Tighe Weaves his Web Tighter
THE hooded eyes of Jess Tighe slanted across the table at his visitor. Not humor but mordant irony had given birth to the sardonic smile on his thin, bloodless lips.
"I reckon you 'll be glad to know that you 've been entertaining an angel unawares, Hal," he jeered. "I 've been looking up your handsome young friend, and I can tell you what the 'R.B.' in his hat stands for in case you would be interested to know."
The owner of the horse ranch gave a little nod. "Unload your information, Jess."
Tighe leaned forward for emphasis and bared his teeth. If ever malevolent hate was written on a face it found expression on his now.
"'R.B.' stands for Royal Beaudry."
Rutherford flashed a question at him from startled eyes. He waited for the other man to continue.
"You remember the day we put John Beaudry out of business?" asked Tighe.
"Yes. Go on." Hal Rutherford was not proud of that episode. In the main he had fought fair, even though he had been outside the law. But on the day he had avenged the death of his brother Anson, the feud between him and the sheriff had degenerated to murder. A hundred times since he had wished that he had gone to meet the officer alone.
"He had his kid with him. Afterward they shipped him out of the country to an aunt in Denver. He went to school there. Well, I 've had a little sleuthing done."
"And you 've found out—?"
"What I 've told you."
"He said his name was Cherokee Street, but Jeff told me he did n't act like he believed himself. When yore girl remembered there was a street of that name in Denver, Mr. Cherokee Street was plumb rattled. He seen he'd made a break. Well, you saw that snapshot Beulah took of him and me on the porch. I sent it to a detective agency in Denver with orders to find out the name of the man that photo fitted. My idea was for the manager to send a man to the teachers of the high schools, beginning with the school nearest Cherokee Street. He done it. The third schoolmarm took one look at the picture and said the young fellow was Royal Beaudry. She had taught him German two years. That's howcome I to know what that 'R.B.' in the hat stands for."
"Perhaps it is some other Beaudry."
"Take another guess," retorted the cripple scornfully. "Right off when I clapped eyes on him, I knew he reminded me of somebody. I know now who it was."
"But what's he doing up here?" asked the big man.
The hawk eyes of Tighe glittered. "What do you reckon the son of John Beaudry would be doing here?" He answered his own question with bitter animosity. "He's gathering evidence to send Hal Rutherford and Jess Tighe to the penitentiary. That's what he's doing."
Rutherford nodded. "Sure. What else would he be doing if he is a chip of the old block? That's where his father's son ought to put us if he can."
Tighe beat his fist on the table, his face a map of appalling fury and hate. "Let him go to it, then. I 've been a cripple seventeen years because Beaudry shot me up. By God! I 'll gun his son inside of twenty-four hours. I 'll stomp him off'n the map like he was a rattlesnake."
"No," vetoed Rutherford curtly.
"What! What's that you say?" snarled the other.
"I say he 'll get a run for his money. If there's any killing to be done, it will be in fair fight."
"What's ailing you?" sneered Tighe. "Getting soft in your upper story? Mean to lie down and let that kid run you through to the pen like his father did Dan Meldrum?"
"Not in a thousand years," came back Rutherford. "If he wants war, he gets it. But I 'll not stand for any killing from ambush, and no killing of any kind unless it has to be. Understand?"
"That sounds to me," purred the smaller man in the Western slang that phrased incredulity. Then, suddenly, he foamed at the mouth. "Keep out of this if you 're squeamish. Let me play out the hand. I 'll bump him off pronto."
"What do you think I am?" screamed Tighe. "Seventeen years I 've been hog-tied to this house because of Beaudry. Think I'm going to miss my chance now? If he was Moody and Sankey rolled into one, I'd go through with it. And what is he—a spy come up here to gather evidence against you and me! Did n't he creep into your house so as to sell you out when he got the goods? Has n't he lied from start to finish?"
"Maybe so. But he has no proof against us yet. We 'll kick him out of the park. I'm not going to have his blood on my conscience. That's flat, Jess."
The eyes in the bloodless face of the other man glittered, but he put a curb on his passion. "What about me, Hal? I 've waited half a lifetime and now my chance has come. Have you forgot who made me the misshaped thing I am? I have n't. I 'll go through hell to fix Beaudry's cub the way he did me." His voice shook from the bitter intensity of his feeling.
Rutherford paced up and down the room in a stress of sentiency. "No, Jess. I know just how you feel, but I'm going to give this kid his chance. We gunned Beaudry because he would n't let us alone. Either he or a lot of us had to go. But I 'll say this. I never was satisfied with the way we did it. When Jack Beaudry shot you up, he was fighting for his life. We attacked him. You got no right to hold it against his son."
"I don't ask you to come in. I 'll fix his clock all right."
