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Partners In Peril

From: The Fighting Edge

Into the office of Blister Haines, J. P., a young man walked. He was a
berry-brown youth, in the trappings of the range-rider, a little thin and
stringy, perhaps, but well-poised and light-stepping.

With one swift glance the fat man swept his visitor from head to foot and
liked what he saw. The lean face was tanned, the jaw firm, the eye direct
and steady. There was no need to tell this man to snap up his head. Eight
months astride a saddle in the sun and wind had wrought a change in
Robert Dillon.

"'Lo, Red Haid," the justice sang out squeakily. "How's yore good health?
I heerd you was d-drowned. Is you is, or is you ain't? Sit down an' rest
yore weary bones."

"I took a swim," admitted Bob. "The boys fished me out while I was still

"Rivers all high?"

"Not so high as they were. We noticed quite a difference on the way

"Well, s-sit down an' tell me all about it. How do you like ridin', Texas

"Like it fine."

"All yore troubles blown away?"

"Most of 'em. I'm a long way from being a wolf yet, though."

"So? B-by the way, there's a friend of yours in town--Jake Houck."

There was a moment's pause. "Did he say he was my friend?" asked Bob.

"Didn't mention it. Thought maybe you'd like to know he's here. It's not
likely he'll trouble you."

"I'd be glad to be sure of that. Dud an' I had a little run-in with him
last month. He wasn't hardly in a position then to rip loose, seein' as
he had my horse an' saddle in his camp an' didn't want Harshaw in his
wool. So he cussed us out an' let it go at that. Different now. I'm
playin' a lone hand--haven't got the boss back of me."

"F-fellow drifted in from Vernal yesterday," the justice piped, easing
himself in his chair. "Told a s-story might interest you. Said Jake Houck
had some trouble with a y-young Ute buck over a hawss. Houck had been
drinkin', I reckon. Anyhow he let the Injun have it in the stomach.
Two-three shots outa his six-gun. The Utes claimed it was murder. Jake he
didn't wait to adjust no claims, but lit out on the jump."

"Won't the Government get him?"

The fat man shrugged. "Oh, well, a Ute's a Ute. Point is that Houck, who
always was a t-tough nut, has gone bad since the boys rode him on a rail.
He's proud as Lucifer, an' it got under his hide. He's kinda cuttin'
loose an' givin' the devil in him free rein. Wouldn't surprise me if he
turned into a killer of the worst kind."

Bob's eyes fastened to his uneasily. "You think he's--after me?"

"I think he'll d-do to watch."

"Yes, but--"

Blister rolled a cigarette and lit it before he asked casually, "Stayin'
long in town?"

"Leavin' to-day for the ranch."

"What size gun you carry for rattlesnakes?"

"Mine's a forty-five." Bob took it out, examined it, and thrust the
weapon between his trousers and his shirt. If he felt any mental
disturbance he did not show it except in the anxious eyes.

Blister changed the subject lightly. "Hear anything ab-b-bout the Utes
risin'? Any talk of it down the river?"

"Some. The same old stuff. I've been hearin' it for a year."

"About ripe, looks like. This business of Houck ain't gonna help any.
There's a big bunch of 'em over there in the hills now. They've been
runnin' off stock from outlying ranches."

"Sho! The Indians are tamed. They'll never go on the warpath again,

"J-just once more, an' right soon now."

The justice gave his reasons for thinking so, while Bob listened rather
inattentively. The boy wanted to ask him about June, but he remembered
what his fat friend had told him last time he mentioned her to him. He
was still extremely sensitive about his failure to protect his girl-wife
and he did not want to lay himself open to snubs.

Bob sauntered from the office, and before he had walked a dozen steps
came face to face with June. She was coming out of a grocery with some
packages in her arms. The color flooded her dusky cheeks. She looked at
him, startled, like a fawn poised for flight.

During the half-year since he had seen her June had been transformed. She
had learned the value of clothes. No longer did she wear a shapeless sack
for a dress. Her shoes were small and shapely, her black hair neatly
brushed and coiffed. The months had softened and developed the lines of
the girlish figure. Kindness and friendliness had vitalized the
expression of the face and banished its sullenness. The dark eyes, with
just a hint of wistful appeal, were very lovely.

