Wyoming a story of the.., p.1
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       Wyoming: A Story of the Outdoor West, p.1

           William MacLeod Raine
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Wyoming: A Story of the Outdoor West

  Produced by Mary Starr



  By William MacLeod Raine




  An automobile shot out from a gash in the hills and slipped swiftly downto the butte. Here it came to a halt on the white, dusty road, whileits occupant gazed with eager, unsated eyes on the great panorama thatstretched before her. The earth rolled in waves like a mighty sea tothe distant horizon line. From a wonderful blue sky poured down uponthe land a bath of sunbeat. The air was like wine, pure and strong, andabove the desert swam the rare, untempered light of Wyoming. Surely herewas a peace primeval, a silence unbroken since the birth of creation.

  It was all new to her, and wonderfully exhilarating. The infinite rollof plain, the distant shining mountains, the multitudinous voices of thedesert drowned in a sunlit sea of space--they were all details of thesituation that ministered to a large serenity.

  And while she breathed deeply the satisfaction of it, an exploding rifleecho shattered the stillness. With excited sputtering came the promptanswer of a fusillade. She was new to the West; but some instinctstronger than reason told the girl that here was no playful punchershooting up the scenery to ventilate his exuberance. Her imaginationconceived something more deadly; a sinister picture of men pumping leadin a grim, close-lipped silence; a lusty plainsman, with murder inhis heart, crumpling into a lifeless heap, while the thin smoke-spiralcurled from his hot rifle.

  So the girl imagined the scene as she ran swiftly forward through thepines to the edge of the butte bluff whence she might look down upon thecoulee that nestled against it. Nor had she greatly erred, for her firstsweeping glance showed her the thing she had dreaded.

  In a semicircle, well back from the foot of the butte, half a dozenmen crouched in the cover of the sage-brush and a scattered group ofcottonwoods. They were perhaps fifty yards apart, and the attentionof all of them was focused on a spot directly beneath her. Even as shelooked, in that first swift moment of apprehension, a spurt of smokecame from one of the rifles and was flung back from the forked pineat the bottom of the mesa. She saw him then, kneeling behind hisinsufficient shelter, a trapped man making his last stand.

  From where she stood the girl distinguished him very clearly, and underthe field-glasses that she turned on him the details leaped to life.Tall, strong, slender, with the lean, clean build of a greyhound, heseemed as wary and alert as a panther. The broad, soft hat, the scarlethandkerchief loosely knotted about his throat, the gray shirt, spursand overalls, proclaimed him a stockman, just as his dead horse at theentrance to the coulee told of an accidental meeting in the desert and ahurried run for cover.

  That he had no chance was quite plain, but no plainer than the coolvigilance with which he proposed to make them pay. Even in the matterof defense he was worse off than they were, but he knew how to makethe most of what he had; knew how to avail himself of every inch ofsagebrush that helped to render him indistinct to their eyes.

  One of the attackers, eager for a clearer shot, exposed himself a trifletoo far in taking aim. Without any loss of time in sighting, swift as alightning-flash, the rifle behind the forked pine spoke. That the bulletreached its mark she saw with a gasp of dismay. For the man suddenlyhuddled down and rolled over on his side.

  His comrades appeared to take warning by this example. The men at bothends of the crescent fell back, and for a minute the girl's heart leapedwith the hope that they were about to abandon the siege. Apparently theman in the scarlet kerchief had no such expectation. He deserted hisposition behind the pine and ran back, crouching low in the brush, toanother little clump of trees closer to the bluff. The reason for thiswas at first not apparent to her, but she understood presently when themen who had fallen back behind the rolling hillocks appeared again wellin to the edge of the bluff. Only by his timely retreat had the mansaved himself from being outflanked.

  It was very plain that the attackers meant to take their time to finishhim in perfect safety. He was surrounded on every side by a cordon ofrifles, except where the bare face of the butte hung down behind him.To attempt to scale it would have been to expose himself as a mark forevery gun to certain death.

  It was now that she heard the man who seemed to be directing the attackcall out to another on his right. She was too far to make out the words,but their effect was clear to her. He pointed to the brow of the butteabove, and a puncher in white woolen chaps dropped back out of rangeand swung to the saddle upon one of the ponies bunched in the rear. Hecantered round in a wide circle and made for the butte. His purpose wasobviously to catch their victim in the unprotected rear, and fire downupon him from above.