"Nothing doing. I won't have it." Rutherford, by a stroke of strategy, carried the war into the country of the other. "I gave way to you about Dingwell, though I hated to try that Indian stuff on him. He's a white man. I 've always liked him. It's a rotten business."
"What else can you do? We dare n't turn him loose. You don't want to gun him. There is nothing left but to tighten the thumbscrews."
"It won't do any good," protested the big man with a frown. "He's game. He 'll go through. … And if it comes to a showdown, I won't have him starved to death."
Tighe looked at him through half-hooded, cruel eyes. "He 'll weaken. Another day or two will do it. Don't worry about Dingwell."
"There's not a yellow streak in him. You have n't a chance to make him quit." Rutherford took another turn up and down the room diagonally. "I don't like this way of fighting. It's—damnable, man! I won't have any harm come to Dave or to the kid either. I stand pat on that, Jess."
The man with the crutches swallowed hard. His Adam's apple moved up and down like an agitated thermometer. When he spoke it was in a smooth, oily voice of submission, but Rutherford noticed that the rapacious eyes were hooded.
"What you say goes, Hal. You 're boss of this round-up. I was jest telling you how it looked to me."
"Sure. That's all right, Jess. But you want to remember that public sentiment is against us. We 've pretty near gone our limit up here. If there was no other reason but that, it would be enough to make us let this young fellow alone. We can't afford a killing in the park now."
Tighe assented, almost with servility. But the cattleman carried away with him a conviction that the man had yielded too easily, that his restless brain would go on planning destruction for young Beaudry just the same.
He was on his way up Chicito Cañon and he stopped at Rothgerber's ranch to see Beaudry. The young man was not at home.
"He start early this morning to canfass for his vindmill," the old German explained.
After a moment's thought Rutherford left a message. "Tell him it is n't safe for him to stay in the park; that certain parties know who 'R.B.' is and will sure act on that information. Say I said for him to come and see me as soon as he gets back. Understand? Right away when he reaches here."
The owner of the horse ranch left his mount in the Rothgerber corral and passed through the pasture on foot to Chicito. Half an hour later he dropped into the jacal of Meldrum.
He found the indomitable Dingwell again quizzing Meldrum about his residence at Santa Fé during the days he wore a striped uniform. The former convict was grinding his teeth with fury.
"I reckon you won't meet many old friends when you go back this time, Dan. Maybe there will be one or two old-timers that will know you, but it won't be long before you make acquaintances," Dave consoled him.
"Shut up, or I 'll pump lead into you," he warned hoarsely.
The cattleman on the bed shook his head. "You'd like to fill me full of buckshot, but it would n't do at all, Dan. I'm the goose that lays the golden eggs, in a way of speaking. Gun me, and it's good-bye to that twenty thousand in the gunnysack." He turned cheerfully to Rutherford, who was standing in the doorway. "Come right in, Hal. Glad to see you. Make yourself at home."
"He's deviling me all the time," Meldrum complained to the owner of the horse ranch. "I ain't a-going to stand it."
Rutherford looked at the prisoner, a lean, hard-bitten Westerner with muscles like steel ropes and eyes unblinking as a New Mexico sun. His engaging recklessness had long since won the liking of the leader of the Huerfano Park outlaws.
"Don't bank on that golden egg business, Dave," advised Rutherford. "If you tempt the boys enough, they 're liable to forget it. You 've been behaving mighty aggravating to Dan."
"Me!" Dave opened his eyes in surprise. "I was just asking him how he'd like to go back to Santa Fé after you-all turn me loose."
"We 're not going to turn you loose till we reach an agreement. What's the use of being pigheaded? We 're looking for that gold and we 're going to find it mighty soon. Now be reasonable."
"How do you know you 're going to find it?"
"Because we know you could n't have taken it far. Here's the point. You had it when Fox made his getaway. Beulah was right behind you, so we know you did n't get a chance to bury it between there and town. We covered your tracks and you did n't leave the road in that half-mile. That brings you as far as Battle Butte. You had the gunnysack when you crossed the bridge. You did n't have it when Slim Sanders met you. So you must have got rid of it in that distance of less than a quarter of a mile. First off, I figured you dropped the sack in Hague's alfalfa field. But we 've tramped that all over. It's not there. Did you meet some one and give it to him? Or how did you get rid of it?"
"I ate it," grinned Dingwell confidentially.
"The boys are getting impatient, Dave. They don't like the way you butted in."
"That's all right. You 're responsible for my safety, Hal. I 'll let you do the worrying."
"Don't fool yourself. We can't keep you here forever. We can't let you go without an agreement. Figure out for yourself what's likely to happen?"
"Either my friends will rescue me, or else I 'll escape."
"Forget it. Not a chance of either." Rutherford stopped, struck by an idea. "Ever hear of a young fellow called Cherokee Street?"
"No. Think not. Is he a breed?"
