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A Buckshot Greeting








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

"Oh, the cows stampede on the Rio Grande!
The Rio!
The sands do blow, and the winds do wail,
But I want to be wheah the cactus stands!
And the rattlah shakes his ornery tail!"


Kid Wolf sang his favorite verse to his favorite tune, and was happy.
For he was on his beloved Rio.

He had left the Chisholm Trail behind him, and now "The Rollin' Stone"
was rolling homeward, and--toward trouble.

The Kid, mildly curious, had been watching a certain dust cloud for
half an hour. At first he had thought it only a whirling dervish--one
of those restless columns of sand that continually shift over the arid
lands. But it was following the course of the trail below him on the
desert--rounding each bend and twist of it.

The Texan, astride his big white horse, had been "hitting the high
places only," riding directly south at an easy clip, but scorning the
trail whenever a short cut presented itself.

Descending from the higher ground of the mesa now, by means of an
arroyo leading steeply down upon the plain, he saw what was kicking up
the dust. It was a buckboard, drawn by a two-horse team, and traveling
directly toward him at a hot clip. There was one person, as far as he
could see, in the wagon. And across this person's knees was a shotgun.
The Kid saw that unless he changed his course he would meet the
buckboard and its passenger face to face.

Kid Wolf had no intention of avoiding the meeting, but something in the
tenseness of the figure on the seat of the vehicle, even at that
distance, caused his gray-blue eyes to pucker.

The distance between him and the buckboard rapidly decreased as Kid
Wolf's white horse drummed down between the chocolate-colored walls of
the arroyo. Between him and the team on the trail now was only a
stretch of level white sand, dotted here and there with low burrow
weeds. Suddenly, the driver of the buckboard whirled the shotgun. The
double barrels swung up on a line with Kid Wolf.

Quick as the movement was, the Texan had learned to expect the
unexpected. In the West, things happened, and one sought the reason
for them afterward. His hands went lightning-fast toward the twin .45s
that hung at his hips.

But Kid Wolf did not draw. A look of amazement had crossed his
sun-burned face and he removed his hands from his gun butts. Instead
of firing on the figure in the buckboard, Kid Wolf wheeled his horse
about quickly, and turned sidewise in his saddle in order to make as
small a target as possible.

The shotgun roared. Spurts of sand were flecked up all around The Kid
and the big white horse winced and jumped as a ball smashed the
saddletree a glancing blow. Another slug went through the Texan's hat
brim. Fortunately, he was not yet within effective range.

Even now, Kid Wolf did not draw his weapons. And he did not beat a
retreat. Instead, he rode directly toward the buckboard. The click of
a gun hammer did not stop him. One barrel of the shotgun remained
unfired and its muzzle had him covered.

But the Texan approached recklessly. He had doffed his big hat and now
he made a courteous, sweeping bow. He pulled his horse to a halt not
ten yards from the menacing shotgun.

"Pahdon me, ma'am," he drawled, "but is theah anything I can do fo'
yo', aside from bein' a tahget in yo' gun practice?"

The figure in the buckboard was that of a woman! There was a moment's
breathless pause.

"There's nine buckshot in the other barrel," said a feminine voice--a
voice that for all its courage faltered a little.

"Please don't waste them on me," Kid Wolf returned, in his soft,
Southern speech. "I'm afraid yo' have made a mistake. I can see that
yo' are in trouble. May I help yo'?"

Doubtfully, the woman lowered her weapon. She was middle-aged, kindly
faced, and her eyes were swollen from weeping. She looked out of place
with the shotgun--friendless and very much alone.

"I don't know whether to trust you or not," she said wearily. "I
suppose I ought to shoot you, but I can't, somehow."

"Well I'm glad yo' can't," drawled The Kid with contagious good humor.
His face sobered. "Who do yo' think I am, ma'am?"

"I don't know," the woman sighed, "but you're an enemy. Every one in
this cruel land is my enemy. You're an outlaw--and probably one of the
murderers who killed my husband."

"Please believe that I'm not," the Texan told her earnestly. "I'm a
strangah to this district. Won't yo' tell me yo' story? I want to
help yo'."

"There isn't much to tell," the driver of the buckboard said in a
quavering voice. "I'm on the way to town to sell the ranch--the S Bar.
I have my husband's body with me on the wagon. He was murdered
yesterday."

Not until then did Kid Wolf see the grim cargo of the buckboard. His
face sobered and his eyes narrowed.

"Do yo' want to sell, ma'am?"

"No, but it's all I can do now," she said tearfully. "Major Stover, in
San Felipe, offered me ten thousand for it, some time ago. It's worth
more, but I guess this--this is the end. I don't know why I'm tellin'
you all this, young man."

