The Coming of Cassidy/When Johnny sloped

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XV

WHEN JOHNNY SLOPED

JOHNNY NELSON hastened to the corner of the bunkhouse and then changed his pace until he seemed to ooze from there to the cook shack door, where he lazily leaned against the door jamb and ostentatiously picked his teeth with the negative end of a match. The cook looked up calmly, and calmly went on with his work; but if there was anything rasping enough to cause his calloused soul to quiver it was the aforesaid calisthenics executed by Johnny and the match; for Cookie's blunt nature hated hints. If Johnny had demanded, even profanely and with large personal animus, why meals were not ahead of time, it would be a simple matter to heave something and enlarge upon his short cut speech. But the subtleties left the cook floundering in a mire of rage—which he was very careful to conceal from Johnny. The youthful nuisance had been evincing undue interest in early suppers for nearly a month; and judging from the lightness of his repasts he was entirely unjustified in showing any interest at all in the evening meal. So Cookie strangled the biscuit in his hand, but smiled blandly at his tormentor.

"Well, all through?" he pleasantly inquired, glancing carelessly at Johnny's clothes.

"I 'm hopin' to begin," retorted Johnny, and the toothpick moved rapidly up and down.

Cookie condensed another biscuit and gulped. "That's shore some stone," he said, enviously, eying the two-caret diamond in Johnny's new, blue tie. Johnny never had worn a tie before he became owner of the diamond, but with the stone came the keen realization of how lost it was in a neck-kerchief, how often covered by the wind-blown folds; so he had hastened to Buckskin and spent a dollar that belonged to Red for the tie, thus exhausting both the supply of ties and Red's dollars. The honor of wearing the only tie and diamond in that section of the cow-country brought responsibilities, for he had spoken hastily to several humorous friends and stood a good chance of being soundly thrashed therefor.

He threw away the match and scratched his back ecstatically on the door jamb while he strained his eyes trying to look under his chin. Fixed chins and short ties are trials one must learn to accept philosophically—and Johnny might have been spared the effort were it not for the fact that the tie had been made for a boy, and was awesomely shortened by encircling a sixteen-inch neck. Evidently it had been made for a boy violently inclined toward a sea-faring life, as suggested by the anchors embroidered in white down its middle.

"Lemme see it," urged Cookie, sighing because its owner had resolutely refused to play poker when he had no cash. This had become a blighting sorrow in the life of a naturally exuberant and very fair cook.

"An' for how long?" demanded Johnny, a cold and calculating light glinting in his eyes. "Oh, till supper 's ready," replied Cookie with great carelessness.

"Nix; but you can wear it twenty minutes if you 'll get my grub quick," he replied. "Got to meet Lucas at half-past five." He cautiously dropped the match he had thoughtlessly produced.

The cook tried to look his belief and accepted the offer. Johnny's remarkably clean face, plastered hair and general gala attire suggested that Lucas was a woman—which Lucas profanely would have denied. Also, Johnny had been seen washing Ginger, and when a puncher washes a cayuse it 's a sign of insanity. Besides, Ginger belonged to Red, who also had owned that lone dollar. Red's clothes did not fit Johnny.

"Goin' to surprise Lucas?" inquired the cook.

"What you mean?"

Cookie glanced meaningly at the attire: "Er—you ain't in th' habit of puttin' on war paint for to see Lucas, are you?"

Johnny's mental faculties produced: "Oh, we 're goin' to a dance."

"Where 'bouts?" exploded the cook.

"Way up north!" One's mind needs to be active as a flea to lie properly to a man like the cook. He had made a ghastly mistake.

"By golly! I 'll give th' boys cold grub an' go with you," and the cook began to save time.

Johnny gulped and shook his head: "Got a invite?"

Cookie caught the pan on his foot before it struck the floor and gasped: "Invite? Ain't it free-fer-all?"

"No; this is a high-toned thing-a-bob. Costs a dollar a head, too."

"High-toned?" snorted the cook, derisively. "Don't they know you? An' I thought Red was broke. Show me that permit!"

