As he rode he hummed a gay little air, quite unlike the grim, taciturn Bull that his acquaintances knew, for Bull was happy—happier than he had been for months.
“An’ to think,” he mused, “thet she rode out there all alone to warn me. An’ once she said to me, ‘Bull,’ says she, ‘I don’t love any man, Bull, thet way; but if ever I do he’ll know it without my tellin’ him. I’ll do something thet will prove it—a girl always does.’
“Thet’s what she says—them’s her very words. I ain’t never fergot ’em an’ I ain’t never goin’ to—even ef I don’t believe it. It was just her good heart that sent her out to warn me—she’d a-done as much fer any of the boys.”
When Diana reined in before those assembled on the veranda of The Donovan House she was greeted by a gasp of astonishment from Mary Donovan.
“Diana Henders, child!” she exclaimed. “What are ye doin’ here this time o’ night? Sure an’ l thought ye had gone back to the ranch, after hearin’ ye was in town airlier in the av’nin’.”
Diana dismounted without making any reply and tied Captain to the rail in front of the hotel. As she mounted the steps to the veranda the younger Wainright rose, politely. Corson and the elder Wainright nodded, the latter grunting gruffly. Lillian Manill pretended that she did not see her.
“I am going to stop here tonight, Mrs. Donovan,” said Diana to the proprietress, “that is if you have room for me.”
“An’ if I didn’t I’d be after makin’ it,” replied the latter.
“I wonder if you’d mind putting Captain up for me, Bob,” said Diana, turning to the Wildcat, and as the old man stepped from the veranda to comply with her request, Diana turned and entered the office, followed by Mary Donovan.
“May I have a cup of tea, Mrs. Donovan?” asked the girl. “I feel all fagged out. This evening has been like a terrible nightmare.”
“You mane about poor Bull?” asked Mary.
“They ain’t back yit,” said Mary; “but I suppose they got him, bad ’cess to ’em.”
Diana came close to the older woman and whispered. “They didn’t get him. I just saw him—he brought me to the edge of town.”
“Now, the Lord be praised for that!” ejaculated Mary Donovan, “for shure an’ if it’s guilty he is I’ll not be after belavin’ it at all, at all.”
“It looks pretty bad for him, Mrs. Donovan,” said Diana, “but even so I can’t believe it of him either—I won’t believe it.”
“An’ no more don’t yese, darlin’,” advised Mary Donovan, “an’ now make yersilf comfortable an’ I’ll have ye a cup o’ tay in no time.”
As her hostess left the sitting room by one doorway, Jefferson Wainright, Jr., appeared in the other which opened from the office, his hat in his hand.
“May I have just a word with you, Miss Henders?” he asked.
The girl nodded her assent, though none too cordially, and Wainright entered the little sitting room.
“I can’t begin to tell you, Miss Henders,” he commenced, after clearing his throat, “how badly I feel over this matter that Mr. Corson has explained to us. There isn’t any question, of course, about the unfairness and injustice of it; but the fact remains that the law is the law, and I don’t see how you are going to get around it by fighting them.”
“It is a matter, Mr. Wainright, that I do not care to discuss with you,” said Diana, rising.
“Wait a minute, Miss Henders,” he begged. “That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to discuss with you, though it has a bearing on it. There is a way out for you and it was that I wanted to talk over. Your father was a wealthy man—you have been accustomed to everything that money could buy in this country. To drop from affluence to penury in a single day is going to be mighty hard for you, and it is that I want to save you from.”
“It is very kind of you, I am sure,” she told him, “but I cannot see how you, of all people, can help me, for your own father is a party to this whole transaction.”
“I think you are a bit hard on him,” he said. “You surely cannot blame him for wanting to drive as good a bargain as possible—he is, first and last, a business man.”
Diana only shrugged her shoulders.
“Now, as I said,” continued Mr. Wainright, “there is a way for you to continue to have, not only the luxuries you have been accustomed to, but many more, and at the same time to retain the Bar Y Ranch.”
She looked up at him questioningly. “Yes!” she said, “and how?”
“By marrying me, Miss Henders. You know I love you. You know there is nothing I would not do for you. There is no sacrifice that I would not willingly and gladly make for you. I would die for you, dear girl, and thank God for the chance.”
