“’COME HERE!’ he yells then to the rest o’ us boys,
Step up to the fun’ral an’ don’t make no noise
The while we inter all the barb-wire what’s here,
After which we’ll dispose o’ the seegars an’ beer.’”
sang Texas Pete. “Hello! See who’s came!”
Bull entered the bunk-house with a grin and a nod. “Still singin’ I see, Pete,” he said. “Ain’t you finished thet one yit?”
Two weeks had slipped by since the arrival of Corson and Miss Manill. Bull had just been relieved from duty as bullion guard and was only now returning to the home ranch. In the weeks that he had brought the gold down from the mine there had been no holdup—The Black Coyote or Gregorio had not once been seen.
“How’s everything?” asked Bull.
“So-so,” replied Texas Pete.
“Where’s Colby? I gotta report to him.”
“Up at the house—he eats there now.”
Bull made no comment. He thought he understood why Hal Colby ate at the house. One day soon, doubtless, he would sleep there, too, as master.
“This Manill heifer got stuck on him an’ insists on his eatin’ there,” explained Pete. “Things ain’t been the same since them two shorthorns hit the diggin’s. The boss she looks tired and worried all the time an’ sadlike. I reckon she ain’t got no more use fer ’em than the rest o’ us.”
“Is Colby gone on this Manill girl?” asked Bull.
“I dunno. Sometimes I reckons he is an’ sometimes I reckons he ain’t. Looks like as if he weren’t quite sure which side his bread was buttered on an’ he’s waitin’ to find out.”
Bull busied himself arranging his blankets on his old bunk, working in silence. Texas Pete eyed him surreptitiously. There was a troubled look in Pete’s eyes. Presently he coughed nervously. The two men were alone in the bunkhouse.
“Say, Bull,” Pete finally broke the silence, “you an’ me’s ben good pals.”
Bull looked up from the work of folding his tarpaulin. “Who said we ain’t?” he inquired.
“Nobody ain’t said we ain’t,” Pete assured him.
“Then what’s eatin’ you?”
“It’s only just what everybody’s sayin’, Bull,” said Pete. “I thort you’d better know about it.”
“Thet you an’ The Black Coyote air the same feller. Not thet it makes any difference with me. I ain’t askin’ whether you air or whether you ain’t. I’m just a-tellin’ you fer your own good.”
Bull smiled one of his slow smiles. “If I wasn’t I’d say so, wouldn’t I?” he asked.
“I reckon you would.”
“An’ if I was I’d say I wasn’t, wouldn’t I?”
“I reckon you would,” assented Pete.
“Then what the hell’s the use o’ sayin’ anything?” he demanded. “And ’specially when I don’t give a damn what they think.”
Pete shook his head. “I dunno,” he said.
Bull started for the doorway. “I’m goin’ up to the house to report to Colby,” he said.
“Look out thet Manill heifer don’t git her grubhooks on you,” cautioned Pete.
In the office he found Diana Henders writing a letter. She looked up with a little start as she heard his voice.
“Oh, Bull!” she cried, “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“Thanks, Miss. I come up to report to Colby, but I see he ain’t here.”
“He’s in the living-room with Mr. Corson and Miss Manill,” she told him.
“I reckon I’ll see him later then.” He started to leave.
“Don’t go, Bull,” she said. “I want to talk with you. Please sit down.”
He walked toward her and lowered himself into the big easy chair that had been her father’s. His movements were like those of a lion-silent, powerful and yet without stealth.
For the first time in weeks the sense of loneliness that had constantly oppressed her vanished. Bull was back! It was as if a big brother had come home after a long absence—that was why she was so glad to see him. Her heart forgot the thing that her reason had been practically convinced of—that Bull was the bandit of Hell’s Bend—that it was Bull who had been robbing her father and her for months—that it was Bull who had shot Mack Harber.
She only knew that she felt relief and safety when Bull was near. Nearly everyone feared him—many hated him. Could they all be wrong? Could she alone be right in believing in him?—as her heart did against the wise counseling of reason.
“Yes, Miss?” he said, interrogatively.
“The Wainrights are trying to buy the ranch again, Bull,” she said, “and Mr. Corson seems to favor the idea.”
“Do you want to sell?” he asked.
“No, I do not; but the worst of it is the price they want to accept—two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for all our holding—ranch, cattle and mine. They are bringing all kinds of pressure to bear on me. Mr. Corson says I must either buy them out or agree to the sale. I haven’t the cash to buy them out and they won’t take my notes.”
“Don’t sell, Miss, at that price, an’ don’t sell at all if you don’t want to—they can’t force you to sell.”
