Beelingo.com

English Audio Books

Duke of Chimney Butte, The

SPONSORED LINKS
<SPAN name="Page_39" id="Page_39">[Pg 39]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER III</h2> <h3>AN EMPTY SADDLE</h3> <br /> <p>The Duke was seen coming back before the meal was over, across the little plain between camp and hills. A quarter of a mile behind him Jim Wilder rode, whether seen or unseen by the man in the lead they did not know.</p> <p>Jim had fallen behind somewhat by the time the Duke reached camp. The admiration of all hands over this triumph against horseflesh and the devil within it was so great that they got up to welcome the Duke, and shake hands with him as he left the saddle. He was as fresh and nimble, unshaken and serene, as when he mounted old Whetstone more than an hour before.</p> <p>Whetstone was a conquered beast, beyond any man's doubt. He stood with flaring nostrils, scooping in his breath, not a dry hair on him, not a dash of vinegar in his veins.</p> <p>"Where's Jim?" the Duke inquired.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_40" id="Page_40">[Pg 40]</SPAN></span>"Comin'," Taterleg replied, waving his hand afield.</p> <p>"What's he doin' out there&mdash;where's he been?" the Duke inquired, a puzzled look in his face, searching their sober countenances for his answer.</p> <p>"He thought you&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"Let him do his own talkin', kid," said Siwash, cutting off the cowboy's explanation.</p> <p>Siwash looked at the Duke shrewdly, his head cocked to one side like a robin listening for a worm.</p> <p>"What outfit was you with before you started out sellin' them tooth-puller-can-opener machines, son?" he inquired.</p> <p>"Outfit? What kind of an outfit?"</p> <p>"Ranch, innercence; what range was you ridin' on?"</p> <p>"I never rode any range, I'm sorry to say."</p> <p>"Well, where in the name of mustard did you learn to ride?"</p> <p>"I used to break range horses for five dollars a head at the Kansas City Stockyards. That was a good while ago; I'm all out of practice now."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_41" id="Page_41">[Pg 41]</SPAN></span>"Yes, and I bet you can throw a rope, too."</p> <p>"Nothing to speak of."</p> <p>"Nothing to speak of! Yes, I'll <i>bet</i> you nothing to speak of!"</p> <p>Jim didn't stop at the corral to turn in his horse, but came clattering into camp, madder for the race that the Duke had led him in ignorance of his pursuit, as every man could see. He flung himself out of the saddle with a flip like a bird taking to the wing, his spurs cutting the ground as he came over to where Lambert stood.</p> <p>"Maybe you can ride my horse, you damn granger, but you can't ride me!" he said.</p> <p>He threw off his vest as he spoke, that being his only superfluous garment, and bowed his back for a fight. Lambert looked at him with a flush of indignant contempt spreading in his face.</p> <p>"You don't need to get sore about it; I only took you up at your own game," he said.</p> <p>"No circus-ringer's goin' to come in here and beat me out of my horse. You'll either put him back in that corral or you'll chaw leather with me!"</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_42" id="Page_42">[Pg 42]</SPAN></span>"I'll put him back in the corral when I'm ready, but I'll put him back as mine. I won him on your own bet, and it'll take a whole lot better man than you to take him away from me."</p> <p>In the manner of youth and independence, Lambert got hotter with every word, and after that there wasn't much room for anything else to be said on either side. They mixed it, and they mixed it briskly, for Jim's contempt for a man who wore a hat like that supplied the courage that had been drained from him when he was disarmed.</p> <p>There was nothing epic in that fight, nothing heroic at all. It was a wildcat struggle in the dust, no more science on either side than nature put into their hands at the beginning. But they surely did kick up a lot of dust. It would have been a peaceful enough little fight, with a handshake at the end and all over in an hour, very likely, if Jim hadn't managed to get out his knife when he felt himself in for a trimming.</p> <p>It was a mean-looking knife, with a buck-horn handle and a four-inch blade that leaped open on pressure of a spring. Its type was <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_43" id="Page_43">[Pg 43]</SPAN></span>widely popular all over the West in those days, but one of them would be almost a curiosity now. But Jim had it out, anyhow, lying on his back with the Duke's knee on his ribs, and was whittling away before any man could raise a hand to stop him.