  The young woman shouted a warning, but her voice failed to carry. For amoment she stood with her hands pressed together in despair, thenturned and swiftly scudded to her machine. She sprang in, swept forward,reached the rim of the mesa, and plunged down. Never before had sheattempted so precarious a descent in such wild haste. The car fairlyleaped into space, and after it struck swayed dizzily as it shot down.The girl hung on, her face white and set, the pulse in her templebeating wildly. She could do nothing, as the machine rocked down, buthope against many chances that instant destruction might be averted.

  Utterly beyond her control, the motor-car thundered down, reached thefoot of the butte, and swept over a little hill in its wild flight. Sherushed by a mounted horseman in the thousandth part of a second. She wasstill speeding at a tremendous velocity, but a second hill reduced thissomewhat. She had not yet recovered control of the machine, but, thoughher eyes instinctively followed the white road that flashed past, sheagain had photographed on her brain the scene of the turbid tragedy inwhich she was intervening.

  At the foot of the butte the road circled and dipped into the coulee.She braced herself for the shock, but, though the wheels skidded tillher heart was in her throat, the automobile, hanging on the balance ofdisaster, swept round in safety.

  Her horn screamed an instant warning to the trapped man. She could notsee him, and for an instant her heart sank with the fear that theyhad killed him. But she saw then that they were still firing, and shecontinued her honking invitation as the car leaped forward into the zoneof spitting bullets.

  By this time she was recovering control of the motor, and she darednot let her attention wander, but out of the corner of her eye sheappreciated the situation. Temporarily, out of sheer amaze at thisapparition from the blue, the guns ceased their sniping. She becameaware that a light curly head, crouched low in the sage-brush, wasmoving rapidly to meet her at right angles, and in doing so wasapproaching directly the line of fire. She could see him dodging to andfro as he moved forward, for the rifles were again barking.

  She was within two hundred yards of him, still going rapidly, but notwith the same headlong rush as before, when the curly head disappearedin the sage-brush. It was up again presently, but she could see that theman came limping, and so uncertainly that twice he pitched forward tothe ground. Incautiously one of his assailants ran forward with a shoutthe second time his head went down. Crack! The unerring rifle rang
out,and the impetuous one dropped in his tracks.

  As she approached, the young woman slowed without stopping, and as thecar swept past Curly Head flung himself in headlong. He picked himselfup from her feet, crept past her to the seat beyond, and almostinstantly whipped his rifle to his shoulder in prompt defiance of thefire that was now converged on them.

  Yet in a few moments the sound died away, for a voice midway in thecrescent had shouted an amazed discovery:

  "By God, it's a woman!"

  The car skimmed forward over the uneven ground toward the end of thesemicircle, and passed within fifty yards of the second man from theend, the one she had picked out as the leader of the party. He was ablack, swarthy fellow in plain leather chaps and blue shirt. As theypassed he took a long, steady aim.

  "Duck!" shouted the man beside her, and dragged her down on the seat sothat his body covered hers.

  A puff of wind fanned the girl's cheek.

  "Near thing," her companion said coolly. He looked back at the swarthyman and laughed softly. "Some day you'll mebbe wish you had sent yourpills straighter, Mr. Judd Morgan."

  Yet a few wheel-turns and they had dipped forward out of range amongthe great land waves that seemed to stretch before them forever. Theunexpected had happened, and she had achieved a rescue in the face ofthe impossible.

  "Hurt badly?" the girl inquired briefly, her dark-blue eyes meeting hisas frankly as those of a boy.

  "No need for an undertaker. I reckon I'll survive, ma'am."

  "Where are you hit?"

  "I just got a telegram from my ankle saying there was a cargo of leadarrived there unexpected," he drawled easily.

  "Hurts a good deal, doesn't it?"

  "No more than is needful to keep my memory jogged up. It's a sort of aforget-me-not souvenir. For a good boy; compliments of Mr. Jim Henson,"he explained.

  Her dark glance swept him searchingly. She disapproved the assuranceof his manner even while the youth in her applauded his recklesssufficiency. His gay courage held her unconsenting admiration even whileshe resented it. He was a trifle too much at his ease for one who hadjust been snatched from dire peril. Yet even in his insouciance therewas something engaging; something almost of distinction.

  "What was the trouble?"

  Mirth bubbled in his gray eyes. "I gathered, ma'am, that they wanted tocollect my scalp."

  "Do what?" she frowned.

