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Goliday's Choice








From: Kid Wolf Of Texas

The east was streaked with pink and orange when The Kid and Harry
Thomas rode into the sleeping town of Mariposa. The little Mexican
city, they discovered, however, was not entirely asleep.

At the northern edge of the city, on the stretch of sand between the
huddled adobes and the sandy waters of the Rio, things had taken place.

Harry and The Kid rode up to see a camp fire twinkling in the bottom of
an arroyo just out of sight of Mariposa. Near it was the herd of six
hundred steers, some down and resting, others milling restlessly about
under the watchful eyes of three shadowy riders.

"Are those the don's men?" asked Harry in astonishment.

"Too far north," chuckled The Kid. "Look down by the fire!"

Tied securely with lariat rope, four figures reclined near the smoking
embers. They were not Americans. The two grinning newcomers saw that,
even before they made out their swarthy faces. The prisoners wore the
dirty velvet jackets and big sombreros of Mexico.

"Theah's the don's men," said The Kid, laughing. "Come on!"

He rode toward one of the mounted shadows and whistled softly. The man
turned. It was just light enough to make out his features. It was
Anton.

"By golly, Kid," he yelped out. "Yo're here at last! We'd about give
yuh up!"

"I see that yo' didn't wait fo' me," returned the Texan, smiling.

Wise and Lathum, seeing their visitors, spurred their mounts toward
them. They greeted him with an exulting yell.

"We turned the trick!" Wise exclaimed. "Not a shot fired. Did it
hours ago."

"Yuh see, Kid," said Anton, "we just naturally got so impatient and
nervous waitin' that we couldn't stand it any longer. O' course, it
was contrary to yore plans, maybe, but we saw the S Bar steers, stood
it as long as we could, and swooped down. How yuh got 'em here and had
'em waitin' fer us like this is more'n I can see!"

"Yo' did well," approved Kid Wolf. "I thought maybe yo'd know what to
do."

"Who is thet with yuh?" asked Anton, coming a bit closer. "Well,
blamed if it ain't--Harry Thomas! Where--how----"

"Yes, it's me, boys," said Harry shamefacedly. "I've been a bad one, I
know. But my friend, The Kid, here has opened my eyes to what's right.
I want to go straight, and----" His voice trailed off.

"Harry's played the hand of a real man to-night," Kid Wolf put in for
him.

"I'm through as a gambler," said Harry. "Boys, will yuh take me for a
friend?"

"Well, I should say we will!" Lathum cried, and all three shook his
hand warmly.

"Yore mother will be mighty proud, son--and glad," old Anton said.

"Now, men," said The Kid, "get those steers movin' toward the S Bar.
Yuh ought to have 'em across the Rio by sunup. Theah won't be any
pursuit. Don Floristo isn't in any position to ordah it. I'll see
yo'-all at Ma Thomas' dinnah table."

"Where are you goin', Kid?" Lathum asked in astonishment.

"Harry will help yo' get the cattle home," said The Kid. "I'm ridin'
like all get-out to make Mistah Goliday, Esquiah, a social call."

"But why----" Wise began.

"I've just remembahed," drawled The Kid, "wheah I saw a pair of
low-heeled, square-toed ridin' boots."

Anton gave a low whistle.

"By golly, boys. He's right! I remember now, too."

"So do I!" ejaculated Lathum.

"How about lettin' us go, too?" asked Wise. "Goliday has some hard
hombres workin' for him, and----"

"Please leave this to me," begged The Kid. "Yo' duty is heah with
these cattle. All mah life I've made it mah duty to right wrongs--and
not only that, but to put the wrongdoers wheah they can't commit any
mo' wrongs. Goliday is the mastah mind in all this trouble. Is theah
a sho't cut to his ranch?"

Anton knew the trails of the district like a memorized map, and he gave
The Kid detailed instructions. By following the mountain chain to the
westward he would reach a dry wash that would lead him to a point
within sight of Goliday's hacienda.

"Still set on it?"

The Kid nodded. "Adios! Yuh'll probably get through to the S Bar in
good time. Good-by, Harry."

"Good luck!" they shouted after him.


At the crest of a mesquite-dotted swell of white sand, several hours
later, The Kid paused to look over the situation that confronted him.

Ahead of him, to the westward, were the buildings of the Goliday ranch.
Strangely enough, there was no sign of life around it--save for the
horses in the large corral and the cattle meandering about the water
hole.

