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Justice Vs Law








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

Impatience, intolerable and vicious, gripped Trevison as he rode homeward
after his haunting vigil at Manti. The law seemed to him to be like a
house with many doors, around and through which one could play hide and
seek indefinitely, with no possibility of finding one of the doors locked.
Judge Graney had warned him to be cautious, but as he rode into the dusk
of the plains the spirit of rebellion seized him. Twice he halted Nigger
and wheeled him, facing Manti, already agleam and tumultuous, almost
yielding to his yearning to return and force his enemy to some sort of
physical action, but each time he urged the horse on, for he could think
of no definite plan. He was half way to the Diamond K when he suddenly
started and sat rigid and erect in the saddle, drawing a deep breath, his
nerves tingling from excitement. He laughed lowly, exultingly, as men
laugh when under the stress of adversity they devise sudden, bold plans of
action, and responding to the slight knee press Nigger turned, reared, and
then shot like a black bolt across the plains at an angle that would not
take him anywhere near the Diamond K.

Half an hour later, in a darkness which equaled that of the night on which
he had carried the limp and drink-saturated Clay Levins to his wife,
Trevison was dismounting at the door of the gun-man's cabin. A little
later, standing in the glare of lamplight that shone through the open
doorway, he was reassuring Mrs. Levins and asking for her husband. Shortly
afterward, he was talking lowly to Levins as the latter saddled his pony
out at the stable.

"I'll do it--for you," Levins told him. And then he chuckled. "It'll seem
like old times."

"It's Justice versus Law, tonight," laughed Trevison; "it's a case of 'the
end justifying the means.'"

Manti never slept. At two o'clock in the morning the lights in the
gambling rooms of the Belmont and the Plaza were still flickering
streams out into the desert night; weak strains of discord were being
drummed out of a piano in a dance hall; the shuffling of feet smote the
dead, flat silence of the night with an odd, weird resonance. Here and
there a light burned in a dwelling or store, or shone through the wall of
a tent-house. But Manti's one street was deserted--the only peace that
Manti ever knew, had descended.

Two men who had dismounted at the edge of town had hitched their horses in
the shadow of a wagon shed in the rear of a store building, and were
making their way cautiously down the railroad tracks toward the center of
town. They kept in the shadows of the buildings as much as possible--for
space was valuable now and many buildings nuzzled the railroad tracks; but
when once they were forced to pass through a light from a window their
faces were revealed in it for an instant--set, grim and determined.

"We've got to move quickly," said one of the men as they neared the
courthouse; "it will be daylight soon. Damn a town that never sleeps!"

The other laughed lowly. "I've said the same thing, often," he whispered.
"Easy now--here we are!"

They paused in the shadow of the building and whispered together briefly.
A sound reached their ears as they stood. Peering around the corner
nearest them they saw the bulk of a man appear. He walked almost to the
corner of the building where they crouched, and they held their breath,
tensing their muscles. Just when it seemed they must be discovered, the
man wheeled, walked away, and vanished into the darkness toward the other
side of the building. Presently he returned, and repeated the maneuver. As
he vanished the second time, the larger man of the two in wait, whispered
to the other:

"He's the sentry! Stand where you are--I'll show Corrigan--"

The words were cut short by the reappearance of the sentry. He came close
to the corner, and wheeled, to return. A lithe black shape leaped like a
huge cat, and landed heavily on the sentry's shoulders, bringing a pained
grunt from him. The grunt died in a gurgle as iron fingers closed on his
throat; he was jammed, face down, into the dust and held there,
smothering, until his body slacked and his muscles ceased rippling. Then a
handkerchief was slipped around his mouth and drawn tightly. He was rolled
over, still unconscious, his hands tied behind him. Then he was borne away
into the darkness by the big man, who carried him as though he were a
child.

"Locked in a box-car," whispered the big man, returning: "They'll get him;
they're half unloaded."

Without further words they returned to the shadow of the building.

Judge Lindman had not been able to sleep until long after his usual hour
for retiring. The noise, and certain thoughts, troubled him. It was after
midnight when he finally sought his cot, and he was in a heavy doze until
shortly after two, when a breath of air, chilled by its clean sweep over
the plains, searched him out and brought him up, sitting on the edge of
the cot, shivering.

