“We could go East and live then, couldn’t we?” asked the girl.
Henders looked at her keenly. There had been just the tiniest trace of wistfulness in her tone. He crossed the room and put an arm about her.
“You’d like to go East and live?” he asked.
“I love it here, Dad; but there is so much there that we can never have here. I should like to see how other people live. I should like to go to a big hotel, and to the theaters and opera, and meet educated people of my own age. I should like to go to parties where no one got drunk and shot the lights out,” she concluded with a laugh.
“We don’t have to sell out to go back,” he told her. “I am afraid I have been selfish. Because I never wanted to back after your mamma left us, I forgot that you had a right to the same advantages that she and I enjoyed. The ranch seemed enough—the ranch and you.”
“But there’d be no one to manage things if you went away,” she insisted.
“Oh, that could be arranged. I thought you felt that we couldn’t afford to go unless we sold.”
“It would be nice if you were relieved of all responsibility,” she said. “If you sold the ranch and the brand you wouldn’t have to worry about how things were going here.”
“Old Wainright wouldn’t pay what they are worth, even if I was ready to sell,” he explained. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do—I’ll make him a price. If he takes it I’ll sell out, and anyway, whether he does or not, we’ll go East to stay, if you like it.”
“What price are you going to ask?”
“Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the ranch and the brand. They might bring more if I wanted to make an effort to get more, but that will show a fair profit for us and I know will be satisfactory to John. He has asked me a dozen times in his letters why I didn’t sell the cattle end of the business and come East.”
“Yes, I know Uncle John has always wanted us to come back,” she said.
“But old Wainright really doesn’t want the ranch and cattle at all,” said her father. “What he wants is the mine. He has offered me a million dollars for all our holdings in the county, including the mine. He mentions the fact that the workings have pretty nearly petered out, and he’s right, and he thinks I’ll grab at it to unload.”
“I suspect he’s had a man up there for the past six months—the new bookkeeper that Corson sent out while your Uncle John Manill was in Europe—and he thinks he’s discovered something that I don’t know—but I do. For years, Di, we’ve been paralleling a much richer vein than the one we’ve been working. I’ve known it for the past two years, but John and I figured we’d work out the old one first—we’ve all the money we need anyway. The mine alone is worth ten or twenty millions.”
“Uncle John knows it? There wouldn’t be any danger that someone might trick him into a deal?”
“Not a chance, and of course, as you know, he wouldn’t do anything without consulting me. Ours is rather a peculiar partnership, Di, but it’s a very safe one for both of us. There isn’t the scratch of a pen between us as far as any written agreement is concerned, but he trusts me and I trust him. Why before either of us married the only precautions we took to safeguard our interests was to make our wills—I left everything to him and he left everything to me. After we married we made new wills, that was all.
“If I die first everything goes to him, and when he dies it is all divided equally between our surviving heirs; or just the other way around if he dies first. Each of us felt that we could thus best safeguard the interests of our respective families, since we both had implicit confidence in the other’s honesty and integrity.”
“Oh, let’s not talk about it,” exclaimed the girl. “Neither one of you is ever going to die.”
“All right, Di,” laughed her father; “just as you say—you’ve always had your own way. Now we’ll plan that eastern trip. Can’t very well go until after the spring round-up, and in the meantime we can be sizing up Colby. If he takes hold all right we couldn’t do better than to leave him in charge. I never did like the idea of importing a new man as superintendent if you could possibly use one of your own men. What do you think of him, Di?”
“I don’t know yet Dad,” she replied. “I like him immensely, and I think he’s honest and loyal, but he don’t know stock, nor the range, as well as Bull.”
“Bull is out of the question,” replied her father. “I could never trust him again.”
“I know how you feel. I feel the same way, and yet there is something about him, Dad—I can’t explain it; but when I am with him I cannot doubt him.”
“He’s got you hypnotized. I hope he hasn’t been making love to you,” he concluded, seriously.
“Oh, they all do,” she cried, laughing; “but Bull least of all.”
“I suppose you’ll have to be marrying one of these days, and if you were going to live here I’d rather you married a western boy; but if you are going East you mustn’t fall in love yet, for you are sure to find a great difference between the boys you have known and the boys back there.”
“Don’t worry, Dad, I haven’t fallen in love yet; but if I do soon I’m afraid it’s going to be either Hal Colby or Jefferson Wainright.”
“Senior?” he asked.
“Oh, isn’t he funny—and impossible!” she cried.
“He’s all of that and more too,” replied her father. .