Was the entire ranch personnel in San Felipe? Impossible! And yet he
had seen no one. The Kid hoped that Goliday was not in town.

A desert wash led its twisting way to one side of him, and he saw that
by following its course he could reach the trees about the water hole
unobserved.

"Easy, Blizzahd," he said softly.

The sand deadened the sound of the big white horse's hoofs as it took
the dry wash at a speedy clip. Kid Wolf crouched low, so that his body
would not show above the edge of the wash. At the water hole he drew
up in the shelter of a cottonwood to listen. His ears had caught a
succession of steady, measured sounds. They came from one of the small
adobe outbuildings. Inside, some one was hammering leather. This was
the ranch's saddle shop evidently.

Very quietly The Kid dismounted. The saddle shop was not far away. He
strolled toward it, wading through the sand that reached nearly to his
ankles. He paused in the doorway, and the hammering sound suddenly
ceased.

"Buenos dias," drawled the Texan.

The man in the shop was Goliday! He had whirled about like a cat. The
hammer slipped from his right hand and dropped to the hard-packed earth
floor with a thud.

Kid Wolf's eyes went from Goliday's dark, amazed face, with its shock
of black hair, down to his boots. They were low-heeled, square-toed
boots, embellished with scrolls done in red thread. The Kid's quiet
glance traveled again back to Goliday's startled countenance. Dismay
and fury were mingled there. Kid Wolf had made no movement toward his
guns. His hands were relaxed easily at his sides. He was smiling.

Goliday's ivory-handled gun was in his pistol holster. His hand moved
a few inches toward it. Then it stopped. Goliday hesitated. Face to
face with the show-down, he was afraid.

"Well," the ranchman's words came slowly, "what do yuh want with me?"

"I want yo'," said The Kid in a voice ringing like a sledge on solid
steel, "fo' the murdah of the ownah of the S Bar!"

"Bah!" sneered Goliday, but a strange look crossed his dark eyes. His
legs were trembling a little, either from excitement or nervousness.

"Yo're loco," he added. "My men are in town or I'd have yuh rode off
of my place on a rail!"

"Goliday," snapped Kid Wolf crisply, "the man who shot Thomas down,
wore low-heeled, square-toed boots."

"Yuh can't convict a man on that," replied the ranchman with a forced
laugh.

"No?" The Kid drawled. "Well, that isn't all. The man who fired the
death shot used a very peculiah revolvah--very peculiar. The caliber
was .45. Wait a moment--a .45 with unusual riflin'."

"Yo're crazy," said Goliday, but his face was pale.

"By examinin' the cahtridge," continued the Texan in a dangerous voice,
"I found that the fatal gun had five grooves and five lands. The usual
six-shootah has six grooves and six lands. Let me see yo' gun, sah!"

The command came like a whip-crack and little drops of perspiration
stood out suddenly on Goliday's ashen forehead.

"It's a lie," he stammered. "I----"

"Yo' had bettah confess, Goliday. The game's up. Majah Stovah died
early this mohnin' from heart trouble. Goliday, yo' can do just two
things. The choice is up to yo'.'"

"The choice?" repeated the rancher mechanically.

"Yes, yo' can surrendah--and in that case, I'll turn yo' ovah to the
nearest law, if it's a thousand miles away. Or--yo' can shoot it out
with me heah and now. It's up to yo'."

"Yuh wanted to see my gun," said Goliday, with a sudden, deadly laugh.
"All right, I'll show yuh what's in it!"

Like a flash his hairy right hand shot down toward the ivory-handled
Colt.

The ranchman's hand touched the handle before Kid Wolf made even a move
toward his own weapons. Goliday's eager, fear-accelerated fingers
snapped the hammer back. The gun slid half out of its holster as he
tipped it up.

There was a noise in the little adobe like a thunderclap! A red pencil
of flame streaked out between the two men. Then the smoke rolled out,
dense and choking. Thud! A gun dropped to the hard, dirt floor.

Goliday groped out with his two empty hands for support. His face was
distorted. A long gasp came from his lips. A round dot had suddenly
appeared two inches left of his breast bone. He dropped heavily,
grunting as he struck the ground.

Paying no more attention to him, Kid Wolf holstered his own smoking .45
and bent over and picked up Goliday's ivory-handled weapon. He smiled
grimly as he peered into the muzzle. A very peculiar gun! There were
five grooves and five lands, which are the spaces between the grooves,
the uncut metal.

