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The Man With The Chihuahua Hat

From: Brand Blotters

A little dust cloud was traveling up the trail toward the Bar Double G,
the center of which presently defined itself as a rider moving at a road
gait. He wore a Chihuahua hat and with it the picturesque trappings the
Southwest borrows on occasion from across the border. Vanity disclosed
itself in the gold-laced hat, in the silver conchos of the fringed chaps,
in the fine workmanship of the saddle and bit. The man's finery was
overdone, carried with it the suggestion of being on exhibition. But one
look at the man himself, sleek and graceful, black-haired and
white-toothed, exuding an effect of cold wariness in spite of the masked
smiling face, would have been enough to give the lie to any charge of
weakness. His fopperies could not conceal the silken strength of him. One
meeting with the chill, deep-set eyes was certificate enough for most

Melissy, sitting on the porch with her foot resting on a second chair,
knew a slight quickening of the blood as she watched him approach.

"Good evenin', Miss M'lissy," he cried, sweeping his sombrero as low as
the stirrup.

"Buenos tardes, Senor Norris," she flung back gayly.

Sitting at ease in the saddle, he leisurely looked her over with eyes that
smoldered behind half-shuttered lids. To most of her world she was in
spirit still more boy than woman, but before his bold, possessive gaze her
long lashes wavered to the cheeks into which the warm blood was beating.
Her long, free lines were still slender with the immaturity of youth, her
soul still hesitating reluctantly to cross the border to womanhood toward
which Nature was pushing her so relentlessly. From a fund of experience
Philip Norris read her shrewdly, knew how to evoke the latent impulses
which brought her eagerly to the sex duel.

"Playing off for sick," he scoffed.

"I'm not," she protested. "Never get sick. It's just a sprained ankle."

"Sho! I guess you're Miss Make Believe; just harrowing the feelings of
your beaux."

"The way you talk! I haven't got any beaux. The boys are just my

"Oh, just friends! And no beaux. My, my! Not a single sweetheart in all
this wide open country. Shall I go rope you one and bring him in,

"No!" she exploded. "I don't want any. I'm not old enough yet." Her
dancing eyes belied the words.

"Now I wouldn't have guessed it. You look to me most ready to be picked."
He rested his weight on the farther stirrup and let his lazy smile mock
her. "My estimate would be sixteen. I'll bet you're every day of that."

"I only lack three months of being eighteen," she came back indignantly.

"You don't say! You'll ce'tainly have to be advertising for a husband
soon, Miss Three-Quarters-Past-Seventeen. Maybe an ad in the Mesa paper
would help. You ain't so awful bad looking."

"I'll let you write it. What would you say?" she demanded, a patch of pink
standing out near the curve of the cheek bone.

He swung from the saddle and flung the reins to the ground. With jingling
spurs he came up the steps and sat on the top one, his back against a
pillar. Boldly his admiring eyes swept her.

"Nina, I couldn't do the subject justice. Honest, I haven't got the

"Oh, you!" Laughter was in the eyes that studied him with a side tilt of
the chin. "That's a fine way to get out of it when your bluff is called."

He leaned back against the post comfortably and absorbed the beauty of the
western horizon. The sun had just set behind a saddle of the Galiuros in a
splash of splendor. All the colors of the rainbow fought for supremacy in
a brilliant-tinted sky that blazed above the fire-girt peaks. Soon dusk
would slip down over the land and tone the hues to a softer harmony. A
purple sea would flow over the hills, to be in turn displaced by a deep,
soft violet. Then night, that night of mystery and romance which
transforms the desert to a thing of incredible wonder!

"Did your father buy this sunset with the ranch? And has he got a
guarantee that it will perform every night?" he asked.

"Did you ever see anything like it?" she cried. "I have looked at them all
my life and I never get tired."

He laughed softly, his indolent, sleepy look on her. "Some things I would
never get tired of looking at either."