“But they make it so unpleasant for me, and Mr. Corson is always telling me that the bottom has fallen out of the live-stock business and that the new vein in the mine doesn’t exist.”
“The live-stock business is all right, Miss. It wasn’t never better, an’ as fer the new vein that’s all right too. I was scratchin’ around a little bit myself while I was up there these past six weeks. The gold’s there all right. The trouble is that you ain’t got the right man up there—that new superintendent looks to me like a sharper. Did you know the Wainrights was up there often?”
“Yes, an’ that superintendent is thick as thieves with ’em.”
“He has no business to permit them on the property.”
“He does though,” said Bull, “but he raised thunder when he found I’d been snootin’ around the workings. I don’t like that hombre, Miss.”
“Everybody seems to be against me, Bull, and it’s so hard to know what to do, now that Dad’s gone. Mr. Corson and my cousin are nagging at me all the time to agree to sell. Sometimes I am almost determined to just to get rid of them.”
“If you want to get rid o’ them, Miss, that’s easy,” said Bull. “All you gotta do is say so an’ I’ll run ’em off the ranch an’ outta the county. I wouldn’t like nothin’ better.”
“I thought you had taken quite a fancy to my cousin, coming in on the stage,” said Diana.
“The only rope she could ever have on me, Miss, is that she’s your cousin,” replied Bull, and she knew that he meant it. “If you want me to run ’em out of the country, say the word, an’ I’ll start ’em in ten minutes—an’ keep ’em on the jump, too.”
“I’m afraid that wouldn’t do, Bull,” she said, smiling.
“I don’t see why not,” he replied.
Just then, Hal Colby entered the room. He nodded to Bull.
Bull took no notice of a question so obviously foolish.
“How long you ben back?” continued Colby.
“’Bout half an hour.”
“Why didn’t you report?” Colby was vexed. The easy familiarity of Bull’s attitude, stretched comfortably as he was in Mr. Henders’ chair, and in pleasant converse with Diana, galled him.
“Ain’t you got eyes?” inquired Bull. “Cain’t you see me sittin’ here reportin’ to my boss?”
“You’re supposed to report to me,” snapped Colby.
“I’m apt to do lots of things I ain’t supposed to do,” Bull told him softly.
“I reckon most everybody knows that, too,” said Colby, meaningly.
“Come!” cried Diana. “Don’t you boys quarrel—I have troubles enough now. Bull was looking for you to report, when he came up here,” she told Colby. “He asked for you.”
“Why didn’t he say so, then? I got some work for him an’ I ben expectin’ him all day.”
“Well, I’m here,” said Bull. “What do you want me to do?” His voice, unlike Colby’s, carried no trace of anger, if he felt any.
“Cramer wants off a few days an’ I want you to go over to the West Ranch an’ look after the hosses ’til he comes back. They’s some colts over there that needs to be rid—Cramer’ll tell you all there is to do.”
“When do you want me to go?”
“Tonight—that’ll give Cramer a chance to git an early start in the mornin’.”
“All right,” said Bull, rising. “Good night, Miss.”
“Good night, Bull. I may ride over while you’re at the West Ranch. I’ve been intending to look the place over for a month or more. Cramer said we needed some new corrals.”
He nodded and left the room.
“I don’t see how you kin be decent to a feller what’s ben robbin’ you an’ your dad fer months,” said Colby, after Bull had left. “’Er mebby you don’t believe it even now?”
“I know it looks suspicious, Hal; but it’s so hard to believe it of Bull. I hate to believe it. I almost don’t believe it. You are hard on him because you don’t like him.”
“Didn’t I tell you he was one of my best friends—you know that—’til I got wise to his game. I ain’t a-wantin’ no rattle-snake like thet as no friend o’ mine.”
Diana sighed and rose wearily from her chair. “I’m going to wash up for supper,” she said.
She had been gone but a moment when Corson entered the office.
“Well,” he asked, “has she changed her mind?”
“I didn’t say nothing about the matter to her,” replied Colby. “It wouldn’t have done no good after what I hears Bull atellin’ her just afore I come in the room.”
“What was that?” demanded Corson.
“He was a-tellin’ her not to sell, an’ furthermore he offers to run you an’ Miss Manill outta the country if she gives the word.”
“What did she say to that?” Corson’s voice showed indications of nervousness.
“Oh, she wouldn’t stand fer that o’ course; but he’s a dangerous feller to have around her. He’s got too damn much influence over her.”