Both of them were taken unawares. Neither knew what to do or say. After
the first instant of awkwardness June moved forward and passed him

Bob went down the street, seeing nothing. His pulses trembled with
excitement. This charming girl was his wife, or at least she once had
been for an hour. She had sworn to love, honor, and obey him. There had
been a moment in the twilight when they had come together to the verge of
something divinely sweet and wonderful, when they had gazed into each
other's eyes and had looked across the boundary of the promised land.

If he had only kept the faith with her! If he had stood by her in the
hour of her great need! The bitterness of his failure ate into the soul
of the range-rider as it had done already a thousand times. It did not
matter what he did. He could never atone for the desertion on their
wedding day. The horrible fact was written in blood. It could not be
erased. Forever it would have to stand between them. An unbridgeable gulf
separated them, created by his shameless weakness.

When Bob came to earth he found himself clumping down the river road
miles from town. He turned and walked back to Bear Cat. His cowpony was
at the corral and he was due at the ranch by night.

Young Dillon's thoughts had been so full of June and his relation to her
that it was with a shock of surprise he saw Jake Houck swing out from the
hotel porch and bar the way.

"Here's where you 'n' me have a settlement," the Brown's Park man

"I'm not lookin' for trouble," Bob said, and again he was aware of a
heavy sinking at the stomach.

"You never are," jeered Houck. "But it's right here waitin' for you, Mr.
Rabbit Heart."

Bob heard the voices of children coming down the road on their way from
school. He knew that two or three loungers were watching him and Houck
from the doors of adjacent buildings. He was aware of a shouting and
commotion farther up the street. But these details reached him only
through some subconscious sense of absorption. His whole attention was
concentrated on the man in front of him who was lashing himself into a
fighting rage.

What did Houck mean to do? Would he throw down on him and kill? Or would
he attack with his bare hands? Fury and hatred boiled into the big man's
face. His day had come. He would have his revenge no matter what it cost.
Bob could guess what hours of seething rage had filled Houck's world. The
freckle-faced camp flunkey had interfered with his plans, snatched from
him the bride he had chosen, brought upon him a humiliation that must be
gall to his proud spirit whenever he thought of Bear Cat's primitive
justice. He would pay his debt in full.

The disturbance up the street localized itself. A woman picked up her
skirts and flew wildly into a store. A man went over the park fence
almost as though he had been shot out of a catapult. Came the crack of a
revolver. Some one shouted explanation. "Mad dog!"

A brindle bull terrier swung round the corner and plunged forward. With
bristling hair and foaming mouth, it was a creature of horrible menace.

Houck leaped for the door of the hotel. Bob was at his heels, in a panic
to reach safety.

A child's scream rang out. Dillon turned. The school children were in
wild flight, but one fair-haired little girl stood as though paralyzed in
the middle of the road. She could not move out of the path of the wild
beast bearing down upon her.

Instinctively Bob's mind functioned. The day was warm and his coat hung
over an arm. He stepped into the road as the brindle bull came opposite
the hotel. The coat was swung out expertly and dropped over the animal's
head. The cowpuncher slipped to his knees, arms tightening and fingers
feeling for the throat of the writhing brute struggling blindly.

Its snapping jaws just missed his hand. Man and dog rolled over into the
dust together. Its hot breath fanned Bob's face. Again he was astride of
the dog. His fingers had found its throat at last. They tightened, in
spite of its horrible muscular contortions to get free.

There came a swish of skirts, the soft pad of running feet. A girl's
voice asked, "What shall I do?"

It did not at that moment seem strange to Dillon that June was beside
him, her face quick with tremulous anxiety. He spoke curtly, as one who
gives orders, panting under the strain of the effort to hold the dog.

"My gun."

She picked the forty-five up from where it had fallen. Their eyes met.
The girl did swiftly what had to be done. It was not until she was alone
in her room half an hour later that the thought of it made her sick.

Bob rose, breathing deep. For an instant their eyes held fast. She handed
him the smoking revolver. Neither of them spoke.

From every door, so it seemed, people poured and converged toward them.
Excited voices took up the tale, disputed, explained, offered excuses.
Everybody talked except June and Bob.

