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Laura London

Part of: CURLY
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

Kite Bonfils and Maloney took Curly back to Saguache and turned him over
to Sheriff Bolt.

"How about bail?" Maloney asked.

The sheriff smiled. He was a long lean leather-faced man with friendly
eyes from which humorous wrinkles radiated.

"You honing to go bail for him, Dick?"

"How much?"

"Oh, say two thousand."

"You're on."


A cowpuncher with fifty dollars two weeks after pay day was a rarity. No
wonder Bolt was surprised.

"It's not my money. Luck Cullison is going bail for him," Maloney

"Luck Cullison!" Maloney's words had surprised the exclamation from Curly.
Why should the owner of the Circle C of all men go bail for him?

The sheriff commented dryly on the fact. "I thought this kid was the one
that shot him."

"That was just a happenstance. Curly shot to save his bacon. Luck don't
hold any grudge."

"So I should judge. Luck gave you his check, did he?"

Bolt belonged to the political party opposed to Cullison. He had been
backed by Cass Fendrick, a sheepman in feud with the cattle interests and
in particular with the Circle C outfit. But he could not go back on his
word. He and Maloney called together on the district attorney. An hour
later Dick returned to the jail.

"It's all right, kid," he told Curly. "You can shake off the dust of
Saguache from your hoofs till court meets in September."

To Flandrau the news seemed too good for the truth. Less than twenty-four
hours ago he had been waiting for the end of the road with a rope around
his neck. Now he was free to slip a saddle on his pony Keno and gallop off
as soon as he pleased. How such a change had been brought about he did not
yet understand.

While he and Maloney were sitting opposite each other at the New Orleans
Hash House waiting for a big steak with onions he asked questions.

"I don't savvy Cullison's play. Whyfor is he digging up two thousand for
me? How does he know I won't cut my stick for Mexico?"

"How do I know it?"

"Well, do you?"

Maloney helped himself to the oyster crackers to pass the time. "Sure I


"Search me. But I know you'll be here in September if you're alive and

Flandrau persisted. "But Luck don't owe me anything, except one pill sent
promiscuous to his address. What's he going down into his jeans for? Will
you tell me that? And shove them crackers north by east. Got to fill up on

"Ain't you as good a guesser as I am, Curly?"

"Well then, here's my guess. Miss Kate made him."

"I reckon maybe she influenced him. But why did she? You don't figure that
curly topknot of yours is disturbing her dreams any, do you?"

"Quit your joshing and tell me why."

"I can't tell you for sure. But here's my guess. Don't cost you a cent if
you ain't satisfied with it. First off, there was poor Mac shot by the
Circle C boys. Course Mac was a horse thief, but then he was a kid too.
That worried the little girl some. She got to thinking about brother Sam
and how he might be in the same fix one of these days as you are now. He's
on her mind a good deal, Sam is. Same way with the old man too, I reckon,
though he don't say much. Well, she decided Soapy Stone had led you astray
like he's doing with Sam. It got to worrying her for fear her brother
might need a friend some time. So she handed over her worry to the old man
and made him dig up for you."

"That's about it. Tell me what you know of Sam. Is he as white as the rest
of the family?"

"Sam is all right, but he has got off wrong foot first. He and the old man
got to kind of disagreeing, for the kid was a wild colt. Come by it
honestly from the old man too. Well, they had a row one time when Sam got
into trouble. Luck told him he never wanted to see him again. Sam lit out,
and next folks knew he was trailing with Soapy's gang. Consequence is,
Sam's hitting the toboggan for Tophet by all accounts."

"Looks like some one ought to be able to pry him loose from that bunch,"
Curly mused aloud.

Maloney grinned across at him. "You try it, son. You've always led a good
pious life. He sure would listen to you."

He had said it as a jest, but Curly did not laugh. Why not? Why shouldn't
he hunt up Sam and let him know how his folks were worrying about him?
What was to hinder him from trying to wipe out some of the big debt he
owed the Cullison family? He was footloose till September and out of a
job. For he could not go back to the Map of Texas with his hat in his hand

and a repentant whine on his lips. Why not take a hike into the hills and
round up the boy? Of course Sam might not listen to him, but he could not
tell that till he had tried. It had taken him scarcely a moment to make up
his mind. The smile had not yet died out of Maloney's eyes when he spoke.

"Damn if I don't take a crack at it."

The man on the other side of the table stared at him.

"Meaning that, are you?"


"Might be some lively if Soapy gets wise to your intentions," he said in a
casual sort of way.

"I don't aim to declare them out loud."

That was all they said about it at the time. The rest of the evening was
devoted to pleasure. After dinner they took in a moving picture show. The
first film was a Western melodrama and it pleased them both immensely.

