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In The Image Of God

From: The Fighting Edge

Houck's jeering laugh of triumph came back to the humiliated boy. He
noticed for the first time that two or three men were watching him from
the door of the saloon. Ashamed to the depths of his being, he hung his
head dejectedly. All his life he would be a marked figure because Jake
had stamped the manhood out of him, had walked off with his bride of an

In the country of the open spaces a man must have sand. Courage is the
basis upon which the other virtues are built, the fundamental upon which
he is most searchingly judged. Let a man tell the truth, stick to his
pal, and fight when trouble is forced on him, and he will do to ride the
river with, in the phrase of the plains.

Bob had lost June. She would, of course, never look at him again. To have
failed her so miserably cut deep into his pride and self-respect. With
her he had lost, too, the esteem of all those who lived within a radius
of fifty miles. For the story would go out to every ranch and cow-camp.
Worst of all he had blown out the dynamic spark within himself that is
the source of life and hope.

He did not deceive himself. Houck had said he was going to take June to
her father. But he had said it with a cynical sneer on his lips. For the
girl to be Jake's wife would have been bad enough, but to be his victim
without the protection of legality would be infinitely worse. And that
was the lot to which June was destined. She had fought, but she could
fight no longer.

Fate had played her a scurvy trick in the man she had chosen. Another
husband--Dud Hollister, for instance--would have battled it out for her
to a finish, till he had been beaten so badly he could no longer crawl to
his feet. If Bob had done that, even though he had been hopelessly
overmatched, he would have broken Houck's power over June. All the wild,
brave spirit of her would have gone out to her husband in a rush of
feeling. The battle would have been won for them both. The thing that had
stung her pride and crushed her spirit was that he had not struck a blow
for her. His cowardice had driven her to Jake Houck's arms because there
was no other place for her to go.

Their adventure had ended in tragedy both for her and for him. Bob sank
down on a dry-goods box and put his twitching face in his hands. He had
flung away both his own chance for happiness and hers. So far as he was
concerned he was done for. He could never live down the horrible thing he
had done.

He had been rather a frail youth, with very little confidence in himself.
Above all else he had always admired strength and courage, the qualities
in which he was most lacking. He had lived on the defensive, oppressed by
a subconscious sense of inferiority. His actions had been conditioned by
fear. Life at the charitable institution where he had been sent as a
small child fostered this depression of the ego and its subjection to
external circumstances. The manager of the home ruled by the rod. Bob had
always lived in a sick dread of it. Only within the past few months had
he begun to come into his own, a heritage of health and happiness.

Dud Hollister came to him out of Dolan's saloon. "Say, fellow, where's my
gun?" he asked.

Bob looked up. "He--took it."

"Do I lose my six-shooter?"

"I'll fix it with you when I get the money to buy one."

The boy looked so haggard, his face so filled with despair, that Dud was
touched in spite of himself.

"Why in Mexico didn't you give that bird a pill outa the gun?" he asked.

"I don't know. I'm--no good," Bob wailed.

"You said it right that time. I'll be doggoned if I ever saw such a thing
as a fellow lettin' another guy walk off with his wife--when he ain't
been married hardly two hours yet. Say, what's the matter with you
anyhow? Why didn't you take a fall outa him? All he could 'a' done was
beat you to death."

"He hurt me," Bob confessed miserably. "I--was afraid."

"Hurt you? Great jumpin' Jupiter. Say, fellows, listen to Miss--Miss
Roberta here. He hurt him, so he quit on the job--this guy here did. I
never heard the beat o' that."

"If you'll borrow one of yore friends' guns an' blow my brains out you'll
do me a favor," the harried youth told Hollister in a low voice.

Hollister looked at him searchingly. "I might, at that," agreed the
puncher. "But I'm not doin' that kind of favor to-day. I'll give you a
piece of advice. This ain't no country for you. Hop a train for Boston,
Mass., or one o' them places where you can take yore troubles to a fellow
with a blue coat. Tha's where you belong."

Up the street rolled Blister Haines, in time to hear the cowpuncher's
suggestion. Already the news had reached the justice of what had taken
place. He was one of those amiable busybodies who take care of other
people's troubles for them. Sometimes his efforts came to grief and
sometimes they did not.

"Hit the trail, you lads," he ordered. "I'll l-look out for this
b-business. The exc-c-citement's all over anyhow. Drift."

The range-riders disappeared. At best the situation was an embarrassing
one. It is not pleasant to be in the company of one who has just shown
himself a poltroon and is acutely aware of it.

Blister took Dillon into his office. He lowered himself into the biggest
chair carefully, rolled a cigarette, and lit up.

"Tell me about it," he ordered.

"Nothin' to tell." Bob leaned against the table and looked drearily at
the floor. The world had come to an end for him. That was all. "He showed
up an' took June from me--made me tell her to go along with him."

"How did he do that? Did he cover you with a gun?"

"No. I had the gun--till he took it from me." He gave the explanation he
had used twice already within the hour. "I'm no good."

Blister heaved himself up from the chair and waddled closer to the boy.
He shook a fat forefinger in his face. He glared at him fiercely.