“I wish we could get rid of him,” said Corson. “It seems funny that he isn’t arrested, when everyone knows he’s The Black Coyote.”
“He’ll run his neck into a noose one o’ these days,” replied Colby.
“But in the meantime he may spoil this deal with Wainright,” said Corson, “and I’ve got my heart set on that. I want to get out of this damned country. It gives me the willies. Too many Indians, and coyotes, and irresponsible kids with firearms—it isn’t safe.”
“I don’t see why you are so anxious to sell now,” said Colby. “You can get more if you half try.”
“That would mean going back to New York. There isn’t any capital out here. Wainright is a find, pure and simple. I can’t chance taking the time to arrange a deal back East—I don’t know what Miss Henders would be up to out here. What Miss Manill wants to do is get some ready money out of it quick and get out. I guess there’s only one thing to do and that’s to spring my last card on the girl. I’d rather have done it an easier way, but she’s so damn stubborn she’s forcing me to it.”
“To what?” asked Colby.
Corson leaned close to him and whispered for several minutes into his ear.
When he was through Colby leaned back in his chair and whistled. “You don’t mean it!” he exclaimed.
“Wainright is coming over to Hendersville on the stage tomorrow and I want to get this matter settled with the Henders girl so that I can have something definite to say to him. I think she’s coming around all right now that she is commencing to realize that the mine’s about played out and that the cattle business isn’t much better. Of course it don’t make much difference what she thinks about it except that she could make it mighty unpleasant around here if she wanted to.”
“She shore could make if unpleasant fer you and Wainright ef she wanted to,” agreed Colby, “an don’t fool yourself that she thinks the business ain’t worth nothin’. Ef you had her thinkin’ so today, Bull’s give her something new to think about since he was here.”
“How’s that?” demanded Corson.
“I heard him tellin’ her he’d been diggin’ ’round in the mine while he was up there an’ that he knows the new vein’s rich as all get-out, an’ he told her the cattle business was all right, too. I reckon she’ll believe him afore she will you.”
Corson bit his lip. “That settles it!” he exclaimed. “I’ve fooled around long enough. I’m going to tell her tonight.”
Outside the bunk-house some of the men were washing for supper. Inside, Bull was rolling and roping his bed preparatory to moving to the West Ranch after the evening meal.
“What yuh doin’?” demanded Texas Pete. “Yuh ain’t quit?”
“Goin’ over to the West Ranch—Cramer’s gettin’ off fer a spell,” explained Bull.
“Looks like they weren’t crazy fer your company here,” remarked Pete.
Bull shrugged his shoulders and went on with the business of half-hitches, to the final knot, after which he tossed the bed-roll onto his bunk.
“I shouldn’t think you’d stay on, Bull,” said Texas Pete. “Let’s pull our freight. I ain’t never ben to Calyforny—hev you’?”
The ex-foreman shook his head. “I got my own reasons fer stayin’ on a spell yet, Pete,” he said.
Pete said nothing more on the subject. Bull’s answer to his suggestion that they leave the country troubled him, however. It was not Diana Henders who was keeping Bull, of that Pete was certain, because Hal Colby had long since as much admitted that he, Colby, was engaged to marry the dainty boss.
It, wasn’t because of any love he had for the job, either—Texas Pete knew that—for Colby had never made Bull’s job any too easy since the former had become foreman, and Bull was not staying because he loved Colby. It was true that he never spoke a derogatory word concerning him, nor once had he criticized his methods as foreman, but Texas Pete knew as well as though Bull had told him that the latter had no use for the foreman.
What was it, then, that was keeping Bull? Texas Pete’s loyalty to his friend made it difficult for him to harbor the only answer that his knowledge of events permitted him to entertain; but that answer to the question persisted in obtruding itself upon his consciousness.
If Bull, was, after all, The Black Coyote he could not work to better advantage as a bandit than while in the employ of the Bar Y outfit, where he could easily obtain first-hand knowledge of every important bullion shipment.
“By gollies!” soliloquized Texas Pete, “I don’t give a durn ef he be, but I’ll be durned ef I believe it yit!”
At the house Hal Colby was talking earnestly to Lillian Manill in the sitting room. Supper had not yet been served, Carson had gone to his room to clean up and Diana had not yet come down.
“Look here, Lill,” Colby was saying. “I don’t like the way Corson’s treatin’ Di. I think a heap o’ thet little girl an’ I don’t want to see her git the worst of it.”
Lillian Manill reached up and encircled his neck with her arms. “I thought you were all over that, Hal,” she said. “You’ve been telling me how much you love me, but how do you expect me to believe it if you’re always thinking of her and not ever considering my interests. You want her to have all the property and you don’t want me to have any. You don’t love me!”