Blister rolled into the picture. "Dawg-gone my hide if I ever see
anything to b-beat that. He was q-quick as c-chain lightnin', the boy
was. Johnny on the spot. Jumped the critter s-slick as a whistle." His
fat hand slapped Bob's shoulder. "The boy was sure there with both hands
and feet."

"What about June?" demanded Mollie. "Seems to me she wasn't more'n a mile
away while you men-folks were skedaddlin' for cover."

The fat man's body shook with laughter. "The boys didn't s-stop to make
any farewell speeches, tha's a fact. I traveled some my own self, but I
hadn't hardly got started before Houck was outa sight, an' him claimin'
he was lookin' for trouble too."

"Not that kind of trouble," grinned Mike the bartender. He could afford
to laugh, for since he had been busy inside he had not been one of the
vanishing heroes. "Don't blame him a mite either. If it comes to that I'm
givin' the right of way to a mad dog every time."

"Hmp!" snorted Mollie. "What would 'a' happened to little Maggie Wiggins
if Dillon here had felt that way?"

Bob touched Blister on the arm and whispered in his ear. "Get me to the
doc. I gotta have a bite cauterized."

It was hardly more than a scratch, but while the doctor was making his
preparations the puncher went pale as service-berry blossoms. He sat
down, grown suddenly faint. The bite of a mad dog held sinister

Blister fussed around cheerfully until the doctor had finished. "Every
silver l-lining has got its cloud, don't you r-reckon? Here's Jake Houck
now, all s-set for a massacree. He's a wolf, an' it's his night to howl.
Don't care who knows it, by gum. Hands still red from one killin'. A
rip-snortin' he-wolf from the bad lands! Along comes Mr. Mad Dog, an'
Jake he hunts his hole with his tail hangin'. Kinda takes the tuck outa
him. Bear Cat wouldn't hardly stand for him gunnin' you now, Bob. Not
after you tacklin' that crazy bull terrier to save the kids. He'll have
to postpone that settlement he was promisin' you so big."

The puncher voiced the fear in his mind. "Do folks always go mad when
they're bit by a mad dog, doctor?"

"Not a chance hardly," Dr. Tuckerman reassured. "First place, the dog
probably wasn't mad. Second place, 't wa'n't but a scratch and we got at
it right away. No, sir. You don't need to worry a-tall."

Outside the doctor's office Blister and Bob met Houck. The Brown's Park
man scowled at the puncher. "I'm not through with you. Don't you think
it! Jus' because you had a lucky fluke escape--"

"Tacklin' a crazy wild beast whilst you an' me were holin' up," Blister

Houck looked at the fat man bleakly. "You in this, Mr. Meddler? If you're
not declarin' yoreself in, I'd advise you to keep out."

Blister Haines laughed amiably with intent to conciliate. "What's the use
of nursin' a grudge against the boy, Houck? He never did you any harm.
S-shake hands an' call it off."

"You manage yore business if you've got any. I'll run mine," retorted
Houck. To Bob he said meaningly as he turned away, "One o' these days,
young fellow."

The threat chilled Dillon, but it was impossible just now to remain
depressed. He rode back to the ranch in a glow of pleasure. Thoughts of
June filled every crevice of his mind. They had shared an adventure
together, had been partners in a moment of peril. She could not wholly
despise him now. He was willing to admit that Houck had been right when
he called it a fluke. The chance might not have come to him, or he might
not have taken it. The scream of little Maggie Wiggins had saved the day
for him. If he had had time to think--but fortunately impulse had swept
him into action before he could let discretion stop him.

He lived over again joyfully that happy moment when June had stood before
him pulsing with life, eager, fear-filled, tremulous. He had taken the
upper hand and she had accepted his leadership. The thing his eyes had
told her to do she had done. He would remember that--he would remember it

Nor did it dim his joy that he felt himself to be a fraud. It had taken
no pluck to do what he did, since he had only obeyed a swift dominating
mental reaction to the situation. The real courage had been hers.

He knew now that he would have to take her with him in his thoughts on
many a long ride whether he wanted to or not.

Next: June Is Glad

Previous: Cutting Sign

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