“I am afraid, Miss Henders,” said Corson, “that you do not quite grasp the situation. You—”
“It is you who fail to grasp it, Mr. Corson,” snapped Diana, “and please remember that you have only an hour in which to pack.”
Corson dropped his suavity. “See here,” he exclaimed, “I’ve fooled along with you as much as I’m going to. You’re the one who’s going to get off this place. You haven’t a right on earth here. You don’t own a stick or a stone, a hoof or a tail, the length or breadth of the Bar Y. Now you go and you go quick or you’ll land in jail, where you belong for the threats you’ve made. I imagine you’ll learn something about the law then.”
“How come?” inquired a voice from the doorway and simultaneously three figures appeared upon the veranda. “You sent for us, Miss, and here we are,” continued Texas Pete.
“An’ I reckon we arriv about the right time fer the party,” opined Shorty.
“I craves the first dance with that dude with the funny pants,” said Idaho, staring at Corson.
“Boys,” said Diana, “these people are trying to rob me of my ranch, the mine and all the cattle. I have given Mr. Corson and Miss Manill an hour to leave the premises. Idaho, I wish that you would see that they get away on time, and drive them, or better, have Willie drive them, to town. Mr. Wainright and his son had five minutes in which to leave, Shorty. They have wasted three of them. Can you help them to get away on schedule?”
“Whee!” wheed Shorty. “Watch my smoke—and their dust. Fan yerselves, gents,” and he sprang into the room, circling the Wainrights to come upon them from the rear, true to the instincts of the cowman.
The elder Wainright had arguments upon his tongue—you could see them in his eye, paradoxical as it may sound—but he permitted them to expire, voiceless, and took to his heels, followed closely by his son. Jefferson Wainright, senior, had been run off the Bar Y upon another occasion and he had not relished the experience. He moved now with great rapidity and singleness of purpose in the direction of the corrals, his son at his heels and Shorty inconveniently close behind.
To Mr. Wainright’s partial relief Shorty had as yet indulged in no target practice, but it might. come at any moment. Sympathetic perspiration streamed down the red face of Wainright, of Worcester blankets. He almost breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the corrals, but a sudden thought froze him with terror. They could not have more than a minute left. It would be impossible to hook up their team in that time. As he climbed through the bars he tried to explain that impossibility to Shorty.
“Ride ’em, then,” admonished their escort.
“But we have no saddles,” expostulated the younger Wainright.
“No,” agreed Shorty, “you ain’t got nothin’ but a minute an’ you won’t have thet long. I commences shootin’ when the minute’s up—an’ I ain’t a-goin’ to shoot fer fun. I ben a-waitin’ fer this chanct fer months.”
Frantically the elder Wainright dragged a reluctant broncho by the halter, got him outside the corral and struggled to clamber to his back. It was an utter failure. Then he seized the rope again and tugging and pulling started for the gate. His son, more successful, had succeeded in mounting the other animal, and as he trotted past his father he whacked that gentleman’s unwilling companion on the rump with the bight of his halter rope. The effects were thrilling and immediate. The broncho leaped forward, upset Mr. Wainright, galloped over him and dashed out the gate into the vast, unfenced immensity.
“Five seconds!” announced Shorty.
Mr. Wainright scrambled to his feet and started after the broncho. He passed through the Bar Y gate behind his son and heir with one second to spare. Disgusted, Shorty slipped his gun back into its holster.
“Now keep goin’,” he told them, “an’ don’t never nary one of you come back.”
“Gosh ding it!” he soliloquized as he walked back toward the office, “I wisht she’d only a-gave ’em four minutes.”
He was suddenly confronted by Colby, running and out of wind. “What you ben loin’?” demanded the foreman. “I jest seen the tail end of it from the cook-house winder. Wot in ’ell do you mean by it, anyhow, eh?”
Shorty eyed him up and down insolently. “I ain’t got no time fer you, Colby,” he said. “I’m gettin’ my orders from the boss. If she tells me to run any ornery critters offen the ranch I’m here to run ’em off, sabe?”
“You mean Miss Henders told you to run the Wainrights off?” demanded Colby.
“I reckon you ain’t deef,” and Shorty continued his way toward the office. Colby followed him. He found Texas Pete and Idaho standing in the room. Diana was seated in her father’s easy chair.
“What’s the meaning of this business, Di?” demanded Colby. “Did you tell Shorty to run the Wainrights off?”
“I ran them off, Hal,” replied the girl. “I only asked Shorty to see that they went. I have told Mr. Corson and Miss Manill to go, too. Idaho will see that they get to town safely.”
“You must be crazy!” exclaimed Colby. “They’ll have the law on you.”
“I am not crazy, Hal. I may have been a little blind, but I am far from crazy—my eyes are open now, open wide enough for me to be able to recognize my friends from my enemies.”
“What do you mean?” he demanded, noting the directly personal insinuation.
“I mean, Hal, that any of my men who would contemplate working for those people after they had robbed me can’t work for me. Pete has your check. He is acting foreman until Bull returns.” Her chin went up proudly as she made the statement.
