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The Kingdom Of Joy








From: The Fighting Edge

A prince of the Kingdom of Joy rode the Piceance trail on a morning glad
with the song of birds and the rippling of brooks. Knee to knee with him
rode his princess, slim and straight, the pink in her soft smooth cheeks,
a shy and eager light in the velvet-dark eyes. They were starting
together on the long, long trail, and the poor young things could vision
it only as strewn with sunbathed columbines and goldenrods.

The princess was a bride, had been one for all of twelve hours. It was
her present conviction that she lived in a world wonderful, and that the
most amazingly radiant thing in it was what had happened to her and Bob
Dillon. She pitied everybody else in the universe. They were so blind!
They looked, but they did not see what was so clear to eyes from which
the veil had been stripped. They went about their humdrum way without
emotion. Their hearts did not sing exultant paeans that throbbed out of
them like joy-notes from a meadow-lark's throat. Only those who had come
happily to love's fruition understood the meaning of life. June was not
only happy; she was this morning wise, heiress of that sure wisdom which
comes only to the young when they discover just why they have been born
into the world.

How many joys there were for those attuned to receive them! Her fingers
laced with Bob's, and from the contact a warm, ecstatic glow flooded both
their bodies. She looked at his clean brown face, with its line of golden
down above where the razor had traveled, with its tousled, reddish hair
falling into the smiling eyes, and a queer little lump surged into the
girl's throat. Her husband! This boy was the mate heaven had sent her to
repay for years of unhappiness.

"My wife!" It was all still so new and unbelievable that Bob's voice
shook a little.

"Are you sorry?" she asked.

Her shy smile teased. She did not ask because she needed information, but
because she could not hear too often the answer.

"You know whether I am. Oh, June girl, I didn't know it would be like
this," he cried.

"Nor I, Bob."

Their lithe bodies leaned from the saddles. They held each other close
while their lips met.

They were on their way to Pete Tolliver's to tell him the great news.
Soon now the old cabin and its outbuildings would break into view. They
had only to climb Twelve-Mile Hill.

Out of a draw to the right a horse moved. Through the brush something
dragged behind it.

"What's that?" asked June.

"Don't know. Looks kinda queer. It's got some sort of harness on."

They rode to the draw. June gave a small cry of distress.

"Oh, Bob, it's a man."

He dismounted. The horse with the dragging load backed away, but it was
too tired to show much energy. Bob moved forward, soothing the animal
with gentle sounds. He went slowly, with no sudden gestures. Presently he
was patting the neck of the horse. With his hunting-knife he cut the
rawhide thongs that served as a harness.

"It's a Ute pony," he said, after he had looked it over carefully. He
knew this because the Indians earmarked their mounts.

June was still in the saddle. Some instinct warned her not to look too
closely at the load behind that was so horribly twisted.

"Better go back to the road, June," her husband advised. "It's too late
to do anything for this poor fellow."

She did as he said, without another look at the broken body.

When she had gone, Bob went close and turned over the huddled figure.
Torn though it was, he recognized the face of Jake Houck. To construct
the main features of the tragedy was not difficult.

While escaping from Bear Cat after the fiasco of the bank robbery, Houck
must have stumbled somehow into the hands of the Ute band still at large.
They had passed judgment on him and executed it. No doubt the wretched
man had been tied at the heels of a horse which had been lashed into a
frenzied gallop by the Indians in its rear. He had been dragged or kicked
to death by the frightened horse.

As Bob looked down into that still, disfigured face, there came to him
vividly a sense of the weakness and frailty of human nature. Not long
since this bit of lifeless clay had straddled his world like a Colossus.
To the young cowpuncher he had been a superman, terrible in his power and
capacity to do harm. Now all that vanity and egoism had vanished, blown
away as though it had never been.

Where was Jake Houck? What had become of him? The shell that had been his
was here. But where was the roaring bully that had shaken his fist
blasphemously at God and man?

It came to him, with a queer tug at the heartstrings, that Houck had once
been a dimpled baby in a mother's arms, a chirruping little fat-legged
fellow who tottered across the floor to her with outstretched fingers.
Had that innocent child disappeared forever? Or in that other world to
which Jake had so violently gone would he meet again the better self his
evil life had smothered?

Bob loosened the bandanna from his throat and with it covered the face of
the outlaw. He straightened the body and folded the hands across the
breast. It was not in his power to obliterate from the face the look of
ghastly, rigid terror stamped on it during the last terrible moments.

The young husband went back to his waiting wife. He stood by her stirrup
while she looked down at him, white-faced.

"Who was it?" she whispered.

"Jake Houck," he told her gravely. "The Utes did it--because he killed
Black Arrow, I reckon."

She shuddered. A cloud had come over the beautiful world.

"We'll go on now," he said gently. "I'll come back later with your
father."

They rode in silence up the long hill. At the top of it he drew rein and
smiled at his bride.

"You'll not let that spoil the day, will you, June? He had it coming, you
know. Houck had gone bad. If it hadn't been the Utes, it would have been
the law a little later."

"Yes, but--" She tried to answer his smile, not very successfully. "It's
rather--awful, isn't it?"

He nodded. "Let's walk over to the cabin, dear."

She swung down, into his arms. There she found comfort that dissipated
the cloud from her mind. When she ran into the house to throw her arms
around Pete Tolliver's neck, she was again radiant.

"Guess! Guess what!" she ordered her father.

Pete looked at his daughter and at the bashful, smiling boy.

"I reckon I done guessed, honeybug," he answered, stroking her rebellious
hair.

"You're to come and live with us. Isn't he, Bob?"

The young husband nodded sheepishly. He felt that it was a brutal thing
to take a daughter from her father. It had not occurred to him before,
but old Pete would feel rather out of it now.

Tolliver looked at Bob over the shoulder of his daughter.

"You be good to her or I'll--" His voice broke.

"I sure will," the husband promised.

June laughed. "He's the one ought to worry, Dad. I'm the flyaway on this
team."

Bob looked at her, gifts in his eyes. "I'm worryin' a heap," he said,
smiling.





Next: The Campers

Previous: The End Of A Crooked Trail



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