Chapter XXIX
A New Leaf

HAL RUTHERFORD himself met the three riders as they drew up at the horse ranch. He asked no verbal questions, but his eyes ranged curiously from one to another.

"’Light, gentlemen. I been wanting to see you especially, Mr. Beaudry," he said.

"I reckon you know where we 've been, Hal," answered Dave after he had dismounted.

"I reckon."

"We got a little news for public circulation. You can pass the word among the boys. Dan Meldrum was shot three hours ago beside the pit where Miss Beulah was imprisoned. His body is in the prospect hole now. You might send some lads with spades to bury him."

"One of you shot him."

"You done guessed it, Hal. One of us helped him out of that pit intending to see he hit the dust to Mexico. Dan was loaded to the guards with suspicions. He chose to make it a gun-play. Fired twice. The one of us that took him out of the pit fired back and dropped him first crack. All of us saw the affair. It happened just as I 've told you."

"But which of you—?"

"That's the only point we can't remember. It was one of us, but we 've forgotten which one."

"Suits me if it does you. I 'll thank all three of you, then." Rutherford cleared his throat and plunged on. "Boys, to-day kinder makes an epoch in Huerfano Park. Jess Tighe died yesterday and Dan Meldrum to-day. They were both bad citizens. There were others of us that were bad citizens, too. Well, it's right-about face for us. We travel broad trails from now on. Right now the park starts in to make a new record for itself."

Dave offered his hand, and with it went the warm smile that made him the most popular man in Washington County. "Listens fine, Hal. I sure am glad to hear you say so."

"I niver had any kick against the Rutherfords. They were open and aboveboard, anyhow, in all their diviltry," contributed Ryan to the pact of peace.

Nobody looked at Roy, but he felt the weight of their thoughts. All four of them bore in mind the death of John Beaudry. His son spoke quietly.

"Mr. Rutherford, I 've been thinking of my father a good deal these last few days. I want to do as he would have me do about this thing. I'm not going to chop my words. He gave his life to bring law and order into this country, The men who killed him were guilty of murder. That's an ugly word, but it's the true one."

The grim face of the big hillman did not twitch. "I 'll take the word from you. Go on."

"But I 've been thinking more and more that he would want me to forget that. Tighe and Meldrum are gone. Sheriff Beaudry worked for the good of the community. That is all he asked. It is for the best interest of Washington County that we bury the past. If you say so, I 'll shake hands on that and we 'll all face to the future. Just as you say."

Dingwell grinned. "Hooray! Big Chief Dave will now make oration. You 've got the right idea, son. I knew Jack Beaudry. There was n't an atom of revenge in his game body. His advice would have been to shake hands. That's mine, too."

The hillman and Roy followed it.

Upon the porch a young woman appeared.

"I 've written those letters for you, dad," she called.

Roy deserted the peace conference at once and joined her.

"Oh! I did n't know it was you," she cried. "I'm so glad you came this way. Was it … all right?"

"Right as the wheat. Why did you send Pat up Del Oro?"

She looked at him with eyes incredibly kind and shy. "Because I … did n't want to run any chance of losing my new beau."

"Are you sure that was your only reason?"

"Certain sure. I did n't trust Meldrum, and … I thought you had taken chances enough with him. So I gave Mr. Ryan an opportunity."

"He took it," her lover answered gravely.

She glanced at him quickly. "You mean—?"

"Never mind what I mean now. We 've more important things to talk about. I have n't seen you for eight hours, and thirty-three minutes."

Rutherford turned his guests over to Ned, who led the way to the stable. The ranchman joined the lovers. He put an arm around Beulah.

"Boots has done told me about you two, Mr. Beaudry. I'm eternally grateful to you for bringing back my little girl to me, and if you all feel right sure you care for each other I 've got nothing to say but 'God bless you.' You 're a white man. You 're decent. I believe you 'll be kind to her."

"I'm going to try to the best I know, Mr. Rutherford."

"You'd better, young man." The big rancher swallowed a lump in his throat and passed to another phase of the subject. "Boots was telling me about how it kinder stuck in yore craw to marry the daughter of Hal Rutherford, seeing as how things happened the way they did. Well, I'm going to relieve yore mind. She's the one that has got the forgiving to do, not you. She knew it all the time, too, but she did n't tell it. Beulah is the daughter of my brother Anse. I took her from the arms of her dying mother when she was a little trick that could n't crawl. She's not the daughter of the man that shot yore father. She's the daughter of the man yore father shot."

"Oh!" gasped Roy.

Beulah went to her lover arrow-swift.

"My dear … my dear! What does it matter now? Dad says my father was killed in fair fight. He had set himself against the law. It took his life. Your father did n't."

"But—"

"Oh, his was the hand. But he was sheriff. He did only his duty. That's true, is n't it, dad?"

"I reckon."

Her strong young hands gripped tightly those of her lover. She looked proudly into his eyes with that little flare of feminine ferocity in hers.

"I won't have it any other way, Roy Beaudry. You 're the man I'm going to marry, the man who is going to be the father of my children if God gives me any. No blood stands between us—nothing but the memory of brave men who misunderstood each other and were hurt because of it. Our marriage puts an end forever to even the memory of the wrong they did each other. That is the way it is to me—and that's the way it has got to be to you, too."

Roy laughed softly, tears in his eyes. As he looked at her eager young beauty the hot life in his pulses throbbed. He snatched her to him with an ardor as savage as her own.


THE END

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