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Bob Crawls His Hump Sudden

From: The Fighting Edge

There was a game of stud after supper in the bunkhouse. Bob lay on his
bed, a prey to wretched dread. He had made up his mind to have it out
with Bandy, but his heart was pumping water instead of blood. When he
looked at the squat puncher, thick-necked and leather-faced, an ugly
sneer on his lips, the courage died out of his breast.

Dud was sitting with his back to the wall. His attention was ostensibly
on the game, but Bob knew he was waiting for developments.

Bandy sat next Dud. "Raise you once," he snarled. His card-playing was
like everything else he did, offensive by reason of the spirit back of
it. He was a bad loser and a worse winner.

"And another blue," said Hollister easily when it came his turn again.
"Got to treat an ace in the hole with respect."

The other two players dropped out, leaving only Bandy to contest the pot
with Dud.

"Once more," retorted the bow-legged puncher, shoving in chips.

"And again."

"Hmp! Claim an ace in the hole, do you? Well, I'll jes' give it one more
li'l' kick."

Hollister had showing a deuce of hearts, a trey of clubs, an ace of
spades, and a four of hearts. He might have a five in the hole or an ace.
Bandy had a pair of jacks in sight.

Dud called.

"You see it," growled Bandy. "One pair."

His opponent flipped over an ace of diamonds. "One pair here--aces."

"Knew it all the time. Yore play gave it away," jeered Bandy with obvious

"I reckon that's why you kept raisin'," Dud suggested, raking in the

"All I needed was to hook a jack or another pair to beat you."

"If I didn't catch another ace or a small pair."

The game was breaking up.

"Hell! I was playin' poker before you could navigate, young fellow,"
Bandy boasted. He had lost four dollars and was annoyed.

"An' you're still an optimist about hookin' another pair when you need
'em." Dud was counting his winnings placidly. "Six-fifty--seven--seven
and two bits. Wish I had yore confidence in the music of the spears
workin' out so harmonious."

This last was a reference to a book left at the ranch recently by the
Reverend Melancthon Browning, the title of which was, "The Music of the
Spheres." Its philosophy was that every man makes his own world by the
way he thinks about it.

Bandy jingled back to his bunk. He unstrapped his spurs, hooked one foot
behind the knee of the other leg, and tried to work the wet boot off. The
slippery leather stuck.

He called to Bob. "Come here, fellow, an' yank this boot off for me."

Dillon did not move. His heart stood still, then began to race. A choking
filled his throat. The hour was striking for him. It was to be now or

The bow-legged puncher slewed his head. "I'm talkin' to you."

Slowly, reluctantly, Bob rose. He did not want to move. Something
stronger than his will lifted him out of the bed and dragged him across
the floor. He knew his hands were trembling.

Malignant triumph rode in Bandy's eye. It was always safe to bully this
timid youth. Dud Hollister had a "No Trespass" sign displayed in his
quiet, cool manner. Very well. He would take it out of his riding mate.
That was one way of getting at him.

"What's ailin' you? Git a move on. You act like you'd like to tell me to
go take a walk. I'll bet you would, too, if you wasn't such a rabbit

Bob stooped and picked up the dirty boot. He zigzagged it from the foot.
As he straightened again his eyes met those of Dud. He felt a roaring in
the temples.

"O' course any one that'd let another fellow take his wife from him--an'
him not married more'n an hour or two--"

The young fellow did not hear the end of the cruel gibe. The sound of
rushing waters filled his ears. He pulled off the second boot.

Again his gaze met that of Hollister. He remembered Dud's words. "Crawl
his hump sudden. Go to it like a wild cat." The trouble was he couldn't.
His muscles would not obey the flaccid will.

The flood of waters died down. The roaring ceased. The puncher's words
came to him clear.

"... not but what she was likely glad enough to go with Jake. She was out
with him four-five hours. Where was they, I ask? What was they doing? You
can't tell me she couldn't 'a' got away sooner if she'd wanted to so
darned bad. No, sir, I'm no chicken right out of a shell. When it comes
to a woman I say, Where's the man?"

A surge of anger welled up in Dillon and overflowed. He forgot about Dud
and his threats. He forgot about his trepidation. This hound was talking
of June, lying about her out of his foul throat.

One of the boots was still in his hand. He swung it round and brought the
heel hard against the fellow's mouth. The blood gushed from the crushed
lips. Bob dropped the boot and jolted his left to the cheek. He followed
with a smashing right to the eye.

Taken at disadvantage, Bandy tried to struggle to his feet. He ran into
one straight from the shoulder that caught the bridge of his nose and
flung him back upon the bunk.

His hand reached under the pillow. Bob guessed what was there and dropped
hard with both knees on his stomach.

The breath went out of Bandy suddenly. He lay still for a moment. When he
began to struggle again he had forgotten the revolver under the pillow.
With a sweeping gesture Bob brushed pillow and gun to the floor.

