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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 17. "So-Long, Buck!"
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The Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 17. 'So-Long, Buck!' Post by :prospertogether Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :3128

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The Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 17. "So-Long, Buck!"


"Before you go, Buck, I want to tell you that you needn't jolly yourself into thinking your death will be avenged. It won't. You noticed what I wrote; and there isn't a scrap of my writing anywhere in the country to catch me up--" Ward's thoughts went to Billy Louise, who had some very good samples, and he stopped suddenly. He was trying not to think of Billy Louise, to-day. "Also, when somebody happens to ride this way and sees you, I won't be anywhere around."

"This is the tree," he added, stopping under a cottonwood that flung a big branch out over the narrow cow-trail they were traveling. "The chances are friend Floyd will be ambling around this way in a day or two," he said hearteningly. "He can tend to the last sad rites and take charge of your horse. He's liable to be sore when he reads your pedigree, but I don't reckon that will make a great deal of difference. You'll get buried, all right, Buck."

Ward dismounted with a most businesslike manner and untied Buck Olney's rope from the saddle. "I can't spare mine," he explained laconically. He had some trouble in fashioning a hangman's noose. He had not had much practice, he remarked to Buck after the first attempt.

"How do you do it, Buck? You know more about these things than I do," he taunted. "You've helped hang lots of poor devils that will be glad to meet yuh in hell to-day."

Buck Olney moistened his dry lips. Ward glanced at his face and looked quickly away. Staring, abject terror is not nice to look upon, even though the man is your worst enemy and is suffering justly for his sins. Ward's fingers fumbled the rope as though his determination were weakening. Then he remembered some things, hunched his shoulders, impatient of the merciful impulse, and began the knot again. An old prospector had shown him once how it was done.

"Of course, a plain slip-knot would do the business all right," he said. "But I'll try and give you the genuine thing, same as you gave the other fellows."

"Ward, for God's sake, let me go!"

Ward started. He did not know that a man's voice could change so much in so short a time. He never would have recognized the tones as coming from Buck Olney's loose, complacent lips.

"Ward, I'll never--I'll leave the country--I'll go to South America, or Australia, or--"

"You'll go to hell, Buck," Ward cut in inexorably. "You've got your ticket."

"I'll own up to everything. I'll tell you where some of the money's cached we got in that Hardup deal, Ward. There's enough to put you on Easy Street. I'll tell you who helped--"

"You'd better not," advised Ward harshly, "or I'll make hanging a relief to you. I know pretty well, right now, all you could tell. And if I wanted to send your pardners up, I wouldn't need your help. It's partly to give them a chance that I'm sending you out this way, myself. I don't call this murder, Buck. I'm saving the State a lot of time and trouble, that's all; and your pardners the black eye they'd get for throwing in with you. I heap sabe who was the head push. You got them in to take whatever dropped, so you could get off slick and clean, just as you've done before, you--you--"

Buck Olney got it then, hot from the fires of Ward's wrath. A man does not brood over treachery and wrong and a blackened future for years, without storing up a good many things that he means to say to the friend who has played him false. Ward had been a happy-go-lucky young fellow who had faith in men and in himself and in his future. He had lived through black, hopeless days and weeks and months, because of this man who tried now to buy mercy with the faith of his partners.

Ward stood up and let the rope trail forgotten from his hands while he told Buck Olney all the things he had brooded over in bitterness. He had meant to keep it all down, but it was another instance of bottled emotions, and Buck, with his offer of a fresh bit of treachery, had pulled the cork. Ward trembled a little while he talked, and his face grew paler and paler as he dug deep into the blackest part of the past, until when he finished he was a tanned white. He was shaking at the last; shaking so that he staggered to the tree and leaned against it weakly, while he fumbled for tobacco and papers.

In the saddle Buck sat all hunched together as if Ward had lashed him with rawhide instead of with stinging words. The muscles of his face twitched spasmodically. His eyes were growing bloodshot.

Ward spilled two papers of tobacco before he got a cigarette rolled and lighted. He wondered a little at the physical reaction from his outburst, but he wondered more at Buck Olney sitting alive and unhurt on the horse before him--a Seabeck horse which Ward had seen Floyd Carson riding once or twice. He wondered what Floyd would do if he saw Buck now and the use to which the horse was being put.

Ward finished the cigarette, rolled another, and smoked that also before he could put his hand out before him and hold it reasonably steady. When he felt fairly sure of himself again, he lifted his hat to wipe off the sweat of his anger, gave a big sigh, and returned to the tying of the hangman's noose.

When he finally had it fixed the way he wanted it, he went close and flung the noose over Buck Olney's head. He could not trust himself to speak just then. He cast an inquiring glance upward, took Buck's horse by the bridle, and led him forward a few steps so that Buck was directly under the overhanging limb. Then, with the coil of Buck's rope in his hand, he turned back and squirmed up the tree-trunk until he had reached the limb. He crawled out until he was over Buck's bullet-punctured hat-crown, sliced off what rope he did not need, and flung it to the ground. He saw Buck wince as the rope went past him. The pinto horse shied out of position.

"Take the reins and bring him back here!" Ward called shortly, and gave a twitch of the rope as a hint.

Mechanically Buck obeyed. He did not know that the rope was not yet tied to the limb.

Ward tied the rope securely, leaving enough slack to keep Buck from choking prematurely. He fussed a minute longer, with his lip curled into a grin of sardonic humor. Then he crawled hack to the trunk of the tree and slid down carefully so that he would not frighten the pinto.

He went up and took the hobble off Buck Olney's feet, felt in the seam of his coat-lapel, and pulled out four pins, with which he fastened Buck's "pedigree" between Buck's shrinking shoulder-blades. Then he stood off and surveyed his work critically before he went over to Rattler, who stood dozing in the sunshine.

"Sorry I can't stay to see you off," he told Buck maliciously. "I've decided to let you go alone and take your own time about starting. As long as that cayuse stands where he is, you're safe as a church. And you've got the reins; you can kick off any time you feel like it. Sabe?" He studied Buck's horror-marked face pitilessly.

"You've got about one chance in a million that you can make that pinto stand there till someone comes along," he pointed out impartially. "I'm willing to give you that chance, such as it is. And if you're lucky enough to win out on it--well, I'd advise you to do some going! South America is about as close as you'll be safe. Folks around here are going to know all about you, old-timer, whether they get to read what's on your back or not.

"And, on the other hand, it's a million-to-one shot you'll land where your ticket reads. I'd hate to gamble on that horse standing in one spot for two or three days, wouldn't you?" He wheeled Rattler unobtrusively, his eye on the pinto. "I hope he don't try to follow," he said. "I want you to have a little time to think about the things I said to you. Well, so-long."

Ward rode back the way he had come, glancing frequently over his shoulder at Buck, slumped in the saddle with a paper pinned to his back like a fire-warning on a tree, and his own grass rope noosed about his neck and connecting him with the cottonwood limb six feet above his hat crown.

Ward had not ridden a hundred yards before he heard Buck Olney scream hysterically for help. He grinned sourly with his eyebrows pinched together and, that hard, strained look in his eyes still. "Let him holler awhile!" he gritted. "Do him good, damn him!"

Until distance and the intervening hills set a wall of silence between, Ward heard Buck screaming in fear of death, screaming until he was so hoarse he could only whisper; screaming because he had not seen Ward take his knife and slice the rope upon the limb so that it would not have held the weight of a rabbit.

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