"Lucas 's got it—that's why I 've got to catch him."

"Oh! An' is he goin' all feathered up, too?"

"Shore, he 's got to."

"Huh! He wouldn't dress like that to see a fight. Has she got any sisters?" Cookie finished, hopefully.

"Now what you talkin' about?"

"Why, Lucas," answered the cook, placidly. "Lemme tell you something. When you want to lose me have a invite to a water-drinkin' contest. An' before you go, be shore to rub Hoppy's boots some more; that's such a pasty shine it 'll look like sand-paper before you get to th'—dance. You want to make it hard an' slippery. An' I 've read som'ers that only wimmin ought to smell like a drug-store. You better let her do th' fumigatin'."

Johnny surrendered and dolefully whiffed the crushed violets he had paid two bits a pint for at El Paso—it was not necessary to whiff them, but he did so.

"You ought to hone yore razor, too," continued the cook, critically.

"I told Buck it was dull, I ain't goin' to sharpen it for him. But, say, are you shore about th' perfumery?"

"Why, of course."

"But how 'll I git it off?"

"Bury th' clothes," suggested Cookie, grinning.

"I like yore gall! Which clothes are best, Pete's or Billy's?"

"Pete's would fit you like th' wide, wide world. You don't want blankets on when you go courtin'. Try Billy's. An' I got a pair of socks, though one 's green—but th' boots 'll hide it." "I did n't put none on my socks, you chump!"

"How 'd I know? But, say! Has she got any sisters?"

"No!" yelled Johnny, halfway through the gallery in search of Billy's clothes. When he emerged Cookie looked him over. "Ain't it funny, Kid, how a pipe 'll stink up clothes?" he smiled. Johnny's retort was made over several yards of ground and when he had mounted Cookie yelled and waved him to return. When Johnny had obeyed and impatiently demanded the reason, Cookie pleasantly remarked: "Now, be shore an' give her my love, Kid."

Johnny's reply covered half a mile of trail.


Johnny rode alertly through Perry's Bend, for Sheriff Nolan was no friend of his; and Nolan was not only a discarded suitor of Miss Joyce, but a warm personal friend of George Greener, the one rival Johnny feared. Greener was a widower as wealthy as he was unscrupulous, and a power on that range: when he said "jump," Nolan soared.

The sheriff was standing before the Palace saloon when Johnny rode past, and he could not keep quiet. His comment was so judiciously chosen as to bring white spots on Johnny's flushed cheeks. The Bar-20 puncher was not famed for his self-control, and, wheeling in the saddle, he pointed a quivering forefinger at Mr. Nolan's badge of office, so conspicuously displayed: "Better men than you have hid behind a badge and banked on a man's regard for th' law savin' 'em from their just deserts. Politics is a h—l of a thing when it opens th' door to anything that might roll in on th' wind. You come down across th' line tomorrow an' see me, without th' nickel-plated ornament you disgraces," he invited. "Any dog can tell a lie in his kennel, but it takes guts to bark outside th' yard."

Mr. Nolan flushed, went white, hesitated, and walked away. To fight in defense of the law was his duty; but no sane man warred on the Bar-20 unless he must. Mr. Nolan was a man whose ideas of necessity followed strange curves, and not to his credit. One might censure Mr. Cassidy or Mr. Connors, or pick a fight with some of the others of that outfit and not get killed; but he must not harm their protégé. Mr. Nolan not only walked away but he sought the darkest shadows and held conversation with himself. If it were only possible to get the pugnacious and very much spoiled Mr. Nelson to fracture, smash, pulverize some law! This, indeed, would be sweet.

Meanwhile Johnny, having watched the sheriff slip away, loosed a few more words into the air and went on his way, whistling cheerfully. Reaching the Joyce cottage he was admitted by Miss Joyce herself and at sight of her blushing face his exuberant confidence melted and left him timid. This he was wont to rout by big words and a dashing air he did not feel.

"Oh! Come right in," she invited. "But you are late," she laughed, chidingly.