</p> <p>The first slash split the Duke's cheek for two inches just below his eye; the next tore his shirt sleeve from shoulder to elbow, grazing the skin as it passed. And there somebody kicked Jim's elbow and knocked the knife out of his hand.</p> <p>"Let him up, Duke," he said.</p> <p>Lambert released the strangle hold that he had taken on Jim's throat and looked up. It was Spence, standing there with his horse behind him. He laid his hand on Lambert's shoulder.</p> <p>"Let him up, Duke," he said again.</p> <p>Lambert got up, bleeding a cataract. Jim bounced to his feet like a spring, his hand to his empty holster, a look of dismay in his blanching face.</p> <p>"That's your size, you nigger!" Spence said, kicking the knife beyond Jim's reach. "That's the kind of a low-down cuss you <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_44" id="Page_44">[Pg 44]</SPAN></span>always was. This man's our guest, and when you pull a knife on him you pull it on me!"</p> <p>"You know I ain't got a gun on me, you&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"Git it, you sneakin' houn'!"</p> <p>Jim looked round for Taterleg.</p> <p>"Where's my gun? you greasy potslinger!"</p> <p>"Give it to him, whoever's got it."</p> <p>Taterleg produced it. Jim began backing off as soon as he had it in his hand, watching Spence alertly. Lambert leaped between them.</p> <p>"Gentlemen, don't go to shootin' over a little thing like this!" he begged.</p> <p>Taterleg came between them, also, and Siwash, quite blocking up the fairway.</p> <p>"Now, boys, put up your guns; this is Sunday, you know," Siwash said.</p> <p>"Give me room, men!" Spence commanded, in voice that trembled with passion, with the memory of old quarrels, old wrongs, which this last insult to the camp's guest gave the excuse for wiping out. There was something in his tone not to be denied; they fell out of his path as if the wind had blown them. Jim fired, his elbow against his ribs.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_45" id="Page_45">[Pg 45]</SPAN></span>Too confident of his own speed, or forgetting that Wilder already had his weapon out, Spence crumpled at the knees, toppled backward, fell. His pistol, half-drawn, dropped from the holster and lay at his side. Wilder came a step nearer and fired another shot into the fallen man's body, dead as he must have known him to be. He ran on to his horse, mounted, and rode away.</p> <p>Some of the others hurried to the wagon after their guns. Lambert, for a moment shocked to the heart by the sudden horror of the tragedy, bent over the body of the man who had taken up his quarrel without even knowing the merits of it, or whose fault lay at the beginning. A look into his face was enough to tell that there was nothing within the compass of this earth that could bring back life to that strong, young body, struck down in a breath like a broken vase. He looked up. Jim Wilder was bending in the saddle as he rode swiftly away, as if he expected them to shoot. A great fire of resentment for this man's destructive deed swept over him, hotter than the hot blood wasting from his wounded cheek. The passion of vengeance <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_46" id="Page_46">[Pg 46]</SPAN></span>wrenched his joints, his hand shook and grew cold, as he stooped again to unfasten the belt about his friend's dead body.</p> <p>Armed with the weapon that had been drawn a fraction of a second too late, drawn in the chivalrous defense of hospitality, the high courtesy of an obligation to a stranger, Lambert mounted the horse that had come to be his at the price of this tragedy, and galloped in pursuit of the fleeing man.</p> <p>Some of the young men were hurrying to the corral, belting on their guns as they ran to fetch their horses and join the pursuit. Siwash called them back.</p> <p>"Leave it to him, boys; it's his by rights," he said.</p> <p>Taterleg stood looking after the two riders, the hindmost drawing steadily upon the leader, and stood looking so until they disappeared in the timber at the base of the hills.</p> <p>"My God!" said he. And again, after a little while: "My God!"</p> <p>It was dusk when Lambert came back, leading Jim Wilder's horse. There was blood on the empty saddle.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
SPONSORED LINKS