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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_198" id="Page_198">[Pg 198]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER XIV</h2> <h3>NOTICE IS SERVED</h3> <br /> <p>Taterleg was finding things easier on his side of the ranch. Nick Hargus was lying still, no hostile acts had been committed. This may have been due to the fierce and bristling appearance of Taterleg, as he humorously declared, or because Hargus was waiting reenforcements from the penal institutions of his own and surrounding states.</p> <p>Taterleg had a good many nights to himself, as a consequence of the security which his grisly exterior had brought. These he spent at Glendora, mainly on the porch of the hotel in company of Alta Wood, chewing gum together as if they wove a fabric to bind their lives in adhesive amity to the end.</p> <p>Lambert had a feeling of security for his line of fence, also, as he rode home on the evening of his adventurous day. He had left a note on the pieced wire reminding Grace Kerr of his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_199" id="Page_199">[Pg 199]</SPAN></span>request that she ease her spite by unhooking it there instead of cutting it in a new place. He also added the information that he would be there on a certain date to see how well she carried out his wish.</p> <p>He wondered whether she would read his hope that she would be there at the same hour, or whether she might be afraid to risk Vesta Philbrook's fury again. There was an eagerness in him for the hastening of the intervening time, a joyous lightness which tuned him to such harmony with the world that he sang as he rode.</p> <p>Taterleg was going to Glendora that night. He pressed Lambert to join him.</p> <p>"A man's got to take a day off sometimes to rest his face and hands," he argued. "Them fellers can't run off any stock tonight, and if they do they can't git very far away with 'em before we'd be on their necks. They know that; they're as safe as if we had 'em where they belong."</p> <p>"I guess you're right on that, Taterleg. I've got to go to town to buy me a pair of clothes, anyhow, so I'll go you."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_200" id="Page_200">[Pg 200]</SPAN></span>Taterleg was as happy as a cricket, humming a tune as he went along. He had made liberal application of perfume to his handkerchief and mustache, and of barber's pomatum to his hair. He had fixed his hat on carefully, for the protection of the cowlick that came down over his left eyebrow, and he could not be stirred beyond a trot all the way to Glendora for fear of damage that might result.</p> <p>"I had a run-in with that feller the other night," he said.</p> <p>"What feller do you mean?"</p> <p>"Jedlick, dern him."</p> <p>"You did? I didn't notice any of your ears bit off."</p> <p>"No, we didn't come to licks. He tried to horn in while me and Alta was out on the porch."</p> <p>"What did you do?"</p> <p>"I didn't have a show to do anything but hand him a few words. Alta she got me by the arm and drug me in the parlor and slammed the door. No use tryin' to break away from that girl; she could pull a elephant away from his hay if she took a notion."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_201" id="Page_201">[Pg 201]</SPAN></span>"Didn't Jedlick try to hang on?"</p> <p>"No, he stood out in the office rumblin' to the old man, but that didn't bother me no more than the north wind when you're in bed under four blankets. Alta she played me some tunes on her git-tar and sung me some songs. I tell you, Duke, I just laid back and shut my eyes. I felt as easy as if I owned the railroad from here to Omaha."</p> <p>"How long are you going to keep it up?"</p> <p>"Which up, Duke?"</p> <p>"Courtin' Alta. You'll have to show off your tricks pretty regular, I think, if you want to hold your own in that ranch."</p> <p>Taterleg rode along considering it.</p> <p>"Ye-es, I guess a feller'll have to act if he wants to hold Alta. She's young, and the young like change. 'Specially the girls. A man to keep Alta on the line'll have to marry her and set her to raisin' children. You know, Duke, there's something new to a girl in every man she sees. She likes to have him around till she leans ag'in' him and rubs the paint off, then she's out shootin' eyes at another one."</p> <p>"Are there others besides Jedlick?"