The rear door of the courthouse was open. In front of the iron safe at the
rear of the room he saw a man, faintly but unmistakably outlined in the
cross light from two windows. He was about to cry out when his throat was
seized from behind and he was borne back on the cot resistlessly. Held
thus, a voice which made him strain his eyes in an effort to see the
owner's face, hissed in his ear:

"I don't want to kill you, but I'll do it if you cry out! I mean business!
Do you promise not to betray us?"

The Judge wagged his head weakly, and the grip on his throat relaxed. He
sat up, aware that the fingers were ready to grip his throat again, for he
could feel the big shape lingering beside him.

"This is an outrage!" he gasped, shuddering. "I know you--you are
Trevison. I shall have you punished for this."

The other laughed lowly and vibrantly. "That's your affair--if you dare!
You say a word about this visit and I'll feed your scoundrelly old carcass
to the coyotes! Justice is abroad tonight and it won't be balked. I'm
after that original land record--and I'm going to have it. You know where
it is--you've got it. Your face told me that the other day. You're only
half-heartedly in this steal. Be a man--give me the record--and I'll stand
by you until hell freezes over! Quick! Is it in the safe?"

The Judge wavered in agonized indecision. But thoughts of Corrigan's wrath
finally conquered.

"It--it isn't in the safe," he said. And then, aware of his error because
of the shrill breath the other drew, he added, quaveringly: "There is
no--the original record is in my desk--you've seen it."

"Bah!" The big shape backed away--two or three feet, whispering back at
the Judge. "Open your mouth and you're a dead man. I've got you covered!"

Cowering on his cot the Judge watched the big shape join the other at the
safe. How long it remained there, he did not know. A step sounded in the
silence that reigned outside--a third shape loomed in the doorway.

"Judge Lindman!" called a voice.

"Y-es?" quavered the Judge, aware that the big shape in the room was now
close to him, menacing him.

"Your door's open! Where's Ed? There's something wrong! Get up and strike
a light. There'll be hell to pay if Corrigan finds out we haven't been
watching your stuff. Damn it! A man can't steal time for a drink without
something happens. Jim and Bill and me just went across the street,
leaving Ed here. They're coming right--"

He had been entering the room while talking, fingering in his pockets for
a match. His voice died in a quick gasp as Trevison struck with the butt
of his pistol. The man fell, silently.

Another voice sounded outside. Trevison crouched at the doorway. A form
darkened the opening. Trevison struck, missed, a streak of fire split the
night--the newcomer had used his pistol. It went off again--the
flame-spurt shooting ceilingward, as Levins clinched the man from the
rear. A third man loomed in the doorway; a fourth appeared, behind him.
Trevison swung at the head of the man nearest him, driving him back upon
the man behind, who cursed, plunging into the room. The man whom Levins
had seized was shouting orders to the others. But these suddenly ceased as
Levins smashed him on the head with the butt of a pistol. Two others
remained. They were stubborn and courageous. But it was miserable work, in
the dark--blows were misdirected, friend striking friend; other blows went
wild, grunts of rage and impotent curses following. But Trevison and
Levins were intent on escaping--a victory would have been hollow--for the
thud and jar of their boots on the bare floor had been heard; doors were
slamming; from across the street came the barking of a dog; men were
shouting questions at one another; from the box-car on the railroad tracks
issued vociferous yells and curses. Trevison slipped out through the door,
panting. His opponent had gone down, temporarily disabled from sundry
vicious blows from a fist that had worked like a piston rod. A figure
loomed at his side. "I got mine!" it said, triumphantly; "we'd better
slope."

"Another five minutes and I'd have cracked it," breathed Levins as they
ran. "What's Corrigan havin' the place watched for?"

"You've got me. Afraid of the Judge, maybe. The Judge hasn't his whole
soul in this deal; it looks to me as though Corrigan is forcing him. But
the Judge has the original record, all right; and it's in that safe, too!
God! If they'd only given us a minute or two longer!"

They fled down the track, running heavily, for the work had been fast and
the tension great, and when they reached the horses and threw themselves
into the saddles, Manti was ablaze with light. As they raced away in the
darkness a grim smile wreathed Trevison's face. For though he had not
succeeded in this enterprise, he had at least struck a blow--and he had
corroborated his previous opinion concerning Judge Lindman's knowledge of
the whereabouts of the original record.

It was three o'clock and the dawn was just breaking when Trevison rode
into the Diamond K corral and pulled the saddle from Nigger. Levins had
gone home.