Diana Henders’ lip curled in scorn. “It seems to me that I heard you make that very assertion once before, Mr. Wainright, and in those self-same words—the night before you ran away, like the coward you are, and left us at the mercy of the Apaches.
“If you had half the courage that you have effrontery, the lion would appear a mouse by comparison. Please, never mention the subject to me again, nor is there any reason why you should ever address me upon any subject. Good night!”
“You’ll regret this,” he cried as he was leaving the room. “You’ll see if you don’t. You might have had one friend, and a good one, on your side—now you haven’t any. We’ll strip you to the last cent for this, and then you’ll marry some ignorant, unwashed cow-puncher and raise brats in a tumble-down shack for the rest of your life—that’s what you’ll do!”
“An do yuh know what you’ll do?” demanded a squeaky voice behind him.
Jefferson Wainright, Jr., turned to see Wildcat Bob glaring at him from the center of the office floor. The young man turned a sickly hue and glanced hurriedly for an avenue of escape, but the Wildcat was between him and the outer doorway and was reaching for one of his terrible guns.
With a half-stifled cry Wainright sprang into the sitting room and ran to Diana. Seizing her he whirled the girl about so that she was between him and the Wildcat’s weapon.
“My God, Miss Henders, don’t let him shoot me! I’m unarmed—it would be murder. Save me! Save me!”
His screams brought his father, Corson, Lillian Manill and Mary Donovan to the room, where they saw the younger Wainright kneeling in abject terror behind Diana’s skirts.
“What’s the meanin’ of all this?” yelled the elder Wainright.
“Your son insulted me—he asked me to marry him,” said Diana. “Let him go, Bob,” she directed the Wildcat.
“Gosh-a-mighty, Miss!” exclaimed the old man in an aggrieved tone, “yuh don’t mean it, do yuh? Why, I just ben honin’ fer a chanct to clean up this here whole bunch o’ tin-horns an’ now that I got an excuse it don’t seem right to let it pass. By cracky, it ain’t right! ’Tain’t moral, that’s what it ain’t!”
“Please, Bob—I’ve got trouble enough—let him go.
Slowly Wildcat Bob returned his gun to its holster, shaking his head mournfully, and Jefferson Wainright, Jr., arose and sneaked out of the room. As his party returned to the veranda the young man’s father was growling and spluttering in an undertone, but Wildcat Bob caught the words “law” and “sheriff.”
“What’s thet?” he demanded in his high falsetto.
The elder Wainright cringed and stepped rapidly through the doorway. “Nothin’,” he assured the Wildcat. “I didn’t calc’late to say nothin’ at all.”
It was almost morning when the weary and now sobered members of the necktie party returned to town. Gum Smith and several others, among whom was Wildcat Bob, met them in the street.
“Git him?” demanded the sheriff.
“No,” replied Colby, “an’ I don’t savvy it neither—someone must o’ put him wise; but I got some evidence,” and he drew a worn leather pouch from his shirt. “Here’s one o’ the bullion bags that was took from the stage yesterday—I found it under his blankets. He may o’ ben there an’ saw us comin’, but thet ain’t likely ’cause we snuck up mighty keerful—someone must o’ put him wise.”
“Ah wondeh who—all it could o’ ben,” wondered Gum Smith.
As the crowd was dispersing. Wildcat Bob caught sight of Willie among them.
“Hey, thar, you!” he called. “What was you doin’ with thet bunch—I thought you claimed to be a friend o’ Bull’s.”
“Course I am,” maintained Willie, stoutly; “but I hain’t never seed no one hanged.”
A few hours later Diana Henders left on the stage for Aldea and after she had departed Corson and Lillian Manill rode back to the ranch, taking the Wainrights with them, while Hal Colby trotted along beside them. He had not seen Diana before she left, nor had he made any effort to do so.
“We might save a right smart o’ touble if we could get everything fixed up before she gets back, Corson,” the elder Wainright was saying.