He critically regarded the dimples, while he replied that he had drawn rein to slay the sheriff but, knowing that it would cost him more valuable time, he had consented with himself to postpone the event.

"But you must not do that!" she cried. "Why, that 's terrible! You shouldn't even think of such things."

"Well, of course—if yo 're agin' it I wont."

"But what did he do?"

"Oh, I don't reckon I can tell that. But do you really want him to live?"

"Why, certainly! What a foolish question."

"But why do you? Do you—like him?"

"I like everybody."

"Yes; an' everybody likes you, too," he growled, the smile fading. "That 's th' trouble. Do you like him very much?"

"I wish you would n't ask such foolish questions."

"Yes; I know. But do you?"

"I prefer not to answer."

"Huh! That's an answer in itself. You do."

"I don't think you 're very nice tonight," she retorted, a little pout spoiling the bow in her lips. "You 're awfully jealous, and I don't like it."

"Gee! Don't like it! I should think you 'd want me to be jealous. I only wish you was jealous of me. Norah, I 've just got to say it now, an' find out—"

"Yes; tell me," she interrupted eagerly. "What did he do?"

"Who?"

"Mr. Nolan, of course."

"Nolan?" he demanded in surprise.

"Yes, yes; tell me."

"I ain't talkin' about him. I was goin' to tell you something that I 've—"

"That you 've done and now regret? Have you ever—ever killed a man?" she breathed. "Have you?"

"No; yes! Lots of 'em," he confessed, remembering that once she had expressed admiration for brave and daring men. "Most half as many as Hopalong; an' I ain't near as old as him, neither."

"You mean Mr. Cassidy? Why don't you bring him with you some evening? I 'd like to meet him."

"Not me. I went an' brought a friend along once, an' had to lick him th' next day to keep him away from here. He 'd 'a' camped right out there in front if I had n't. No, ma'am; not any."

"Why, the idea! But Mr. Greener's very much like your friend, Mr. Cassidy. He 's very brave, and a wonderful shot. He told me so himself."

"What! He told you so hisself! Well, well. Beggin' yore pardon, he ain't nowise like Hoppy, not even in th' topics of his conversation. Why, he 's a child; an' blinks when he shoots off a gun. Here—can he show a gun like mine?" and forthwith he held out his Colt, butt foremost, and indicated the notches he had cut that afternoon. A fleeting doubt went through his mind at what his outfit would say when it saw those notches. The Bar-20 cut no notches. It wanted to forget.

She looked at them curiously and suddenly drew back. "Oh! Are they—are they?" she whispered.

He nodded: "They are. There is plenty of room for Nolan's, an' mebby his owner, too," he suggested. "Can't you see, Norah?" he asked in a swift change of tone. "Can't you see? Don't you know how much I—"

"Yes. It must be terrible to have such remorse," she quickly interposed. "And I sympathize with you deeply, too."

"Remorse nothin'! Them fellers was lookin' for it, an' they got just what they deserved. If I had n't 'a' done it somebody else would."

"And you a murderer! I never thought that of you. I can hardly believe it of you. And you calmly confess it to me as though it were nothing!"

"Why, I—I—"

"Don't talk to me! To think you have human blood on your hands. To think—"

"Norah! Norah, listen; won't you?"

"—that you are that sort of a man! How dare you call here as you have? How dare you?"

"But I tell you they were tryin' to get me! I just had to. Why, I didn't do it for nothin'. I 've got a right to defend myself, ain't I?"

"You had to? Is that true?" she demanded.

"Why, shore! Think I go 'round killin' men, like Greener does, just for th' fun of it?"

"He does n't do anything of the kind," she retorted. "You know he does n't! Did n't you just say he blinks when he shoots off a gun?"

"Yes; I did. But I did n't want you to think he was a murderer like Nolan," he explained. Even Cookie, he thought, would find it hard to get around that neat little effort.

"I 'm so relieved," she laughed, delighted at her success in twisting him. "I am so glad he does n't blink when he shoots. I 'd hate a man who was afraid to shoot."

