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Stick To Your Saddle







Part of: LUCK
From: Crooked Trails And Straight

The old Arizona fashion of settling a difference of opinion with the
six-gun had long fallen into disuse, but Saguache was still close enough
to the stark primeval emotions to wait with a keen interest for the crack
of the revolver that would put a period to the quarrel between Soapy Stone
and young Flandrau. It was known that Curly had refused to leave town,
just as it was known that Stone and that other prison bird Blackwell were
hanging about the Last Chance and Chalkeye's Place drinking together
morosely. It was observed too that whenever Curly appeared in public he
was attended by friends. Sometimes it would be Maloney and Davis,
sometimes his uncle Alec Flandrau, occasionally a couple of the Map of
Texas vaqueros.

It chanced that "Old Man" Flandrau, drifting into Chalkeye's Place, found
in the assembled group the man he sought. Billie Mackenzie, grizzled owner
of the Fiddleback ranch, was with him, and it was in the preliminary pause
before drinking that Alec made his official announcement.

"No, Mac, I ain't worrying about that any. Curly is going to get a square
deal. We're all agreed on that. If there's any shooting from cover
there'll be a lynching pronto. That goes."

Flandrau, Senior, did not glance at the sullen face of Lute Blackwell
hovering in the background but he knew perfectly well that inside of an
hour word would reach Soapy Stone that only an even break with Curly would
be allowed.

The day passed without a meeting between the two. Curly grew nervous at
the delay.

"I'm as restless as a toad on a hot skillet," he confessed to Davis. "This
thing of never knowing what minute Soapy will send me his leaden
compliments ain't any picnic. Wisht it was over."

"He's drinking himself blind. Every hour is to the good for you."

Curly shrugged. "Drunk or sober Soapy always shoots straight."

Another day passed. The festivities had begun and Curly had to be much in
evidence before the public. His friends had attempted to dissuade him from
riding in the bucking broncho contest, but he had refused to let his name
be scratched from the list of contestants.

A thousand pair of eyes in the grandstand watched the boy as he lounged
against the corral fence laughing and talking with his friends. A dozen
people were on the lookout for the approach of Stone. Fifty others had
warned the young man to be careful. For Saguache was with him almost to a
man.

Dick Maloney heard his voice called as he was passing the grandstand, A
minute later he was in the Cullison box shaking hands with Kate.

"Is--is there anything new?" she asked in a low voice.

Her friend shook his head. "No. Soapy may drift out here any minute now."

"Will he----?" Her eyes finished the question.

He shook his head. "Don't know. That's the mischief of it. If they should
meet just after Curly finishes riding the boy won't have a chance. His
nerves won't be steady enough."

"Dad is doing something. I don't know what it is. He had a meeting with a
lot of cattlemen about it---- I don't see how that boy can sit there on
the fence laughing when any minute----"

"Curly's game as they make 'em. He's a prince, too. I like that boy better
every day."

"He doesn't seem to me so----wild. But they say he's awfully reckless."
She said it with a visible reluctance, as if she wanted him to deny the
charge.

"Sho! Curly needs explaining some. That's all. Give a dog a bad name and
hang him. That saying is as straight as the trail of a thirsty cow. The
kid got off wrong foot first, and before he'd hardly took to shaving
respectable folks were hunting the dictionary to find bad names to throw
at him. He was a reprobate and no account. Citizens that differed on
everything else was unanimous about that. Mothers kinder herded their
young folks in a corral when he slung his smile their way."

"But why?" she persisted. "What had he done?"

"Gambled his wages, and drank some, and, beat up Pete Schiff, and shot the
lights out of the Legal Tender saloon. That's about all at first."

"Wasn't it enough?"

"Most folks thought so. So when Curly bumped into them keep-off-the-grass
signs parents put up for him he had to prove they were justified. That's
the way a kid acts. Half the bad men are only coltish cowpunchers gone
wrong through rotten whiskey and luck breaking bad for them."

