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An Alternative Proposed And Declined








From: The Fighting Edge

The prediction made by Blister Haines that some overbearing puncher would
bully Bob because of his reputation as safe game did not long wait
fulfillment. A new rider joined the Slash Lazy D outfit. He had been
working for the K Bar T for a couple of months. Prior to that time he had
not been seen on the river. The rumor was that he hailed from Wyoming. To
ask for more specific information would not have been good form. More
than one or two cowboys in the Rio Blanco country had left their former
homes just ahead of a sheriff.

Bandy Walker knew how to rope and ride. That was the main consideration
of Harshaw when he hired him. He guessed the fellow's name was not Walker
any more than it was Bandy. One cognomen had been given him because he
was so bow-legged; the other he had no doubt taken for purposes of
non-identification.

Bandy was short, heavy-set, and muscular. At a glance one would have
picked him out as dangerous. The expression on the face was sulky. The
eyes were expressionless as jade.

He was given the bunk next Dillon and before twenty-four hours were past
he had begun to bully him. It began with a surly request behind which Bob
sensed a command.

"Fellow, get my bridle, won't you? I left it with my saddle somewheres
close to the chuck house. Got to fix it to-night."

Dillon had taken off his high-heeled boots because they were hurting his
feet. He observed that Walker, lying fully dressed on the blankets, was
still wearing his.

"Why, sure," Bob said amiably, and he tugged on his boots.

Presently he returned with the bridle and handed it to Bandy.

That was the beginning of it. Before the week was out Bob was the man's
flunkey, the butt of his ill-natured jokes, the helpless victim of his
bad temper. Inside, he writhed. Another failure was being scored against
him. But what could he do? This Bandy Walker was a gunman and a
rough-and-tumble fighter. He boasted of it. Bob would be a child in his
hands.

The other punchers watched the affair, drew deductions, but made no
audible comments. The law of the outdoors is that every man must play his
own hand. The Slash Lazy D resented Bandy. He was ugly in face, voice,
and manner. His speech was offensive. He managed to convey insult by the
curl of his lip. Yet he was cunning enough to keep within the bounds of
safety. Nobody wanted to pick a quarrel with him, for it might turn out
to be a serious business. The fellow looked rancorous. Moreover, the
ranch riders had no use for Dillon. It would be a relief if Bandy drove
him away. They felt disgraced when cowboys from the Circle Bar or the
Quarter Circle Triangle inquired for the health of their new rider Miss
Roberta.

Dud and Bob were riding Milk Creek one day about a week after Walker's
arrival. They unsaddled at noon and lay down to loaf on a sunny bank
close to the water's edge.

Hollister had been silent all morning, contrary to his usual custom. His
good spirits usually radiated gayety.

"What's the matter? Ain't you feelin' good?" Bob asked.

"No, I ain't."

"Stomach?"

"Heart," returned Dud gloomily.

Bob sat up. "Why, I never heard there was anything the matter with yore
heart. If there is, you hadn't ought to be ridin' these crazy colts you
do."

"Nothin' the matter with my heart. It's yore's I'm worryin' about."

Bob flushed, but said nothing.

"I'm wonderin' how long you're aimin' to let that bully puss fellow
Walker run over you."

"What can I do?" Bob did not look at his companion. He kept his eyes on
the ground, where he was tracing figures with a broken stick.

"Well, there's seve-re-al things you could do. You might work the
plug-ugly over. It couldn't hurt his looks none, an' it might improve
'em. That's one suggestion. I've got others where that come from."

"He's a bad actor. I expect he'd half kill me," Bob muttered.

"I reckon he would, onless you beat him to it. That's not the point. You
got to fight him or admit you're yellow. No two ways about that."

"I can't fight. I never did," groaned Dillon.

"Then how do you know you can't? If you can't, take yore lickin'. But you
be on top of him every minute of the time whilst you're gettin' it. Go to
it like a wild cat. Pretty soon something'll drop, an' maybe it won't be
you."

"I--can't."

Dud's blue eyes grew steely. "You can't, eh? Listen, fellow. I promised
Blister to make a man outa you if I could. I aim to do it. You lick Bandy
good to-night or I'll whale you to-morrow. That ain't all either. Every
time you let him run on you I'll beat you up next day soon as I get you
alone."

Bob looked at him, startled. "You wouldn't do that, Dud?"

"Wouldn't I? Don't you bet I wouldn't. I'm makin' that promise right
now."

"I thought you were--my friend," Bob faltered.

"Don't you think it. I'm particular who I call by that name. I ain't a
friend of any man without sand in his gizzard. But I done give my word to
Old Blister an' I gotta come through. It'll hurt you more'n it will me,
anyhow."

"I'll quit an' leave this part of the country," Bob said wretchedly.

"I'm not stoppin' you, but you won't go till I've whopped you once good.
Will you take it now?"

"Let's talk it over reasonable," Bob pleaded.

Dud looked disgusted. "I never see such a fellow for thinkin' he could
chin himself outa trouble. Nothin' doing."

"You've got no right to interfere in my affairs. It's not yore business,"
the worried victim of circumstances declared with an attempt at dignity.

"Say, don't I know it? If I hadn't promised Blister--But what's the use?
I done said I would, an' I got to go through."

"I'll let you off yore promise."

Dud shook his head. "Wish you could, but you can't. It was to Blister I
give my word. No, sir. You gotta take or give a lickin', looks like.
Either me or Bandy, I ain't particular which."

"You lay off me, Dud Hollister."

"Honest, I hope you'll fix it so's I can. Well, you got till to-morrow to
decide. Don't forget. Me or Bandy one. You take yore choice."

"I won't fight you."

"Then it's Bandy. Suits me fine. Say, Bob, I ain't so darned sure that
fellow'll be there so big when it comes to a show-down. He looks to me
tricky rather than game. Take him by surprise. Then crawl his hump
sudden. With which few well-chosen words I close. Yores sincerely,
Well-wisher, as these guys sign themselves when they write to the
papers."

All through the rest of the day Bob was depressed. He felt as cheerful as
a man about to be hanged. Why couldn't they let him alone? He never in
his life went looking for trouble and it seemed to hunt him out if he was
anywhere in reach. It was not fair. What claim had Dud to mix into his
difficulties with Bandy? Absolutely none.

He made up his mind to slip away in the night, ride to Glenwood, and take
the train for Denver. There a fellow could live in peace.





Next: Bob Crawls His Hump Sudden

Previous: June Discovers A New World



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