Without speaking she nodded, still absorbing the sunset.

"But it wouldn't be that kind of scenery," he added. "How tall are you,

Her glance came around in surprise. "I don't know. About five foot five, I
think. Why?"

"I'm working on that ad. How would this do? 'Miss
Three-Quarters-Past-Seventeen wants to meet up with gentleman between
eighteen and forty-eight. Object, matrimony. Description of lady: Slim,
medium height, brunette, mop of blue-black hair, the prettiest dimple you
ever saw----'"

"Now I know you're making fun of me. I'm mad." And the dimple flashed into

"'--mostly says the opposite of what she means, has a----'"

"I don't. I don't"

"'--has a spice of the devil in her, which----'"

"Now, I am mad," she interrupted, laughing.

"'--which is excusable, since she has the reddest lips for kissing in

He had gone too far. Her innocence was in arms. Norris knew it by the
swiftness with which the smile vanished from her face, by the flash of
anger in the eyes.

"I prefer to talk about something else, Mr. Norris," she said with all the
prim stiffness of a schoolgirl.

Her father relieved the tension by striding across from the stable. With
him came a bowlegged young fellow in plain leathers. The youngster was
Charley Hymer, one of the riders for the Bar Double G.

"You're here at the right time, Norris," Lee said grimly. "Charley has
just come down from Antelope Pass. He found one of my cows dead, with a
bullet hole through the forehead. The ashes of a fire were there, and in
the brush not far away a running iron."

The eyes of Norris narrowed to slits. He was the cattle detective of the
association and for a year now the rustlers had outgeneraled him. "I'll
have you take me to the spot, Charley. Get a move on you and we'll get
there soon as the moon is up."

Melissy gripped the arms of her chair tightly with both hands. She was
looking at Norris with a new expression, a kind of breathless fear. She
knew him for a man who could not be swerved from the thing he wanted. For
all his easy cynicism, he had the reputation of being a bloodhound on the
trail. Moreover, she knew that he was no friend to Jack Flatray. Why had
she left that running iron as evidence to convict its owner? What folly
not to have removed it from the immediate scene of the crime!

The cattle detective and her father had moved a few steps away and were
talking in low tones. Melissy became aware of a footfall. The man who
called himself Morse came around the corner of the house and stopped at
the porch steps.

"May I speak to you a moment, Miss Lee?" he said in a low voice.

"Of course."

The voice of Norris rose to an irritated snarl. "Tell you I've got
evidence, Lee. Mebbe it's not enough to convict, but it satisfies me
a-plenty that Jack Flatray's the man."

Melissy was frozen to a tense attention. Her whole mind was on what passed
between the detective and her father. Otherwise she would have noticed the
swift change that transformed the tenderfoot.

The rancher answered with impatient annoyance. "You're 'way off, Norris. I
don't care anything about your evidence. The idea is plumb ridiculous.
Twenty odd years I've known him. He's the best they make, a pure through
and through. Not a crooked hair in his head. I've eat out of the same
frying pan too often with that boy not to know what he is. You go bury
those suspicions of yours immediate. There's nothing to them."

Norris grumbled objections as they moved toward the stable. Melissy drew a
long breath and brought herself back to the tenderfoot.

He stood like a coiled spring, head thrust far forward from the shoulders.
The look in his black eyes was something new to her experience. For hate,
passion, caution were all mirrored there.

"You know Mr. Norris," she said quickly.

He started. "What did you say his name was?" he asked with an assumption
of carelessness.

"Norris--Philip Norris. He is a cattle detective."

"Never heard of Mr. Norris before in my life," he answered, but it was
observable that he still breathed deep.

She did not believe him. Some tie in their buried past bound these two men
together. They must have known each other in the South years ago, and one
of them at least was an enemy of the other. There might come a day when
she could use this knowledge to save Jack Flatray from the punishment
dogging his heels. Melissy filed it away in her memory for future

"You wanted to speak to me," she suggested.