Johnny's chest arose a little. "Well, how 'bout me?"

"But you've killed men; you've shot down your fellow men; and have ghastly marks on your revolver to brag about."

"Well—say—but how can I shoot without shootin' or kill without killin'?" he demanded. "An' I don't brag about 'em, neither; it makes me feel too sad to do any braggin'. An' Greener's killed 'em, too; an' he brags about it."

"Yes; but he doesn't blink!" she exclaimed triumphantly.

"Neither do I."

"Yes; but you shoot to kill."

"Lord pity us—don't he?"

"Y-e-s, but that's different," she replied, smiling brightly.

Johnny looked around the room, his eyes finally resting on his hat.

"Yes, I see it's different. Greener can kill, an' blink! I can't. If he kills a man he's a hero; I 'm a murderer. I kinda reckon he 's got th' trail. But I love you, an' you 've got to pick my trail—does it lead up or down?"

"Johnny Nelson! What are you saying?" she demanded, arising.

"Something turrible, mebby. I don't know; an' I don't care. It's true—so there you are. Norah, can't you see I do?" he pleaded, holding out his hands. "Won't you marry me?"

She looked down, her cheeks the color of fire, and Johnny continued hurriedly: "I 've loved you a whole month! When I 'm ridin' around I sorta' see you, an' hear you. Why, I talk to you lots when I 'm alone. I 've saved up some money, an' I had to work hard to save it, too. I 've got some cows runnin' with our'n—in a little while I 'll have a ranch of my own. Buck 'll let me use th' east part of th' ranch, an' there 's a hill over there that 'd look fine with a house on it. I can't wait no longer, Norah, I 've got to know. Will you let me put this on yore finger?" He swiftly bent the pin into a ring and held it out eagerly: "Can I?"

She pushed him away and yielded to a sudden pricking of her conscience, speaking swiftly, as if forcing herself to do a disagreeable duty, and hating herself at the moment. "Johnny, I 've been a—a flirt! When I saw you were beginning to care too much for me I should have stopped it; but I did n't. I amused myself—but I want you to believe one thing, to give me a little credit for just one thing; I never thought what it might mean to you. It was carelessness with me. But I was flirting, just the same—and it hurts to admit it. I 'm not good enough for you, Johnny Nelson; it's hard to say, but it's true. Can you, will you forgive me?"

He choked and stepped forward holding out his hands imploringly, but she eluded him. When he saw the shame in her face, the tears in her eyes, he stopped and laughed gently: "But we can begin right, now, can't we? I don't care, not if you 'll let me see you same as ever. You might get to care for me. And, anyhow, it ain't yore fault. I reckon it's me that's to blame."

At that moment he was nearer to victory than he had ever been; but he did not realize it and opportunity died when he failed to press his advantage.

"I am to blame," she said, so low he could hardly catch the words. When she continued it was with a rush: "I am not free—I haven't been for a week. I 'm not free any more—and I 've been leading you on!"

His face hardened, for now the meaning of Greener's sneering laugh came to him, and a seething rage swept over him against the man who had won. He knew Greener, knew him well—the meanness of the man's nature, his cold cruelty; the many things to the man's discredit loomed up large against the frailty of the woman before him.

Norah stepped forward and laid a pleading hand on his arm, for she knew the mettle of the men who worked under Buck Peters: "What are you thinking? Tell me!"

"Why, I 'm thinking what Nolan said. An', Norah, listen. You say you want me to forgive you? Well, I do, if there's anything to forgive. But I want you to primise me that if Greener don't treat you right you 'll tell me."

"What do you mean?"

"Only what I said. Do you promise?"

"Perhaps you would better speak to him about it!" she retorted.

"I will—an' plain. But don't worry 'bout me. It was my fault for bein' a tenderfoot. I never played this game before, an' don't know th' cards. Good-by."

