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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWyoming, A Story Of The Outdoor West - Chapter 15. Judd Morgan Passes
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Wyoming, A Story Of The Outdoor West - Chapter 15. Judd Morgan Passes Post by :pbonds Category :Long Stories Author :William Macleod Raine Date :May 2012 Read :2288

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Wyoming, A Story Of The Outdoor West - Chapter 15. Judd Morgan Passes

Gimlet Butte devoted the night of the Fourth to a high old time. The roping and the other sports were to be on the morrow, and meanwhile the night hours were filled with exuberance. The cowboy's spree comes only once in several months, but when it does come he enters into the occasion with such whole-hearted enthusiasm as to make up swiftly for lost time. A traveling midway had cast its tents in a vacant square in competition with the regular attractions of the town, and everywhere the hard-riding punchers were "night herding" in full regalia.

There was a big masked ball in the street, and another in the Masonic Hall, while here and there flared the lights of the faker with something to sell. Among these last was "Soapy" Sothern, doing a thriving business in selling suckers and bars wrapped with greenbacks. Crowds tramped the streets blowing horns and throwing confetti, and everywhere was a large sprinkling of men in high-heeled boots, swinging along with the awkward, stiff-legged gait of the cowboy. Sometimes a girl was hanging on his arm, and again he was "whooping it up with the boys"; but in either case the range-rider's savings were burning a hole through his pockets with extreme rapidity.

Jim McWilliams and the sheepman Bannister had that day sealed a friendship that was to be as enduring as life. The owner of the sheep ranch was already under heavy obligation to the foreman of the Lazy D, but debt alone is not enough on which to found soul brotherhood. There must be qualities of kinship in the primeval elements of character. Both men had suspected that this kinship existed, but to-day they had proved it in the way that one had lost and the other had won the coveted championship. They had made no vows and no professions. The subject had not even been touched in words; a meeting of the eyes, followed by the handshake with which Bannister had congratulated the winner. That had been all. But it was enough.

With the casual democracy of the frontier they had together escorted Helen Messiter and Nora Darling through a riotous three hours of carnival, taking care to get them back to their hotel before the night really began "to howl."

But after they had left the young women, neither of them cared to sleep yet. They were still in costume, Mac dressed as a monk, and his friend as a Stuart cavalier, and the spirit of frolic was yet strong in them.

"I expaict, mebbe, we better hunt in couples if we're going to help paint the town," smiled Mac, and his friend had immediately agreed.

It must have been well after midnight that they found themselves "bucking the tiger" in a combination saloon and gambling-house, whose patrons were decidedly cosmopolitan in character. Here white and red and yellow men played side by side, the Orient and the Occident and the aboriginal alike intent on the falling cards and the little rolling ball. A good many of them were still in their masks and dominos, though these, for the most part, removed their vizors before playing.

Neither McWilliams nor his friend were betting high, and the luck had been so even that at the end of two hours' play neither of them had at any time either won or lost more than fifteen dollars. In point of fact, they were playing not so much to win as just to keep in touch with the gay, youthful humor of the night.

They were getting tired of the game when two men jingled in for a drink. They were talking loudly together, and it was impossible to miss the subject of their conversation.

McWilliams gave a little jerk of his head toward one of them. "Judd Morgan," his lips framed without making a sound.

Bannister nodded.

"Been tanking up all day," Mac added. "Otherwise his tongue would not be shooting off so reckless."

A silence had fallen over the assembly save for the braggarts at the bar. Men looked at each other, and then furtively at Bannister. For Morgan, ignorant of who was sitting quietly with his back to him at the faro-table, was venting his hate of Bannister and McWilliams.

"Both in the same boat. Did y'u see how Mac ran to help him to-day? Both waddies. Both rustlers. Both train robbers. Sho! I got through putting a padlock on me mouth. Man to man, I'm as good as either of them--damn sight better. I wisht they was here, one or both; I wisht they would step up here and fight it out. Bannister's a false alarm, and that foreman of the Lazy D--" His tongue stumbled over a blur of vilification that ended with a foul mention of Miss Messiter.

Instantly two chairs crashed to the floor. Two pair of gray eyes met quietly.

"My quarrel, Bann," said Jim, in a low, even voice.

The other nodded. "I'll see y'u have a clear field."