"I'd be afraid to live in a country where guns popped like they do in
moving picture land," Curly drawled. "Where is it anyhow? It ain't Texas,
nor Oklahoma, nor Wyoming, nor Montana, nor any of the spots in between,
because I've been in all of them."

Maloney laughed. "Day before yesterday that's the way I'd a-talked my own
self, but now I know better. What about your little stunt? Wasn't that
warm enough for you? Didn't guns pop enough? Don't you talk about moving

After the picture show there were other things. But both of them trod the
narrow path, Maloney because he was used to doing so and Flandrau because
his experiences had sobered him.

"I'm on the water wagon, Dick." He grinned ruefully at his friend.
"Nothing like locking the stable after your bronc's been stole. I'd a-been
a heap better off if I'd got on the wagon a week ago."

Since their way was one for several miles Maloney and Curly took the road
together next morning at daybreak. Their ponies ambled along side by side
at the easy gait characteristic of the Southwest. Steadily they pushed
into the brown baked desert. Little dust whirls in the shape of inverted
cones raced across the sand wastes. The heat danced along the road in
front of them in shimmering waves.

Your plainsman is a taciturn individual. These two rode for an hour
without exchanging a syllable. Then Curly was moved to talk.

"Can you tell me how it is a man can get fond of so Godforsaken a country?
Cactus and greasewood and mesquite, and for a change mesquite and
greasewood and cactus! Nothing but sand washes and sand hills, except the
naked mountains 'way off with their bones sticking through. But in the
mo'ning like this, when the world's kind o' smiley with the sunshine, or
after dark when things are sorter violet soft and the mountains lose their
edges--say, would you swap it for any other country on earth?"

Maloney nodded. He had felt that emotion a hundred times, though he had
never put it into words.

At Willow Wash their ways diverged. They parted with a casual "So-long;
see you later." Curly was striking for the headwaters of Dead Cow Creek,
where Soapy Stone had a horse ranch.

He put up that night at the place of a nester in the foothills. His host
looked at him curiously when he mentioned his destination, but he did not
say anything. It was none of his business how many young fellows rode to
Soapy's ranch.

Flandrau took the trail again next morning after breakfast. About two
o'clock he reached a little park in the hills, in the middle of which, by
a dry creek, lay a ranch.

The young man at first thought the place was deserted for the day, but
when he called a girl appeared at the door. She smiled up at him with the
lively interest any ranch girl may be expected to feel in a stranger who
happens to be both young and good looking.

She was a young person of soft curves and engaging dimples. Beneath the
brown cheeks of Arizona was a pink that came and went very attractively.

Curly took off his dusty gray hat. "Buenos tardes; senorita! I'll bet
I'm too late to draw any dinner."

"Buenos, senor," she answered promptly. "I'll bet you'd lose your

He swung from the saddle. "That's good hearing. When a fellow has had his
knees clamped to the side of a bronch for seven hours he's sure ready for
the dinner bell."

"You can wash over there by the pump. There's a towel on the fence."

She disappeared into the house, and Curly took care of his horse, washed,
and sauntered back to the porch. He could smell potatoes frying and could
hear the sizzling of ham and eggs.

While he ate the girl flitted in and out, soft-footed and graceful,
replenishing his plate from time to time.

Presently he discovered that her father was away hunting strays on Sunk
Creek, that the nearest neighbor was seven miles distant, and that Stone's
ranch was ten miles farther up Dead Cow.

"Ever meet a lad called Sam Cullison?" the guest asked carelessly.

Curly was hardly prepared to see the color whip into her cheeks or to meet
the quick stabbing look she fastened on him.

"You're looking for him, are you?" she said.

"Thought while I was here I'd look him up. I know his folks a little."

"Do you know him?"

He shook his head. She looked at him very steadily before she spoke.

"You haven't met him yet but you want to. Is that it?"

"That's it."

"Will you have another egg?"

Flandrau laughed. "No, thanks. Staying up at Stone's, is he?"

"How should I know who's staying at Stone's?"

It was quite plain she did not intend to tell anything that would hurt
young Cullison.

"Oh, well, it doesn't matter. I ain't lost him any to speak of," the young
man drawled.

"Are you expecting to stop in the hills long--or just visiting?"

"Yes," Curly answered, with his most innocent blank wall look.

"Yes which?"

"Why, whichever you like, Miss London. What's worrying you? If you'll ask
me plain out I'll know how to answer you."

"So you know my name?"

"Anything strange about that? The Bar 99 is the London brand. I saw your
calves in the corral with their flanks still sore. Naturally I assume the
young lady I meet here is Miss Laura London."