"This Majah Stovah--is he an army officer?" The Kid asked wonderingly.

The woman shook her head. "No. He isn't really a major. He never was
in the army, so far as any one knows. He just fancies the title and
calls himself 'Major Stover'--though he has no right to do so."

"A kind of four-flushin' hombre--a coyote in sheep's clothin', I should
judge," drawled Kid Wolf.

"Thet just about describes him," the woman agreed.

"But yo' sho'ly aren't alone on yo' ranch. Wheah's yo' men?" asked The
Kid.

"They quit last week."

"Quit?" The Kid's eyebrows went up a trifle.

"All of them--five in all, includin' the foreman. And soon afterward,
all our cattle were chased off the ranch. Gone completely--six hundred
head. Then yesterday"--she paused and her eyes filled with
tears--"yesterday my husband was shot while he was standing at the edge
of the corral. I don't know who did it."

No wonder this woman felt that every hand was turned against her. Kid
Wolf's eyes blazed.

"Won't the law help yo'?" he demanded.

"There isn't any law," said the woman bitterly. "Now you understand
why I fired at you. I was desperate--nearly frantic with grief. I
hardly knew what I was doing."

"Well, just go back home to yo' ranch, ma'am. I don't think yo' need
to sell it."

"But I can't run the S Bar alone!"

"Yo' won't have to. I'll bring yo' ridahs back. Will I find them in
San Felipe?"

"I think so," said the woman, astonished. "But they won't come."

"Oh, yes, they will," said The Kid politely.

"But I can't ranch without cattle."

"I'll get them back fo' yo'."

"But they're over the line into Old Mexico by now!"

"Nevah yo' mind, ma'am. I'll soon have yo' place on a workin' basis
again. Just give me the names of yo' ridahs and I'll do the rest."

"Well, there's Ed Mullhall, Dick Anton, Fred Wise, Frank Lathum, and
the foreman--Steve Stacy. But, tell me, who are you--to do this for a
stranger, a woman you've never seen before? I'm Mrs. Thomas."

The Texan bowed courteously.

"They call me Kid Wolf, ma'am," he replied. "Mah business is rightin'
the wrongs of the weak and oppressed, when it's in mah power. Those
who do the oppressin' usually learn to call me by mah last name. Now
don't worry any mo', but just leave yo' troubles to me."

Mrs. Thomas smiled, too. She dried her eyes and looked at the Texan
gratefully.

"I've known you ten minutes," she said, "and somehow it seems ten
years. I do trust you. But please don't get yourself in trouble on
account of Ma Thomas. You don't know those men. This is a hard
country--terribly hard."

Kid Wolf, however, only smiled at her warning. He remained just long
enough to obtain two additional bits of information--the location of
the S Bar and the distance to the town of San Felipe. Then he turned
his horse's head about, and with a cheerful wave of his hand, struck
out for the latter place. The last he saw of Mrs. Thomas, she was
turning her team.

Kid Wolf realized that he had quite a problem on his hands. The work
ahead of him promised to be difficult, but, as usual, he had gone into
it impulsively--and yet coolly.

"We've got a big ordah to fill, Blizzahd," he murmured, as his white
horse swung into a long lope. "I hope we haven't promised too much."

He wondered if in his endeavor to cheer up the despondent woman he had
aroused hopes that might not materialize. The plight of Mrs. Thomas
had stirred him deeply. His pulses had raced with anger at her
persecutors--whoever they were. His Southern chivalry, backed up by
his own code--the code of the West--prompted him to promise what he had.

"A gentleman, Blizzahd," he mused, "couldn't do othahwise. We've got
to see this thing through!"

Ma Thomas--he had seen at a glance--was a plains-woman. Courage and
character were in her kindly face. The Texan's heart had gone out to
her in her trouble and need.

Once again he found himself in his native territory, but in a country
gone strange to him. Ranchers and ranches had come in overnight, it
seemed to him. A year or two can make a big difference in the West.
Two years ago, Indians--to-day, cattle! Twenty miles below rolled the
muddy Rio. It was Texas--stern, vast, mighty.

And, if what Mrs. Thomas had said was correct, law hadn't kept pace
with the country's growth. There was no law. Kid Wolf knew what that
meant. His face was very grim as he left the wagon trail behind.

The town of San Felipe--two dozen brown adobes, through which a
solitary street threaded its way--sprawled in the bottom of a canyon
near the Rio Grand. The cow camp had grown, in a few brief months,
with all the rapidity of an agave plant, which adds five inches to its
size in twenty-four hours. San Felipe was noisy and wide awake.