“Yes, I do, Lill—I’m crazy about you,” he insisted.
“Then act like it,” she advised him, “and quit siding with her all the time. I’m going to be a rich girl, Hal, and we can have a mighty good time after we’re married, if you don’t go and make a fool of yourself and try to keep me out of what rightly belongs to me.”
“I ain’t always so durned sure you’re goin’ to marry me,” he said gloomily. “You’ve ben pretty thick with thet feller Corson, an’ he’s sweet on you—enny fool c’d tell thet.”
“Oh, pshaw!” exclaimed Lillian Manill, laughing lightly; “why, Maurice is only like a big brother to me. Now give me a kiss and tell me that you won’t let Diana or anyone else steal all our money.” She drew his face down to hers and their lips met in a long kiss.
When they separated Colby was panting heavily. “Gawd!” he exclaimed huskily. “I’d commit murder fer you.”
In the shadows of the hall stood Maurice B. Corson, scowling darkly upon them through the partially opened doorway. Presently he coughed discreetly and a moment later entered the room, where he found Lillian idly turning sheets of music at the piano, while Colby was industriously studying a picture that hung against the wall.
Corson accosted them with a pleasant word and a jovial smile, and a minute later Diana Henders entered the room and the four went in to supper. The meal, like its predecessors for some weeks, was marked by noticeable constraint. The bulk of the conversation revolved about the weather, about the only thing that these four seemed to have in common that might be openly discussed, and as Arizona summer weather does not offer a wide field for discussion the meals were not conspicuous for the conversational heights attained. Nor was this one any exception to the rule. When it was nearly over Carson cleared his throat as is the habit of many when about to open an unpleasant subject after long deliberation.
“Miss Henders,” he commenced.
Hal Colby arose. “I gotta see Bull before he leaves,” he announced hastily, and left the room.
Corson started again. “Miss Henders,” he repeated, “I have a painful duty to perform. I have tried to work in harmony with you, but I have never met with any cooperation on your part, and so I am forced to reveal a fact that we might successfully have gotten around had you been willing to abide by my judgment in the matter of the sale of the property.”
“And what fact is that?” asked Diana, politely.
“We will get to it presently,” he told her. “Now, my dear young lady, your father’s death has left you in very unfortunate circumstances, but, of course, as is natural, Miss Manill wants to do what she can for you.”
“I am afraid that I do not understand,” said Diana. “Lillian and I have suffered equally in the loss of our fathers and uncles, and together we have inherited the responsibilities of a rather large and sometimes cumbersome business. I am sure that we wish to help one another as much as possible—I as much as she.”
“I am afraid that you do not understand, Miss Henders,” said Corson, solemnly. “By the terms of your uncle’s will everything would have gone to your father had he survived Mr. Manill, but he did not. Your father made a similar will, leaving everything to your uncle. So you see, Miss Henders!” Corson spread his palms and raised his brows in a gesture of helplessness.
“I must be very dense,” said Diana, “for I am sure I do not know even yet what you are driving at, Mr. Corson.”
“It is just this,” he explained; “your father left everything to your uncle—your uncle left everything to his daughter. It is very sad, Miss Henders—Miss Manill has grieved over it a great deal; but the law is clear—it leaves you penniless.”
“But it is not what was intended and there must be another will,” exclaimed Diana. “Uncle John and Dad both wished that, when they were gone, the estate should be divided equally between their lawful heirs—half and half. Dad left such a will and it was his understanding that Uncle John had done likewise—and I know he must have for he was the soul of honor. Their wills were identical—Dad has told me so more than once. They had such implicit confidence in one another that each left everything to the other with the distinct understanding that eventually it all was to go to the heirs of both, as I have explained.”
“I do not doubt that your father left such a will, if you say he did; but the fact remains that Mr. Manill did not,” said Mr. Corson, emphatically.
“But you shall not want, Miss Henders. Your cousin will see to that. She has already authorized me to arrange for an annuity that will keep you from want until you are married—we thought best not to continue it beyond that time for obvious reasons.”
“You mean,” asked Diana, dully, “that I have nothing? That I am a pauper—that even this roof under which I have lived nearly all my life does not belong, even in part, to me—that I have no right here?”
“Oh, please, don’t say that, dear!” exclaimed Lillian Manill. “You shall stay here just as long as you wish. You will always be welcome in my home.”