Goliday, with a bullet just below his heart, was not quite dead. He
realized what had happened. He was done for. Rapidly, as if afraid
that he could not finish what he wished to say, he began to speak:

"Yuh--were right. I killed Thomas. I wanted the S Bar. I'm afraid to
go like this, Kid Wolf. I tell yuh I'm afraid!" His voice rose to a
shriek. "There's murder on my soul, and there'll--be more. Quick!
Quick!"

"Is there anything I can do?" The Kid asked, generous even to a fallen
enemy such as Goliday.

"Yes," Goliday groaned. "All my men aren't in town. I sent Steve
Stacy and Ed Mullhall--down to the S Bar--a little while ago--to do
away with Mrs. Thomas. Stop 'em! Stop 'em! I don't want to die with
this on my soul. I--I----"

His words ended in a gurgling moan. His face twitched and then
relaxed. He was dead.

His dying words had thrilled Kid Wolf with horror. Steve Stacy and Ed
Mullhall on their way to murder Ma Thomas! Perhaps they were at the S
Bar already! Perhaps their terrible work was done! The Kid went white.

But he wasted no time in wringing his hands. At a dead run he left the
saddle shop and the dead villain within it. He whistled for Blizzard.
The horse raced to meet him. With a bound The Kid was in the saddle.
He knew of no trail to the S Bar. He must cut across country. There
was no time to hunt for one. Then, too, he must cut off as much as he
could. In that way, if the two killers followed a more or less winding
trail, he might overtake them.

The country was rough and broken. And, worse still, Blizzard was
tired. He had been on the go for many hours. There was a limit even
to the creamy-white horse's superb strength. It seemed hopeless.
Southeast they tore at breakneck speed. Blizzard seemed to sense what
was required of him. He ran like mad, clamping down on the bit, his
muscles rippling under his glossy hide--a hide that was already flecked
with foam.

"Go like yo' nevah went befo', Blizzahd boy," The Kid sobbed.

Never had he been up against a plot so ruthless, a situation more
terrible. A lone woman, Ma Thomas, had been selected for the next
victim!

As they pounded along, a thousand thoughts tortured the mind of The
Kid. In a way, it was his fault. It was by his suggestion that Mrs.
Thomas had returned to the ranch. Already, possibly, she was dead!
Kid Wolf had never been angrier. The emotion that gripped him was more
than anger. If he could only reach that S Bar in time!

He rode over hills of sand, across stretches of soft, yielding sand
that slowed even Blizzard's furiously drumming hoofs, over treacherous
fields of lava rock, through cactus forests. Up and down he went, but
always on, and always heading southward toward the ranch. Very rarely
did The Kid use the spurs, but he used them now, roweling Blizzard
desperately. And the white horse responded like a machine.

There is a limit to the endurance of any animal, however strong.
Blizzard could not keep up that pace forever. He had begun to pant.
He was running on sheer courage now. Then The Kid mounted a rise.
Ahead of him he saw two moving dots--horsemen, bound toward the S Bar!
They were Stacy and Mullhall, without a doubt!

Kid Wolf's heart leaped. They had not reached the ranch yet, at any
rate. There was still hope. Again and again he raked Blizzard with
the spurs. The horse was living up to his name now, running like a
white snowstorm. Already the distance between Kid Wolf and the other
horsemen was lessened. But they had seen him! Before, they had been
riding at a leisurely pace. Now they broke into a gallop!

"Get 'em, Blizzahd," cried The Kid. "We've got to get those men, boy!"

Suddenly before The Kid a deep arroyo yawned. The walls were steep.
There was no time to go around, or seek a place to make the crossing.
It looked like the end. A full twenty feet! A tremendous leap, and
for a tired horse----

"Jump it, boy! Jump it!"

Again Blizzard was raked with the spur. They were nearly at the arroyo
edge now. It was very deep. Would Blizzard take it, or refuse?

Kid Wolf knew his horse. He already felt Blizzard rising madly in the
air. The danger now was in the fall. For if the horse failed to make
it, death would be the issue. Jagged rocks thirty feet below awaited
horse and rider if the leap failed.

But Blizzard made it! He scrambled desperately on, the far edge for a
breathless moment while the soft sand caked and caved. The Kid threw
his weight forward. Safely across, Blizzard was off again, galloping
like a white demon.

Kid Wolf unlimbered one of his Colts. The range was almost impossible.
Six times The Kid shot. One of the men toppled from his saddle and
fell sprawling. The other rider kept on.