</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_202" id="Page_202">[Pg 202]</SPAN></span>"That bartender boards there at the <i>ho</i>-tel. He's got four gold teeth, and he picks 'em with a quill. Sounds like somebody slappin' the crick with a fishin'-pole. But them teeth give him a standin' in society; they look like money in the bank. Nothing to his business, though, Duke; no sentiment or romance or anything."</p> <p>"Not much. Who else is there sitting in this Alta game?"</p> <p>"Young feller with a neck like a bottle, off of a ranch somewhere back in the hills."</p> <p>Taterleg mentioned him as with consideration. Lambert concluded that he was a rival to be reckoned with, but gave Taterleg his own way of coming to that.</p> <p>"That feller's got a watch with a music box in the back of it, Duke. Ever see one of 'em?"</p> <p>"No, I never did."</p> <p>"Well, he's got one of 'em, all right. He starts that thing up about the time he hits the steps, and comes in playin' 'Sweet Vilelets' like he just couldn't help bustin' out in music the minute he comes in sight of Alta. That feller gives me a pain!"</p> <p>The Duke smiled. To every man his own <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_203" id="Page_203">[Pg 203]</SPAN></span>affair is romance; every other man's a folly or a diverting comedy, indeed.</p> <p>"She's a little too keen on that feller to suit me, Duke. She sets out there with him, and winds that fool watch and plays them two tunes over till you begin to sag, leanin' her elbow on his shoulder like she had him paid for and didn't care whether he broke or not."</p> <p>"What is the other tune?"</p> <p>"It's that one that goes:</p> <div class="poem"><div class="stanza"> <span class="i0"><i>A heel an' a toe and a po'ky-o</i>,<br /></span> <span class="i0"><i>A heel an' a toe and a po'ky-o</i><br /></span> </div></div> <p class="noin">&mdash;you know that one."</p> <p>"I've heard it. She'll get tired of that watch after a while, Taterleg."</p> <p>"Maybe. If she don't, I guess I'll have to figger some way to beat it."</p> <p>"What are Jedlick's attractions? Surely not good looks."</p> <p>"Money, Duke; that's the answer to him&mdash;money. He's got a salt barrel full of it; the old man favors him for that money."</p> <p>"That's harder to beat than a music box in a watch."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_204" id="Page_204">[Pg 204]</SPAN></span>"You <i>can't</i> beat it, Duke. What's good looks by the side of money? Or brains? Well, they don't amount to cheese!"</p> <p>"Are you goin' to sidestep in favor of Jedlick? A man with all your experience and good clothes!"</p> <p>"Me? I'm a-goin' to lay that feller out on a board!"</p> <p>They hitched at the hotel rack, that looking more respectable, as Taterleg said, than to leave their horses in front of the saloon. Alta was heard singing in the interior; there were two railroad men belonging to a traveling paint gang on the porch smoking their evening pipes.</p> <p>Lambert felt that it was his duty to buy cigars in consideration of the use of the hitching-rack. Wood appeared in the office door as they came up the steps, and put his head beyond the jamb, looking this way and that, like a man considering a sortie with enemies lying in wait.</p> <p>Taterleg went into the parlor to offer the incense of his cigar in the presence of Alta, who was cooing a sentimental ballad to her guitar. It seemed to be of parting, and the hope of reunion, involving one named Irene. There was <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_205" id="Page_205">[Pg 205]</SPAN></span>a run in the chorus accompaniment which Alta had down very neatly.</p> <p>The tinkling guitar, the simple, plaintive melody, sounded to Lambert as refreshing as the plash of a brook in the heat of the day. He stood listening, his elbow on the show case, thinking vaguely that Alta had a good voice for singing babies to sleep.</p> <p>Wood stood in the door again, his stump of arm lifted a little with an alertness about it that made Lambert think of a listening ear. He looked up and down the street in that uneasy, inquiring way that Lambert had remarked on his arrival, then came back and got himself a cigar. He stood across the counter from Lambert a little while, smoking, his brows drawn in trouble, his eyes shifting constantly to the door.</p> <p>"Duke," said he, as if with an effort, "there's a man in town lookin' for you. I thought I'd tell you."</p> <p>"Lookin' for me? Who is he?"</p> <p>"Sim Hargus."</p> <p>"You don't mean Nick?"