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Mr Townsend Marshal








From: Bar-20 Days

Mr. Cassidy went to the ranch and lived like a lord until shame drove
him away. He had no business to live on cake and pie and wonderful
dishes that Mrs. Ferris and her sister literally forced on him, and let
Buck's mission wait on his convenience. So he tore himself away and made
up for lost time as he continued his journey on his own horse, for
which Tom Murphy and three men had faced down the scowling population of
Hoyt's Corners. The rest of his journey was without incident until,
on his return home along another route, he rode into Rawhide and heard
about the marshal, Mr. Townsend.

This individual was unanimously regarded as an affliction upon society
and there had been objections to his continued existence, which had
been overruled by the object himself. Then word had gone forth that a
substantial reward and the undying gratitude of a considerable number
of people awaited the man who would rid the community of the pest who
seemed to be ubiquitous. Several had come in response to the call, one
had returned in a wagon, and the others were now looked upon as martyrs,
and as examples of asinine foolhardiness. Then it had been decided to
elect a marshal, or perhaps two or three, to preserve the peace of the
town; but this was a flat failure. In the first place, Mr. Townsend had
dispersed the meeting with no date set for a new one; in the second,
no man wanted the office; and as a finish to the comedy, Mr. Townsend
cheerfully announced that hereafter and henceforth he was the marshal,
self-appointed and self-sustained. Those who did not like it could
easily move to other localities.

With this touch of office-holding came ambition, and of stern stuff.
The marshal asked himself why he could not be more officers than one
and found no reason. Thereupon he announced that he was marshal, town
council, mayor, justice, and pound-keeper. He did not go to the trouble
of incorporating himself as the Town of Rawhide, because he knew nothing
of such immaterial things; but he was the town, and that sufficed.

He had been grievously troubled about finances in the past, and he
firmly believed that genius such as his should be above such petty
annoyances as being "broke." That was why he constituted himself the
keeper of the public pound, which contented him for a short time, but
later, feeling that he needed more money than the pound was giving him,
he decided that the spirit of the times demanded public improvements,
and therefore, as the executive head of the town, he levied taxes
and improved the town by improving his wardrobe and the manner of his
living. Each saloon must pay into the town treasury the sum of one
hundred dollars per year, which entitled it to police protection and
assured it that no new competitors would be allowed to do business in
Rawhide.

Needless to say he was not furiously popular, and the crowds congregated
where he was not. His tyranny was based upon his uncanny faculty of
anticipating the other man's draw. The citizens were not unaccustomed to
seeing swift death result to the slower man from misplaced confidence in
his speed of hand--that was in the game--an even break; but to oppose an
individual who always knew what you were going to do before you knew
it yourself--this was very discouraging. Therefore, he flourished and
waxed fat.

Of late, however, he had been very low in finances and could expect
no taxes to be paid for three months. Even the pound had yielded him
nothing for over a week, the old patrons of Rawhide's stores and saloons
preferring to ride twenty miles farther in another direction than
to redeem impounded horses. Perhaps his prices had been too high, he
thought; so he assembled the town council, the mayor, the marshal, and
the keeper of the public pound to consult upon the matter. He decided
that the prices were too high and at once posted a new notice announcing
the cut. It was hard to fall from a dollar to "two bits," but the
treasury was low--the times were panicky.

As soon as he had changed the notice he strolled up to the Paradise
to inform the bartender that impounding fines had been cut to bargain
prices and to ask him to make the fact generally known through his
patrons. As he came within sight of the building he jumped with
pleasure, for a horse was standing dejectedly before the door. Joy of
joys, trade was picking up--a stranger had come to town! Hastening back
to the corral, he added a cipher to the posted figure, added a decimal
point, and changed the cents sign to that of a dollar. Two dollars and
fifty cents was now the price prescribed by law. Returning hastily to
the Paradise, he led the animal away, impounded it, and then sat down
in front of the corral gate with his Winchester across his knees. Two
dollars and fifty cents! Prosperity had indeed returned!

"Where the CG ranch is I dunno, but I do know where one of their cayuses
is," he mused, glancing between two of the corral posts at the sleepy
animal. "If I has to auction it off to pay for its keep and the fine,
the saddle will bring a good, round sum. I allus knowed that a dollar
wasn't enough, nohow."

Nat Fisher, punching cows for the CG and tired of his job, leaned
comfortably back in his chair in the Paradise and swapped lies with the
all-wise bartender. After a while he realized that he was hopelessly
outclassed at this diversion and he dug down into his pocket and brought
to light some loose silver and regarded it thoughtfully. It was all the
money he had and was beginning to grow interesting.

"Say, was you ever broke?" he asked suddenly, a trace of sadness in his
voice.

The bartender glanced at him quickly, but remained judiciously silent,
smelling the preamble of an attempt to "touch."

"Well, I have been, am now, an' allus will be, more or less," continued
Fisher, in soliloquy, not waiting for an answer to his question. "Money
an' me don't ride the same range, not any. Here I am fifty miles away
from my ranch, with four dollars and ninety-five cents between me an'
starvation an' thirst, an' me not going home for three days yet. I was
going to quit the CG this month, but now I gotta go on working for it
till another pay-day. I don't even own a cayuse. Now, just to show you
what kind of a prickly pear I am, I'll cut the cards with you to see who
owns this," he suggested, smiling brightly at his companion.

