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For The World's Championship

From: A Story Of The Outdoor West

The scene on which Helen Messiter's eyes rested that mellow Fourth of
July was vivid enough to have interested a far more jaded mind than
hers. Nowhere outside of Cattleland could it have been duplicated.
Wyoming is sparsely populated, but the riders of the plains think
nothing of traveling a hundred miles in the saddle to be present at a
"broncobusting" contest. Large delegations, too, had come in by railroad
from Caspar, Billings, Sheridan, Cheyenne and a score of other points,
so that the amphitheatre that looked down on the arena was filled to its

All night the little town had rioted with its guests. Everything was
wide open at Gimlet Butte. Saloons were doing a land-office business and
gambling-houses coining money. Great piles of gold had passed to and fro
during the night at the roulette wheel and the faro table. But with the
coming of day interest had centered on the rough-riding contest for the
world's championship. Saloons and dance halls were deserted, and the
universal trend of travel had been toward the big grand stands, from
which the sport could be best viewed.

It was afternoon now. The preliminaries had been ridden, and half a
dozen of the best riders had been chosen by the judges to ride again
for the finals. Helen was wonderfully interested, because in the six who
were to ride again were included the two Bannister cousins, her foreman,
McWilliams, the young man "Texas," whom she had met the day of her
arrival at Gimlet Butte, and Tom Sanford, who had last year won the

She looked down on the arena, and her heart throbbed with the pure
joy of life. Already she loved her West and its picturesque, chap-clad
population. Their jingling spurs and their colored kerchiefs knotted
round sunburned necks, their frank, whole-hearted abandon to the
interest of the moment, led her to regard these youths as schoolboys.
Yet they were a hard-bitten lot, as one could see, burned to a brick-red
by the untempered sun of the Rockies; with muscles knit like steel,
and hearts toughened to endure any blizzard they might meet. Only the
humorous wrinkles about the corners of their eyes gave them away for the
cheerful sons of mirth that they were.

"Bob Austin on Two-Step," announced the megaphone man, and a little stir
eddied through the group gathered at the lane between the arena and the

A meek-looking buckskin was driven into the arena. The embodiment of
listlessness, it apparently had not ambition enough to flick a fly from
its flank with its tail. Suddenly the bronco's ears pricked, its sharp
eyes dilated. A man was riding forward, the loop of a lariat circling
about his head. The rope fell true, but the wily pony side-stepped, and
the loop slithered to the ground. Again the rope shot forward, dropped
over the pony's head and tightened. The roper's mustang braced its
forefeet, and brought the buckskin up short. Another rope swept over its
head. It stood trembling, unable to move without strangling itself.

A picturesque youth in flannel shirt and chaps came forward, dragging
blanket, saddle and bridle. At sight of him the horse gave a spasmodic
fling, then trembled again violently. A blind was coaxed over its eyes
and the bridle slipped on. Quickly and warily, with deft fingers, the
young man saddled and cinched. He waved a hand jauntily to the ropers.
The lariats were thrown off as the puncher swung to the saddle. For an
instant the buckskin stood bewildered, motionless as a statue. There was
a sudden leap forward high in air, and Bob Austin, alias "Texas," swung
his sombrero with a joyous whoop.

"Fan him! Fan him!" screamed the spectators, and the rider's quirt went
up and down like a piston-rod.

Round and round went Two-Step in a vicious circle, "swapping ends" with
dizzying rapidity. Suddenly he went forward as from a catapult, and came
to sudden halt in about five seconds. But Texas's knees still clung,
viselike, to the sides of the pony. A series of quick bucks followed,
the buckskin coming down with back humped, all four legs stiff as iron
posts. The jar on the rider would have been like a pile-driver falling
on his head had he not let himself grow limp. The buckskin plunged
forward again in frenzied leaps, ending in an unexpected jump to one
side. Alas for Texas! One moment he was jubilantly plying quirt and
spurs, the next he found himself pitching sideways. To save himself he
caught at the saddle-horn.

"He's hunting leather," shouted a hundred voices.

One of the judges rode out and waved a hand. Texas slipped to the ground
disqualified, and made his dejected way back to his deriding comrades.
Some of them had endured similar misfortunes earlier in the day.
Therefore they found much pleasure in condoling with him.

"If he'd only recollected to saw off the horn of his saddle, then
he couldn't 'a' found it when he went to hunt leather," mournfully
commented one puncher in a shirt of robin's egg blue.

"'Twould have been most as good as to take the dust, wouldn't it?"
retorted Texas gently, and the laugh was on the gentleman in blue,
because he had been thrown earlier in the day.

"A fellow's hands sure get in his way sometimes. I reckon if you'd tied
your hands, Tex, you'd been riding that rocking-hawss yet," suggested
Denver amiably.

"Sometimes it's his foot he puts in it. There was onct a gent
disqualified for riding on his spurs," said Texas reminiscently.