</p> <p>"No; he's Nick's brother. I don't suppose you ever met him."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_206" id="Page_206">[Pg 206]</SPAN></span>"I never heard of him."</p> <p>"He's only been back from Wyoming a week or two. He was over there some time&mdash;several years, I believe."</p> <p>"In the pen over there?"</p> <p>Wood took a careful survey of the door before replying, working his cigar over to the other side of his mouth in the way that a one-armed man acquires the trick.</p> <p>"I&mdash;they say he got mixed up in a cattle deal down there."</p> <p>Lambert smoked in silence a little while, his head bent, his face thoughtful. Wood shifted a little nearer, standing straight and alert behind his counter as if prepared to act in some sudden emergency.</p> <p>"Does he live around here?" Lambert asked.</p> <p>"He's workin' for Berry Kerr, foreman over there. That's the job he used to have before he&mdash;left."</p> <p>Lambert grunted, expressing that he understood the situation. He stood in his leaning, careless posture, arm on the show case, thumb hooked in his belt near his gun.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_207" id="Page_207">[Pg 207]</SPAN></span>"I thought I'd tell you," said Wood uneasily.</p> <p>"Thanks."</p> <p>Wood came a step nearer along the counter, leaned his good arm on it, watching the door without a break.</p> <p>"He's one of the old gang that used to give Philbrook so much trouble&mdash;he's carryin' lead that Philbrook shot into him now. So he's got it in for that ranch, and everybody on it. I thought I'd tell you."</p> <p>"I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Wood," said Lambert heartily.</p> <p>"He's one of these kind of men you want to watch out for when your back's turned, Duke."</p> <p>"Thanks, old feller; I'll keep in mind what you say."</p> <p>"I don't want it to look like I was on one side or the other, you understand, Duke; but I thought I'd tell you. Sim Hargus is one of them kind of men that a woman don't dare to show her face around where he is without the risk of bein' insulted. He's a foul-mouthed, foul-minded man, the kind of a feller that ought to be treated like a rattlesnake in the road."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_208" id="Page_208">[Pg 208]</SPAN></span>Lambert thanked him again for his friendly information, understanding at once his watchful uneasiness and the absence of Alta from the front of the house. He was familiar with that type of man such as Wood had described Hargus as being; he had met some of them in the Bad Lands. There was nothing holy to them in the heavens or the earth. They did not believe there was any such thing as a virtuous woman, and honor was a word they never had heard defined.</p> <p>"I'll go out and look him up," Lambert said. "If he happens to come in here askin' about me, I'll be in either the store or the saloon."</p> <p>"There's where he is, Duke&mdash;in the saloon."</p> <p>"I supposed he was."</p> <p>"You'll kind of run into him natural, won't you, Duke, and not let him think I tipped you off?"</p> <p>"Just as natural as the wind."</p> <p>Lambert went out. From the hitching-rack he saw Wood at his post of vigil in the door, watching the road with anxious mien. It was a Saturday night; the town was full of visitors. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_209" id="Page_209">[Pg 209]</SPAN></span>Lambert went on to the saloon, hitching at the long rack in front where twenty or thirty horses stood.</p> <p>The custom of the country made it almost an obligatory courtesy to go in and spend money when one hitched in front of a saloon, an excuse for entering that Lambert accepted with a grim feeling of satisfaction. While he didn't want it to appear that he was crowding a quarrel with any man, the best way to meet a fellow who had gone spreading it abroad that he was out looking for one was to go where he was to be found. It wouldn't look right to leave town without giving Hargus a chance to state his business; it would be a move subject to misinterpretation, and damaging to a man's good name.</p> <p>There was a crowd in the saloon, which had a smoky, blurred look through the open door. Some of the old gambling gear had been uncovered and pushed out from the wall. A faro game was running, with a dozen or more players, at the end of the bar; several poker tables stretched across the gloomy front of what had been the ballroom of more hilarious days. These players were a noisy outfit. Little money <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_210" id="Page_210">[Pg 210]</SPAN></span>was being risked, but it was going with enough profanity to melt it.