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An Elopement








From: The Fighting Edge

Bob Dillon was peeling potatoes outside the chuck tent when he heard a
whistle he recognized instantly. It was a very good imitation of a
meadow-lark's joyous lilt. He answered it, put down the pan and knife,
and rose.

"Where you going?" demanded the cook.

"Back in a minute, Lon," the flunkey told him, and followed a cow trail
that took him up the hill through the sage.

"I never did see a fellow like him," the cook communed aloud to himself.
"A bird calls, an' he's got to quit work to find out what it wants. Kinda
nice kid, too, if he is queer."

Among the pinons at the rock rim above Bob found June. He had not seen
her since the day when she had saved him from a thrashing. The boy was
not very proud of the way he had behaved. If he had not shown the white
feather, he had come dangerously close to it.

"How are cases, June?"

His eyes, which had been rather dodging hers, came to rest on the girl at
last. One glance told him that she was in trouble.

"I don' know what to do, Bob," she broke out. "Jake will be back
to-day--by dinner-time, I reckon. He says I've got to go with him to Bear
Cat an' be married to-morrow."

Dillon opened his lips to speak, but he said nothing. He remembered how
he had counseled her to boldness before and failed at the pinch. What
advice could he give? What could he say to comfort his friend?

"Haven't you got any folks you could go to--some one who would tell Houck
where to head in at?"

She shook her head. "My father's all I've got."

"Won't he help you?"

"He would, but--I can't ask him. I got to pretend to him I'd just as lief
marry Jake."

"Why have you?"

"I can't tell you why, Bob. But that's how it is."

"And you still hate Houck?"

"Ump-ha. Except--sometimes." She did not explain that elusive answer.
"But it don't matter about how I feel. When he comes back I've got to do
like he says."

June broke down and began to weep. The boy's tender heart melted within
him.

"Don't you. Don't you," he begged. "We'll find a way, li'l' pardner. We
sure will."

"How?" she asked, between sobs. "There ain't--any way--except to--to
marry Jake."

"You could run away--and work," he suggested.

"Who'd give me work? And where could I go that he wouldn't find me?"

Practical details stumped him. Her objections were valid enough. With her
inexperience she could never face the world alone.

"Well, le's see. You've got friends. Somewhere that you could kinda hide
for a while."

"Not a friend. We--we don't make friends," she said in a small, forlorn
voice with a catch in it.

"You got one," he said stoutly. "Maybe he don't amount to much, but--" He
broke off, struck by an idea. "Say, June, why couldn't you run off with
me? We'd go clear away, where he wouldn't find us."

"How could I run off with you?" A pink flood poured into her face.
"You're not my brother. You're no kin."

"No, but--" He frowned at the ground, kicking at a piece of moss with his
toe to help him concentrate. Again he found an idea. "We could get
married."

This left her staring at him, speechless.

He began to dress his proposal with arguments. He was a humble enough
youth who had played a trifling part in life. But his imagination soared
at seeing himself a rescuer of distressed maidens. He was a dreamer of
dreams. In them he bulked large and filled heroic roles amply.

June was a practical young person. "What d' you want to marry me for?"
she demanded.

He came to earth. He did not want to marry her. At least he had not
wanted to until the moment before. If he had been able to give the reason
for his suggestion, it would probably have been that her complete
isolation and helplessness appealed to the same conditions in himself and
to a certain youthful chivalry.

"We're good pals, ain't we?" was the best he could do by way of answer.

"Yes, but you don't--you don't--"

Beneath the tan of her dark cheeks the blood poured in again. It was as
hard for her to talk about love as for him. She felt the same shy, uneasy
embarrassment, as though it were some subject taboo, not to be discussed
by sane-minded people.

His freckled face matched hers in color. "You don't have to be thataway.
If we like each other, an' if it looks like the best thing to do--why--"

"I couldn't leave Dad," she said.

"You'll have to leave him if you marry Jake Houck."

That brought her to another aspect of the situation. If she ran away with
Bob and married him, what would Houck do in regard to her father? Some
deep instinct told her that he would not punish Tolliver for it if she
went without his knowledge. The man was ruthless, but he was not
needlessly cruel.

"What would we do? Where would we go--afterward?" she asked.

He waved a hand largely into space. "Anywhere. Denver, maybe. Or
Cheyenne. Or Salt Lake."

"How'd we live?"

"I'd get work. No trouble about that."

She considered the matter, at first unsentimentally, as a workable
proposition. In spite of herself she could not hold quite to that aspect
of the case. Her blood began to beat faster. She would escape Houck. That
was the fundamental advantage of the plan. But she would see the world.
She would meet people. Perhaps for the first time she would ride on a
train. Wonderful stories had been told her by Dillon, of how colored men
cooked and served meals on a train rushing along forty miles an hour, of
how they pulled beds down from the roof and folks went to sleep in little
rooms just as though they were at home. She would see all the lovely
things he had described to her. There was a court-house in Denver where
you got into a small room and it traveled up with you till you got out
and looked down four stories from a window.

"If we go it'll have to be right away," she said. "Without tellin'
anybody."

"Yes," he agreed.

"I could go back to the house an' get my things."

"While I'm gettin' mine. There's nobody at the camp but Lon, an' he
always sleeps after he gets through work. But how'll we get to Bear
Cat?"