She defended her suspicions. "Folks come up here with their mysterious
questions. A person would think nobody lived on Dead Cow but outlaws and
such, to hear some of you valley people tell it."

"There's nothing mysterious about me and my questions. I'm just a
lunkheaded cowpuncher out of a job. What did you think I was?"

"What do you want with Sam Cullison? Are you friendly to him? Or aren't

"Ladies first. Are you friendly to him? Or aren't you?"

Curly smiled gaily across the table at her. A faint echo of his pleasantry
began to dimple the corners of her mouth. It lit her eyes and spread from
them till the prettiest face on the creek wrinkled with mirth. Both of
them relaxed to peals of laughter, and neither of them quite knew the
cause of their hilarity.

"Oh, you!" she reproved when she had sufficiently recovered.

"So you thought I was a detective or a deputy sheriff. That's certainly

"For all I know yet you may be one."

"I never did see anyone with a disposition so dark-complected as yours. If
you won't put them suspicions to sleep I'll have to table my cards." From
his pocket he drew a copy of the Saguache Sentinel and showed her a marked
story. "Maybe that will explain what I'm doing up on Dead Cow."

This was what Laura London read:

From Mesa comes the news of another case of bold and flagrant
rustling. On Friday night a bunch of horses belonging to the Bar
Double M were rounded up and driven across the mountains to this
city. The stolen animals were sold here this morning, after which the
buyers set out at once for the border and the thieves made themselves
scarce. It is claimed that the rustlers were members of the notorious
Soapy Stone outfit. Two of the four were identified, it is alleged,
as William Cranston, generally known as "Bad Bill," and a young
vaquero called "Curly" Flandrau.

At the time of going to press posses are out after both the outlaws
and the stolen horses. Chances of overtaking both are considered
excellent. All likely points and outlying ranches have been notified
by telephone whenever possible.

In case the guilty parties are apprehended the Sentinel hopes an
example will be made of them that will deter others of like stamp
from a practice that has of late been far too common. Lawlessness
seems to come in cycles. Just now the southern tier of counties
appears to be suffering from such a sporadic attack. Let all good men
combine to stamp it out. The time has passed when Arizona must stand
as a synonym for anarchy.

She looked up at the young man breathlessly, her pretty lips parted, her
dilated eyes taking him in solemnly. A question trembled on her lips.

"Say it," advised Flandrau.

The courage to ask what she was thinking came back in a wave. "Then I
will. Are you a rustler?"

"That's what the paper says, don't it?"

"Are you this man mentioned here? What's his name--'Curly' Flandrau?"


"And you're a rustler?"

"What do you think? Am I more like a rustler than a deputy sheriff? Stands
to reason I can't be both."

Her eyes did not leave him. She brushed aside his foolery impatiently.
"You don't even deny it."

"I haven't yet. I expect I will later."

"Why do men do such things?" she went on, letting the hands that held the
paper drop into her lap helplessly. "You don't look bad. Anyone would

Her sentence tailed out and died away. She was still looking at Curly, but
he could see that her mind had flown to someone else. He would have bet a
month's pay that she was thinking of another lad who was wild but did not
look bad.

Flandrau rose and walked round the table to her. "Much obliged, Miss
Laura. I'll shake hands on that with you. You've guessed it. Course, me
being so 'notorious' I hate to admit it, but I ain't bad any more than he

She gave him a quick shy look. He had made a center shot she was not
expecting. But, womanlike, she did not admit it.

"You mean this 'Bad Bill'?"

"You know who I mean all right. His name is Sam Cullison. And you needn't
to tell me where he is. I'll find him."

"I know you don't mean any harm to him." But she said it as if she were
pleading with him.

"C'rect. I don't. Can you tell me how to get to Soapy Stone's horse ranch
from here, Miss London?"

She laughed. Her doubts were vanishing like mist before the sunshine.
"Good guess. At least he was there the last I heard."

"And I expect your information is pretty recent."

That drew another little laugh accompanied by a blush.

"Don't you think I have told you enough for one day, Mr. Flandrau?"

"That 'Mr.' sounds too solemn. My friends call me 'Curly,'" he let her

She remembered that he was a stranger and a rustler and she drew herself
up stiffly. This pleasant young fellow was too familiar.

"If you take this trail to the scrub pines above, then keep due north for
about four miles, you'll strike the creek again. Just follow the trail
along it to the horse ranch."

With that she turned on her heel and walked into the kitchen.

Curly had not meant to be "fresh." He was always ready for foolery with
the girls, but he was not the sort to go too far. Now he blamed himself
for having moved too fast. He had offended her sense of what was the
proper thing.

There was nothing for it but to saddle and take the road.

Next: A Bear Trap

Previous: The Cullisons

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