyo, weregradually edging nearer. In a panic of fear she rode wildly to thenearest ranch, gasped out her appeal for help, and collapsed in awoeful little huddle. His friends arrived in time to save Beaudry,damaged only to the extent of a flesh wound in the shoulder, but thenext week the young wife gave premature birth to her child and diedfour days later.
In mental and physical equipment the baby was heir to the fears whichhad beset the last days of the mother. He was a frail little fellowand he whimpered at trifles. But the clutch of the tiny pink fingersheld John Beaudry more firmly than a grip of steel. With unflaggingpatience he fended bogies from the youngster.
But the day was at hand when he could do this no longer. That was whyhe was telling Royal about the mother he had never known. From hisneck he drew a light gold chain, at the end of which was a small squarefolding case. In it was a daguerreotype of a golden-haired, smilinggirl who looked out at her son with an effect of shy eagerness.
"Give Roy pretty lady," demanded the boy.
Beaudry shook his head slowly. "I reckon that's 'most the only thingyou can ask your dad for that he won't give you." He continuedunsteadily, looking at the picture in the palm of his hand. "Lady-BirdI called her, son. She used to fill the house with music right out ofher heart. . . . Fine as silk and true as gold. Don't you ever forgetthat your mother was a thoroughbred." His voice broke. "But I hadn'tought to have let her stay out here. She belonged where folks are goodand kind, where they love books and music. Yet she wouldn't leave mebecause . . . because . . . Maybe you'll know why she wouldn't someday, little son."
He drew a long, ragged breath and slipped the case back under his shirt.
Quickly Beaudry rose and began to bustle about with suspiciouscheerfulness. He whistled while he packed and saddled. In the freshcool morning air they rode across the valley and climbed to the mesabeyond. The sun mounted higher and the heat shimmered on the trail infront of them. The surface of the earth was cracked in dry, sun-bakedtiles curving upward at the edges. Cat's-claw clutched at the legs ofthe travelers. Occasionally a swift darted from rock to rock. Thefaint, low voices of the desert were inaudible when the horse moved.The riders came out of the silence and moved into the silence.
It was noon when Beaudry drew into the suburbs of Battle Butte. Hetook an inconspicuous way by alleys and side streets to the corral.His enemies might or might not be in town. He wanted to take nochances. All he asked was to postpone the crisis until Royal was safeaboard a train. Crossing San Miguel Street, the riders came face toface with a man Beaudry knew to be a spy of the Rutherfords. He was asleek, sly little man named Chet Fox.
"Evening sheriff. Looks some like we-all might have rain," Fox said,rasping his unshaven chin with the palm of a hand.
"Looks like," agreed Beaudry with a curt nod and rode on.
Fox disappeared around a corner, hurried forward for half a block, andturned in at the Silver Dollar Saloon. A broad-shouldered, hawk-nosedman of thirty was talking to three of his friends. Toward this groupFox hurried. In a low voice he spoke six words that condemned JohnBeaudry to death.
"Beaudry just now rode into town."
Hal Rutherford forgot the story he was telling. He gave crisp, shortorders. The men about him left by the back door of the saloon andscattered.
Meanwhile the sheriff rode into the Elephant Corral and unsaddled hishorse. He led the animal to the trough in the yard and pumped waterfor it. His son trotted back beside him to the stable and played witha puppy while the roan was being fed.
Jake Sharp, owner of the corral, stood in the doorway and chatted withthe sheriff for a minute. Was it true that a new schoolhouse was goingto be built on Bonito? And had the sheriff heard whether McCarty wasto be boss of Big Creek roundup?
Beaudry answered his questions and turned away. Royal clung to onehand as they walked. The other held the muley gun.
It was no sound that warned the sheriff. The approach of his enemieshad been noiseless. But the sixth sense that comes to some fightingmen made him look up quickly. Five riders wer
The father spoke quietly to his little boy. "Run, son, to the stable."
The little chap began to sob. Bullets were already kicking up the dustbehind them. Roy clung in terror to the leg of his father.
Beaudry caught up the child and made a dash for the stable. He reachedit, just as Sharp and his horse-wrangler were disappearing into theloft. There was no time to climb the ladder with Royal. John flungopen the top of the feed-bin, dropped the boy inside, and slammed downthe lid.
The story of the fight that followed is still an epic in the Southwest.There was no question of fair play. The enemies of the sheriffintended to murder him.
The men in his rear were already clambering over the corral fence. Oneof them had a scarlet handkerchief around his neck. Beaudry fired fromhis hip and the vivid kerchief lurched forward into the dust. Almostat the same moment a sharp sting in the fleshy part of his leg told theofficer that he was wounded.
From front and rear the attackers surged into the stable. The sheriffemptied the second barrel of buckshot into the huddle and retreatedinto an empty horse-stall. The smoke of many guns filled the air sothat the heads thrust at him seemed oddly detached from bodies. Ared-hot flame burned its way through his chest. He knew he wasmortally wounded.
Hal Rutherford plunged at him, screaming an oath. "We've got him,boys."
Beaudry stumbled back against the manger, the arms of his foe clingingto him like ropes of steel. Twice he brought down the butt of hissawed-off gun on the black head of Rutherford. The grip of the bighillman grew lax, and as the man collapsed, his fingers slid slacklydown the thighs of the officer.
John dropped the empty weapon and dragged out a Colt's forty-four. Hefired low and fast, not stopping to take aim. Another flame seared itsway through his body. The time left him now could be counted inseconds.
But it was not in the man to give up. The old rebel yell of Morgan'sraiders quavered from his throat. They rushed him. With no room evenfor six-gun work he turned his revolver into a club. His arm rose andfell in the melee as the drive of the rustlers swept him to and fro.
So savage was the defense of their victim against the hillmen'sonslaught that he beat them off. A sudden panic seized them, and thosethat could still travel fled in terror.
They left behind them four dead and two badly wounded. One would be acripple to the day of his death. Of those who escaped there was notone that did not carry scars for months as a memento of the battle.
The sheriff was lying in the stall when Sharp found him. From out ofthe feed-bin the owner of the corral brought his boy to the fatherwhose life was ebbing. The child was trembling like an aspen leaf.
"Picture," gasped Beaudry, his hand moving feebly toward the chain.
A bullet had struck the edge of the daguerreo-type case.
"She . . . tried . . . to save me . . . again," murmured the dying manwith a faint smile.
He looked at the face of his sweetheart. It smiled an eager invitationto him. A strange radiance lit his eyes.
Then his head fell back. He had gone to join his Lady-Bird.
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