Trevison was disappointed. It had been a bold scheme, and well planned,
and it would have succeeded had it not been for the presence of the
sentries. He had not anticipated that. He laughed grimly, remembering
Judge Lindman's fright. Would the Judge reveal the identity of his
early-morning visitor? Trevison thought not, for if the original record
were in the safe, and if for any reason the Judge wished to conceal its
existence from Corrigan, a hint of the identity of the early-morning
visitors--especially of one--might arouse Corrigan's suspicions.

But what if Corrigan knew of the existence of the original record? There
was the presence of the guards to indicate that he did. But there was
Judge Lindman's half-heartedness to disprove that line of reasoning. Also,
Trevison was convinced that if Corrigan knew of the existence of the
record he would destroy it; it would be dangerous, in the hands of an
enemy. But it would be an admirable weapon of self-protection in the hands
of a man who had been forced into wrong-doing--in the hands of Judge
Lindman, for instance. Trevison opened the door that led to his office,
thrilling with a new hope. He lit a match, stepped across the floor and
touched the flame to the wick of the kerosene lamp--for it was not yet
light enough for him to see plainly in the office--and stood for an
instant blinking in its glare. A second later he reeled back against the
edge of the desk, his hands gripping it, dumb, amazed, physically sick
with a fear that he had suddenly gone insane. For in a big chair in a
corner of the room, sleepy-eyed, tired, but looking very becoming in her
simple dress with a light cloak over it, the collar turned up, so that it
gave her an appearance of attractive negligence, a smile of delighted
welcome on her face, was Hester Harvey.

She got up as he stood staring dumfoundedly at her and moved toward him,
with an air of artful supplication that brought a gasp out of him--of
sheer relief.

"Won't you welcome me, Trev? I have come very far, to see you." She held
out her hands and went slowly toward him, mutely pleading, her eyes
luminous with love--which she did not pretend, for the boy she had known
had grown into the promise of his youth--big, magnetic--a figure for any
woman to love.

He had been looking at her intently, narrowly, searchingly. He saw what
she herself had not seen--the natural changes that ten years had brought
to her. He saw other things--that she had not suspected--a certain blase
sophistication; a too bold and artful expression of the eyes--as though
she knew their power and the lure of them; the slightly hard curve in the
corners of her mouth; a second character lurking around her--indefinite,
vague, repelling--the subconscious self, that no artifice can hide--the
sin and the shame of deeds unrepented. If there had been a time when he
had loved her, its potence could not leap the lapse of years and overcome
his repugnance for her kind, and he looked at her coldly, barring her
progress with a hand, which caught her two and held them in a grip that
made her wince.

"What are you doing here? How did you get in? When did you come?" He fired
the questions at her roughly, brutally.

"Why, Trev." She gulped, her smile fading palely. The conquest was not to
be the easy one she had thought--though she really wanted him--more than
ever, now that she saw she was in danger of losing him. She explained,
earnestly pleading with eyes that had lost their power to charm him.

"I heard you were here--that you were in trouble. I want to help you. I
got here night before last--to Manti. Rosalind Benham had written about
you to Ruth Gresham--a friend of hers in New York. Ruth Gresham told me. I
went directly from Manti to Benham's ranch. Then I came here--about dusk,
last night. There was a man here--your foreman, he said. I explained, and
he let me in. Trev--won't you welcome me?"

"It isn't the first time I've been in trouble." His laugh was harsh; it
made her cringe and cry:

"I've repented for that. I shouldn't have done it; I don't know what was
the matter with me. Harvey had been telling me things about you--"

"You wouldn't have believed him--" He laughed, cynically. "There's no use
of haggling over that--it's buried, and I've placed a monument over it:
'Here lies a fool that believed in a woman.' I don't reproach you--you
couldn't be blamed for not wanting to marry an idiot like me. But I
haven't changed. I still have my crazy ideas of honor and justice and
square-dealing, and my double-riveted faith in my ability to triumph over
all adversity. But women--Bah! you're all alike! You scheme, you plot, you
play for place; you are selfish, cold; you snivel and whine--There is more
of it, but I can't think of any more. But--let's face this matter
squarely. If you still like me, I'm sorry for you, for I can't say that
the sight of you has stirred any old passion in me. You shouldn't have
come out here."

