Oliver Strange - Sudden Westerns 01 - The Range Robbers(1930) (7 page)

BOOK: Oliver Strange - Sudden Westerns 01 - The Range Robbers(1930)
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He
produced a bottle and glasses, pouring out generous portions. “Here’s how,’ he
said. “My name’s
Dexter,
an’ I own this place.’

 
          
Green
gave his own name, and then added: “Nice location yu got here, but the country
round strikes me as bein’ a hard one for cows.’

 
          
“Yu
said it,’ was the reply. “We lose a good few.’

 
          
“Rustlers?’
queried Green.

 
          
The
other man spat out an expletive.
“Yep, copper-coloured ones
from the Reservation just across the range.
The damn thieves know all
the passes, an’ they sneak through, make their gather, an’ git back without
leavin’ a sign yu can swear to.’

 
          
“They’d
shore be hard to trail about here,’ Green said.

 
          
“Hard
to trail?’ cried his host. “I believe yu. Why, the way they vanish sometimes
yu’d think the beggers had wings; an’ that’s somethin’ no Injun’ll ever wear,
in this world or the next. I’ve give up; but any war-plume what comes prancin’
round here is apt to die o’ lead-poisonin’ mighty sudden.’

 
          
“I
never had
no
use for Injuns,’ Green agreed.

 
          
He
declined a second drink on the ground that he must get back to the Y Z before
dark, and asked the nearest way. He was not surprised when Dexter advised an
entirely different route from the one which had brought him there.

 
          
“Straight
across the valley an’ through that notch in the rim’ll bring yu to a plain
trail to Hatchett’s. If yu meet my boys tell ‘em I’m a-gettin’ hungrier every
minit. So long! Drop in any time
yo’re
passin’.’

 
          
The
visitor returned the salutation and, mounting his horse, rode across the valley
as directed. The non-appearance of the miner puzzled him, though he inclined to
the belief that Nugget was there, keeping out of sight. The owner of the Double
X had not impressed him favourably, but he had discovered nothing to connect
him with the rustlers except the repetition of the redskin theory, and it was
conceivable that the man might be losing stock and blaming the Indians for it.

 
          
In
crossing the valley he purposely passed near one of the groups of feeding
cattle. He did not slow up, for that would have aroused suspicion, but he got
close enough to get a good look at the brand, a crude double X, roughly done,
but apparently honest enough. Nevertheless, it provided him with food for thought.
He reached the notch in the rim, climbed up a narrow stony pathway out of the valley,
and found, as his host had promised, a plain trail. He had covered some miles
of this when he heard singing, and presently round a bend came a lumbering
wagon, with one man driving and three others riding beside it. The driver
pulled up with an oath when he saw the puncher, and the right hands of the
riders slid to their holsters.

 
          
“All
right, boys,’ Green called out genially. “I’ve just been visitin’ yore boss,
an’ he said that if I met up with yu, I was to say that he’s a-gettin’ hungrier
every minit, an’ he shore enough looked it.’

 
          
One
of the men laughed, and the attitude of guarded hostility relaxed somewhat.
None of the four was young, and all had the look of men toughened by
experience—good or bad. A nasty crowd to tangle up with, the cowpuncher
decided.

 
          
“Dex
may reckon hisself lucky to see us tonight,’ commented one. “If Pete had been
in town it would’ve bin to-morrow mawnin’.’

 
          
Green
guessed that they knew who he was, and that the reference to the gambler had
been made purposely, but he decided to ignore it.

 
          
“Well,’
he drawled. “I gotta be pushin’ along if I want any supper myself; that Y Z
gang is real destructive at mealtimes.’

 
          
His
refusal to take up the challenge, for so they regarded it, created a bad
impression, and the laugh which greeted his remark was frankly sneering. With a
curt “S’long’ they rode on, grinning at one another. Green also resumed his
journey, and he too was smiling.

 
          
“They’re
thinkin’ that little ruckus at the Folly was just a grand-stand play, an’ that
I’m shy the sand to back it up, which is just what
,I
want ‘em to think,’ he soliloquised.

 
          
All
the same, he had to confess that it had been an entirely disappointing day.

 
Chapter
V

 
          
A
Week passed without any further development to disturb the ordinary routine of
the ranch. Green steadily raked the surrounding country, but gained nothing but
a knowledge
of it, and the covert sneers of the
foreman and the older hands. In some way, the impression created by his rough
handling of Poker Pete had worn off, and sometimes the insults were so thinly
veiled that the object of them had hard work to restrain
himself
.
Larry, his staunch admirer, could not understand it.

 
          
“Don’t
yu see,’ Green said, when the boy spoke of it. “I’d be playin’ their game? I’m
not ready for a showdown yet.’

 
          
Another
dissatisfied
occupant of the ranch was Noreen.
Accustomed to the unqualified devotion of all the men she met, she found the
aloofness of the newcomer a little disturbing, the more so that she was
unable—though she would not admit it—to adopt the same attitude. In her
presence he was polite, but quiet, almost stern, whereas she knew that with
Larry, and some of the others, he could behave like a boy.

 
          
Girl-like,
she invested him with mystery, and wove romance of a broken heart and blighted
life round him. Once or twice she had deliberately given him opportunities to
speak about himself, but he had-always evaded them. Larry, whom she cautiously
pumped one day, could tell her nothing.

 
          
“I
reckon he’s had trouble,’ the boy said. “Mebbe there’s a sheriff a-lookin’ for
him, but if I was that sheriff I’d take mighty good care not to find him; he’s
hell on wheels when he gets goin’.’