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw a bull by the tail. He’s one of those blue-bellied Yankees who considers any means as honest that keep him on the right side of a jail door; but the boy appears to be a much more decent sort.”
“He is delightful and wonderful,” said Diana.
The days passed, lovely, sunshiny days during which Diana spent long hours dreaming of the coming eastern trip. She rode much, as usual, sometimes with one man, again with another, but more often with her father or Hal Colby.
Bull’s assignments usually took him too far afield for her to accompany him. If he thought that Colby had some such purpose in mind when he laid out the work from day to day he said nothing of it; but he could not have failed to notice that following each of the few occasions upon which Diana accompanied him, usually a Sunday, he was given work the next day that kept him in the saddle until late at night, and upon several occasions away from the ranch for two days or more.
At last the time of the spring rodeo arrived. Riders from other outfits commenced straggling in, some from a hundred miles away, until the Bar Y ranch commenced to take on the appearance of an army camp. The chuck wagon was overhauled and outfitted. The cavvy was brought over from West Ranch—wild, half-broken horses, with a sprinkling of colts that had never felt leather—and assigned to the riders. There were enough to give each man a string of eight horses.
With the others came Jefferson Wainright, Jr., arrayed like Solomon. At first the men had a lot of fun with him, but when he took it good-naturedly they let up a bit, and after a few evenings, during which he sang and told stories, they accepted him almost as one of them. He was much with Diana Henders, with the result that he found himself with four unbroken bronchos in his string. The Bar Y hands grinned when Colby picked them for him, and everyone was present when he first essayed to ride one of them.
Diana was there too. She chanced to be standing near Bull when the first of the four, having been roped, thrown and hogtied, was finally saddled, bridled and let up. It was a ewe-necked, wall-eyed, Roman-nosed pinto and its back was humped like a camel’s.
“He shore looks mean,” remarked Bull to the girl.
“They ought not to let Mr. Wainright ride him,” she replied. “He’s not used to bad horses and he may be killed.”
“I reckon that’s just about how Hal figgered it,” said Bull.
“I didn’t think it of him. It’s a shame!” she exclaimed. “Some one ought to top that horse for Mr. Wainright—some one who can ride—like you, Bull,” she added flatteringly.
“You want me to?” he asked.
“I don’t want to see the poor man killed.”
Bull stepped forward and climbed into the corral. Wainright was standing several feet from the pinto watching several men who were trying to readjust the blind over the brute’s eyes. Bull saw that the man was afraid.
“Want me to top him for you, young feller?” he asked.
“Don’t you think he’s safe?” asked Wainright.
“Oh, yes, he’s safe—like a Kansas cyclone.”
Wainright grinned a sickly grin. “I’d appreciate it,” he said, “if you’d try him first. I’d be glad to pay you for your trouble.”
Bull approached the men with the horse. “Lead him out,” he said. “When I rides one like that I wants elbow room.”
They ran the pony, bucking, out of the corral. Bull stepped to the animal’s side.
“What you doin’?” demanded Colby, who had been standing too far away to overhear the conversation.
“Toppin’ this one for the dude,” replied Bull.
“No you’re not,” snapped Colby. His voice was angry. “You’ll ride the hosses I tells you to and so will he.”
“I’m ridin’ this one,” replied Bull. He had grasped the cheek strap with his left hand, his right was on the horn of the saddle. Carefully he placed his left foot in the stirrup. Then he nodded to a man standing at the horse’s head.
The blind was snatched away and the man leaped aide. The horse reared, wheeled and struck at Bull, but Bull was not there—he was in the saddle. The animal lunged forward awkwardly once, then he gathered himself, stuck his nose between his front feet and went to pitching, scientifically and in earnest, and as he pitched he lunged first to the right and then to the left, twisting his body, squealing and kicking. Bull waved his sombrero and slapped the beast on neck and rump with it and the pinto bucked the harder.
Finding that these tactics failed to unseat the rider he commenced suddenly to turn end for end in air at each jump, yet still the man stuck, until the beast, frantic with combined terror and rage, stopped in his tracks and turned savagely to bite at Bull’s legs. Just a moment of this until he felt the sting of the quirt and then he reared quickly and threw himself over backward in an effort to crush his rider, nor did he miss him by a matter of more than inches.
There are those who will tell you just how you should throw yourself safely to one side when a horse falls, but any man who has had a horse fall with him, or deliberately throw himself backward, knows that it is five parts chance and the rest luck if he isn’t caught, and so it was just luck that Bull fell clear.