It was December. The sun, however, was warm overhead. The sky was
cloudless and the distant range of low mountains stood out sharp and
clear against the sky. As Kid Wolf rode into the town, a hard wind was
blowing across the sands and it was high noon.

San Felipe's single street presented an interesting appearance. Most
of the long, flat adobes were saloons--The Kid did not need to read the
signs above them to see that. The loungers and hangers-on about their
doors told the story. Sandwiched between two of the biggest bars,
however, was a small shack--the only frame building in the place.

"Well, this Majah Stover hombre must be in the business," muttered The
Kid to himself.

His eyes had fallen on the sign over the door:

MAJOR STOVER
LAND OFFICE


Kid Wolf was curious. Strange to say, he had been thinking of the
major before he had observed the sign, and wondering about the man's
offer to buy the S Bar Ranch. The Texan whistled softly as he
dismounted. He left Blizzard waiting at the hitch rack, and sauntered
to the office door.

He opened the door, let himself in, and found himself in a dusty,
paper-littered room. A few maps hung on the walls. Kid Wolf's first
impression was the disagreeable smell of cigar stumps.

His eyes fell upon the man at the desk by the dirty window, and he
experienced a sudden start--an uncomfortable feeling. The Texan did
not often dislike a man at first sight, but he was a keen reader of
character.

"Do yuh have business with me?" demanded the man at the desk.

Major Stover, if this were he, was a paunchy, disgustingly fat man.
His face was moonlike, sensually thick of lip. His eyes, as they fell
upon his visitor, were hoglike, nearly buried in sallow folds of skin.

The thick brows above them had grown close together.

"Well," The Kid drawled, "I don't exactly know. Yo' deal in lands, I
believe?"

"I have some holdings," said the fat man complacently. "Are yo'
interested in the San Felipe district?"

"Very much," said The Kid, nodding. "I am quite attracted by
Rattlesnake County, and----"

"This isn't Rattlesnake County, young man," corrected the land agent.
"This is San Felipe County."

"Oh, excuse me," murmured the Texan, "maybe I got that idea because of
the lahge numbah of snakes----"

"There's no more snakes here than----" the other began.

"I meant the human kind," explained Kid Wolf mildly.

Major Stover's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What do yuh want with me?"
he demanded.

"Did yo' offah ten thousand dollahs fo' the S Bar Ranch?"

"That is none of yore business!"

"No?" drawled Kid Wolf patiently. "Yo' might say that I am heah as
Mrs. Thomas' agent."

The major looked startled. "Where's yore credentials?" he snapped,
after a brief pause.

Kid Wolf merely smiled and tapped the butts of his six-guns. "Heah,
sah," he murmured. "I'm askin' yo'."

Major Stover looked angry. "Yes," he said sharply, "I did at one time
make such an offer. However, I have reconsidered. My price is now
three thousand dollars."

"May I ask," spoke The Kid softly, "why yo' have reduced yo' offah?"

"Because," said the land dealer, "she has to sell now! I've got her
where I want her, and if yo're her agent, yuh can tell her that!"

One stride, and Kid Wolf had fat Major Stover by the neck. For all his
weight, and in spite of his bulk, The Kid handled him as if he had been
a child. An upward jerk dragged him from his chair. The Texan held
him by one muscular hand.

"So yo' have her where yo' want her, have yo'?" he cried, giving the
major a powerful shake.

He passed his other hand over the land agent's flabby body, poking the
folds of fat here and there over Major Stover's ribs. At each thump
the major flinched.

"Why, yo're as soft as an ovahripe pumpkin," Kid Wolf drawled,
deliberately insulting. "And yo' dare to tell me that! No, don't try
that!"

Major Stover had attempted to draw an ugly-looking derringer. The Kid
calmly took it away from him and threw it across the room. He shook
the land agent until his teeth rattled like dice in a box.

"Mrs. Thomas' ranch, sah," he said crisply, "is not in the mahket!"

With that he hurled the major back into his chair. There was a
crashing, rending sound as Stover's huge body struck it. The wood
collapsed and the dazed land agent found himself sitting on the floor.

"I'll get yuh for this, blast yuh!" gasped the major, his bloated face
red with rage. "Yo're goin' to get yores, d'ye hear! I've got power
here, and yore life ain't worth a cent!"

"It's not in the mahket, eithah," the Texan drawled, as he strolled
toward the door. At the threshold he paused.

"Yo've had yo' say, majah," he snapped, "and now I'll have mine. If I
find that yo' are in any way responsible fo' the tragedies that have
ovahtaken Mrs. Thomas, yo'd bettah see to yo' guns. Until then--adios!"





Next: The S Bar Spread

Previous: Tucumcari's Hand



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