“My home!” Diana suppressed a sob that was partially grief and partially rage. The injustice of it! To take advantage of a technicality to rob her of all that rightly belonged to her. She was glad though that they had come out into the open at last—why had they not done so before?
“Of course,” said Corson, “as Miss Manill says, you are welcome to remain here as long as the property is in her hands, but, as you know, we have received an advantageous offer for it and so it is only fair to tell you that you might as well make your plans accordingly.”
“You are going to sell to Wainright for two hundred and fifty thousand?” asked Diana.
Corson nodded. Diana rose and walked the length of the room, then she turned and faced them. “No, you are not going to sell, Mr. Corson, if there is any way in which I can prevent it. You are not going to steal my property so easily. Why have you been attempting all these weeks to persuade me to agree to a sale if you knew all along that I had no interest whatsoever in the property?” she demanded suddenly.
“That was solely due to a desire on our part to make it as easy as possible for you,” he explained, suavely. “Your cousin would have given you half the purchase price rather than have had to tell you the truth, Miss Henders; but you have forced it upon us. She desires to sell. It is her property. You alone stood in the way. You have been your own worst enemy, Miss Henders. You might have had one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars had you not been stubborn—now you must be content with whatever Miss Manill sees fit to allow you in the way of annuity.”
Diana squared her shoulders as she faced them. “Miss Manill shall give me nothing—I will not accept as a gratuity what rightfully belongs to me. If you think, Mr. Corson, that you are going to take my property away from me without a fight, you are mistaken,” and she wheeled about and started for the doorway.
“Wait a moment, Miss Henders!” cried the New Yorker. “I am a lawyer and I know how expensive litigation is. Such a case as you contemplate, and I take it for granted that you purpose taking the matter to court when you say ‘fight,’ might drag on for years, wasting the entire property in attorneys’ fees and legal expense, so that neither of you would get anything—I have seen such things happen scores of times.
“Now, let us rather compromise. We were willing to make you a gift of half the purchase price immediately on the consummation of the sale to Mr. Wainright. That offer is still open. It is extremely fair and generous and if you will take my advice you will accept it.”
“Never!” snapped Diana.
Corson and Lillian sat in silence listening to Diana’s foot-falls as she ascended the stairs. Presently they heard her door close, then the girl turned upon Corson. “You poor sucker, you!” she exclaimed. “What do you think you are, offering her a hundred and twenty-five thousand when we don’t have to give her a cent!”
“Don’t be a hog, Lill,” advised the man. “We’ll get enough, and if we can save a lot of trouble we’d better let her have the hundred and twenty-five. You can’t tell what these people out here’ll do.
“Take that Bull fellow, for instance—he’s already offered to run us out of the country if she says to. Look what he did to old man Wainright, for instance. Why, say, there are a lot of her friends here that would think no more of shooting us full of holes than they would of eating their Sunday dinners, if she just so much as hinted that she thought we were trying to do her out of anything.
“And we’ll be getting plenty, anyway—you and I get a third and Wainright gets the other third—and that mine is worth millions. Why, we could afford to give her the whole two hundred and fifty thousand dollars if she’d agree to the sale.”
“I’m not so keen as you on giving my money away,” replied Lillian.
“Your money, hell,” he replied. “You wouldn’t have anything if it wasn’t for me, and as for that measly little hundred and twenty-five thousand, why, it’ll cost us all of that to square these people around here before we get through with it—I’ve promised Colby ten thousand already, and say, speaking of Colby, I saw you two in the sitting room before supper. You got to lay off that business—you’re getting too thick with that fellow to suit me. You belong to me,” he added suddenly and fiercely.
“Oh, come on, Maurice, don’t be silly,” replied Lillian. “You told me to get him on our side. How did you suppose I was going to do it—by making faces at him?”
“Well, you don’t have to go too far. I heard you telling him what you two would do after you were married. You may be a good little actress, Lill, but that kiss you gave him looked too damn realistic to suit me. I’m not going to have you running off with him after you get your mitts on a little money.”
“Say, you don’t think I’d marry that rube, do you?” and Lillian Manill burst into peals of laughter.
Colby found Bull in the bunk-house.
“Bull,” he said, “I wish you’d ride up Belter’s tomorrer an’ see how the water’s holdin’ out.”
“Listen, Bull,” said Texas Pete, “I got the rest of it:
“An’ so we lines up at the bar, twelve or more;
The boss tries to smile, but he caint, he’s so sore.
The stranger says: ‘Pronto! you—dum little runt.’
Jest then we hears someone come in at the front,
“An’ turnin’ to look we see there in the door
“She walks right acrost an’ takes holt o’ his ear.