Colby was stunned. He took the check in silence and turned toward the door, where he stopped and faced her. “Bull won’t never come back,” he said, “’less it’s with a halter round his neck.”
The other three men looked toward Diana for an intimation of her wishes, but she only sat silently, tapping the toe of a spurred boot upon the Navajo rug at her feet. Colby turned once more and passed out into the gathering dusk.
A half-hour later Wild Bill, otherwise and quite generally known as Willie, jogged dustily townward with Maurice B. Corson, Lillian Manill and their baggage. Halfway there they overtook the Wainrights, the elder riding the single horse, which his son had given up to him, while the younger plodded along in the powdery dust. Corson told Willie to stop and take them both into the buckboard.
“Not on your life,” said Willie. “I gits my orders from the boss an’ she didn’t say nothin’ about pickin’ up no dudes. Giddap!”
Later that evening a select gathering occupied a table at one side of Gum’s bar-room. There were the Wainrights, Mr. Maurice B. Corson, Miss Lillian Manill, Hal Colby and Gum Smith. All but Gum seemed out of sorts, but then he was the only one of them who had not been run off a ranch.
“We have the law on our side, Mr. Sheriff,” Corson was saying, “and all we ask is your official backing. I realize that the first thing to do is get rid of the ruffians in her employ and then we can easily bring her to terns. The worst of them is this man Bull, but now that he is practically an outlaw it should be comparatively easy to get him.
“I have arranged for an exceptionally large gold shipment from the mine on the next stage and I have taken pains not to keep the matter too secret. The news is almost certain to reach him through the usual channels and should serve as an exceptional bait to lure him into another attempted holdup of the stage.
“You can then be on hand, in hiding, with a posse and should you fail to get him alive it will be all the better for society at large if you get him dead. Do you understand me?”
“That ain’t no way to go about it,” interrupted Colby. “You can’t hide nowhere within five miles o’ the gap without them two hombres knowin’ it. Now you just forget that scheme an’ leave it to me. You an’ your posse keep away from the gap. Just leave it to me.”
“Ah think Hal’s about right,” agreed Gum Smith. “Yo-all doan’ know them two. They shore is foxy. Why, jes look at all the times Ah’ve ben after ’em. Yo jes leave it to Hal here an’ he shore’ll git ’em.”
“All right, said Corson, “and then we can get the other three later, some way. Lure them into town one by one an’ well, I don’t need to tell you gentlemen what’s necessary. Only don’t forget that they’re worth a thousand dollars apiece to me—if they can’t bother us any more.”
Worn out by the excitement of the day Diana retired to her room shortly after the lonely evening meal. She had been keyed up to a high pitch of nervous excitement for hours and now that she had been relaxed the reaction came, leaving her tired and melancholy. She was almost too tired to undress and so she threw herself into an easy chair and sat with her head thrown back and her eyes closed.
The window of her room, overlooking the ranch yard toward the corrals, was wide open to the cooling summer air. The lamp burning on her reading table cast its golden light upon her loosened hair and regular profile.
Outside a figure moved cautiously around the house until it stood among the trees beneath the window—the figure of a man who, looking up, could just see the outlines of the girl’s face above the sill. He watched her for a moment and then glanced carefully about as though to assure himself that there was none other near.
Presently, faintly, the notes of a meadow-lark rose softly upon the night air. Diana’s eyes flashed open. She listened intently. A moment later the brief, sweet song was repeated. The girl rose to her feet, gathered her hair quickly into a knot at the back of her head, and ran down the stairway, along the hall, into the office. She walked quickly, her heart beating a trifle wildly, to the door. Without hesitation she opened it and stepped out into the night. Below her stood a tall man with broad shoulders.
“Bull!” she exclaimed, in a low whisper.
The man swept his broad sombrero from his head. “Good evening, Senorita!” he said. “It is not Senor Bull—it is Gregorio.”
Diana Henders stepped back. She had removed her belt and gun. So sure she had been that it was Bull and such confidence she had in him that she had not given a thought to her unarmed condition. What better protection could any girl demand than just Bull!
“What do you want here, Gregorio?” she demanded.
The Mexican perceived the girl’s surprise, saw her draw back, and grinned. It did not offend him that she might be afraid of him. He had become what he was by inspiring fear in others and hoe was rather proud of it—proud of being an outlaw, proud of being hunted by the gringoes, whom he knew held his courage and his gun-hand, if not himself, in respect.
“Do not be afraid, Senorita,” he said. “I was sent to you by Senor Bull, with a message.” He held out a long, flat envelope. “You are to read it and hide it where the others will not find it. He says that you will know how to make use of it.”
She took the proffered parcel. “Why did not Senor Bull come himself?” she asked.
“How should I know, Senorita?” he replied. “Perhaps he thought that you would not want The Black Coyote to come here. He knew that you recognized him today. He saw it in your eyes.”
She was silent a moment as though weighing the wisdom of a reply to his statement, but she made none. “Is that all, Gregorio?” she asked.
“That is all, Senorita.”
“Then thank you, and good-bye. Thank Senor Bull, too, and tell him that his job is waiting for him—when he can come back.”
