Chapter XXIV
The Bad Man Decides not to Shoot

BEULAH woke from a sleep of exhaustion to a world into which the morning light was just beginning to sift. The cold had penetrated to her bones. She was stiff and cramped and sore from the pressure of the rock bed against her tender young flesh. For nearly two days she had been without food or drink. The urge of life in her was at low tide.

But the traditions among which she had been brought up made pluck a paramount virtue. She pushed from her the desire to weep in self-pity over her lot. Though her throat was raw and swollen, she called at regular intervals during the morning hours while the sun climbed into view of her ten-foot beat. Even when it rode the heavens a red-hot cannon ball directly above her, the hoarse and lonely cry of the girl echoed back from the hillside every few minutes. There were times when she wanted to throw herself down and give up to despair, but she knew there would be opportunity for that when she could no longer fight for her life. The shadow was beginning to climb the eastern wall of the pit before Beaudry's shout reached her ears faintly. Her first thought was that she must already be delirious. Not till she saw him at the edge of the prospect hole was she sure that her rescuer was a reality.

At the first sight of her Roy wanted to trumpet to high heaven the joy that flooded his heart. He had found her—alive. After the torment of the night and the worry of the day he had come straight to her in his wandering, and he had reached her in time.

But when he saw her condition pity welled up in him. Dark hollows had etched themselves into her cheeks. Tears swam in her eyes. Her lips trembled weakly from emotion. She leaned against the side of the pit to support her on account of the sudden faintness that engulfed her senses. He knelt and stretched his hands toward her, but the pit was too deep.

"You 'll have to get a pole or a rope," she told him quietly.

Beaudry found the dead trunk of a young sapling and drew the girl up hand over hand. On the brink she stumbled and he caught her in his arms to save her from falling back into the prospect hole.

For a moment she lay close to him, heart beating against heart. Then, with a little sobbing sigh, she relaxed and began to weep. Her tears tugged at his sympathy, but none the less the pulses pounded in his veins. He held her tight, with a kind of savage tenderness, while his body throbbed with the joy of her. She had come to him with the same sure instinct that brings a child to its mother's arms. All her pride and disdain and suspicion had melted like summer mists in her need of the love and comfort he could give her.

"It's all right now. You 're safe. Nothing can hurt you," he promised.

"I know, but you don't know—what—what—" She broke off, shuddering.

Still with his arm about her, he led Beulah to his horse. Here he made her sit down while he gave her water and food. Bit by bit she told him the story of her experience. He suffered poignantly with her, but he could not be grateful enough that the finger-tip of destiny had pointed him to her prison. He thanked his rather vague gods that it had been his footsteps rather than those of another man that had wandered here to save her.

What surprised and wholly delighted him was the feminine quality of her. He had thought of her before as a wild young creature full of pride and scorn and anger, but with a fine barbaric loyalty that might yet redeem her from her faults. He had never met a young woman so hard, so self-reliant. She had asked no odds because of her sex. Now all this harshness had melted. No strange child could have been more shy and gentle. She had put herself into his hands and seemed to trust him utterly. His casual opinions were accepted by her as if they had been judgments of Solomon.

Roy spread his blankets and put the saddle-bags down for a pillow.

"We 're not going to stay here to-night, are we?" she asked, surprised.

He smiled. "No, you 're going to lie down and sleep for an hour. When you wake, supper will be ready. You 're all in now, but with a little rest you will be fit to travel."

"You won't go away while I sleep," she said.

"Do you think it likely? No, you can't get rid of me that easy. I'm a regular adhesive plaster for sticking."

"I don't want to get rid of you," she answered naïvely. "I'd be afraid without you. Will you promise to stay close all the time I sleep?"


"I know I won't sleep, but if you want me to try—"

"I do."

She snuggled down into the blankets and was asleep in five minutes.

Beaudry watched her with hungry eyes. What was the use of denying to himself that he loved her? If he had not known it before, the past half-hour had made it clear to him. With those wan shadows below her long eye-lashes and that charming manner of shy dependence upon him, she was infinitely more attractive to him than she had ever been before.

Beulah Rutherford was not the kind of girl he had thought of as a sweetheart in his daydreams. His fancies had hovered hazily about some imaginary college girl, one skilled in the finesse of the rules that society teaches young women in self-defense. Instead, he had fallen in love with a girl who could not play the social game at all. She was almost the only one he had known who never used any perfume; yet her atmosphere was fragrant as one of the young pines in her own mountain park. The young school-teacher was vital, passionate, and—he suspected—fiercely tender. For her lover there would be rare gifts in her eyes, wonderful largesse in her smile. The man who could qualify as her husband must be clean and four-square and game from the soles of his feet up—such a man as Dave Dingwell, except that the cattleman was ten years too old for her.

Her husband! What was he thinking about? Roy brought his bolting thoughts up with a round turn. There could be no question of marriage between her father's daughter and his father's son. Hal Rutherford had put that out of doubt on the day when he had ridden to the Elephant Corral to murder Sheriff Beaudry. No decent man could marry the daughter of the man who had killed his father in cold blood. Out of such a wedding could come only sorrow and tragedy.

And if this were not bar enough between them, there was another. Beulah Rutherford could never marry a man who was a physical coward. It was a dear joy to his soul that she had broken down and wept and clung to him. But this was the sex privilege of even a brave woman. A man had to face danger with a nerve of tested iron, and that was a thing he could never do.