"Is Soapy that kind?" she asked, but not because she did not know the
answer.

"He's the other kind, bad at the heart. But Curly was just a kid crazy
with the heat when he made that fool play of rustling horses."

A lad made his way to them with a note. Kate read it and turned to Dick.
Her eyes were shining happily.

"I've got news from Dad. It's all right. Soapy Stone has left town."

"Why?"

"A dozen of the big cattlemen signed a note and sent it to Stone. They
told him that if he touched Curly he would never leave town alive. He was
given word to get out of town at once."

Maloney slapped his hand joyously on his thigh. "Fine! Might a-known Luck
would find a way out. I tell you this thing has been worying me. Some of
us wanted to take it off Curly's hands, but he wouldn't have it. He's a
man from the ground up, Curly is. But your father found a way to butt in
all right. Soapy couldn't stand out against the big ranchmen when they got
together and meant business. He had to pull his freight."

"Let me tell him the good news, Dick," she said, eagerly.

"Sure. I'll send him right up."

Bronzed almost to a coffee brown, with the lean lithe grace of youth
garbed in the picturesque regalia of the vaquero, Flandrau was a taking
enough picture to hold the roving eye of any girl. A good many centered
upon him now, as he sauntered forward toward the Cullison box cool and
easy and debonair. More than one pulse quickened at sight of him, for his
gallantry, his peril and his boyishness combined to enwrap him in the
atmosphere of romance. Few of the observers knew what a wary vigilance lay
behind that careless manner.

Kate gathered her skirts to make room for him beside her.

"Have you heard? He has left town."

"Who?"

"Soapy Stone. The cattlemen served notice on him to go. So he left."

A wave of relief swept over the young man. "That's your father's fine
work."

"Isn't it good?" Her eyes were shining with gladness.

"I'm plumb satisfied," he admitted. "I'm not hankering to shoot out my
little difference with Soapy. He's too handy with a six-gun."

"I'm so happy I don't know what to do."

"I suppose now the hold-up will be put off. Did Sam and Blackwell go with
him?"

"No. He went alone."

"Have you seen Sam yet?"

"No, but I've seen Laura London. She's all the nice things you've said
about her."

Curly grew enthusiastic, "Ain't she the dandiest girl ever? She's the
right kind of a friend. And pretty--with that short crinkly hair the color
of ripe nuts! You would not think one person could own so many dimples as
she does when she laughs. It's just like as if she had absorbed sunshine
and was warming you up with her smile."

"I see she has made a friend of you."

"You bet she has."

Miss Cullison shot a swift slant glance at him. "If you'll come back this
afternoon you can meet her. I'm going to have all those dimples and all
that sunshine here in the box with me."

"Maybe that will draw Sam to you."

"I'm hoping it will. But I'm afraid not. He avoids us. When they met he
wouldn't speak to Father."

"That's the boy of it. Just the same he feels pretty bad about the
quarrel. I reckon there's nothing to do but keep an eye on him and be
ready for Soapy's move when he makes it."

"I'm so afraid something will happen to Sam."

"Now don't you worry, Miss Kate. Sam is going to come out of this all
right. We'll find a way out for him yet."

Behind her smile the tears lay close. "You're the best friend. How can
we ever thank you for what you're doing for Sam?"

A steer had escaped from the corral and was galloping down the track in
front of the grandstand with its tail up. The young man's eyes followed
the animal absently as he answered in a low voice.

"Do you reckon I have forgot how a girl took a rope from my neck one
night? Do you reckon I ever forget that?"

"It was nothing. I just spoke to the boys."

"Or that I don't remember how the man I had shot went bail for a rustler
he did not know?"

"Dick knew you. He told us about you."

"Could he tell you any good about me? Could he say anything except that I
was a worthless no-'count----?"