“The government patent to the land as well as Manill’s will are in the New York office,” replied Corson. “I’ve sent for them. They ought to be along now any time. I rather expected them on yesterday’s stage—they certainly must come in on the next and I imagine she won’t get back for a week at least—that will give us three days. Then we’ll all go to Aldea, have the papers drawn up there, you turn the money over to us and Miss Manill and I can get away for New York on the train that night—I’ve had all of this damn country I want.”
Hal Colby, fortunately for his peace of mind, did not overhear the conversation. It outlined an entirely different plan from that which Lillian Manill had explained to him only the preceding day-a plan which included a hasty wedding and a long honeymoon, during which the Bar Y foreman would taste the sweets of world travel in company with a charming and affectionate bride.
“You’re goin’ to leave me here to run all the risk, eh?” demanded Wainright, senior.
“Oh, there’s no risk now that that Bull fellow is out of the way,” Corson assured him.
“I wish I was sure he was out o’ the way,” said Wainright, dubiously. “I don’t like that fellow a little bit.”
“He’ll never show up again,” said Corson, confidently, “and anyway, just as soon as I get to New York I’ll look up a good man to represent me here, and I’m going to pick the toughest one I can find in New York, too.”
“I’m afraid I’m buyin’ a heap o’ trouble with that one-third interest of mine,” said Wainright, scratching his head.
“But look what you’re going to get out of it,” Corson reminded him. “I’ll bet we take a million out of that mine in the next year.”
Back at the ranch Colby was met by a scowling trio—Texas Pete, Shorty, and Idaho. “Where’s Bull?” demanded Texas.
“How should I know?” replied Colby, gruffly. “When was I elected his nurse-girl?”
“You went out after him with a bunch o’ drunken short-horns last night,” accused Shorty. “You know whether you got him or not.”
“They didn’t git him,” said Colby, shortly.
“It’s a good thing fer you, Colby, thet they didn’t,” said Texas Pete, “an’ another thing—we wants our time. We ain’t a-aimin’ to work under no pole-cat no more.”
“I reckon we kin git along without you,” retorted Colby, ignoring the insult. “You kin come back here in a week fer your checks—the boss ain’t here.”
“Then we’ll stay ’til she is,” said Pete.
“Suit yerselves,” replied Colby, as he turned and walked away.
The routine of the ranch moved in its accustomed grooves as the days passed, though there was noticeably absent the spirit of good-fellowship that marks the daily life of a well-ordered cow outfit. A little coterie, headed by Texas Pete, herded by itself, in the vernacular of the West, while the remaining punchers grouped themselves about the foreman.
Mealtimes, ordinarily noisy with rough but good-natured badinage, had become silent moments to be gotten through as rapidly as possible. There was a decorous restraint that was far too decorous, among these rough men, to augur aught of good. It revealed rather than veiled the proximity of open hostilities.
There was one topic of conversation that was eschewed particularly. It would have been the steel to the flint of prejudice which lay embedded in the powder of partisanship. Bull’s name was never mentioned when the factions were together.
The stage came again to Hendersville on the third day after Diana’s departure. It brought mail for the ranch, but the vaquero who had been sent from the Bar Y for it tarried longer at Gum’s Place—Liquors and Cigars—than he had intended, with the result that it was well after supper and quite dark before he delivered it to the office.
As he approached the yellow rectangle of the open office door it may have been the light shining in his eyes that prevented him seeing the figure of a man beneath the darkness of the cottonwoods that surround the house, or the horse, standing as silently as its master, fifty feet away-a blazed-face chestnut with two white hind feet.
The vaquero entered the office, where Corson was sitting in conversation with the two Wainrights, and laid the mail upon the table. The New Yorker picked it up and ran through it. There was a bulky letter addressed to him, which he opened.
“Here’s what we’ve been waiting for,” he said, glancing quickly through two enclosures and laying them aside to peruse the accompanying letter.
The man beneath the shadows of the cottonwoods moved closer to the open office doorway, keeping well out of the yellow shaft of the lamp-light.
Bull had not come down to the Bar Y from his hiding place in Coyote Canyon for the purpose of spying upon Corson. He had hoped against hope that Diana might return on the day’s stage, for he wanted a word with her. He knew that she could not have made the trip to Kansas City and return in so short a time, but then she might have changed her mind at Aldea and given up the trip. It was on this chance that he had come down out of the mountains tonight.