Diana Henders felt a sudden lump in her throat and then she saw the horse scramble to his feet and the rider too, just in time to throw a leg across the saddle, and come up with a firm seat and both feet in the stirrups. The quirt fell sharply first on one flank and then on the other, the pinto took a dozen running jumps and then settled down to a smooth run across the open.
Five minutes later he came loping back, blowing and sweaty, still trembling and frightened, but with the hump out of his back.
“You kin ride him now,” said Bull to young Wainright, as he dismounted carefully and stood stroking the animal’s neck.
Hal Colby came forward angrily, but Bull had dismounted close to where Diana Henders stood, and it was she who spoke to him first, and Colby, approaching, heard her words.
“Thank you, ever so much, Bull,” she said. “I was sorry afterwards that I asked you to ride him, for I thought you were going to be hurt when he threw himself—I should never have forgiven myself.”
“Shucks!” said Bull. “It wasn’t nothin’.”
Colby walked off in another direction. If there had been bad blood between the two men in the past it had never been given outward expression, but from that moment Colby made little or no effort to hide the fact that he had no use for Bull, while the latter in many little ways showed his contempt for the foreman.
Better friendships than had ever existed between these two have been shattered because of a woman, but there were other exciting causes here. That Colby had gotten Bull’s job might have been enough to cause a break, while the foreman’s evident suspicion that Bull knew a great deal too much about the holdups in Hell’s Bend and the shooting of Mack Harber would have turned even more generous natures than Hal Colby’s against the ex-foreman.
In spite of herself Diana Henders could not deny a feeling of chagrin that Jefferson Wainright had permitted another man to top a bad horse for him, although it had been she who had arranged it. Perhaps she was a trifle cool to the young Easterner that evening, but she thawed gradually beneath the geniality of his affable ways and entertaining conversation, and in the weeks that followed, during which she accompanied the outfit throughout the round-up, she was with him much of the time, to the great discomfiture of Hal Colby and others.
The Bar Y foreman had, however, after the day that Bull rode the pinto for Wainright, left the latter severely alone, for the following morning Elias Renders had come to the corral and selected a new string of horses for the “dude” and spoken a few words into the ear of his foreman.
The long, hard days in the saddle left them all ready to turn in to their blankets soon after supper. A smoke, a little gossip and rough banter and the men jingled away through the darkness in search of their bed-rolls to the accompaniment of their tinkling spurs.
“I seen Injun signs today,” remarked a tall, thin Texan one evening. “’Bout a dozen of ’em been campin’ over yender a piece in them hills. Signs warn’t over four hour old.”
“They mought be peaceable Injuns on pass from the reservation,” suggested another.
“More likely they’re renegades,” said Shorty. “Anyhow I ain’t a-takin’ no chances on no Injuns—I shoots fust an’ axes for their pass later.”
“You ain’t never seed a hos-tyle Injun, Shorty,” said Texas Pete.
“A lot you know about it, you sawed-off, hammered-down, squint-eyed horse thief,” retorted Shorty courteously; “I’m a bad man with Injuns.”
“By gollies!” exclaimed Pete, “thet reminds me of another verse:
“‘So bring on yore bad men, yore killers an’ sich
An’ send out some Greasers to dig me a ditch,
Fer when I gits through, ef I takes any pains,
You’ll need a big hole fer to plant the remains.’”
On the opposite side of the chuck wagon, where a tent had been pitched for Diana Henders, a little group surrounded her fire. Beside the girl there were her father, Hal Colby and Jefferson Wainright, Jr. The two young men always gravitated in Diana’s direction when off duty. Colby had been quick to realize the advantage that the other’s education gave him and bright enough to remain a silent observer of his manners and conversation. Inwardly he held the Easterner in vast contempt, yet he cultivated him and often rode with him that he might learn from him something of those refinements which he guessed constituted the basis of Diana’s evident liking for Wainright. He asked him many questions, got him to talk about books, and made mental note of various titles with the determination to procure and read the books that he had heard the man discuss with Diana.
Bull, on his part, kept away from the Henders’ fire in the evening and in the day time Colby saw to it that his assignments sent him far afield from where there was much likelihood of Diana being, with the result that he saw less of her than was usual at home.
The ex-foreman’s natural reserve had degenerated almost to sullenness. He spoke seldom and never smiled, but he rode hard and did his work well, until he came to be acknowledged as the best all-round man in the outfit. There was no horse that he wouldn’t ride, no risk that he wouldn’t take, no work that he would ever refuse, no matter how unfair the assignment, with the result that the men respected him though there were none who seemed to like his company, with the exception of Texas Pete.