The Kid did not fire any more, for he knew that he had been lucky
indeed, to get one of them at such a distance. He bent all his efforts
toward heading off the other. Already the S Bar hacienda was within
sight. There was no time to lose!

As The Kid pounded past he saw the face of the man who had been struck
by the chance bullet. It was Mullhall. Stacy kept going. He was
urging his horse to top speed, bent upon reaching the ranch and getting
in his work before The Kid could catch him.

Blizzard had reached his limit. His pace was faltering. Little by
little he began to lag behind. He was nearly spent. Only an expert
rider could have done what The Kid did then. Without slackening
Blizzard's speed, he slipped his saddle. With the reins in his teeth,
he worked loose the latigo and cinch, taking care not to trip the
speeding horse. Then he swung himself backward, freed the saddle and
blanket and hurled both sidewise. He was riding bareback now!

Relieved of forty pounds of dead weight, Blizzard lengthened his stride
and took new courage. He was overhauling Stacy now yard by yard!

Stacy turned in his saddle and emptied his gun at his pursuer--six
quick spats of smoke and six slugs of whining lead. All went wild, for
it was difficult to aim at such a smashing gallop.

"We've got him now, boy," The Kid gasped. "Close in!"

Farther south, in the distance, he saw a great dust cloud moving in
slowly. It was the riders with the recovered herd! But The Kid only
had a glimpse. Steve Stacy was whirling about desperately to meet him.
Once again The Kid was involved in a showdown to the bitter finish!

Kid Wolf's left-hand Colt sputtered from his hip. He had no more mercy
for Stacy than he would have had for a rattlesnake that had bitten a
friend.

Br-r-rang-bang! Spat-spat! Stacy, hit twice, still blazed away. A
bullet ripped through the Texan's sleeve. Again he fired. The
ex-foreman fell, part way. The stirrup caught his left foot as his
head went into the sand. Stacy's horse reared back, started to run,
then stopped and waited patiently for its master who would never rise.


There was feasting at the S Bar hacienda. The table was heavily laden
with dishes--once full of delicious viands but now empty. The men,
five in all, had brought out their "makin's." Ma Thomas, bustling
about with more coffee and a wonderful dessert she had mysteriously
prepared, beamed down on them.

"You're surely not through already, are you, boys?" she protested.
"Why, there's more pie and cake, and besides the----"

"I've et," sighed Anton, "until I'm about to bust."

There was a pause during which five matches were struck and applied to
the ends of five cigarettes.

"Well," sighed Kid Wolf, "I hope Blizzahd has enjoyed his dinnah as
much as I've enjoyed mine. He deserves it!"

"What a wonderful horse!" cried Ma Thomas. "And to think that if he
hadn't ran so fast, those terrible men----" Her voice broke off.

"Now don't yo' worry of that any mo'," drawled The Kid with a smile.
"Yo' troubles are ovah, I hope."

The Kid occupied the seat of honor, at Mrs. Thomas' right. Her son,
Harry, as happy as he had ever been in his life, sat on the other.
Anton, Wise, and Lathum were grouped about the rest of the table,
leaning back in their chairs.

"When Blizzahd is rested," said The Kid, in a matter-of-fact tone,
"we'll be strikin' westward. I'm kind of anxious to see what's doin'
ovah in New Mexico and Arizona."

"Yo're surely not goin' to leave us so soon!" they all cried.

The Kid nodded.

"Mah work seems to be done heah," he said, smiling. "And I'm just
naturally a rollin' stone, always rollin' toward new adventures. I'm
sho' yo'-all are goin' to be very happy."

"We owe it all to you!" Ma Thomas cried. "All of our good fortune. I
have the ranch and the cattle, and more wonderful than everything
else--my boy, Harry!"

Kid Wolf looked embarrassed. "Please don't try and thank me," he
murmured. "It's just mah job--to keep an eye out fo' those in need of
help."

"Won't yuh take a half interest in the S Bar, Kid?" Harry begged.

Kid Wolf shook his head.

"But, say," blurted Harry. He leaned across the table to whisper:

"How about all that money in that poker game down in Mariposa? It's
yores, not mine!"

"I did that," said The Kid, as he whispered back, "so yo' could buy Ma
a little present. Don't forget! A nice one!"

"What did I ever--ever do to deserve this happiness?" Ma Thomas sighed,
and she interrupted the furtive conversation of the two young men by
placing a big dish of shortcake between them.

"By gettin' aftah me with a shotgun," said Kid Wolf with a laugh.





Next: A Game Of Poker

Previous: At Don Floristo's



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