Gregorio swept his hat low and turned back into the shadows. Diana entered the office and closed the door. Going directly to her room she took a chair beneath the reading-lamp and examined the outside of the envelope Gregorio had given her.
It was addressed to Maurice B. Corson! How had Bull come by it? But of course she knew—it was a piece of the mail that had come into his possession through the robbing of the stage.
The girl shuddered and held it away from her. She saw that the envelope had been opened. Bull had done that. She sat looking at the thing for a long time. Could she bring herself to read the contents? It had not been meant for her—to read it, then, would be to put herself on a par with The Black Coyote. She would be as much a thief as he. The only right and proper thing to do was to get the letter into Corson’s hands as quickly as possible—she could not be a party to Bull’s crime.
She laid it, almost threw it, in fact, upon the table, as though it were an unclean thing, and sat for a long time in deep thought. Occasionally her eyes returned to the letter. The thing seemed to hold a malignant fascination for her. What was in it?
It must concern her, or Bull would not have sent it to her. She would send it to Corson the first thing in the morning. Bull would not ask her to read something that did not concern her. She rose and commenced to remove her clothing. Once or twice as she passed the table she stopped and looked at the envelope and at last, in her night robe, as she went to blow out the last lamp she stood for a full minute staring at the superscription. Again she argued that Bull would not have sent it to her had it been wrong for her to read it. Then she extinguished the light and got into bed.
For an hour Diana Henders tossed about, sleepless. The envelope upon the reading table haunted her. It had no business there. It belonged to Maurice B. Corson. If it were to be found in her possession she could be held as guilty as the robber who took it from the United States mail pouch. They could send her to jail. Somehow that thought did not frighten her at all.
What was in it? It must be something concerning the property they were trying to steal from her. They were thieves. One was almost justified in taking any steps to frustrate their dishonest plans.
Suddenly she recalled what Mary Donovan had said: “You’ve got to fight the devil with fire!” And then Diana Henders flung the covers from her and swung her feet to the floor. A moment later she had lighted the lamp. There was no more hesitation.
She took up the envelope and extracted its contents, which consisted of three papers. The first she examined was a brief letter of transmission noting the enclosures and signed by a clerk in Corson’s office. The second was John Manill’s will—the later will that Corson had told her did not exist. She read it through carefully. Word for word it was a duplicate of the last will her father had made, except for the substitution of Elias Henders’ name as beneficiary. The clause leaving the property to their joint heirs in the event of her father’s prior death followed.
Suddenly Diana experienced a sensation of elation and freedom such as had not been hers since her father’s death. She could fight them now—she had something to fight with, and Lillian Manill could claim only what was legally hers.
An even division would entail unpleasant complications of administration, but at least they could not take tier share from her. They might sell theirs—they might and probably would sell it to the Wainrights, which would be horrible of course, but she would stand her ground and get her rights no matter who owned the other half.
She laid the will aside and picked up the third paper. It was a letter, in her uncle’s familiar handwriting, addressed to her father:
In the event that I go first I want to ask you to look after Lillian for me at least until she is married. Since her mother’s death she has no one but me and naturally I feel not only a certain responsibility for her but a real affection that is almost paternal, since she was but a year old when I married her mother. She has never known any other father, her own having been killed before she was born. Although she knows the truth concerning her parentage I think she looks upon me as a father and if I am unable to do so I know that you will provide for her. I did not mention her in my will because our understanding included only our legal heirs, or I should say heir, now since Diana is the only one left, and as she will inherit all our property eventually I hope that you will pass this request on to her, which I shalt leave attached to my will.
Diana sat with staring eyes fixed upon the letter in her hand—and she had almost sent these papers back to Corson! She shuddered as she thought. of the narrow escape she had had. Why, they were no better than common criminals!
And she was sole heir to the Bar Y! She did not think of the gold mine, or the value of the great herds and the broad acres. She thought only of the Bar Y as something that she loved—as home.
Now no one could take it away from her, and yet she was not happy. There was a little rift within the lute—Bull was an outlaw! And who else was there than Bull upon whom she might depend for guidance and advice in the handling of her affairs?
He was a good cattleman—her father had always said that, and had had confidence in his judgment and ability. His one fault, they had thought, had been his drinking, and this she felt, intuitively, he had overcome. Of his loyalty there had never been any doubt until the whisperings of the ugly rumors that had connected him with the robberies of the stage. These she had consistently refused to believe—even to the point of denying the evidence of her own eyes; but Gregorio had definitely confounded the remnants of her hopes.
Yet still she thought of Bull as her sole resource—even now she had confidence in him. She could not fathom the mental processes that permitted her mind to dwell upon him without loathing or contempt—but, after all, was she being influenced by the dictates. of her mind? She shrank from contemplation of the alternative, yet it persistently obtruded itself upon her reveries. If her mind refused to fly to the defense of Bull, then it must be her heart that championed him. What reason would not do, love had accomplished.
She flushed at the thought and tried to put it aside, for it was impossible. It could not be that she, Diana Henders, could love an outlaw and a criminal. No, she must put Bull out of her mind forever, and with this resolve mingling with her tears she fell asleep.