Pat Ryan Evens an Old Score
DINGWELL, the coffee-pot in one hand and a tin cup in the other, hailed his partner cheerfully. "Come over here, son, and tell me who you traded yore boots to."
"You and Brad been taking a mud bath, Mr. Beaudry?" asked one of the Lazy Double D riders.
Roy told them, with reservations, the story of the past twenty-four hours. Dave listened, an indifferent manner covering a quick interest. His young friend had done for himself a good stroke of business. There could no longer be any question of the attitude of the Rutherfords toward him, since he had been of so great service to Beulah. Charlton had renounced his enmity, the ground cut from beneath his feet. Word had reached camp only an hour before of the death of Tighe. This left of Beaudry's foes only Hart, who did not really count, and Dan Meldrum, at the present moment facing starvation in a prospect hole. On the whole, it had been a surprisingly good twenty-four hours for Roy. His partner saw this, though he did not know the best thing Roy had won out of it.
"Listens fine," the old-timer commented when the young man had finished.
"Can you rustle me a pair of boots from one of the boys, Dave? Size number eight. I 've got to run back up Del Oro to-day."
"Better let me go, son," Dave proposed casually.
"No. It's my job to turn the fellow loose."
"Well, see he does n't get the drop on you. I would n't trust him far as I could throw a bull by the tail."
Dingwell departed to borrow the boots and young Rutherford came over to Beaudry. Out of the corner of his eye Roy observed that Beulah was talking with the little Irish puncher, Pat Ryan.
Rutherford plunged awkwardly into his thanks. His sister had made only a partial confidant of him, but he knew that she was under obligations to Beaudry for the rescue from Meldrum. The girl had not dared tell her brother that the outlaw was still within his reach. She knew how impulsively his anger would move to swift action.
"We Rutherfords ain't liable to forget this, Mr. Beaudry. Dad has been 'most crazy since Boots disappeared. He 'll sure want to thank you himself soon as he gets a chance," blurted Ned.
"I happened to be the lucky one to find her; that's all," Roy depreciated.
"Sure. I understand. But you did find her. That's the point. Dad won't rest easy till he's seen you. I'm going to take sis right home with me. Can't you come along?"
Roy wished he could, but it happened that he had other fish to fry. He shook his head reluctantly.
Dingwell returned with a pair of high-heeled cowpuncher's boots. "Try these on, son. They belong to Dusty. The lazy hobo was n't up yet. If they fit you, he 'll ride back to the ranch in his socks."
After stamping about in the boots to test them, Roy decided that they would do. "They fit like a coat of paint," he said.
"Say, son, I'm going to hit the trail with you on that little jaunt you mentioned," his partner announced definitely.
Roy was glad. He had of late been fed to repletion with adventure. He did not want any more, and with Dingwell along he was not likely to meet it. Already he had observed that adventures generally do not come to the adventurous, but to the ignorant and the incompetent. Dave moved with a smiling confidence along rough trails that would have worried his inexperienced partner. To the old-timer these difficulties were not dangers at all, because he knew how to meet them easily.
They rode up Del Oro by the same route Roy and Beulah had followed the previous night. Before noon they were close to the prospect hole where Roy had left the rustler. The sound of voices brought them up in their tracks.
They listened. A whine was in one voice; in the other was crisp command.
"Looks like some one done beat us to it," drawled Dingwell. "We 'll move on and see what's doing."
They topped the brow of a hill.
A bow-legged little man with his back to them was facing Dan Meldrum.
"I'm going along with yez as far as the border. You 'll keep moving lively till ye hit the hacienda of old Porf. Diaz. And you 'll stay there. Mind that now, Dan. Don't—"
The ex-convict broke in with the howl of a trapped wolf. "You 've lied to me. You brought yore friends to kill me."
The six-gun of the bad man blazed once—twice. In answer the revolver of the bandy-legged puncher barked out, fired from the hip. Meldrum staggered, stumbled, pitched forward into the pit. The man who had killed him walked slowly forward to the edge and looked down. He stood poised for another shot if one should prove necessary.
Dave joined him.
"He's dead as a stuck shote, Pat," the cattleman said gravely.
Ryan nodded. "You saw he fired first, Dave."
"Yes." After a moment he added: "You 've saved the hangman a job, Pat. I don't know anybody Washington County could spare better. There 'll be no complaint, I reckon."
The little Irishman shook his head. "That would go fine if you had shot him, Dave, or if Mr. Beaudry here had. But with me it's different. I've been sivinteen years living down a reputation as a hellion. This ain't going to do me any good. Folks will say it was a case of one bad man wiping out another. They 'll say I 've gone back to being a gunman. I 'll be in bad sure as taxes."
Dingwell looked at him, an idea dawning in his mind. Why not keep from the public the name of the man who had shot Meldrum? The position of the wound and the revolver clenched in the dead man's hand would show he had come to his end in fair fight. The three of them might sign a statement to the effect that one of them had killed the fellow in open battle. The doubt as to which one would stimulate general interest. No doubt the gossips would settle on Beaudry as the one who had done it. This would still further enhance his reputation as a good man with whom not to pick trouble.
"Suits me if it does Roy," the cattleman said, speaking his thoughts aloud. "How about it, son? Pat is right. This will hurt him, but it would n't hurt you or me a bit. Say the word and all three of us will refuse to tell which one shot Meldrum."
"I'm willing," Roy agreed. "And I 've been looking up ancient history, Mr. Ryan. I don't think you were as bad as you painted yourself to me once. I'm ready to shake hands with you whenever you like."
The little Irishman flushed. He shook hands with shining eyes.
"That's why I was tickled when Miss Beulah asked me to come up and turn loose that coyote. It's a God's truth that I hoped he'd fight. I wanted to do you a good bit of wolf-killing if I could. And I've done it … and I'm not sorry. He had it coming if iver a man had."
"Did you say that Beulah Rutherford sent you up here?" asked Roy.
"She asked me to come. Yis."
"I can only guess her reasons. She did n't want you to come and she could n't ask Ned for fear he would gun the fellow. So she just picked on a red-headed runt of an Irishman."
"While we 're so close, let's ride across to Huerfano Park," suggested Dave. "I have n't been there in twenty years."
That suited Roy exactly. As they rode across the hills his mind was full of Beulah. She had sent Ryan up so that he could get Meldrum away before her lover arrived. Was it because she was afraid Roy might show the white feather? Or was it because she feared for his safety? He wished he knew.