The Sheriff's Son/Chapter 20

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Chapter XX
At the Lazy Double D

DINGWELL squinted over the bunch of cattle in the corral. "Twenty dollars on the hoof, f.o.b. at the siding," he said evenly. "You to take the run of the pen, no culls."

"I heard you before," protested the buyer. "Learn a new song, Dingwell. I don't like the tune of that one. Make it eighteen and let me cull the bunch."

Dave garnered a straw clinging to the fence and chewed it meditatively. "Could n't do it without hurting my conscience. Nineteen—no culls. That's my last word."

"I'd sure hate to injure your conscience, Dingwell," grinned the man from Denver. "Think I 'll wait till you go to town and do business with your partner."

"Think he's easy, do you?"

"Easy!" The cattle-buyer turned the conversation to the subject uppermost in his mind. He had already decided to take the cattle and the formal agreement could wait. "Easy! Say, do you know what I saw that young man put over to-day at the depot?"

"I 'll know when you 've told me," suggested Dingwell.

The Denver man told his story and added editorial comment. "Gamest thing I ever saw in my life, by Jiminy—stood there with his back to the man-killer and lit a cigarette while the ruffian had his finger on the trigger of a six-gun ready to whang away at him. Can you beat that?"

The eyes of the cattleman gleamed, but his drawling voice was still casual. "Why did n't Meldrum shoot?"

"Triumph of mind over matter, I reckon. He wanted to shoot—was crazy to kill your friend. But—he did n't. Beaudry had talked him out of it."

"How?"

"Bullied him out of it—jeered at him and threatened him and man-called him, with that big gun shining in his eyes every minute of the time."

Dingwell nodded slowly. He wanted to get the full flavor of this joyous episode that had occurred. "And the kid lit his cigarette while Meldrum, crazy as a hydrophobia skunk, had his gun trained on him?"

"That's right. Stood there with a kind o' you-be-damned placard stuck all over him, then got out the makings and lit up. He tilted back that handsome head of his and blew a smoke wreath into the air. Looked like he'd plumb wiped Mr. Meldrum off his map. He's a world-beater, that young fellow is—does n't know what fear is," concluded the buyer sagely.

"You don't say!" murmured Mr. Dingwell.

"Sure as you 're a foot high. While I was trying to climb up the side of a railroad car to get out of range, that young guy was figuring it all out. He was explaining thorough to the bad man what would happen if he curled his fore-finger another quarter of an inch. Just as cool and easy, you understand."

"You mean that he figured out his chances?"

"You bet you! He figured it all out, played a long shot, and won. The point is that it would n't help him any if this fellow Meldrum starred in a subsequent lynching. The man had been drinking like a blue blotter. Had he sense enough left to know his danger? Was his brain steady enough to hold him in check? Nobody could tell that. But your partner gambled on it and won."

This was meat and drink to Dave. He artfully pretended to make light of the whole affair in order to stir up the buyer to more details.

"I reckon maybe Meldrum was just bluffing. Maybe—"

"Bluffing!" The Coloradoan swelled. "Bluffing! I tell you there was murder in the fellow's eye. He had come there primed for a killing. If Beaudry had weakened by a hair's breadth, that forty-four would have pumped lead into his brain. Ask the train crew. Ask the station agent. Ask any one who was there."

"Maybeso," assented Dave dubiously. "But if he was so game, why did n't Beaudry go back and take Meldrum's gun from him?"

The buyer was on the spot with an eager, triumphant answer. "That just proves what I claim. He just brushed the fellow's gun aside and acted like he'd forgot the killer had a gun. 'Course, he could 'a' gone back and taken the gun. After what he'd already pulled off, that would have been like stealing apples from a blind Dutchman. But Beaudry was n't going to give him that much consideration. Don't you see? Meldrum, or whatever his name is, was welcome to keep the revolver to play with. Your friend did n't care how many guns he was toting."

"I see. It he had taken the gun, Meldrum might have thought he was afraid of him."

"Now you 're shouting. As it is the bad man is backed clear off the earth. It's like as if your partner said, 'Garnish yourself with forty-fours if you like, but don't get gay around me.'"

