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Bob Holds His Red Haid High








From: The Fighting Edge

At the corner of the street Bob came upon Tom Reeves and an old Leadville
miner in argument. Tom made the high sign to Dillon.

"What's all the rumpus about?" he wanted to know.

"Jake Houck was seen crossin' the park. He got into the sage."

"Sho! I'll bet the hole of a doughnut he ain't been seen. If you was to
ask me I'd say he was twenty-five miles from here right now, an' not
lettin' no grass grow under his feet neither. I been talkin' to old
wooden head here about the railroad comin' in." Tom's eyes twinkled. His
friend guessed that he was trying to get a rise out of the old-timer.
"He's sure some mossback. I been tellin' him the railroad's comin'
through here an' Meeker right soon, but he can't see it. I reckon the
toot of an engine would scare him 'most to death."

"Don't get excited about that railroad, son," drawled the former
hard-rock driller, chewing his cud equably. "I rode a horse to death
fifteen years ago to beat the choo-choo train in here, an' I notice it
ain't arriv yet."

Bob left them to their argument. He was not just now in a mood for
badinage. He moved up the street past the scattered suburbs of the little
frontier town. Under the cool stars he wanted to think out what had just
taken place.

Had he fainted from sheer fright when the gun blazed at him? Or was
Blister's explanation a genuine one? He had read of men being thrown down
and knocked senseless by the atmospheric shock of shells exploding near
them in battle. But this would not come in that class. He had been
actually struck. The belt buckle had been driven against his flesh. Had
this hit him with force enough actually to drive the breath out of him?
Or had he thought himself wounded and collapsed because of the thought?

It made a great deal of difference to him which of these was true, more
than it did to the little world in which he moved. Some of the boys might
guy him good-naturedly, but nobody was likely to take the matter
seriously except himself. Bob had begun to learn that a man ought to be
his own most severe critic. He had set out to cure himself of cowardice.
He would not be easy in mind so long as he still suspected himself of
showing the white feather.

He leaned on a fence and looked across the silvery sage to a grove of
quaking asp beyond. How long he stood there, letting thoughts drift
through his mind, he did not know. A sound startled him, the faint swish
of something stirring. He turned.

Out of the night shadows a nymph seemed to be floating toward him. For a
moment he had a sense of unreality, that the flow and rhythm of her
movement were born of the imagination. But almost at once he knew that
this was June in the flesh.

The moonlight haloed the girl, lent her the touch of magic that
transformed her from a creature not too good for human nature's daily
food into an ethereal daughter of romance. Her eyes were dark pools of
loveliness in a white face.

"June!" he cried, excitement drumming in his blood.

Why had she come to find him? What impulse or purpose had brought her out
into the night in his wake? Desire of her, tender, poignant, absorbing,
pricked through him like an ache. He wanted her. Soul and body reached
out to her, though both found expression only in that first cry.

Her mouth quivered. "Oh, Bob, you silly boy! As if--as if it matters why
you were stunned. You were. That's enough. I'm so glad--so glad you're
not hurt. It's 'most a miracle. He might have killed you."

She did not tell him that he would have done it if she had not flung her
weight on his arm and dragged the weapon down, nor how in that dreadful
moment her wits had worked to save him from the homicidal mania of the
killer.

Bob's heart thumped against his ribs like a caged bird. Her dear concern
was for him. It was so she construed friendship--to give herself
generously without any mock modesty or prudery. She had come without
thought of herself because her heart had sent her.

"What matters is that when I called you came," she went on. "You weren't
afraid then, were you?"

"Hadn't time. That's why. I just jumped."

"Yes." The expression in her soft eyes was veiled, like autumn fires in
the hills blazing through mists. "You just jumped to help me. You forgot
he carried two forty-fives and would use them, didn't you?"

"Yes," he admitted. "I reckon if I'd thought of that--"

Even as the laughter rippled from her throat she gave a gesture of
impatience. There were times when self-depreciation ceased to be a
virtue. She remembered a confidence Blister had once made to her.

"T-Texas man," she squeaked, stuttering a little in mimicry, "throw up
that red haid an' stick out yore chin."

Up jerked the head. Bob began to grin in spite of himself.

"Whose image are you m-made in?" she demanded.

"You know," he answered.

"What have you got over all the world?"

"Dominion, ma'am, but not over all of it, I reckon."

"All of it," she insisted, standing clean of line and straight as a boy
soldier.

"Right smart of it," he compromised.

"Every teeny bit of it," she flung back.

"Have yore own way. I know you will anyhow," he conceded.

"An' what are you a little lower than?"

"I'm a heap lower than one angel I know."

She stamped her foot. "You're no such thing. You're as good as any
one--and better."

"I wouldn't say better," he murmured ironically. None the less he was
feeling quite cheerful again. He enjoyed being put through his catechism
by her.

"Trouble with you is you're so meek," she stormed. "You let anybody run
it over you till they go too far. What's the use of crying your own goods
down? Tell the world you're Bob Dillon and for it to watch your dust."

"You want me to brag an' strut like Jake Houck?"

"No-o, not like that. But Blister's right. You've got to know your worth.
When you're sure of it you don't have to tell other people about it. They
know."

He considered this. "Tha's correct," he said.

"Well, then."

Bob had an inspiration. It was born out of moonshine, her urging, and the
hunger of his heart. His spurs trailed across the grass.

"Is my red haid high enough now?" he asked, smiling.

Panic touched her pulse. "Yes, Bob."

"What have I got over all the world?" he quizzed.

"Dominion," she said obediently in a small voice.

"Over all of it?"

"I--don't--know."

His brown hands fastened on her shoulders. He waited till at last her
eyes came up to meet his. "Every teeny bit of it."

"Have your own way," she replied, trying feebly to escape an emotional
climax by repeating the words he had used. "I know you will anyhow."

He felt himself floating on a wave of audacious self-confidence. "Say it,
then. Every teeny bit of it."

"Every teeny bit of it," she whispered.

"That means June Tolliver too." The look in his eyes flooded her with
love.

"June Dillon," the girl corrected in a voice so soft and low he scarcely
made out the words.

He caught her in his arms. "You precious lamb!"

They forgot the rest of the catechism. She nestled against his shoulder
while they told each other in voiceless ways what has been in the hearts
of lovers ever since the first ones walked in Eden.





Next: The Outlaw Gets A Bad Break

Previous: Not Even Powder-burnt



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