Diana had not returned—he had convinced himself of this—but still he tarried. These were her enemies. It could do no harm to keep an eye on them. He did not like the proprietorial airs of Corson, sitting there in “the old man’s” easy chair, and as for the Wainrights, they too seemed much more at home than suited Bull. His hand caressed the butt of a six-gun affectionately.
“Hell!” exclaimed Corson, explosively. “The addle-brained idiot!”
“What’s the matter?” inquired the elder Wainright.
Corson was in the midst of the letter. He shook it violently and angrily in lieu of anything more closely representative of its writer.
“The chump has dug up some papers that we don’t want—we don’t want ’em in Arizona at all. He’s a new man. I thought he had good sense and discretion, but he hasn’t either. He’s sendin’ ’em out here by registered mail.
“If anything happens to them, if they fall into the Henders girl’s hands our goose is cooked. He says they ‘put a new aspect on the situation’ and that ‘he knows I’ll be delighted to have them.’ They surely will put a new aspect on the situation, but I don’t want ’em—not here.
“If I’d had any sense I’d have destroyed them before I left New York; but who’d have thought that they weren’t safe right in my own office. I’d be delighted to have him—by the neck. Lord! suppose they’re lost now! They should have been here with this other mail.”
“If it’s registered stuff it may have been delayed just enough to miss the stage at Aldea by one train,” suggested Wainright. “If that is the case it’ll be along by the next stage.”
“What were the papers?” demanded the elder Wainright, suspiciously.
Corson hesitated. He realized that he had been surprised by his anger into saying too much.
“Perhaps I overestimate their value,” he said. “They might not do any harm after all.”
“What were they?” insisted Mr. Wainright.
“Oh, they were reports that show the tremendous value of the new vein in the mine,” lied Corson, glibly.
Wainright sank back in his chair with a sigh of relief. “Oh, if that’s all they was we don’t need to worry none about them,” he said. “We as good as got the place now. We’ll drive over to Aldea tomorrer and fix things up, eh?”
“I think I’ll wait for the next mail,” said Corson. “Those reports might not do any harm, but I’d rather be here when they come and see that no one else gets hold of them.”
“Mebby you’re right,” assented Wainright. He arose, yawning, and stretched. “I calc’late to go to bed,” he said.
“I think I’ll do the same,” said his son. “I hope Miss Manill is feeling better by morning.”
“Oh, she’ll be all right,” said Corson. “Just a little headache. Good night! I’m coming along too.”
They lighted lamps, blew out the one in the office, and departed for their rooms. The man in the shadows turned slowly toward his horse, but he had taken only a few steps when he halted listening.
Someone was approaching. He glanced through the darkness in the direction of the sounds which came out of the night along the pathway from the bunk-house. Stepping quickly behind the bole of a large tree, Bull waited in silence. Presently he saw dimly the figure of a man and as it came nearer the star-light revealed its identity.
It was Colby. Like himself, Colby waited in the shadows of the trees—waited silently, watching the dead black of the office windows. The silence was tangible, it was so absolutely dominant, reigning supreme in a world of darkness. Bull wondered that the other did not hear his breathing. He marvelled at the quietness of Blazes—even the roller in his bit lay silent. But it could not last much longer—the horse was sure to move in a moment and Colby would investigate. The result was a foregone conclusion. There would be shooting.
Bull did not want to shoot Colby—not now. There were two reasons. One however would have been enough—that Diana Henders was thinking of marrying the man.
And then the silence was broken. Very slightly only was it broken. A suspicion of a sound came from the interior of the house, and following it a dim light wavering mysteriously upon the office walls, growing steadily brighter until the room was suddenly illuminated.
From where he now stood Bull could not see the interior of the office, but he knew that someone carrying a lamp had come down the stairway, along the hall and entered the office. Then he saw Colby move forward and step lightly to the veranda and an instant later the office door swung open, revealing Lillian Manill in a diaphanous negligee.
Bull saw Colby seize the girl, strain her to him and cover her lips with kisses. Then the girl drew her lover into the room and closed the door.
With a grimace of disgust Bull walked to Blazes, mounted him and rode slowly away. Now there was only one reason why he could not kill Colby yet.