The man who was with Morgan suddenly whispered in his ear, and the latter slewed his head in startled fear. Almost instantly a bullet clipped past McWilliams's shoulder. Morgan had fired without waiting for the challenge he felt sure was at hand. Once--twice the foreman's revolver made answer. Morgan staggered, slipped down to the floor, a bullet crashing through the chandelier as he fell. For a moment his body jerked. Then he rolled over and lay still.

The foreman's weapon covered him unwaveringly, but no more steadily than Bannister's gaze the man who had come in with him who lay lifeless on the floor. The man looked at the lifeless thing, shuddered, and backed out of the saloon.

"I call y'u all to witness that my friend killed him in self-defense," said Bannister evenly. "Y'u all saw him fire first. Mac did not even have his gun out."

"That's right," agreed one, and another added: "He got what was coming to him."

"He sure did," was the barkeeper's indorsement. "He came in hunting trouble, but I reckon he didn't want to be accommodated so prompt."

"Y'u'll find us at the Gimlet Butte House if we're wanted for this," said Bannister. "We'll be there till morning."

But once out of the gambling-house McWilliams drew his friend to one side. "Do y'u know who that was I killed?"

"Judd Morgan, foreman before y'u at the Lazy D."

"Yes, but what else?"

"What do y'u mean?"

"I mean that next to your cousin Judd was leader of that Shoshone-Teton bunch."

"How do y'u know?"

"I suspected it a long time, but I knew for sure the day that your cousin held up the ranch. The man that was in charge of the crowd outside was Morgan. I could swear to it. I knew him soon as I clapped eyes to him, but I was awful careful to forget to tell him I recognized him."

"That means we are in more serious trouble than I had supposed."

"Y'u bet it does. We're in a hell of a hole, figure it out any way y'u like. Instead of having shot up a casual idiot, I've killed Ned Bannister's right-hand man. That will be the excuse--shooting Morgan. But the real trouble is that I won the championship belt from your cousin. He already hated y'u like poison, and he don't love me any too hard. He will have us arrested by his sheriff here. Catch the point. Y'U'RE NED BANNISTER, THE OUTLAW, AND I'M HIS RIGHT-BOWER. That's the play he's going to make, and he's going to make it right soon."

"I don't care if he does. We'll fight him on his own ground. We'll prove that he's the miscreant and not us."

"Prove nothing," snarled McWilliams. "Do y'u reckon he'll give us a chance to prove a thing? Not on your life. He'll have us jailed first thing; then he'll stir up a sentiment against us, and before morning there will be a lynchingbee, and y'u and I will wear the neckties. How do y'u like the looks of it?"

"But y'u have a lot of friends. They won't stand for anything like that."

"Not if they had time to stop it. Trouble is, fellow's friends think awful slow. They'll arrive in time to cut us down and be the mourners. No, sir! It's a hike for Jimmie Mac on the back of the first bronc he can slap a saddle on."

Bannister frowned. "I don't like to run before the scurvy scoundrels."

"Do y'u suppose I'm enjoying it? Not to any extent, I allow. But that sweet relative of yours holds every ace in the deck, and he'll play them, too. He owns the law in this man's town, and he owns the lawless. But the best card he holds is that he can get a thousand of the best people here to join him in hanging the 'king' of the Shoshone outlaws. Explanations nothing! Y'u rode under the name of Bannister, didn't y'u? He's Jack Holloway."

"It does make a strong combination," admitted the sheepman.

"Strong! It's invincible. I can see him playing it, laughing up his sleeve all the time at the honest fools he is working. No, sir! I draw out of a game like that. Y'u don't get a run for your money."

"Of course he knows already what has happened," mused Bannister.

"Sure he knows. That fellow with Morgan made a bee-line for him. Just about now he's routing the sheriff out of his bed. We got no time to lose. Thing is, to burn the wind out of this town while we have the chance."

"I see. It won't help us any to be spilling lead into a sheriff's posse. That would ce'tainly put us in the wrong."

"Now y'u're shouting. If we're honest men why don't we surrender peaceable? That's the play the 'king' is going to make in this town. Now if we should spoil a posse and bump off one or two of them, we couldn't pile up evidence enough to get a jury to acquit. No, sir! We can't surrender and we can't fight. Consequence is, we got to roll our tails immediate."

"We have an appointment with Miss Messiter and Nora for to-morrow morning. We'll have to leave word we can't keep it."