At which hit Denver retired, for not three hours before he had been
detected digging his spurs into the cinch to help him stick to the

"Jim McWilliams will ride Dead Easy," came the announcement through the
megaphone, and a burst of cheering passed along the grand stand, for the
sunny smile of the foreman of the Lazy D made him a general favorite.
Helen leaned forward and whispered something gaily to Nora, who sat in
the seat in front of her. The Irish girl laughed and blushed, but when
her mistress looked up it was her turn to feel the mounting color creep
into her cheeks. For Ned Bannister, arrayed in all his riding finery,
was making his way along the aisle to her.

She had not seen him since he had ridden away from the Lazy D ten days
before, quite sufficiently recovered from his wounds to take up the
routine of life again. They had parted not the best of friends, for she
had not yet forgiven him for his determination to leave with his cousin
on the night that she had been forced to insist on his remaining. He had
put her in a false position, and he had never explained to her why. Nor
could she guess the reason--for he was not a man to harvest credit for
himself by explaining his own chivalry.

Since her heart told her how glad she was he had come to her box to see
her, she greeted him with the coolest little nod in the world.

"Good morning, Miss Messiter. May I sit beside y'u?" he asked.

"Oh, certainly!" She swept her skirts aside carelessly and made room for
him. "I thought you were going to ride soon."

"No, I ride last except for Sanford, the champion. My cousin rides just
before me. He's entered under the name of Jack Holloway."

She was thinking that he had no business to be riding, that his wounds
were still too fresh, but she did not intend again to show interest
enough in his affairs to interfere even by suggestion. Her heart had
been in her mouth every moment of the time this morning while he had
been tossed hither and thither on the back of his mount. In his delirium
he had said he loved her. If he did, why should he torture her so? It
was well enough for sound men to risk their lives, but--

A cheer swelled in the grand stand and died breathlessly away.
McWilliams was setting a pace it would take a rare expert to equal. He
was a trick rider, and all the spectacular feats that appealed to the
onlooker were his. While his horse was wildly pitching, he drank a
bottle of pop and tossed the bottle away. With the reins in his teeth
he slipped off his coat and vest, and concluded a splendid exhibition of
skill by riding with his feet out of the stirrups. He had been smoking a
cigar when he mounted. Except while he had been drinking the pop it had
been in his mouth from beginning to end, and, after he had vaulted from
the pony's back, he deliberately puffed a long smoke-spiral into the
air, to show that his cigar was still alight. No previous rider had
earned so spontaneous a burst of applause. "He's ce'tainly a pure when
it comes to riding," acknowledged Bannister. "I look to see him get
either first or second."

"Whom do you think is his most dangerous rival?" Helen asked.

"My cousin is a straight-up rider, too. He's more graceful than Mac, I
think, but not quite so good on tricks. It will be nip and tuck."

"How about your cousin's cousin?" she asked, with bold irony.

"He hopes he won't have to take the dust," was his laughing answer.

The next rider suffered defeat irrevocably before he had been thirty
seconds in the saddle. His mount was one of the most cunning of the
outlaw ponies of the Northwest, and it brought him to grief by jamming
his leg hard against the fence. He tried in vain to spur the bronco into
the middle of the arena, but after it drove at a post for the third time
and ground his limb against it, he gave up to the pain and slipped off.

"That isn't fair, is it?" Helen asked of the young man sitting beside

He shrugged his lean, broad shoulders. "He should have known how to keep
the horse in the open. Mac would never have been caught that way."

"Jack Holloway on Rocking Horse," the announcer shouted.

It took four men and two lariats to subdue this horse to a condition
sufficiently tame to permit of a saddle being slipped on. Even then this
could not be accomplished without throwing the bronco first. The result
was that all the spirit was taken out of the animal by the preliminary
ordeal, so that when the man from the Shoshone country mounted, his
steed was too jaded to attempt resistance.

"Thumb him! Thumb him!" the audience cried, referring to the cowboy
trick of running the thumbs along a certain place in the shoulder to
stir the anger of the bucker.

But the rider slipped off with disgust. "Give me another horse," he
demanded, and after a minute's consultation among the judges a second
pony was driven out from the corral. This one proved to be a Tartar. It
went off in a frenzy of pitching the moment its rider dropped into the

"Y'u'll go a long way before you see better ridin' than his and Mac's.
Notice how he gives to its pitching," said Bannister, as he watched his
cousin's perfect ease in the cyclone of which he was the center.

"I expect it depends on the kind of a 'hawss,'" she mocked. "He's riding
well, isn't he?"

"I don't know any that ride better."

The horse put up a superb fight, trying everything it knew to unseat
this demon clamped to its back. It possessed in combination all the
worst vices, was a weaver, a sunfisher and a fence-rower, and never
had it tried so desperately to maintain its record of never having
been ridden. But the outlaw in the saddle was too much for the outlaw
underneath. He was master, just as he was first among the ruffians whom
he led, because there was in him a red-hot devil of wickedness that
would brook no rival.

The furious bronco surrendered without an instant's warning, and its
rider slipped at once to the ground. As he sauntered through the dust
toward the grand stand, Helen could not fail to see how his vanity
sunned itself in the applause that met his performance. His equipment
was perfect to the least detail. The reflection from a lady's
looking-glass was no brighter than the silver spurs he jingled on his
sprightly heels. Strikingly handsome in a dark, sinister way, one would
say at first sight, and later would chafe at the justice of a verdict
not to be denied.