She put her hand on his arm and stopped him. "Don't! I won't have you say
such things about yourself. You were just a boy in trouble."

"How many would have remembered that? But you did. You fought good for my
life that night. I'll pay my debt, part of it. The whole I never could
pay."

His voice trembled in spite of the best he could do. Their eyes did not
meet, but each felt the thrill of joy waves surging through their veins.

The preliminaries in the rough riding contest took place that afternoon.
Of the four who won the right to compete in the finals, two were Curly
Flandrau and Dick Maloney. They went together to the Cullison box to get
the applause due them.

Kate Cullison had two guests with her. One was Laura London, the other he
had never seen. She was a fair young woman with thick ropes of yellow hair
coiled round her head. Deep-breasted and robust-loined, she had the rich
coloring of the Scandinavian race and much of the slow grace peculiar to
its women.

The hostess pronounced their names. "Miss Anderson, this is Mr. Flandrau.
Mr. Flandrau--Miss Anderson."

Curly glanced quickly at Kate Cullison, who nodded. This then was the
sweetheart of poor Mac.

Her eyes filled with tears as she took the young man's hand. To his
surprise Curly found his throat choking up. He could not say a word, but
she understood the unspoken sympathy. They sat together in the back of the
box.

"I'd like to come and talk to you about--Mac. Can I come this evening,
say?"

"Please."

Kate gave them no more time for dwelling on the past.

"You did ride so splendidly," she told Curly.

"No better than Dick did," he protested.

"I didn't say any better than Dick. You both did fine."

"The judges will say you ride better. You've got first place cinched,"
Maloney contributed.

"Sho! Just because I cut up fancy didoes on a horse. Grandstand stunts are
not riding. For straight stick-to-your-saddle work I know my boss, and his
name is Dick Maloney."

"We'll know to-morrow," Laura London summed up.

As it turned out, Maloney was the better prophet. Curly won the first
prize of five hundred dollars and the championship belt. Dick took second
place.

Saguache, already inclined to make a hero of the young rustler, went wild
over his victory. He could have been chosen mayor that day if there had
been an election. To do him justice, Curly kept his head remarkably well.

"To be a human clothes pin ain't so much," he explained to Kate. "Just
because a fellow can stick to the hurricane deck of a bronch without
pulling leather whilst it's making a milk shake out of him don't prove
that he has got any more brains or decency than the law allows. Say, ain't
this a peach of a mo'ning."

A party of young people were taking an early morning ride through the
outskirts of the little city. Kate pulled her pony to a walk and glanced
across at him. He had taken off his hat to catch the breeze, and the sun
was picking out the golden lights in his curly brown hair. She found
herself admiring the sure poise of the head, the flat straight back, the
virile strength of him.

It did not occur to her that she herself made a picture to delight the
heart. The curves of her erect tiger-lithe young body were modeled by
nature to perfection. Radiant with the sheer pleasure of life, happy as
God's sunshine, she was a creature vividly in tune with the glad morning.

"Anyhow, I'm glad you won."

Their eyes met. A spark from his flashed deep into hers as a star falls
through the heavens on a summer night. Each looked away. After one
breathless full-pulsed moment she recovered herself.

"Wouldn't it be nice if----?"

His gaze followed hers to two riders in front of them. One was Maloney,
the other Myra Anderson. The sound of the girl's laughter rippled back to
them on the light breeze.

Curly smiled. "Yes, that would be nice. The best I can say for her--and
it's a whole lot--is that I believe she's good enough for Dick."

"And the best I can say for him is that he's good enough for her," the
girl retorted promptly.

"Then let's hope----"

"I can't think of anything that would please me more."

He looked away into the burning sun on the edge of the horizon. "I can
think of one thing that would please me more," he murmured.

She did not ask him what it was, nor did he volunteer an explanation.
Perhaps it was from the rising sun her face had taken its swift glow of
warm color.





Next: At The Round Up Club

Previous: Eavesdropping



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