"Sure. Denver and Missou are playing the wheel down at the Silver Dollar. I reckon we better make those boys jump and run errands for us while we lie low. I'll drop in casual and give them the word. Meet y'u here in ten minutes. Whatever y'u do, keep that mask on your face."

"Better meet farther from the scene of trouble. Suppose we say the north gate of the grand stand?"

"Good enough. So-long."

The first faint streaks of day were beginning to show on the horizon when Bannister reached the grand stand. He knew that inside of another half-hour the little frontier town would be blinking in the early morning sunlight that falls so brilliantly through the limpid atmosphere. If they were going to leave without fighting their way out there was no time to lose.

Ten minutes slowly ticked away.

He glanced at his watch. "Five minutes after four. I wish I had gone with Mac. He may have been recognized."

But even as the thought flitted through his mind, the semi-darkness opened to let a figure out of it.

"All quiet along the Potomac, seh?" asked the foreman's blithe voice. "Good. I found the boys and got them started." He flung down a Mexican vaquero's gaily trimmed costume.

"Get into these, seh. Denver shucked them for me. That coyote must have noticed what we wore before he slid out. Y'u can bet the orders are to watch for us as we were dressed then."

"What are y u going to do?"

"Me? I'm scheduled to be Aaron Burr, seh. Missou swaps with me when he gets back here. They're going to rustle us some white men's clothes, too, but we cayn't wear them till we get out of town on account of showing our handsome faces."

"What about horses?"

"Denver is rustling some for us. Y'u better be scribbling your billy-doo to the girl y'u leave behind y'u, seh."

"Haven't y'u got one to scribble?" Bannister retorted. "Seems to me y'u better get busy, too."

So it happened that when Missou arrived a few minutes later he found this pair of gentlemen, who were about to flee for their lives, busily inditing what McWilliams had termed facetiously billets-doux. Each of them was trying to make his letter a little warmer than friendship allowed without committing himself to any chance of a rebuff. Mac got as far as Nora Darling, absentmindedly inserted a comma between the words, and there stuck hopelessly. He looked enviously across at Bannister, whose pencil was traveling rapidly down his note-book.

"My, what a swift trail your pencil leaves on that paper. That's going some. Mine's bogged down before it got started. I wisht y'u would start me off."

"Well, if you ain't up and started a business college already. I had ought to have brought a typewriter along with me," murmured Missou ironically.

"How are things stacking? Our friends the enemy getting busy yet?" asked Bannister, folding and addressing his note.

"That's what. Orders gone out to guard every road so as not to let you pass. What's the matter with me rustling up the boys and us holding down a corner of this town ourselves?"

The sheepman shook his head. "We're not going to start a little private war of our own. We couldn't do that without spilling a lot of blood. No, we'll make a run for it."

"That y'u, Denver?" the foreman called softly, as the sound of approaching horses reached him.

"Bet your life. Got your own broncs, too. Sheriff Burns called up Daniels not to let any horses go out from his corral to anybody without his O.K. I happened to be cinching at the time the 'phone message came, so I concluded that order wasn't for me, and lit out kinder unceremonious."

Hastily the fugitives donned the new costumes and dominos, turned their notes over to Denver, and swung to their saddles.

"Good luck!" the punchers called after them, and Denver added an ironical promise that the foreman had no doubt he would keep. "I'll look out for Nora--Darling." There was a drawling pause between the first and second names. "I'll ce'tainly see that she don't have any time to worry about y'u, Mac."

"Y'u go to Halifax," returned Mac genially over his shoulder as he loped away.

"I doubt if we can get out by the roads. Soon as we reach the end of the street we better cut across that hayfield," suggested Ned.

"That's whatever. Then we'll slip past the sentries without being seen. I'd hate to spoil any of them if we can help it. We're liable to get ourselves disliked if our guns spatter too much."

They rode through the main street, still noisy with the shouts of late revelers returning to their quarters. Masked men were yet in evidence occasionally, so that their habits caused neither remark nor suspicion. A good many of the punchers, unable to stay longer, were slipping out of town after having made a night of it. In the general exodus the two friends hoped to escape unobserved.