"You're terribly resentful, Trev. And I don't blame you a bit--I deserve
it all. But don't send me away. Why, I--love you, Trev; I've loved you all
these years; I loved you when I sent you away--while I was married to
Harvey; and more afterwards--and now, deeper than ever; and--"

He shook his head and looked at her steadily--cynicism, bald derision in
his gaze. "I'm sorry; but it can't be--you're too late."

He dropped her hands, and she felt of the fingers where he had gripped
them. She veiled the quick, savage leap in her eyes by drooping the lids.

"You love Rosalind Benham," she said, quietly, looking at him with a
mirthless smile. He started, and her lips grew a trifle stiff. "You poor
boy!"

"Why the pity?" he said grimly.

"Because she doesn't care for you, Trev. She told me yesterday that she
was engaged to marry a man named Corrigan. He is out here, she said. She
remarked that she had found you very amusing during the three or four
weeks of Corrigan's absence, and she seemed delighted because the court
out here had ruled that the land you thought was yours belongs to the man
who is to be her husband."

He stiffened at this, for it corroborated Corrigan's words: "She is heart
and soul with me in this deal, She is ambitious." Trevison's lips curled
scornfully. First, Hester Keyes had been ambitious, and now it was
Rosalind Benham. He fought off the bitter resentment that filled him and
raised his head, laughing, glossing over the hurt with savage humor.

"Well, I'm doing some good in the world, after all."

"Trev," Hester moved toward him again, "don't talk like that--it makes me
shiver. I've been through the fire, boy--we've both been through it. I
wasted myself on Harvey--you'll do the same with Rosalind Benham. Ten
years, boy--think of it! I've loved you for that long. Doesn't that make
you understand--"

"There's nothing quite so dead as a love that a man doesn't want to
revive," he said shortly; "do you understand that?"

She shuddered and paled, and a long silence came between them. The cold
dawn that was creeping over the land stole into the office with them and
found the fires of affection turned to the ashes of unwelcome memory. The
woman seemed to realize at last, for she gave a little shiver and looked
up at Trevison with a wan smile.

"I--I think I understand, Trev. Oh, I am so sorry! But I am not going
away. I am going to stay in Manti, to be near you--if you want me. And you
will want me, some day." She went close to him. "Won't you kiss me--once,
Trev? For the sake of old times?"

"You'd better go," he said gruffly, turning his head. And then, as she
opened the door and stood upon the threshold, he stepped after her,
saying: "I'll get your horse."

"There's two of them," she laughed tremulously. "I came in a buckboard."

"Two, then," he said soberly as he followed her out. "And say--" He
turned, flushing. "You came at dusk, last night. I'm afraid I haven't been
exactly thoughtful. Wait--I'll rustle up something to eat."

"I--I couldn't touch it, thank you. Trev--" She started toward him
impulsively, but he turned his back grimly and went toward the corral.

Sunrise found Hester back at the Bar B. Jealous, hurt eyes had watched
from an upstairs window the approach of the buckboard--had watched the
Diamond K trail the greater part of the night. For, knowing of the absence
of women at the Diamond K, Rosalind had anticipated Hester's return the
previous evening--for the distance that separated the two ranches was not
more than two miles. But the girl's vigil had been unrewarded until now.
And when at last she saw the buckboard coming, scorn and rage, furious and
deep, seized her. Ah, it was bold, brazen, disgraceful!

But she forced herself to calmness as she went down stairs to greet her
guest--for there might have been some excuse for the lapse of
propriety--some accident--something, anything.

"I expected you last night," she said as she met Hester at the door. "You
were delayed I presume. Has anything happened?"

"Nothing, dearie." Only the bold significance of Hester's smile hid its
deliberate maliciousness. "Trev was so glad to see me that he simply
wouldn't let me go. And it was daylight before we realized it."

The girl gasped. And now, looking at the woman, she saw what Trevison had
seen--staring back at her, naked and repulsive. She shuddered, and her
face whitened.

"There are hotels at Manti, Mrs. Harvey," she said coldly.

"Oh, very well!" The woman did not change her smile. "I shall be very glad
to take advantage of your kind invitation. For Trev tells me that
presently there will be much bitterness between your crowd and himself,
and I am certain that he wouldn't want me to stay here. If you will kindly
have a man bring my trunks--"

And so she rode toward Manti. Not until the varying undulations of the
land hid her from view of the Bar B ranchhouse did she lose the malicious
smile. Then it faded, and furious sobs of disappointment shook her.





Next: Law Invoked And Defied

Previous: Wherein A Woman Lies



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