Ned Bannister rose from his seat beside Helen. "Wish me luck," he said,
with his gay smile.

"I wish you all the luck you deserve," she answered.

"Oh, wish me more than that if y'u want me to win."

"I didn't say I wanted you to win. You take the most unaccountable
things for granted."

"I've a good mind to win, then, just to spite y'u," he laughed.

"As if you could," she mocked; but her voice took a softer intonation as
she called after him in a low murmur: "Be careful, please."

His white teeth flashed a smile of reassurance at her. "I've never been
killed yet."

"Ned Bannister on Steamboat," sang out the megaphone man.

"I'm ce'tainly in luck. Steamboat's the worst hawss on the range," he
told himself, as he strode down the grand stand to enter the arena.

The announcement of his name created for the second time that day a stir
of unusual interest. Everybody in that large audience had heard of Ned
Bannister; knew of his record as a "bad man" and his prowess as the king
of the Shoshone country; suspected him of being a train and bank robber
as well as a rustler. That he should have the boldness to enter the
contest in his own name seemed to show how defiant he was of the public
sentiment against him, and how secure he counted himself in flaunting
this contempt. As for the sheepman, the notoriety that his cousin's
odorous reputation had thrust upon him was extremely distasteful as well
as dangerous, but he had done nothing to disgrace his name, and he meant
to use it openly. He could almost catch the low whispers that passed
from mouth to mouth about him.

"Ain't it a shame that a fellow like that, leader of all the criminals
that hide in the mountains, can show himself openly before ten thousand
honest folks?" That he knew to be the purport of their whispering, and
along with it went a recital of the crimes he had committed. How he
was a noted "waddy," or cattle-rustler; how he and his gang had held
up three trains in eighteen months; how he had killed Tom Mooney, Bob
Carney and several others--these were the sorts of things that were
being said about him, and from the bottom of his soul he resented his
impotency to clear his name.

There was something in Bannister's riding that caught Helen's fancy at
once. It was the unconscious grace of the man, the ease with which he
seemed to make himself a very part of the horse. He attempted no tricks,
rode without any flourishes. But the perfect poise of his lithe body as
it gave with the motions of the horse, proclaimed him a born rider; so
finished, indeed, that his very ease seemed to discount the performance.
Steamboat had a malevolent red eye that glared hatred at the oppressor
man, and to-day it lived up to its reputation of being the most vicious
and untamed animal on the frontier. But, though it did its best to
unseat the rider and trample him underfoot, there was no moment when the
issue seemed in doubt save once. The horse flung itself backward in a
somersault, risking its own neck in order to break its master's. But
he was equal to the occasion; and when Steamboat staggered again to its
feet Bannister was still in the saddle. It was a daring and magnificent
piece of horsemanship, and, though he was supposed to be a desperado
and a ruffian, his achievement met with a breathless gasp, followed by
thunderous applause.

The battle between horse and man was on again, for the animal was as
strong almost in courage as the rider. But Steamboat's confidence had
been shaken as well as its strength. Its efforts grew less cyclonic.
Foam covered its mouth and flecked its sides. The pitches were easy to
foresee and meet. Presently they ceased altogether.

Bannister slid from the saddle and swayed unsteadily across the arena.
The emergency past, he had scarce an ounce of force left in him. Jim
McWilliams ran out and slipped an arm around his shoulders, regardless
of what his friends might think of him for it.

"You're all in, old man. Y'u hadn't ought to have ridden, even though
y'u did skin us all to a finish."

"Nonsense, Mac. First place goes to y'u or--or Jack Holloway."

"Not unless the judges are blind."

But Bannister's prediction proved true. The champion, Sanford, had been
traveling with a Wild West show, and was far too soft to compete with
these lusty cowboys, who had kept hard from their daily life on the
plains. Before he had ridden three minutes it was apparent that he stood
no chance of retaining his title, so that the decision narrowed itself
to an issue between the two Bannisters and McWilliams. First place was
awarded to the latter, the second prize to Jack Holloway and the third
to Ned Bannister.

But nearly everybody in the grand stand knew that Bannister had been
discriminated against because of his unpopularity. The judges were
not local men, and had nothing to fear from the outlaw. Therefore they
penalized him on account of his reputation. It would never do for
the Associated Press dispatches to send word all over the East that a
murderous desperado was permitted, unmolested, to walk away with the
championship belt.

"It ain't a square deal," declared McWilliams promptly.

He was sitting beside Nora, and he turned round to express his opinion
to the two sitting behind him in the box.

"We'll not go behind the returns. Y'u won fairly. I congratulate
y'u, Mr. Champion-of-the-world," replied the sheepman, shaking hands

"I told you to bring that belt to the Lazy D," smiled his mistress, as
she shook hands.

But in her heart she was crying out that it was an outrage.

Next: Judd Morgan Passes

Previous: The Two Cousins

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