“Well, boys,” said Elias Henders, rising, “I guess we’d better be turning in. Tomorrow’s going to be a hard day.”
The two younger men rose, Colby stretching and yawning. “I reckon you’re right, Mr. Henders,” he agreed, but waiting for Wainright to make the first move to leave. The latter paused to roll a cigarette—an accomplishment that he had only recently brought to a state even approximating perfection. He used both hands and was rather slow. Colby eyed him, guessing that he was merely fighting for time in order to force the foreman to go first. Slowly the latter withdrew his own pouch of tobacco from his shirt pocket.
“Reckon I’ll roll a smoke by the light of your fire, Di, before I do,” he remarked.
He creased the paper, poured in a little tobacco, and, as he drew the pouch closed with his teeth and left hand, deftly rolled the cigarette with his right, bending it slightly in the center to keep it from opening up. Wainright realized that if he had a conversational advantage over Colby there were other activities in which the foreman greatly outshone him. Rolling a smoke was one of them and that was doubtless why Colby had chosen to roll one at a moment that odious comparison might be made.
Wainright lighted his and shifted to the other foot. Would Colby never leave! Colby permitted three matches to burn out before he finally succeeded in getting a light, thus gaining a considerable advantage in time over Wainright. Elias Henders had repaired to his blankets, just beyond Diana’s tent and out of sight.
The girl realized the game that the two men were playing and could scarce repress an inclination to laughter. She wondered which would win, or if she would have to call it a draw and send them both about their business. Wainright decided the matter.
“Come on, Colby,” he said, throwing an arm about the other’s shoulders, “we’re keeping Miss Henders up. Good night, Miss Henders,” and raising his hat he moved off, taking Colby with him. They had taken about twenty steps when Wainright halted and wheeled about.
“Oh, I say, Miss Henders,” he called, “there’s something I wanted to ask you,” and he started back. “Don’t wait, for me, Colby,” he threw over his shoulder; “I’ll be along in a moment.”
Colby glared at the other’s retreating back through the darkness, hurled his cigarette to the ground and stamped away out-generaled. “I’ll get him yet,” he mumbled. “He may be pretty slick at them parlor tricks, but they ain’t many parlors in Arizona. The damn dude!”
Wainright rejoined Diana by the fire. “It’s too beautiful an evening to go to bed,” he said, “and I haven’t had half a chance to talk with you. Colby hangs around as though he had a mortgage on your time and was going to foreclose. He sort of puts a damper on conversation unless it revolves about cows—that’s all he can talk about.”
“It’s a subject that is always of interest to us out here,” replied the girl loyally. “Cows are really our lives, you know.”
“Oh that’s all right, for men; but there are other things in life for a girl like you, Miss Henders. You deserve something better than cows—and cowboys. You love music and books, and you can’t deny that you like to talk about them. You belong East—you belong back in Boston.”
“We’re going back, not to Boston, but to New York, after the round-up—Dad and I,” she told him.
“No! really? How funny! I’ve got to go back too. Maybe we could all go together.”
“That would be fine,” she agreed.
“Wouldn’t you like to stay back there?” he asked, almost excitedly, and then quite unexpectedly he took her hand. “Miss Henders!” he exclaimed. “Diana! Wouldn’t you like to stay there always? I’d make a home for you there—I’d make you happy—I love you, Diana. We could be married before we left. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, going back there together on our honeymoon! And then to Europe! We could travel everywhere. Money would mean nothing. I don’t have to tell you how rich we are.”
“No,” she replied, “I have heard your father mention it,” and withdrew her hand from his.
He did not seem to notice the allusion to his father’s boastfulness.
“Tell me that you love me,” he insisted. “Tell me that you will marry me.”
“But I don’t know that I do love you,” she replied. “Why, I scarcely know you, and you certainly don’t know me well enough to know that you would want to live with me all the rest of your life.”
“Oh, yes, I do!” he exclaimed. “If there was only some way to prove it. Words are so futile—they cannot express my love, Diana. Why, I worship you. There is no sacrifice that I would not willingly and gladly make for you or yours. I would die for you, dear girl, and thank God for the chance!”
“’But I don’t want you to die for me. I want you to go to bed and give me a chance to think. I have never been in love. Possibly I love you and do not know it. There is no need for haste anyway. I will give you my answer before I go East. Now run along, like a good boy.”
“But tell me, darling, that I may hope,” he begged.
“You will do that anyway, if you love me,” she told him, laughingly, as she turned and entered her tent. “Good night!”