Chapter XVIII
Rutherford Answers Questions

BEULAH RUTHERFORD took back with her to Huerfano Park an almost intolerable resentment against the conditions of her life. She had the family capacity for sullen silence, and for weeks a kind of despairing rage simmered in her heart. She was essentially of a very direct, simple nature, clear as Big Creek where it tumbled down from the top of the world toward the foothills. An elemental honesty stirred in her. It was necessary to her happiness that she keep her own self-respect and be able to approve those she loved.

Just now she could do neither. The atmosphere of the ranch seemed to stifle her. When she rode out into a brave, clean world of sunshine, the girl carried her shame along. Ever since she could remember, outlaws and miscreants had slipped furtively about the suburbs of her life. The Rutherfords themselves were a hard and savage breed. To their door had come more than one night rider flying for his life, and Beulah had accepted the family tradition of hospitality to those at odds with society.

A fierce, untamed girl of primitive instincts, she was the heritor of the family temperament. But like threads of gold there ran through the warp of her being a fineness that was her salvation. She hated passionately cruelty and falsehood and deceit. All her life she had walked near pitch and had never been defiled.

Hal Rutherford was too close to her not to feel the estrangement of her spirit. He watched her anxiously, and at last one morning he spoke. She was standing on the porch waiting for Jeff to bring Blacky when Rutherford came out and put his arm around her shoulder.

"What is it, honey?" he asked timidly.

"It's—everything," she answered, her gaze still on the distant hills.

"You have n't quarreled with Brad?"

"No—and I'm not likely to if he 'll let me alone."

Her father did not press the point. If Brad and she had fallen out, the young man would have to make his own amende.

"None of the boys been deviling you?"


"Are n't you going to tell dad about it, Boots?"

Presently her dark eyes swept round to his.

"Why did you say that you did n't know anything about the Western Express robbery?"

He looked steadily at her. "I did n't say that, Beulah. What I said was that I did n't know where the stolen gold was hidden—and I did n't."

"That was just an evasion. You meant me to think that we had had nothing to do with the—the robbery."

"That's right. I did."

"And all the time—" She broke off, a sob choking her throat.

"I knew who did it. That's correct. But I was n't a party to the robbery. I knew nothing about it till afterward."

"I 've always believed everything you 've told me, dad. And now—"

He felt doubt in her shaken voice. She did not know what to think now. Rutherford set himself to clear away her suspicions. He chose to do it by telling the exact truth.

"Now you may still believe me, honey. The robbery was planned by Tighe. I 'll not mention the names of those in it. The day after it was pulled off, I heard of it for the first time. Dave Dingwell knew too much. To protect my friends I had to bring him up here. Legally I'm guilty of abduction and of the train robbery, too, because I butted in after the hold-up and protected the guilty ones. I even tried to save for them the gold they had taken."

"Were—any of the boys in it, dad?" she quavered.

"One of them. I won't tell you which."

"And Brad?"

"We 're not giving names, Boots."

"Oh, well! I know he was one of them." She slipped her arm within her father's and gave his hand a little pressure. "I'm glad you told me, just the same, dad. I'd been thinking—worse things about you."

"That's all right, honey. Now you won't worry any more, will you?"

"I don't know. … That's not all that troubles me. I feel bad when the boys drink and brawl. That attack on Mr. Beaudry at Battle Butte was disgraceful," she flamed. "I don't care if he did come up here spying. Why can't they let him alone?"

He passed a hand in a troubled fashion through his grizzled hair. "You can bet our boys won't touch him again, Boots. I've laid the law down. But I can't answer for Tighe. He 'll do him a meanness if he can, and he 'll do it quicker since I 've broken off with him because you helped Dingwell and Beaudry to escape. I don't know about Brad."

"I told Brad if he touched him again, I would never speak to him."

"Maybe that will hold him hitched, then. Anyhow, I'm not going to make the young fellow trouble. I'd rather let sleeping dogs lie."

Beulah pressed her arm against his. "I have n't been fair to you, dad. I might have known you would do right."

"I aim to stay friends with my little girl no matter what happens. Yore mother gave you into my hands when she was dying and I promised to be mother and father to you. Yore own father was my brother Anse. He died before you were born. I 've been the only dad you ever had, and I reckon you know you 've been more to me than any of my own boys."

"You should n't say that," she corrected quickly. "I'm a girl, and, of course, you spoil me more. That's all."

She gave him a ferocious little hug and went quickly into the house. Happiness had swept through her veins like the exquisite flush of dawn. Her lustrous eyes were wells of glad tears.

The owner of the horse ranch stood on the porch and watched a rider coming out of the gulch toward him. The man descended heavily from his horse and moved down the path. Rutherford eyed him grimly.

"Well, I'm back," the dismounted horseman said surlily.

"I see you are."

"Got out of the hospital Thursday."

"Hope you 've made up yore mind to behave, Dan."

"It does n't hurt a man to take a drink onc't in a while."

"Depends on the man. It put you in the hospital."

Meldrum ripped out a sudden oath. "Wait. Just wait till I get that pink-ear. I 'll drill him full of holes right."

"By God, you 'll not!" Rutherford's voice was like the snap of a whip. "Try it. Try it. I 'll hunt you down like a wolf and riddle yore carcass."

In amazement the ex-convict stared at him. "What's ailin' you, Rutherford?"

"I'm through with you and Tighe. You 'll stop making trouble or you 'll get out of here. I'm going to clean up the park—going to make it a place where decent folks can live. You 've got yore warning now, Dan. Walk a straight chalk-line or hit the trail."

"You can't talk that way to me, Rutherford. I know too much," threatened Meldrum, baring his teeth.

"Don't think it for a minute, Dan. Who is going to take yore word against mine? I 've got the goods on you. I can put you through for rustling any time I have a mind to move. And if you don't let young Beaudry alone, I 'll do it."

"Am I the only man that ever rustled? Ain't there others in the park? I reckon you 've done some night-riding yore own self."

"Some," drawled Rutherford, with a grim little smile. "By and large, I 've raised a considerable crop of hell. But I'm reforming in my old age. New Mexico has had a change of heart. Guns are going out, Meldrum, and little red schoolhouses are coming in. We 've got to keep up with the fashions."

"Hmp! Schoolhouses! I know what's ailin' you. Since Anse Rutherford's girl—"

"You 're off the reservation, Dan," warned the rancher, and again his low voice had the sting of cactus thorns in it.

Meldrum dropped that subject promptly. "Is Buck going to join this Sunday-School of yours?" he jeered. "And all the boys?"

"That's the programme. Won't you come in, too?"

"And Jess Tighe. He 'll likely be one of the teachers."

"You'd better ask him. He has n't notified me."

"Hell! You and yore kin have given the name to deviltry in this country. Mothers scare their kids by telling them the Rutherfords will git them."

"Fact. But that's played out. My boys are grown up and are at the turn of the trail. It hit me plumb in the face when you fools pulled off that express robbery. It's a piece of big luck you 're not all headed for the penitentiary. I know when I 've had enough. So now I quit."

"All right. Quit. But we have n't all got to go to the mourner's bench with you, have we? You can travel yore trail and we can go ours, can't we?"

"Not when we're on the same range, Dan. What I say goes." The eyes of Rutherford bored into the cruel little shifty ones of the bad man. "Take yore choice, Dan. It's quit yore deviltry or leave this part of the country."

"Who elected you czar of Huerfano Park?" demanded Meldrum, furious with anger.

He glared at the ranchman impotently, turned away with a mumbled oath, and went back with jingling spurs to his horse.