Roy was stretched on the moss face down, his chin resting on the two cupped palms of his hands. Suddenly he sat up, every nerve tense and alert. Silently he got to his feet and stole down into the aspen grove. With great caution he worked his way into the grove and peered through to the hillside beyond. A man was standing by the edge of the prospect hole. He was looking down into it. Young Beaudry recognized the heavy, slouch figure at the first glance.

Not for an instant did he hesitate about what he meant to do. The hour had come when he and Dan Meldrum must have an accounting. From its holster he drew his revolver and crept forward toward the bad man. His eyes were cold and hard as chilled steel. He moved with the long, soft stride of a panther crouched for the kill. Not till the whole thing was over did he remember that for once the ghost of fear had been driven from his soul. He thought only of the wrongs of Beulah Rutherford, the girl who had fallen asleep in the absolute trust that he would guard her from all danger. This scoundrel had given her two days of living hell. Roy swore to pay the fellow in full.

Meldrum turned. He recognized Beaudry with a snarl of rage and terror. Except one of the Rutherfords there was no man on earth he less wanted to meet. The forty-four in his hand jerked up convulsively. The miscreant was in two minds whether to let fly or wait.

Roy did not even falter in his stride. He did not raise the weapon in his loosely hanging hand. His eyes bored as steadily as gimlets into the craven heart of the outlaw.

Meldrum, in a panic, warned him back. His nerve was gone. For two days he had been drinking hard, but the liquor had given out at midnight. He needed a bracer badly. This was no time for him to go through with a finish fight against such a man as Beaudry.

"Keep yore distance and tell me what you want," the ex-convict repeated hoarsely. "If you don't, I 'll gun you sure."

The young cattleman stopped about five yards from him. He knew exactly what terms he meant to give the enemy.

"Put your gun up," he ordered sharply.

"Who's with you?"

"Never mind who is with me. I can play this hand alone. Put up that gun and then we 'll talk."

That suited Meldrum. If it was a question of explanations, perhaps he could whine his way out of this. What he had been afraid of was immediate battle. One cannot talk bullets aside.

Slowly he pushed his revolver into its holster, but the hand of the man rested still on the butt.

"I came back to help Miss Rutherford out of this prospect hole," he whimperingly complained. "When onc't I got sober, I done recalled that she was here. So I hit the trail back."

Meldrum spoke the exact truth. When the liquor was out of him, he became frightened at what he had done. He had visions of New Mexico hunting him down like a wild dog. At last, unable to stand it any longer, he had come back to free her.

"That's good. Saves me the trouble of looking for you. I'm going to give you a choice. You and I can settle this thing with guns right here and now. That's one way out for you. I 'll kill you where you stand."

"W—what's the other way?" stammered the outlaw.

"The other way is for you to jump into that prospect hole. I 'll ride away and leave you there to starve."

"Goddlemighty! You would n't do that," Meldrum wheedled. "I did n't go for to hurt Miss Rutherford any. Did n't I tell you I was drunk?"

"Dead or alive, you 're going into that prospect hole. Make up your mind to that."

The bad man moistened his dry lips with the tip of his tongue. He stole one furtive glance around. Could he gun this man and make his getaway?

"Are any of the Rutherfords back of that clump of aspens?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.


"Do … do they know I'm here?"

"Not yet."

Tiny beads of sweat stood out on the blotched face of the rustler. He was trapped. Even if he fired through the leather holster and killed Beaudry, there would be no escape for him on his tired horse.

"Gimme a chanc't," he pleaded desperately. "Honest to God, I 'll clear out of the country for good. I 'll quit belling around and live decent. I 'll—"

"You 'll go into the pit."

Meldrum knew as he looked into that white, set face that he had come to his day of judgment. But he mumbled a last appeal.

"I'm an old man, Mr. Beaudry. I ain't got many years—"

"Have you made your choice?" cut in Roy coldly.

"I'd do anything you say—go anywhere—give my Bible oath never to come back."

"Perhaps I'd better call Rutherford."

The bad man made a trembling clutch toward him. "Don't you, Mr. Beaudry. I 'll—I 'll go into the pit," he sobbed.

"Get in, then."

"I know you would n't leave me there to starve. That would be an awful thing to do," the killer begged.

"You 're finding that out late. It did n't worry you when Dave Dingwell was being starved."

"I had n't a thing to do with that—not a thing, Mr. Beaudry. Hal Rutherford, he give the order and it was up to me to go through. Honest, that was the way of it."

"And you could starve a girl who needed your help. That was all right, of course."

"Mr. Beaudry, I—I was only learning her a lesson—just kinder playing, y' understand. Why, I 've knowed Miss Beulah ever since she was a little bit of a trick. I would n't do her a meanness. It ain't reasonable, now, is it?"

The man fawned on Roy. His hands were shaking with fear. If it would have done any good, he would have fallen on his knees and wept. The sight of him made Roy sick. Was this the way he looked when the yellow streak was showing?

"Jump into that pit," he ordered in disgust. "That is, unless you'd rather I would call Rutherford."

Meldrum shambled to the edge, sat down, turned, and slid into the prospect hole.

"I know it's only yore little joke, Mr. Beaudry," he whined. "Mebbe I ain't jest been neighborly with you-all, but what I say is let bygones be bygones. I'm right sorry. I 'll go down with you to Battle Butte and tell the boys I done wrong."

"No, you 'll stay here."

Beaudry turned away. The muffled scream of the bad man followed him as far as the aspens.