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Hunting Big Game

From: A Story Of The Outdoor West

In point of fact, Denver's occupation at that moment was precisely what
they had guessed it to be. He was sitting beside Nora Darling in the
grand stand, explaining to her the fine points of "roping." Mr. Bob
Austin, commonly known as "Texas," was meanwhile trying to make himself
agreeable to Helen Messiter. Truth to tell, both young women listened
with divided interest to their admirers. Both of them had heard the
story of the night, and each of them had tucked away in her corsage a
scribbled note she wanted to get back to her room and read again. That
the pursuit was still on everybody knew, and those on the inside were
aware that the "King," masquerading under the name of Jack Holloway, was
the active power behind the sheriff stimulating the chase.

It was after the roping had begun, and Austin had been called away to
take his turn, that the outlaw chief sauntered along the aisle of the
grand stand to the box in which was seated the mistress of the Lazy D.

"Beautiful mo'ning, isn't it? Delightfully crisp and clear," he said by
way of introduction, stopping at her box.

She understood the subtle jeer in his manner, and her fine courage rose
to meet it. There was a daring light in her eye, a buoyant challenge in
her voice as she answered:

"It is a splendid morning. I'm not surprised you are enjoying it."

"Did I say I was enjoying it?" He laughed as he lifted the bar, came
into her box and took a seat.

"Of course not. How careless of me! I had forgotten you were in mourning
for a deceased friend."

His dark eyes flashed. "I'll not mourn for him long. He was a mighty
trifling fellow, anyhow. Soon as I catch and hang his murderers I'll
quit wearing black."

"You may wear out several suits before then," she hit back.

"Don't y'u believe it; when I want a thing I don't quit till it's done."

She met his gaze, and the impact of eyes seemed to shock her physically.
The wickedness in him threatened, gloated, dominated. She shivered in
the warm sunlight, and would not have had him know it for worlds.

"Dear me! How confident you talk. Aren't you sometimes disappointed?"

"Temporarily. But when I want a thing I take it in the end."

She knew he was serving notice on her that he meant to win her; and
again the little spinal shiver raced over her. She could not look at his
sardonic, evil face without fear, and she could not look away without
being aware of his eyes possessing her. What was the use of courage
against such a creature as this?

"Yes, I understand you take a good deal that isn't yours," she retorted
carelessly, her eyes on the arena.

"I make it mine when I take it," he answered coolly, admiring the
gameness which she wore as a suit of chain armor against his thrusts.

"Isn't it a little dangerous sometimes?" her even voice countered. "When
you take what belongs to others you run a risk, don't you?"

"That's part of the rules. Except for that I shouldn't like it so well.
I hunt big game, and the bigger the game the more risk. That's why y'u
guessed right when y'u said I was enjoying the mo'ning."

"Meaning--your cousin?"

"Well, no. I wasn't thinking of him, though he's some sizable. But I'm
hunting bigger game than he is, and I expect to bag it."

She let her scornful eyes drift slowly over him. "I might pretend to
misunderstand you. But I won't. You may have your answer now. I am not
afraid of you, for since you are a bully you must be a coward. I saw a
rattlesnake last week in the hills. It reminded me of some one I have
seen. I'll leave you to guess who."

Her answer drew blood. The black tide raced under the swarthy tan of his
face. He leaned forward till his beady eyes were close to her defiant
ones. "Y'u have forgotten one thing, Miss Messiter. A rattlesnake can
sting. I ask nothing of you. Can't I break your heart without your
loving me? You're only a woman--and not the first I have broken, by

His slim, lithe body was leaning forward so that it cut off others, and
left them to all intents alone. At a touch of her fingers the handbag in
her lap flew open and a little ivory-hilted revolver lay in her hand.

"You may break me, but you'll never bend me an inch."

He looked at the little gun and laughed ironically. "Sho! If y'u should
hit me with that and I should find it out I might get mad at y'u."

"Did I say it was for you?" she said coldly; and again the shock of
joined eyes ended in drawn battle.

"Have y'u the nerve?" He looked her over, so dainty and so resolute, so
silken strong; and he knew he had his answer.

His smoldering eyes burned with desire to snatch her to him and ride
away into the hills. For he was a man who lived in his sensations. He
had won many women to their hurt, but it was the joy of conflict that
made the pursuit worth while to him; and this young woman, who could so
delightfully bubble with little laughs ready to spill over and was yet
possessed of a spirit so finely superior to the tenderness of her soft,
round, maidenly curves, allured him mightily to the attack.