</p> <p>Lambert stood at the end of the bar near the door, his liquor in his hand, lounging in his careless attitude of abstraction. But there was not a lax fiber in his body; every faculty was alert, every nerve set for any sudden development. The scene before him was disgusting, rather than diverting, in its squalid imitation of the rough-and-ready times which had passed before many of these men were old enough to carry the weight of a gun. It was just a sporadic outburst, a pustule come to a sudden head that would burst before morning and clear away.</p> <p>Lambert ran his eye among the twenty-five or thirty men in the place. All appeared to be strangers to him. He began to assort their faces, as one searches for something in a heap, trying to fix on one that looked mean enough to belong to a Hargus. A mechanical banjo suddenly added its metallic noise to the din, fit music, it seemed, for such obscene company. Some started to dance lumberingly, with high-lifted legs and ludicrous turkey struts.</p> <p>Among these Lambert recognized Tom <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_211" id="Page_211">[Pg 211]</SPAN></span>Hargus, the young man who had made the ungallant attempt to pass Vesta Philbrook's gate with his father. He had more whisky under his dark skin than he could take care of. As he jigged on limber legs he threw his hat down with a whoop, his long black hair falling around his ears and down to his eyes, bringing out the Indian that slept in him sharper than the liquor had done it.</p> <p>His face was flushed, his eyes were heavy, as if he had been under headway a good while. Lambert watched him as he pranced about, chopping his steps with feet jerked up straight like a string-halt horse. The Indian was working, trying to express itself in him through this exaggerated imitation of his ancestral dances. His companions fell back in admiration, giving him the floor.</p> <p>A cowboy was feeding money into the music box to keep it going, giving it a coin, together with certain grave, drunken advice, whenever it showed symptom of a pause. Young Hargus circled about in the middle of the room, barking in little short yelps. Every time he passed his hat he kicked at it, sometimes hitting, oftener <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_212" id="Page_212">[Pg 212]</SPAN></span>missing it, at last driving it over against Lambert's foot, where it lodged.</p> <p>Lambert pushed it away. A man beside him gave it a kick that sent it spinning back into the trodden circle. Tom was at that moment rounding his beat at the farther end. He came face about just as the hat skimmed across the floor, stopped, jerked himself up stiffly, looked at Lambert with a leap of anger across his drunken face.</p> <p>Immediately there was silence in the crowd that had been assisting on the side lines of his performance. They saw that Tom resented this treatment of his hat by any foot save his own. The man who had kicked it had fallen back with shoulders to the bar, where he stood presenting the face of innocence. Tom walked out to the hat, kicked it back within a few feet of Lambert, his hand on his gun.</p> <p>He was all Indian now; the streak of smoky white man was engulfed. His handsome face was black with the surge of his lawless blood as he stopped a little way in front of Lambert.</p> <p>"Pick up that hat!" he commanded, smothering his words in an avalanche of profanity.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_213" id="Page_213">[Pg 213]</SPAN></span>Lambert scarcely changed his position, save to draw himself erect and stand clear of the bar. To those in front of him he seemed to be carelessly lounging, like a man with time on his hands, peace before him.</p> <p>"Who was your nigger last year, young feller?" he asked, with good-humor in his words. He was reading Tom's eyes as a prize fighter reads his opponent's, watching every change of feature, every strain of facial muscle. Before young Hargus had put tension on his sinews to draw his weapon, Lambert had read his intention.</p> <p>The muzzle of the pistol was scarcely free of the scabbard when Lambert cleared the two yards between them in one stride. A grip of the wrist, a twist of the arm, and the gun was flung across the room. Tom struggled desperately, not a word out of him, striking with his free hand. Sinewy as he was, he was only a toy in Lambert's hands.