  "Bump me off--send me across the divide."

  "Oh, I know that. But why?"

  He seemed to reproach himself. "Now how could I be so neglectful? Iclean forgot to ask."

  "That's ridiculous," was her sharp verdict.

  "Yes, ma'am, plumb ridiculous. My only excuse is that they beganscattering lead so sudden I didn't have time to ask many 'Whyfors.' Ireckon we'll just have to call it a Wyoming difference of opinion," heconcluded pleasantly.

  "Which means, I suppose, that you are not going to tell me."

  "I got so much else to tell y'u that's a heap more important," helaughed. "Y'u see, I'm enjoyin' my first automobile ride. It wascertainly thoughtful of y'u to ask me to go riding with y'u, MissMessiter."

  "So you know my name. May I ask how?" was her astonished question.

  He gave the low laugh that always seemed to suggest a private source ofamusement of his own. "I suspicioned that might be your name when I sayy'u come a-sailin' down from heaven to gather me up like Enoch."


  "Well, ma'am, I happened to drift in to Gimlet Butte two or three daysago, and while I was up at the depot looking for some freight a trainsashaid in and side tracked a flat car. There was an automobile on thatcar addressed to Miss Helen Messiter. Now, automobiles are awful seldomin this country. I don't seem to remember having seen one before."

  "I see. You're quite a Sherlock Holmes. Do you know anything more aboutme?"

  "I know y'u have just fallen heir to the Lazy D. They say y'u are aschoolmarm, but I don't believe it."

  "Well, I am." Then, "Why don't you believe it?" she added.

  He surveyed her with his smile audacious, let his amused eyes wanderdown from the mobile face with the wild-rose bloom to the slim youngfigure so long and supple, then serenely met her frown.

  "Y'u don't look it."

  "No? Are you the owner of a composite photograph of the teachers of thecountry?"

  He enjoyed again his private mirth. "I should like right well to havethe pictures of some of them."

  She glanced at him sharply, but he was gazing so innocently at thepurple Shoshones in the distance that she could not give him the snubshe thought he needed.

  "You are right. My name is Helen Messiter," she said, by way ofstimulating a counter fund of information. For, though she was a youngwoman not much given to curiosity, she was aware of an interest in thisspare, broad-shouldered youth who was such an incarnation of bronzedvigor.

  "Glad to meet y'u, Miss Messiter," he responded, and offered his firmbrown hand in Western fashion.

  But she observed resentfully that he did not mention his own name. Itwas impossible to suppose that he knew no better, and she was drivento conclude that he was silent of set purpose. Very well! If he did notwant to introduce himself she was not going to urge it upon him. In abusinesslike manner she gave her attention to eating up the dusty miles.

  "Yes, ma'am. I reckon I never was more glad to death to meet a lady thanI was to meet up with y'u," he continued, cheerily. "Y'u sure lookedgood to me as y'u come a-foggin' down the road. I fair had been yearnin'for company but was some discouraged for fear the invitation hadmiscarried." He broke off his sardonic raillery and let his level gazepossess her for a long moment. "Miss Messiter, I'm certainly underan obligation to y'u I can't repay. Y'u saved my life," he finishedgravely.



  "It isn't a personal matter at all," she assured him, with a touch ofimpatient hauteur.

  "It 's a heap personal to me."

  In spite of her healthy young resentment she laughed at the way in whichhe drawled this out, and with a swift sweep her boyish eyes took inagain his compelling devil-may-care charm. She was a tenderfoot, butintuition as well as experience taught her that he was unusual enough tobe one of ten thousand. No young Greek god's head could have risenmore superbly above the brick-tanned column of the neck than thisclose-cropped curly one. Gray eyes, deep and unwavering and masterful,looked out of a face as brown as Wyoming. He was got up with no thoughtof effect, but the tigerish litheness, the picturesque competency ofhim, spake louder than costuming.

  "Aren't you really hurt worse than you pretend? I'm sure your ankleought to be attended to as soon as possible."

  "Don't tell me you're a lady doctor, ma'am," he burlesqued his alarm.

  "Can you tell me where the nearest ranch house is?" she asked, ignoringhis diversion.

  "The Lazy D is the nearest, I reckon."

  "Which direction?"

  "North by east, ma'am."

  "Then I'll take the most direct road to it.

  "In that case I'll thank y'u for my ride and get out here."