"Say, where you from?"

"Austin, Texas, when I was a kid."

"Well, damn you, Texas man, I w-want to t-tell you right now that you're
talkin' blasphemy when you say you're n-no good. The good Lord made you,
didn't He? D-d' you reckon I'm goin' to let you stand up there an' claim
He did a pore job? No, sir. Trouble with you is you go an' bury yore
talent instead of w-whalin' the stuffin' outa that Jake Houck fellow."

"I wish I was dead," Bob groaned, drooping in every line of his figure.
"I wish I'd never been born."

"Blasphemy number two. Didn't He make you in His image? What right you
got wishin' He hadn't created you? Why, you pore w-worm, you're only a
mite lower than the angels an' yore red haid's covered with glory."
Blister's whisper of a voice took unexpectedly a sharp edge. "Snap it up!
That red haid o' yours. Hear me?"

Bob's head came up as though a spring had been released.

"B-better. K-keep it up where it belongs. Now, then, w-what are you
aimin' for to do?"

Bob shook his head. "Get outa this country, like Hollister said. Find a
hole somewheres an' pull it in after me."

"No, sir. Not none. You're gonna stay right here--in the country round
Bear Cat--where every last man, woman, an' k-kid will know how you ate
d-dirt when Houck told you to."

"I couldn't do that," the boy pleaded. "Why, I wouldn't have a chance.
I'd know what they were sayin' all the time."

"Sure you'd know it. Tha's the price you g-gotta pay for g-grovelin'.
Don't you see yore only chance is to go out an' make good before the
folks who know how you've acted? Sneak off an' keep still about what you
did, amongst s-strangers, an' where do you get off? You know all yore
life you're only a worm. The best you can be is a bluff. You'd be
d-duckin' outa makin' the fight you've gotta make. That don't get you
anywhere a-tall. No, sir. Go out an' reverse the verdict of the court.
Make good, right amongst the people who're keepin' tabs on yore record.
You can do it, if you c-clamp yore j-jaw an' remember that yore red haid
is c-covered with g-glory an' you been given dominion."


"S-snap it up!" squeaked Blister.

The red head came up again with a jerk.

"Keep it up."

"What'll I do? Where'll I find work?"

"Out on the range. At the K Bar T, or the Keystone, or the Slash Lazy D.
It don't m-matter where."

"I can't ride."

"Hmp! Learn, can't you? Dud Hollister an' Tom Reeves wasn't neither one
of them born on a bronc's back. They climbed up there. So can you. You'll
take the dust forty times. You'll get yore bones busted an' yore red haid
cut open. But if you got the guts to stick, you'll be ridin' 'em slick
one o' these here days. An' you'll come out a m-man."

A faint glow began to stir in the boy's heart. Was there really a chance
for him to reverse the verdict? Could he still turn over a leaf and make
another start?

"You'll have one heluva time for a while," Blister prophesied. "Take 'em
by an' large an' these lads chasin' cows' tails are the salt o' the
earth. They'll go farther with you an' stick longer than anybody else you
ever met up with. Once they know you an' like you. But they'll be right
offish with you for a while. Kinda polite an' distant, I expect. S-some
overbearin' g-guy will start runnin' on you, knowin' it'll be safe. It'll
be up to you to m-make it mighty onsafe for him. Go through to a finish
that once an' the boys will begin sizin' you up an' wonderin' about you.
Those show-me lads will have to get evidence about 'steen times before
they'll believe."

"I'll never be able to stick it. I'm such a--so timid," Dillon groaned.

The justice bristled. "H-hell's bells! What's ailin' you, Texas man? I
tell you that you're made in His image. Bite on that thought hard
whenever you're up against it an' want to hide yorese'f in a hole. Every
time you get too s-scared to play yore hand out, you're playin' it low
down on yore C-creator."

Bob came to another phase of the situation. "What about--June?"

"Well, what about her?"

"She's gone with Houck. He'll not take her home."

"What d' you m-mean not take her home? Where'll he take her?"

"I don't know. That's it. I'm responsible for her. I brought her here. He
means to--to make her live with him."

"Keep her by force--that what you're drivin' at?"

"No-o. Not exactly. He's got a hold over her father somehow. She's worn
out fightin' him. When she ran away with me she played her last card.
She'll have to give up now. He's so big an' strong, such a bulldog for
gettin' his way, that she can't hold him off. June ain't seventeen yet.
She's gettin' a mighty rotten deal, looks like. First off, livin' alone
the way she an' Tolliver do, then Houck, then me, an' finally Houck

"I'll notify Tolliver how things are," Blister said. "Get word to him
right away. We'll have to take a lead from him about June."

"I was thinkin'--"

"Onload it."

"Mrs. Gillespie was so kind to her. Maybe she could talk to June an' take
her at the hotel--if June an' Houck haven't gone yet."

"You said something then, boy. I'll see Mollie right away. She'll sure
fix it."

They were too late. The wrangler at Kilburn's corral had already seen
Houck hitch up and drive away with June, they presently learned.

Next: June Prays

Previous: The White Feather

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