"White man." Rutherford took a chair close to Dingwell. He leaned forward and asked another question in a low voice. "Never happened to meet the son of John Beaudry, did you?"
Dingwell looked at him steadily out of narrowed eyes. "I don't get you, Hal. What has he got to do with it?"
"Thought maybe you could tell me that. He's in the park now."
"In the park?"
"Yes—and Jess Tighe knows it."
"What's he doing here?"
But even as he asked the other man, Dingwell guessed the answer. Not an hour before he had caught a glimpse of a white, strained face at the window. He knew now whose face it was.
"He's spying on us and sleuthing for evidence to send us to the pen. Think he'd be a good risk for an insurance company?"
Dave thought fast. "I don't reckon you 're right. I put the kid through law school. My friends have likely sent him up here to look for me."
Rutherford scoffed. "Nothing to that. How could they know you are here? We did n't advertise it."
"No-o, but—" Dingwell surrendered the point reluctantly. He flashed a question at Rutherford. "Tighe will murder him. That's sure. You going to let him?"
"Not if I can help it. I'm going to send young Beaudry out of the park."
"Fine. Don't lose any time about it, Hal."
The Huerfano Park rancher made one more attempt to shake his prisoner. His dark eyes looked straight into those of Dingwell.
"Old-timer, what about you? I ain't enjoying this any more than you are. But it's clear out of my hands."
"Then why worry?" asked Dingwell, a little grin on his drawn face.
"Hell! What's the use of asking that? I'm no Injun devil," barked Rutherford irritably.
"Turn me loose and I 'll forget all I've seen. I won't give you the loot, but I 'll not be a witness against you."
The Huerfano Park ranchman shook his head. "No, we want that gold, Dave. You butted into our game and we won't stand for that."
"I reckon we can't make a deal, Hal."
The haggard eyes of the starving man were hard as tungsten-washed steel. They did not yield a jot.
A troubled frown dragged together the shaggy eyebrows of Rutherford as he snapped out his ultimatum.
"I like you, Dave. Always have. But you 're in one hell of a hole. Don't feed yourself any fairy tales. Your number is chalked up, my friend. Unless you come through with what we want, you 'll never leave here alive. I can't save you. There's only one man can—and that is your friend David Dingwell."
The other man did not bat an eyelid. "Trying to pass the buck, Hal? You can't get away with it—not for a minute." A gay little smile of derision touched his face. "I'm in your hands completely. I 'll not tell you a damn thing. What are you going to do about it? No, don't tell me that Meldrum and Tighe will do what has to be done. You 're the high mogul here. If they kill me, Hal Rutherford will be my murderer. Don't forget that for a second."
Rutherford carried home with him a heavy heart. He could see no way out of the difficulty. He knew that neither Meldrum nor Tighe would consent to let Dingwell go unless an agreement was first reached. There was, too, the other tangle involving young Beaudry. Perhaps he also would be obstinate and refuse to follow the reasonable course.
Beulah met him on the road. Before they had ridden a hundred yards, her instinct told her that he was troubled.
"What is it, dad?" she asked.
He compromised with himself and told her part of what was worrying him. "It's about your friend Street. Jess had him looked up in Denver. The fellow turns out to be a Royal Beaudry. You 've heard of a sheriff of that name who used to live in this country? … Well, this is his son."
"What's he doing here?"
"Trying to get us into trouble, I reckon. But that ain't the point. I'm not worrying about what he can find out. Fact is that Tighe is revengeful. This boy's father crippled him. He wants to get even on the young fellow. Unless Beaudry leaves the park at once, he 'll never go. I left word at Rothgerber's for him to come down and see me soon as he gets home."
"Will he come?" she asked anxiously.
"I don't know. If not I 'll go up and fetch him. I don't trust Jess a bit. He 'll strike soon and hard."
"Don't let him, dad," the girl implored.
The distressed eyes of the father rested on her. "You like this young fellow, honey?" he asked.
She flamed. "I hate him. He abused our hospitality. He lied to us and spied on us. I would n't breathe the same air he does if I could help it. But we can't let him be killed in cold blood."
"That's right, Boots. Well, he 'll come down to-day and I 'll pack him back to Battle Butte. Then we 'll be shet of him."
Beulah passed the hours in a fever of impatience. She could not keep her mind on the children she was teaching. She knew Tighe. The decision of her father to send Beaudry away would spur the cripple to swift activity. Up at Rothgerber's Jess could corner the man and work his vengeance unhampered. Why did not the spy come down to the horse ranch? Was it possible that his pride would make him neglect the warning her father had left? Perhaps he would think it only a trap to catch him.
Supper followed dinner, and still Beaudry had not arrived. From the porch Beulah peered up the road into the gathering darkness. Her father had been called away. Her brothers were not at home. The girl could stand it no longer. She went to the stable and saddled Blacky.
Five minutes later she was flying up the road that led to the Rothgerber place.