"I'll bring the buckboard. Dad's away. I'll leave him a note. Meet you in
half an hour on Twelve-Mile Hill," she added.

It was so arranged.

June ran back to the house, hitched the horses to the buckboard, and
changed to her best dress. She made a little bundle of her other clothes
and tied them in a bandanna handkerchief.

On a scrap of coarse brown wrapping-paper she wrote a short note:

Dear Dad,

I'm going away with Bob Dillon. We're going to be married. Don't
blame me too much. Jake Houck drove me to it. I'll write you soon.
Don't forget to take the cough medicine when you need it.

June

She added a postscript.

I'll leave the team at Kilburn's Corral.

Unexpectedly, she found herself crying. Tears splashed on the writing.
She folded the note, put it in the empty coffee pot, and left this on the
table.

June had no time just now for doubts. The horses were half-broken
broncos. They traveled the first hundred yards tied in a knot, the
buckboard sometimes on four wheels, but more often on two.

At the top of the hill she managed to slacken them enough for Bob to jump
in. They were off again as though shot from a bow. June wound the reins
round her hands and leaned back, arms and strong thin wrists taut. The
colts flew over the ground at a gallop.

There was no chance for conversation. Bob watched the girl drive. He
offered no advice. She was, he knew, a better teamster than himself. Her
eyes and mind were wholly on the business in hand.

A flush of excitement burned in June's cheeks. Tolliver never would let
her drive the colts because of the danger. She loved the stimulation of
rapid travel, the rush of the wind past her ears, the sense of
responsibility at holding the lines.

Bob clung to the seat and braced himself. He knew that all June could do
was to steady the team enough to keep the horses in the road. Every
moment he expected a smash, but it did not come. The colts reached the
foot of Twelve-Mile safely and swept up the slope beyond. The driver took
a new grip on the lines and put her weight on them. It was a long hill.
By the time they reached the top the colts were under control and ready
to behave for the rest of the day.

The sparkling eyes of June met those of Bob. "Great, ain't it?"

He nodded, but it had not been fun for him. He had been distinctly
frightened. He felt for June the reluctant admiration gameness compels
from those who are constitutionally timid. What manner of girl was this
who could shave disaster in such a reckless fashion and actually enjoy
it?

At the edge of the town they exchanged seats at June's suggestion and Bob
drove in. It was mid-afternoon by the sun as he tied the horses to the
rack in front of the larger of the two general stores.

"You stay here," the boy advised. "I'll get things fixed, then come back
an' let you know."

He had only a hazy idea of the business details of getting married, but
he knew a justice of the peace could tell him. He wandered down the
street in search of one.

Half a dozen cowpunchers bent on sport drifted in his direction. One of
them was riding down the dusty road. To the horn of his saddle a rope was
tied. The other end of it was attached to a green hide of a steer
dragging after him.

The punchers made a half-circle round Bob.

One grinned and made comment. "Here's one looks ripe, fellows. Jes'
a-honin' for a ride, looks like."

"Betcha he don't last ten jumps," another said.

Before Bob could offer any resistance or make any protest he had been
jubilantly seized and dumped down on the hide.

"Let 'er go," some one shouted.

The horse, at the touch of the spur, jumped to a gallop. Bob felt a
sudden sick sense of helplessness. The earth was cut out from under him.
He crouched low and tried to cling to the slippery hide as it bounced
forward. Each leap of the bronco upset him. Within three seconds he had
ridden on his head, his back, and his stomach. Wildly he clawed at the
rope as he rolled over.

With a yell the rider swung a corner. Bob went off the hide at a tangent,
rolling over and over in the yellow four-inch-deep dust.

He got up, dizzy and perplexed. His best suit looked as though it had
been through a long and severe war.

A boyish puncher came up and grinned at him in the friendliest way.
"Hello, fellow! Have a good ride?"

Bob smiled through the dust he had accumulated. "It didn't last long."

"Most generally it don't. Come in to Dolan's an' have a drink." He
mentioned his name. It was Dud Hollister.

"Can't." Bob followed an impulse. "Say, how do you get married?" he
asked, lowering his voice.

"I don't," Dud answered promptly. "Not so long as I'm in my right mind."

"I mean, how do I?" He added sheepishly, "She's in the buckboard."

"Oh!" Dud fell to sudden sobriety. This was serious business. "I'd get a
license at the cou't-house. Then go see Blister Haines. He's the J. P."

Bob equipped himself with a license, returned to June, and reported
progress.

The bride-to-be was simmering with indignation. In those days she had not
yet cultivated a sense of humor.

"I saw what they did to you--the brutes," she snapped.

"Sho! That wasn't nothin', June. The boys was only funnin'. Well, I got
things fixed. We gotta go to the J. P."

The justice was having forty winks when they entered his office. He was
enormously fat, a fact notable in a country of lean men. Moreover, he had
neither eyebrows nor hair, though his face announced him not more than
thirty in spite of its triple chin. Mr. Haines was slumped far down in a
big armchair out of which he overflowed prodigally. His feet were on a
second chair.

Bob wakened him ruthlessly. He sat up blinking. Bob started to speak. He
stopped him with a fat uplifted hand.

"I r-reckon I know what you want, y-young man," he said.





Next: Blister Gives Advice

Previous: Don't You Touch Him!



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