</p> <p>"I don't want to have any trouble with you, kid," said Lambert, capturing Tom's other hand and holding him as he would have held a boy. "Put on your hat and go home."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_214" id="Page_214">[Pg 214]</SPAN></span>Lambert released him, and turned as if he considered the matter ended. At his elbow a man stood, staring at him with insolent, threatening eyes. He was somewhat lower of stature than Lambert, thick in the shoulders, firmly set on the feet, with small mustache, almost colorless and harsh as hog bristles. His thin eyebrows were white, his hair but a shade darker, his skin light for an outdoors man. This, taken with his pale eyes, gave him an appearance of bloodless cruelty which the sneer on his lip seemed to deepen and express.</p> <p>Behind Lambert men were holding Tom Hargus, who had made a lunge to recover his gun. He heard them trying to quiet him, while he growled and whined like a wolf in a trap. Lambert returned the stranger's stare, withholding anything from his eyes that the other could read, as some men born with a certain cold courage are able to do. He went back to the bar, the man going with him shoulder to shoulder, turning his malevolent eyes to continue his unbroken stare.</p> <p>"Put up that gun!" the fellow said, turning sharply to Tom Hargus, who had wrenched free <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_215" id="Page_215">[Pg 215]</SPAN></span>and recovered his weapon. Tom obeyed him in silence, picked up his hat, beat it against his leg, put it on.</p> <p>"You're the Duke of Chimney Butte, are you?" the stranger inquired, turning again with his sneer and cold, insulting eyes to Lambert, who knew him now for Sim Hargus, foreman for Berry Kerr.</p> <p>"If you know me, there's no need for us to be introduced," Lambert returned.</p> <p>"Duke of Chimney Butte!" said Hargus with immeasurable scorn. He grunted his words with such an intonation of insult that it would have been pardonable to shoot him on the spot. Lambert was slow to kindle. He put a curb now on even his naturally deliberate vehicle of wrath, looking the man through his shallow eyes down to the roots of his mean soul.</p> <p>"You're the feller that's come here to teach us fellers to take off our hats when we see a fence," Hargus said, looking meaner with every breath.</p> <p>"You've got it right, pardner," Lambert calmly replied.</p> <p>"Duke of Chimney Butte! Well, pardner, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_216" id="Page_216">[Pg 216]</SPAN></span>I'm the King of Hotfoot Valley, and I've got travelin' papers for you right here!"</p> <p>"You seem to be a little sudden about it," Lambert said, a lazy drawl to his words that inflamed Hargus like a blow.</p> <p>"Not half as sudden as you'll be, kid. This country ain't no place for you, young feller; you're too fresh to keep in this hot climate, and the longer you stay the hotter it gits. I'll give you just two days to make your gitaway in."</p> <p>"Consider the two days up," said Lambert with such calm and such coolness of head that men who heard him felt a thrill of admiration.</p> <p>"This ain't no joke!" Hargus corrected him.</p> <p>"I believe you, Hargus. As far as it concerns me, I'm just as far from this country right now as I'll be in two days, or maybe two years. Consider your limit up."</p> <p>It was so still in the barroom that one could have heard a match burn. Lambert had drawn himself up stiff and straight before Hargus, and stood facing him with defiance in every line of his stern, strong face.</p> <p>"I've give you your rope," Hargus said, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_217" id="Page_217">[Pg 217]</SPAN></span>feeling that he had been called to show his hand in an open manner that was not his style, and playing for a footing to save his face. "If you ain't gone in two days you'll settle with me."</p> <p>"That goes with me, Hargus. It's your move."</p> <p>Lambert turned, contempt in his courageous bearing, and walked out of the place, scorning to throw a glance behind to see whether Hargus came after him, or whether he laid hand to his weapon in the treachery that Lambert had read in his eyes.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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