 
          
But
to the men he was not eulogistic, even going to the length of expressing the
opinion that the newcomer’s treatment of the gambler might have been a flash in
the pan. More than once he was questioned, for there was a good deal of
curiosity in the outfit as to the stranger’s ability to take care of himself.
He wore two guns, but no one had yet seen him use one. It was Larry who
discovered that schemes were being hatched to “try-out’ the new hand. The
latter laughed grimly when the boy warned him.

 
          
“They’re
goin’ to sic “Snap” Lunt on yu,’ Larry said. “He’s a killer, an’ a shore wizard
with a six-gun.’

 
          
Lunt
had recently come back to the ranch, having been riding the line at the time of
Green’s appearance on the scene. He was a small man, with a twisted, wizened
face like dried hide, a square, powerful body, and short legs bowed by years
spent in the saddle. His one pride was in his ability to use a Colt, in which
accomplishment he acknowledged only one superior. This admission, which was
news to the others, was made at supper one evening when the talk had
persistently veered to guns and gunmen.

 
          
“Who
was that, Snap?’ asked Simple.

 
          
The
feller they call “Sudden,”’ replied the gunman. “No, I never had a run in with
him, or likely I wouldn’t be here, but I saw him in action once, years ago when
he warn’t more than a kid. Neatest thing I ever
see,
an’ it happened in Deadwater, which ain’t a town no more. Sudden was in a
saloon when the barkeeper, who was a good sort, gives him the word that three
fellers, all known killers, is layin’ for him.

 
          
“There’s
a back door here,” he sez. “Pull yore freight. Three to one is above the odds,
an’ nobody’ll hold it against yu.”

      
 
“Yu bet they won’t, but I’m thankin’ yu all
the same,” sez Sudden, an’ steps out into the street as unconcerned as the
corpse at a buryin’.

 
          

Them
three buzzards is waitin’ about twenty paces away, two
of ‘em on the opposite side o’ the street, an’ the other slinkin’ up the same
side as the saloon, an’ their guns is out. But he beat ‘em to it even then.
Before they could git a shot out, the fellers across the street is tumblin’ in
the dust. The other chap fired one shot which might’ve hit a star mebbe, an’
ran for his life. He looked round once, saw the boy’s gun on him, an’ tried to
turn a corner that warn’t there. His face was a sight; it looked like a herd o’
cattle had stampeded across it, but, all the same, he was lucky; the other two
had to be planted.’

 
          
“But
don’t yu reckon yo’re faster now than yu were then, Snap?’ asked Nigger.

 
          
“I
know I am; but don’t yu reckon he’s improved too?’ retorted the gunman. “Even
if he ain’t he’s better’n me. I never saw a movement, an’
them
fellers were drilled plumb centre between the eyes.’

 
          
Sudden,
the outlaw! Not a man there but had heard of him, and of his uncanny dexterity
with weapons, and the ease with which he had so far eluded capture. The tale of
his exploits grew as first one and then another related stories he had heard.
Snap Lunt listened with an expression of tolerant contempt.

 
          
“An’
more than half o’ them I’ll bet my hoss he never done,’ he said presently.
“When a feller gets a name, every killin’, hold-up, or cattle-stealin’ that
can’t be traced to anybody else gets his brand put on it.’ There was a tinge of
bitterness in his voice, and this deepened as he resumed. “A feller sometimes
gets drove into the wrong road. Once it gets known that he’s swift with a gun
there always happens along a damn fool who thinks he can make a reputation by
showin’ he’s a bit swifter. An’ he ain’t, so he gets wiped out, an’ soon
there’s another damn fool—the world’s full of ‘em. By all accounts, Sudden
fights fair, an’ that’s more than some did that went up against him.’

 
          
The
others were silent for a moment; this was a new side to the man they had always
regarded as a ruthless slayer of his fellows—one who took a delight in putting
his art to its deadliest use. They sensed that he was telling his own story. It
was Rattler who broke the spell; matters were not going as he wished.

 
          
‘Well,
Sudden may be all yu say, Snap; but some fellers sport two guns an’ are afeared
to use one.’

 
          
“Meanin’?’
Lunt said quietly.

 
          
“Oh,
I ain’t referrin’ to yu, Snap,’ replied the foreman quickly. “We all know yo’re
game; yu have the right to wear a couple o’ guns.’

 
          
“So
has any other feller who cares to tote the weight,’ came the reply. “Yu can
rope yore own hoss, Rattler.’

 
          
Some
of the men who knew what
was
toward looked at Lunt in
surprise. Green watched the scene with a glint of a smile on his lips. He was
well aware that the foreman was trying to engineer a quarrel between himself
and Lunt, and that the latter had now definitely declined to be made use of. He
began to have a feeling of respect for the little gunman.

 
          
The
foreman glared; he had been plainly told to do his own dirty work, and though
not lacking in animal courage, the task did not appeal to him. He was
considered good with a forty-five himself, but the other man was an unknown
quantity, and he could not understand why Lunt had “ducked.’ It was Green
himself who came to his rescue.

 
          
“There
won’t be any shootin’, Blaynes,’ he said, and there was an acid touch to his
voice. “When there’s any necessity, I can use my guns well enough. If yu don’t
choose to believe that, well’—he leaned forward, his hands hanging loosely at
his sides, his eyes narrowed and alert—”pull yore own.’

BOOK: Oliver Strange - Sudden Westerns 01 - The Range Robbers(1930)
2.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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