They dropped into a side street, galloped down it for two hundred yards, and dismounted at a barb-wire fence which ran parallel with the road. The foreman's wire-clippers severed the strands one by one, and they led their horses through the gap. They crossed an alfalfa-field, jumped an irrigation ditch, used the clippers again, and found themselves in a large pasture. It was getting lighter every moment, and while they were still in the pasture a voice hailed them from the road in an unmistakable command to halt.

They bent low over the backs of their ponies and gave them the spur. The shot they had expected rang out, passing harmlessly over them. Another followed, and still another.

"That's right. Shoot up the scenery. Y'u don't hurt us none," the foreman said, apostrophizing the man behind the gun.

The next clipped fence brought them to the open country. For half an hour they rode swiftly without halt. Then McWilliams drew up.

"Where are we making for?"

"How about the Wind River country?"

"Won't do. First off, they'll strike right down that way after us. What's the matter with running up Sweetwater Creek and lying out in the bad lands around the Roubideaux?"

"Good. I have a sheep-camp up that way. I can arrange to have grub sent there for us by a man I can trust."

"All right. The Roubideaux goes."

While they were nooning at a cow-spring, Bannister, lying on his back, with his face to the turquoise sky, became aware that a vagrant impulse had crystallized to a fixed determination. He broached it at once to his companion.

"One thing is a cinch, Mac. Neither y'u nor I will be safe in this country now until we have broken up the gang of desperadoes that is terrorizing this country. If we don't get them they will get us. There isn't any doubt about that. I'm not willing to lie down before these miscreants. What do y'u say?"

"I'm with y'u, old man. But put a name to it. What are y'u proposing?"

"I'm proposing that y'u and I make it our business not to have any other business until we clean out this nest of wolves. Let's go right after them, and see if we can't wipe out the Shoshone-Teton outfit."

"How? They own the law, don't they?"

"They don't own the United States Government. When they held up a mail-train they did a fool thing, for they bucked up against Uncle Sam. What I propose is that we get hold of one of the gang and make him weaken. Then, after we have got hold of some evidence that will convict, we'll go out and run down my namesake Ned Bannister. If people once get the idea that his hold isn't so strong there's a hundred people that will testify against him. We'll have him in a Government prison inside of six months."

"Or else he'll have us in a hole in the ground," added the foreman, dryly.

"One or the other," admitted Bannister. "Are y'u in on this thing?"

"I surely am. Y'u're the best man I've met up with in a month of Sundays, seh. Y'u ain't got but one fault; and that is y'u don't smoke cigareets. Feed yourself about a dozen a day and y'u won't have a blamed trouble left. Match, seh?" The foreman of the Lazy D, already following his own advice, rolled deftly his smoke, moistened it and proceeded to blow away his troubles.

Bannister looked at his debonair insouciance and laughed. "Water off a duck's back," he quoted. "I know some folks that would be sweating fear right now. It's ce'tainly an aggravating situation, that of being an honest man hunted as a villain by a villain. But I expaict my cousin's enjoying it."

"He ain't enjoying it so much as he would if his plans had worked out a little smoother. He's holding the sack right now and cussing right smaht over it being empty, I reckon."

"He did lock the stable door a little too late," chuckled the sheepman. But even as he spoke a shadow fell over his face. "My God! I had forgotten. Y'u don't suppose he would take it out of Miss Messiter."

"Not unless he's tired of living," returned her foreman, darkly. "One thing, this country won't stand for is that. He's got to keep his hands off women or he loses out. He dassent lay a hand on them if they don't want him to. That's the law of the plains, isn't it?"

"That's the unwritten law for the bad man, but I notice it doesn't seem to satisfy y'u, my friend. Y'u and I know that my cousin, Ned Bannister, doesn't acknowledge any law, written or unwritten. He's a devil and he has no fear. Didn't he kidnap her before?"

"He surely would never dare touch those young ladies. But--I don't know. Bann, I guess we better roll along toward the Lazy D country, after all."

"I think so." Ned looked at his friend with smiling drollery. "I thought y'u smoked your troubles away, Jim. This one seems to worry y'u."

McWilliams grinned sheepishly. "There's one trouble won't be smoked away. It kinder dwells." Then, apparently apropos of nothing, he added, irrelevantly: "Wonder what Denver's doing right now?"

"Probably keeping that appointment y'u ran away from," bantered his friend.

"I'll bet he is. Funny how some men have all the luck," murmured the despondent foreman.

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