She dropped the revolver back into the bag and shut the clasp with a
click, "And now I think, Mr. Bannister, that I'll not detain you any
longer. We understand each other sufficiently."

He rose with a laugh that mocked. "I expaict to spend quite a bit of
time understanding y'u one of these days. In the meantime this is to our
better acquaintance."

Deliberately, without the least haste, he stooped and kissed her before
she could rally from the staggering surprise of the intention she read
in his eyes too late to elude. Then, with the coolest bravado in the
world, he turned on his heel and strolled away.

Angry sapphires gleamed at him from under the long, brown lashes. She
was furious, aghast, daunted. By the merest chance she was sitting in a
corner of the box, so screened from observation that none could see. But
the insolence of him, the reckless defiance of all standards of society,
shook her even while it enraged her. He had put forth his claim like
a braggart, but he had made good with an audacity superb in its
effrontery. How she hated him! How she feared him! The thoughts were
woven inseparably in her mind. Mephisto himself could not have impressed
himself more imperatively than this strutting, heartless master artist
in vice.

She saw him again presently down in the arena, for it was his turn to
show his skill at roping. Texas had done well; very well, indeed. He had
made the throw and tie in thirty-seven seconds, which was two seconds
faster than the record of the previous year. But she knew instinctively,
as her fascinated eyes watched the outlaw preparing for the feat, that
he was going to win. He would use his success as a weapon against
her; as a means of showing her that he always succeeded in whatever he
undertook. So she interpreted he look he flung her as he waited at the
chute for the wild hill steer to be driven into the arena. It takes a
good man physically to make a successful roper. He must be possessed
of nerve, skill and endurance far out of the ordinary. He must be
quick-eyed, strong-handed, nimble of foot, expert of hand and built like
a wildcat. So Denver explained to the two young women in the box, and
the one behind him admitted reluctantly that she long, lean, supple
Centaur waiting impassively at the gateway fitted the specifications.

Out flashed the rough-coated hill steer, wild and fleet as a hare,
thin and leggy, with muscles of whipcord. Down went the flag, and the
stopwatches began to tick off the seconds. Like an arrow the outlaw's
pony shot forward, a lariat circling round and round the rider's head.
At every leap the cow pony lessened the gap as it pounded forward on the
heels of the flying steer.

The loop swept forward and dropped over the horns of the animal. The
pony, with the perfect craft of long practice, swerved to one side with
a rush. The dragging rope swung up against the running steer's legs,
grew suddenly taut. Down went the steer's head, and next moment its feet
were swept from under it as it went heavily to the ground. Man and horse
were perfect in their team work. As the supple rider slid from the back
of the pony it ran to the end of the rope and braced itself to keep the
animal from rising. Bannister leaped on the steer, tie-rope in hand.
Swiftly his deft hands passed to and fro, making the necessary loops and
knots. Then his hands went into the air. The steer was hog-tied.

For a few seconds the judges consulted together. "Twenty-nine seconds,"
announced their spokesman, and at the words a great cheer went up.
Bannister had made his tie in record time.

Impudently the scoundrel sauntered up to the grand stand, bowed
elaborately to Miss Messiter, and perched himself on the fence, where he
might be the observed of all observers. It was curious, she thought,
how his vanity walked hand in hand with so much power and force. He was
really extraordinarily strong, but no debutante's self-sufficiency could
have excelled his. He was so frankly an egotist that it ceased to be a

Back in her room at the hotel an hour later Helen paced up and down
under a nervous strain foreign to her temperament. She was afraid; for
the first time in her life definitely afraid. This man pitted against
her had deliberately divorced his life from morality. In him lay no
appeal to any conscience court of last resort. But the terror of this
was not for herself principally, but for her flying lover. With his
indubitable power, backed by the unpopularity of the sheepman in this
cattle country, the King of the Bighorn could destroy his cousin if
he set himself to do so. Of this she was convinced, and her conviction
carried a certainty that he had the will as well as the means. If he
had lacked anything in motive she herself had supplied one. For she was
afraid that this villain had read her heart.

And as her hand went fluttering to her heart she found small comfort
in the paper lying next it that only a few hours before had brought her
joy. For at any moment a messenger might come in to tell her that the
writer of it had been captured and was to be dealt with summarily in
frontier fashion. At best her lover and her friend were but fugitives
from justice. Against them were arrayed not only the ruffian followers
of their enemy, but also the lawfully constituted authorities of the
county. Even if they should escape to-day the net would tighten on them,
and they would eventually be captured.

For the third time since coming to Wyoming Helen found refuge in tears.

Next: Run To Earth

Previous: Judd Morgan Passes

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