The bartender laughed, treated on the house, and shuffled out from
behind the bar with a pack of greasy playing cards. "All at once, or a
dollar a shot?" he asked, shuffling deftly.

"Any way it suits you," responded Fisher, nonchalantly. He knew how a
sport should talk; and once he had cut the cards to see who should own
his full month's pay. He hoped he would be more successful this time.

"Don't make no difference to me," rejoined the bartender.

"All right; all at once, an' have it over with. It's a kid's game, at
that."

"High wins, of course?"

"High wins."

The bartender pushed the cards across the table for his companion to
cut. Nat did so, and turned up a deuce. "Oh, don't bother," he said,
sliding the four dollars and ninety-five cents across the table.

"Wait," grinned the bartender, who was a stickler for rules. He reached
over and turned up a card, and then laughed. "Matched, by George!"

"Try again," grinned Fisher, his face clearing with hope.

The bartender shuffled, and Fisher turned a five, which proved to be
just one point shy when his companion had shown his card.

"Now," remarked Fisher, watching his money disappear into the
bartender's pocket, "I'll put up my gun agin ten of yore dollars if
yo're game. How about it?"

"Done--that's a good weapon."

"None better. Ah, a jack!"

"I say queen--nope, king!" exulted the dispenser of liquids. "Say,
mebby you can get a job around here when you quit the CG," he suggested.

"That's a good idea," replied Fisher. "But let's finish this while we're
at it. I got a good saddle outside on my cayuse--go look it over an'
tell me how much you'll put up agin it. If you win it an' can't use it,
you can sell it. It's first class."

The bartender walked to the door, looked carefully around for a moment,
his eyes fastening upon a trail in the sandy street. Then he laughed.
"There ain't no saddle out here," he reported, well knowing where it
could be found.

"What! Has that ornery piebald--well, what do you think of that!"
exclaimed Fisher, looking up and down the street. "This is the first
time that ever happened to me. Why, some coyote stole it! Look at the
tracks!"

"No; it ain't stolen," the bartender responded. He considered a moment
and then made a suggestion. "Mebby the marshal can tell you where it
is--he knows everything like that. Nobody can take a cayuse out of this
town while the marshal is up an' well."

"Lucky town, all right," chirped Fisher. "An' where is the marshal?"

"You'll find him down the back way a couple of hundred yards; can't miss
him. He allus hangs out there when there are cayuses in town."

"Good for him! I'll chase right down an' see him; an' when I get that
piebald----!"

The bartender watched him go around the corner and shook his head sadly.
"Yes; hell of a lucky town," he snorted bitterly, listening for the riot
to begin.

The marshal still sat against the corral gate and stroked the Winchester
in beatific contemplation. He had a fine job and he was happy. Suddenly
leaning forward to look up the road, he smiled derisively and shifted
the gun. A cow-puncher was coming his way rapidly, and on foot.

"Are you the marshal of this flea of a town?" politely inquired the
newcomer.

"I am the same," replied the man with the rifle. "Anything I kin do for
you?"

"Yes; have you seen a piebald cayuse straying around loose-like, or
anybody leading one--CG being the brand?"

"I did; it was straying."

"An' which way did it go?"

"Into the town pound."

"What! Pond! What'n blazes is it doing with a pond? Couldn't it drink
without getting in? Where's the pond?"

"Right here. It's eating its fool head off. I said pound, not pond.
P-o-u-n-d; which means that it's pawned, in hock, for destroying the
vegetation of Rawhide, an' disturbing the public peace."

"Good joke on the piebald, all right; it was never locked up before,"
laughed Fisher, trying to read a sign that faced away from him at a
slight angle. "Get it out for me an' I'll disturb its peace. Sorry it
put you to all that trouble," he sympathized.

"Two dollars an' four bits, an' a dollar initiation fee--it wasn't never
in the pound before. That makes three an' a half. Got the money with
you?"

"What!" yelled Fisher, emerging from his trance. "What!" he yelled
again.

"I ain't none deaf," placidly replied the marshal. "Got the money, the
three an' a half?"

"If you think yo're going to skin me outen three-fifty, one-fifty, or
one measly cent, you need some medicine, an' I'll give it to you in
pill form! You'd make a bum-looking angel, so get up an' hand over that
cayuse, an' do it damned quick!"

"Three-fifty, an' two bits extry for feed. It'll cost you 'bout a dollar
a day for feed. At the end of the week I'll sell that cayuse at auction
to pay its bills if you don't cough up. Got the money?"

"I've got a lead slug for you if I can borrow my gun for five minutes!"
retorted Fisher, seething double from anger.

"Five dollars more for contempt of court," pleasantly responded Mr.
Townsend. "As Justice of the Peace of this community I must allow
no disrespect, no contempt of the sovereign law of this town to go
unpunished. That makes it eight-seventy-five."

"An' to think I lost my gun!" shouted Fisher, dancing with rage. "I'll
get that cayuse out an' I won't pay a cent, not a damned cent! An' I'll
get you at the same time!"

"Now you dust around for fifteen dollars even an' stop yore contempt
of court an' threats or I'll drill you just for luck!" rejoined Mr.
Townsend, angrily. "If you keep on working yore mouth like that there
won't be nothing coming to you when I sell that cayuse of yourn. Turn
around an' strike out or I'll put you with yore ancestors!"





Next: The Stranger's Plan

Previous: A Friend In Need



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