He rode away slowly, and made the rounds, and by the time he reached Lacey's he was so unsteady that he was refused a drink and told to go home. But he headed for the Palace instead, and when he stepped high over the doorsill Nolan was seated in a chair tipped back against one of the side walls, and behind the bar on the other side of the room Jed Terry drummed on the counter and expressed his views on local matters. The sheriff was listening in a bored way until he saw Johnny enter and head his way, feet high and chest out; and at that moment Nolan's interest in local affairs flashed up brightly.

Johnny lost no time: "Nolan," he said, rocking on his heels, "tell Greener I 'll kill him if he marries that girl. He killed his first wife by abuse an' he don't kill no more. Savvy?"

The sheriff warily arose, for here was the opportunity he had sought. The threat to kill had a witness.

"An' if you opens yore toad's mouth about her like you did tonight, I 'll kill you, too." The tones were dispassionate, the words deliberate.

"Hear that, Jed?" cried the sheriff, excitedly. "Nelson, yo 're under ar—"

"Shut up!" snapped Johnny loudly, this time with feeling. "When yo 're betters are talkin' you keep yore face closed. Now, it ain't hardly healthy to slander wimmin in this country, 'specially good wimmin. You lied like a dog to me tonight, an' I let you off; don't try it again."

"I told th' truth!" snapped Nolan, heatedly. "I said she was a flirt, an' by th' great horned spoon she is a flirt, an' you—"

The sheriff prided himself upon his quickness, but the leaping gun was kicked out of his hand before he knew what was coming; a chair glanced off Jed's face and wrapped the front window about itself in its passing, leaving the bar-tender in the throbbing darkness of inter-planetary space; and as the sheriff opened his eyes and recovered from the hard swings his face had stopped, a galloping horse drummed southward toward the Bar-20; and the silence of the night was shattered by lusty war-whoops and a spurting .45.


When the sheriff and his posse called at the Bar-20 before breakfast the following morning they found a grouchy outfit and learned some facts.

"Where 's Johnny?" repeated Hopalong, with a rising inflection. "Only wish I knowed!"

A murmur of wistful desire arose and Lanky Smith restlessly explained it: "He rampages in 'bout midnight an' wakes us up with his racket. When we asks what he 's doin' with our possessions he suggests we go to h—l. He takes his rifle, Pete's rifle, Buck's brand new canteen, 'bout eighty pounds of catridges an' other useful duffle, all th' tobacco, an' blows away quick."

"On my cayuse," murmured Red.

"Wearin' my good clothes," added Billy, sorrowfully.

"An' my boots," sighed Hopalong.

"I ain't got no field glasses no more," grumbled Lanky.

"But he only got one laig of my new pants," chuckled Skinny. "I was too strong for him."

"He yanked my blanket off'n me, which makes me steal Red's," grinned Pete.

"Which you didn't keep very long!" retorted Red, with derision.

"Which makes us all peevish," plaintively muttered Buck.

"Now ain't it a h—l of a note?" laughed Cookie, loudly, forthwith getting scarce. He had nothing good enough to be taken.

"An' whichever was it run ag'in' yore face, Sheriff?" sympathetically inquired Hopalong. "Mighty good thing it stopped," he added thoughtfully.

"Never mind my face!" snorted the peace officer hotly as his deputies smoothed out their grins. "I want to know where Nelson is, an' d—d quick! We 'll search the house first."

"Hold on," responded Buck. "North of Salt Spring Creek yo 're a sheriff; down here yo 're nothin'. Don't search no house. He ain't here."

"How do I know he ain't?" snapped Nolan.

"My word 's good; or there 'll be another election stolen up in yore county," rejoined Buck ominously. "An' I would n't hunt him too hard, neither. We 'll punish him."

Nolan wheeled and rode toward the hills without another word, his posse pressing close behind. When they entered Apache Pass one of them accidentally exploded his rifle, calling forth an angry tirade from the sheriff. Johnny heard it, and cared little for the warning from his friend Lucas; he waited and then rode down the rocky slope of the pass on the trail of the posse, squinting wickedly at the distant group as he caught glimpses of them now and again, and with no anxiety regarding backward glances. "Lot's wife 'll have nothing on them if they look back," he muttered, fingering his rifle lovingly. At nightfall he watched them depart and grinned at the chase he would lead them when they returned.