  He waved a jaunty hand toward the recent battlefield. "The Lazy D liesright back of that hill. I expect, mebbe, those wolves might howl againif we went back."

  "Where, then, shall I take you?"

  "I hate to trouble y'u to go out of your way.

  "I dare say, but I'm going just the same," she told him, dryly.

  "If you're right determined--" He interrupted himself to point to thesouth. "Do y'u see that camel-back peak over there?"

  "The one with the sunshine on its lower edge?"

  "That's it, Miss Messiter. They call those two humps the Antelope Peaks.If y'u can drop me somewhere near there I think I'll manage all right."

  "I'm not going to leave you till we reach a house," she informed himpromptly. "You're not fit to walk fifty yards."

  "That's right kind of y'u, but I could not think of asking so much. Myfriends will find me if y'u leave me w
here I can work a heliograph."

  "Or your enemies," she cut in.

  "I hope not. I'd not likely have the luck to get another invitationright then to go riding with a friendly young lady."

  She gave him direct, cool, black-blue eyes that met and searched his."I'm not at all sure she is friendly. I shall want to find out the causeof the trouble you have just had before I make up my mind as to that."

  "I judge people by their actions. Y'u didn't wait to find out beforebringing the ambulance into action," he laughed.

  "I see you do not mean to tell me."

  "You're quite a lawyer, ma'am," he evaded.

  "I find you a very slippery witness, then."

  "Ask anything y'u like and I'll tell you."

  "Very well. Who were those men, and why were they trying to kill you?"

  "They turned their wolf loose on me because I shot up one of themyesterday."

  "Dear me! Is it your business to go around shooting people? That's threeI happen to know that you have shot. How many more?"

  "No more, ma'am--not recently."

  "Well, three is quite enough--recently," she mimicked. "You seem to me agood deal of a desperado."

  "Yes, ma'am."

  "Don't say 'Yes, ma'am,' like that, as if it didn't matter in the leastwhether you are or not," she ordered.

  "No, ma'am."

  "Oh!" She broke off with a gesture of impatience at his burlesque ofobedience. "You know what I mean--that you ought to deny it; ought to befurious at me for suggesting it."

  "Ought I?"

  "Of course you ought."

  "There's a heap of ways I ain't up to specifications," he admitted,cheerfully.

  "And who are they--the men that were attacking you?"

  There was a gleam of irrepressible humor in the bold eyes. "Yourcow-punchers, ma'am."

  "My cow-punchers?"

  "They ce'tainly belong to the Lazy D outfit."

  "And you say that you shot one of my men yesterday?" He could see hergetting ready for a declaration of war.

  "Down by Willow Creek--Yes, ma'am," he answered, comfortably.

  "And why, may I ask?" she flamed

  "That's a long story, Miss Messiter. It wouldn't be square for me to getmy version in before your boys. Y'u ask them." He permitted himself agenial smile, somewhat ironic. "I shouldn't wonder but what they'll giveme a giltedged testimonial as an unhanged horse thief."

  "Isn't there such a thing as law in Wyoming?" the girl demanded.

  "Lots of it. Y'u can buy just as good law right here as in Kalamazoo."

  "I wish I knew where to find it."

  "Like to put me in the calaboose?"

  "In the penitentiary. Yes, sir!" A moment later the question that was inher thoughts leaped hotly from her lips. "Who are you, sir, that dare tocommit murder and boast of it?"

  She had flicked him on the raw at last. Something that was near to painrested for a second in his eyes. "Murder is a hard name, ma'am. And Ididn't say he was daid, or any of the three," came his gentle answer.

  "You MEANT to kill them, anyhow."

  "Did I?" There was the ghost of a sad smile about his eyes.

  "The way you act, a person might think you one of Ned Bannister's men,"she told him, scornfully.

  "I expect you're right."

  She repented her a little at a charge so unjust. "If you are not ashamedof your name why are you so loath to part with it?"

  "Y'u didn't ask me my name," he said, a dark flush sweeping his face.

  "I ask it now."

  Like the light from a snuffed candle the boyish recklessness had goneout of his face. His jaws were set like a vise and he looked hard ashammered steel.

  "My name is Bannister," he said, coldly.

  "Ned Bannister, the outlaw," she let slip, and was aware of a strangesinking of the heart.

  It seemed to her that something sinister came to the surface in hishandsome face. "I reckon we might as well let it go at that," hereturned, with bitter briefness.

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