"So you think—"

"I think he's some bear-cat, that young fellow. When you 're looking for something easy to mix with, go pick a grizzly or a wild cat, but don't you monkey with friend Beaudry. He's liable to interfere with your interior geography. … Say, Dingwell. Do I get to cull this bunch of longhorn skeletons you 're misnaming cattle?"

"You do not."

The Denver man burlesqued a sigh. "Oh, well! I 'll go broke dealing with you unsophisticated Shylocks of the range. The sooner the quicker. Send 'em down to the siding. I 'll take the bunch."

Roy rode up on a pinto.

"Help! Help!" pleaded the Coloradoan of the young man.

"He means that I 've unloaded this corral full of Texas dinosaurs on him at nineteen a throw." explained Dave.

"You 've made a good bargain," Beaudry told the buyer.

"’Course he has, and he knows it." Dingwell opened on Roy his gay smile. "I hear you 've had a run-in with the bad man of Chicito Cañon, son."

Roy looked at the Denver man reproachfully. Ever since the affair on the station platform he had been flogging himself because he had driven away and left Meldrum in possession of the field. No doubt all Battle Butte knew now how frightened he had been. The women were gossiping about it over their tea, probably, and men were retailing the story in saloons and on sidewalks.

"I did n't want any trouble," he said apologetically. "I—I just left him."

"That's what I 've been hearing," assented Dave dryly. "You merely showed him up for a false alarm and kicked him into the discard. That's good, and it's bad. We know now that Meldrum won't fight you in the open. You 've got him buffaloed. But he 'll shoot you in the back if he can do it safely. I know the cur. After this don't ride alone, Roy, and don't ride that painted hoss at all. Get you a nice quiet buckskin that melts into the atmosphere like a patch of bunch grass. Them's my few well-chosen words of advice, as Mañana Bill used to say."

Three days later Beaudry, who had been superintending the extension of an irrigation ditch, rode up to the porch of the Lazy Double D ranch house and found Hal Rutherford, senior, with his chair tilted back against the wall. The smoke of his pipe mingled fraternally with that of Dingwell's cigar. He nodded genially to Roy without offering to shake hands.

"Mr. Rutherford dropped in to give us the latest about Meldrum," explained Dave. "Seems he had warned our friend the crook to lay off you, son. When Dan showed up again at the park, he bumped into Miss Beulah and said some pleasant things to her. He had n't noticed that Jeff was just round the corner of the schoolhouse fixing up some dingus as a platform for the last day's speaking. Jeff always was hot-headed. Before he had got through with Mr. Meldrum, he had mussed his hair up considerable. Dan tried to gun him and got an awful walloping. He hit the trail to Jess Tighe's place. When Mr. Rutherford heard of it, he was annoyed. First off, because of what had happened at the depot. Second, and a heap more important, because the jailbird had threatened Miss Beulah. So he straddled a horse and called on Dan, who shook the dust of Huerfano Park from his bronco's hoofs poco tiempo."

"Where has he gone?" asked Roy.

"Nobody knows, and he won't tell. But, knowing Meldrum as we do, Rutherford and I have come to a coincidentical opinion, as you might say. He's a bad actor, that bird. We figure that he's waiting in the chaparral somewhere to pull off a revenge play, after which he means pronto to slide his freight across the line to the land of old Porf. Diaz."

"Revenge—on Jeff Rutherford—or who?"

"Son, that's a question. But Jeff won't be easily reached. On the whole, we think you 're elected."

Roy's heart sank. If Meldrum had been kicked out of Huerfano Park, there was no room for him in New Mexico. Probably the fear of the Rutherfords had been a restraint upon him up to this time. But now that he had broken with them and was leaving the country, the man was free to follow the advice of Tighe. He was a bully whose prestige was tottering. It was almost sure that he would attempt some savage act of reprisal before he left. Beaudry had no doubt that he would be the victim of it.

"What am I to do, then?" he wanted to know, his voice quavering.

"Stay right here at the ranch. Don't travel from the house till we check up on Meldrum. Soon as he shows his hand, we 'll jump him and run him out of the country. All you 've got to do is to sit tight till we locate him."

"I 'll not leave the house," Roy vowed fervently.