But he did not see them again, although his friends reported that they were turning the range upside down to find him. One of his outfit rode out to him with supplies and information every few days and it was Pete who told him that six posses were in the hills. "An' you can't leave, 'cause one of th' cordon would get you shore. I had a h—l of a time getting in today." Red reported that the sheriff had sworn to take him dead or alive. Then came the blow. The sheriff was at the point of death from lockjaw caused by complete paralysis of the curea-frend nerve just above the phlagmatic diaphragm, which Johnny had fractured. It was Hopalong who imparted this sad news, and withered Johnny's hope of returning to a comfortable bunkhouse and square meals. So the fugitive clung to the hills, shunned sky-lines and wondered if the sheriff would recover before snow flew. He was hungry most of the time now because the outfit was getting stingy with the food supplies—and he dared not shoot any game.

Four weeks passed, weeks of hunger and nervous strain, and he was getting desperate. He had learned that Greener and his fiancée were going down to Linnville soon, since Perry's Bend had no parson; and his cup of bitterness, overflowing, drove him to risk an attempt to leave that part of the country. He had seen none of Pete's "cordon" although he had looked for them, and he believed he could get away. So he rode cautiously down Apache Pass one noon, thoughtfully planning his flight. The sand, washed down the rock walls by the last rain, deadened all sounds of his progress, and as he turned a sharp bend in the cut he almost bumped into Greener and Norah Joyce. They were laughing at how they had eluded the crowd of friends who were eager to accompany them—but the laughter froze when Johnny's gun swung up.

"'Nds up, Greener!" he snapped, viciously, remembering his promise to Sheriff Nolan. "Miss Joyce, if you make any trouble it 'll cost him his life."

"Turned highwayman, eh?" sneered Greener, keenly alert for the necessary fraction of a second's carelessness on the part of the other. He was gunman enough to need no more.

"Miss Joyce, will you please ride along? I want to talk to him alone," said Johnny, his eyes fastened intently on those of his enemy.

"Yes, Norah; that 's best. I 'll join you in a few minutes," urged Greener, smiling at her.

Johnny had a sudden thought and his warning was grave and cold. "Don't get very far away an' don't make no sounds, or signals; if you do it 'll be th' quickest way to need 'em. He 'll pay for any mistakes like that."

"You coward!" she cried, angrily, and then delivered an impromptu lecture that sent the blood surging into the fugitive's wan cheeks. But she obeyed, slowly, at Greener's signal, and when she was out of sight Johnny spoke.

"Greener, yo 're not going to marry her. You know what you are, you know how yore first wife died—an' I don't intend that Norah shall be abused as the other was. I 'm a fugitive, hard pressed; I 'm weak from want of food, and from hardships; all I have left is a slim chance of gettin' away. I 've reached the point where I can't harm myself by shooting you, an' I 'm goin' to do it rather than let any trouble come to her. But you 'll get an even break, because I ain't never going to shoot a man when he 's helpless. Got anything to say?"

"Yes; yo 're th' biggest fool I ever saw," replied Greener. "Yo 're locoed through an' through; an' I 'm goin' to take great pleasure in putting you away. But I want to thank you for one thing you did. You were drunk at the time an' may not remember it. When you hit Nolan for talking like he did I liked you for it, an' I 'm goin' to tell you so. Now we 'll get at th' matter before us so I can move along."

Neither had paid any attention to Norah in the earnestness and keen-eyed scrutiny of each other and the first sign they had of her actions was when she threw her arms around Greener's neck and shielded him. He was too much of a man to fire from cover and Johnny realized it while the other tried to get her to leave the scene.

"I won't leave you to be murdered—I know what it means, I know it," she cried. "My place is here, and you can't deny your wife's first request! What will I do without you! Oh, dear, let me stay! I will stay! What woman ever had such a wedding day before! Dear, dear, what can I do? Tell me what to do!"