The man underneath twisted his red, wrinkled neck and bit Bob's forearm
savagely. The boy's fingers closed like a vice on the hairy throat and
tightened. His other fist beat a merciless tattoo on the bruised and
bleeding face.

"Take him off!" Bandy presently gasped.

Dud appointed himself referee. With difficulty he unloosed the fingers
embedded in the flesh of the throat.

"Had enough, Bandy? You licked?" he asked.

"Take him off, I tell you!" the man managed to scream.

"Not unless you're whipped. How about it?"

"'Nough," the bully groaned.

Bob observed that Hawks had taken charge of the revolver. He released

The bow-legged puncher sat at the side of the bed and coughed. The blood
was streaming from a face bruised and cut in a dozen places.

"He--he--jumped me--when I wasn't lookin'," the cowboy spat out, a word
at a time.

"Don't pull an alibi, Bandy. You had it comin'," Dud said with a grin. He
was more pleased than he could tell.

Dillon felt as though something not himself had taken control of him. He
was in a cold fury, ready to fight again at the drop of a hat.

"He said she--she--" The sentence broke, but Bob rushed into another.
"He's got to take it back or I'll kill him."

"Only the first round ended, looks like, Bandy," Dud said genially. "You
better be lookin' this time when he comes at you, or he'll sure eat you

"I'm not lookin' for no fight," Bandy said sulkily, dabbing at his face
with the bandanna round his neck.

"I'll bet you ain't--not with a catamount like Miss Roberta here," Tom
Reeves said, chuckling with delight.

One idea still obsessed Bob's consciousness. "What he said about
June--I'll not let him get away with it. He's got to tell you-all he was

"You hear yore boss speak, Bandy," drawled Dud. "How about it? Do we get
to see you massacreed again? Or do you stand up an' admit you're a dirty
liar for talkin' thataway?"

Bandy Walker looked round on a circle of faces all unfriendly to him. He
had broken the code, and he knew it. In the outdoor West a man does not
slander a good woman without the chance of having to pay for it. The
puncher had let his bad bullying temper run away with him. He had done it
because he had supposed Dillon harmless, to vent on him the spleen he
could not safely empty upon Dud Hollister's blond head.

If Bob had been alone the bow-legged man might have taken a
chance--though it is doubtful whether he would have invited that
whirlwind attack again, unless he had had a revolver close at hand--but
he knew public sentiment was wholly against him. There was nothing to do
but to swallow his words.

That he did this in the most ungracious way possible was like him. "Since
you're runnin' a Sunday School outfit I'll pack my roll an' move on
to-morrow to where there's some he-men," he sneered. "I never met this
girl, so I don't know a thing about her. All I did was to make a general
remark about women. Which same I know to be true. But since you're a
bunch of sky pilots at the Slash Lazy D, I'll withdraw anything that
hurts yore tender feelin's."

"Are you takin' back what you said--about--about her?" Bob demanded

Bandy's smouldering, sullen eyes slid round. "I'm takin' it back. Didn't
you hear me say I don' know a thing about her? I know Houck, though. So I
judged--" He spat a loose tooth out on the floor venomously. It would
perhaps not be wise to put into words what he had deduced from his
knowledge of Jake Houck.

"The incident is now clo-o-sed if Miss Roberta is satisfied," Dud
announced to the public at large.

His riding mate looked at Hollister. "Don't call me that," he said.

For a moment Dud was puzzled. "Don't call you what?"

"What you just called me."

Dud broke into a grin of delight. He wondered if it would not be a good
idea to make Bob give him a licking, too. But he decided to let good
enough alone. He judged that Blister would be satisfied without any more
gore. Anyhow, Bob might weaken and spoil it.

"Boy, I'll never call you Miss--what I called you--long as I live
exceptin' when I'm meanin' to compliment you special." Dud slapped him
hard between the shoulder blades. "You're a young cyclone, but you can't
get a chance to muss Dud Hollister up to-night. You work too rapid.
Doggone my hide, if I ever did see a faster or a better piece o' work.
How about it, Tom?"

Reeves, too, pounded Dillon in token of friendship. If Bob had not wiped
the slate clean he had made a start in that direction.

"You're some scrapper when you get started. Bandy looks like he's been
through a railroad wreck," he said.

Bandy was by this time at the wash-basin repairing damages. "Tell you he
jumped me when I wasn't lookin'," he growled sulkily. "Fine business.
You-all stood by an' watched him do it."

"After you'd deviled him for a week," amended Big Bill. "Mebbe in that
outfit of he-men you're expectin' to hit the trail for to-morrow they'll
wrop you up in cotton an' not let a hundred-an'-thirty-pound giant jump

"I ain't askin' it of 'em," Bandy retorted. "I can look out for myself
an' then some. As for this sprout who thinks he's so gosh-mighty, I'll
jus' say one thing. Some o' these days I'll settle with him proper."

He turned as he spoke. The look on his battered face was venomous.

Next: In The Saddle

Previous: An Alternative Proposed And Declined

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