Johnny sniffled and wished the posse had taken him. This was a side he had never thought of. His wife! Greener's wife! Then he was too late, and to go on would be a greater evil than the one he wished to eliminate. When she turned on him like a tigress and tore him to pieces word by word, tears rolling down her pallid cheeks and untold misery in her eyes, he shook his head and held up his hand.

"Greener, you win; I can't stop what's happened," he said, slowly. "But I 'll tell you this, an' I mean every word: If you don't treat her like she deserves, I 'll come back some of these days and kill you shore. Nolan got his because he talked ill of her; an' you 'll get yours if I die the next minute, if you ain't square with her."

"I don't need no instructions on how to treat my wife," retorted the other. "An' I 'm beginnin' to see th' cause of yore insanity, and it pardons you as nothing else will. Put up yore gun an' get back to th' ranch, where you belong—an' keep away from me. Savvy?"

"Not much danger of me gettin' in yore way," growled Johnny, "when I 'm hunted like a dog for doing what any man would 'a' done. When th' sheriff gets well, if he ever does, mebby I 'll come back an' take my medicine. How was he, anyhow, when you left?"

"Dead tired, an' some under th' influence of liquor," replied Greener, a smile breaking over his frown. He knew the whole story well, as did the whole range, and he had laughed over it with the Bar-20 outfit.

"What's that? Ain't he near dead?" cried Johnny, amazed.

"Well, purty nigh dead of fatigue dancin' at our weddin' last night; but I reckon he 'll be driftin' home purty soon, an' all recovered." Greener suddenly gave way and roared with laughter. There was a large amount of humor in his make-up and it took possession of him, shaking him from head to foot. He had always liked Johnny, not because he ever wanted to but because no one could know the Bar-20 protégé and keep from it. This climax was too much for him, and his wife, gradually recovering herself, caught the infection and joined in.

Johnny's eyes were staring and his mouth wide open, but Greener's next words closed the eyes to a squint and snapped shut the open mouth.

"That there paralysis of th' cure-a-friend nerve did n't last; an' when I heard why you licked him I said a few words that made him a wiser man. He didn't hunt you after th' first day. Now you go up an' shake han's with him. He knows he got what was coming to him and so does everybody else know it. Go home an' quit playin' th' fool for th' whole blamed range to laugh at."

Johnny stirred and came back to the scene before him. His face was livid with rage and he could not speak at first. Finally, however, he mastered himself and looked up: "I 'm cured, all right, but they ain't! Wait till my turn comes! What a fool I was to believe 'em; but they usually tell th' truth. 'Cura-a-friend nerve'! They 'll pay me dollar for cent before I 'm finished!" He caught the sparkle of his diamond pin, the pin he had won, when drunk, at El Paso, and a sickly grin flickered over the black frown. "I 'm a little late, I reckon; but I 'd like to give th' bride a present to show there ain't no hard feelin's on my part, an' to bring her luck. This here pin ain't no fit ornament for a fool like me, so if it's all right, I 'll be plumb tickled to see her have it. How 'bout it, Greener?"

The happy pair exchanged glances and Mrs. Greener, hesitating and blushing, accepted the gift: "You can bend it into a ring easy," Johnny hastily remarked, to cut off her thanks.

Greener extended his hand: "I reckon we can be friends, at that, Nelson. You squared up with me when you licked Nolan. Come up an' see us when you can."

Johnny thanked him and shook hands and then watched them ride slowly down the canyon, hand in hand, happy as little children. He sat silently, lost in thought, his anger rising by leaps and bounds against the men who had kept him on the anxious seat for a month. Straightening up suddenly, he tore off the navy blue necktie and, hurling it from him, fell into another reverie, staring at the canyon wall, but seeing in his mind's eye the outfit planning his punishment; and his eyes grew redder and redder with fury. But it was a long way home and his temper cooled as he rode; that is why no one knew of his return until they saw him asleep in his bunk when they awakened at daylight the following morning. And no one ever asked about the diamond, or made any explanations—for some things are better unmentioned. But they paid for it all before Johnny considered the matter closed.


THE END


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.


The author died in 1956, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.