"I'm going away."

"What for?"

"Because I'm not a hound. I can't blackmail a woman."

"How do you mean?"

"I mean that you've found work here for me because I saw what you did over
by Antelope Pass. We made a bargain. Oh, not in words, but a bargain just
the same! You were to keep my secret because I knew yours. I release you
from your part of it. Give me up if you think it is your duty. I'll not
tell what I know."

"That wasn't how you talked the other day."

"No. It's how I talk now. I'm a hunted man, wanted for murder. I make you
a present of the information."

"You make me a present of what I already know, Mr. Diller, alias Morse,
alias Bellamy."

"You guessed it the first day?"


"And meant to keep quiet about it?"

"Yes, I meant to shelter you from the punishment you deserve." She added
with a touch of bitter self-scorn: "I was doing what I had to do."

"You don't have to do it any longer." He looked straight at her with his
head up. "And how do you know what I deserve? Who made you a judge about
these facts? Grant for the sake of argument I killed him. Do you know I
wasn't justified?"

His fierce boldness put her on the defense. "A man sure of his cause does
not run away. The paper said this Shep Boone was shot from ambush.
Nothing could justify such a thing. When you did that----"

"I didn't. Don't believe it, Miss Lee."

"He was shot from behind, the paper said."

"Do I look like a man who would kill from ambush?"

She admitted to herself that this clear-eyed Southerner did not look like
an assassin. Life in the open had made her a judge of such men as she had
been accustomed to meet, but for days she had been telling herself she
could no longer trust her judgment. Her best friend was a rustler. By a
woman's logic it followed that since Jack Flatray was a thief this man
might have committed all the crimes in the calendar.

"I don't know." Then, impulsively, "No, you don't, but you may be for all

"I'm not asking anything for myself. You may do as you please after I've
gone. Send for Mr. Flatray and tell him if you like."

A horse cantered across the plaza toward the store. Bellamy turned quickly
to go.

"I'm not going to tell anyone," the girl called after him in a low voice.

Norris swung from the saddle. "Who's our hurried friend?" he asked

"Oh, a new rider of ours. Name of Morse." She changed the subject. "Are
you--do you think you know who the rustler is?"

His cold, black eyes rested in hers. She read in them something cruel and
sinister. It was as if he were walking over the grave of an enemy.

"I'm gathering evidence, a little at a time."

"Do I know him?"

"Maybe you do."

"Tell me."

He shook his head. "Wait till I've got him cinched."

"You told father," she accused.

He laughed in a hard, mirthless fashion. "That cured me. The Lee family is
from Missouri. When I talk next time I'll have the goods to show."

"I know who you mean. You're making a mistake." Her voice seemed to plead
with him.

"Not on your life, I ain't. But we'll talk about that when the subject is
riper. There will be a showdown some day, and don't you forget it. Well,
Charley is calling me. So long, Miss Three-Quarters-Past-Seventeen." He
went jingling down the steps and swung to the saddle. "I'll not forget the
ad, and when I find the right man I'll ce'tainly rope and bring him to

"The rustler?" she asked innocently.

"No, not the rustler, the gent between eighteen and forty-eight, object

"I don't want to trouble you," she flung at him with her gay smile.

"No trouble at all. Fact is, I've got him in mind already," he assured her

"Oh!" A pulse of excitement was beating in her throat.

"You don't ask me who he is," suggested Norris boldly, crouched in the
saddle with his weight on the far stirrup.

She had brought it upon herself, but now she dodged the issue. "'Most
anyone will do, and me going on eighteen."

"You're wrong, girl. Only one out of a thousand will do for your master."

"Master, indeed! If he comes to the Bar Double G he'll find he is at the
wrong address. None wanted, thank you."

"Most folks don't want what's best for them, I allow. But if they have
luck it sometimes comes to them."

"Luck!" she echoed, her chin in the air.

"You heard me right. What you need is a man that ain't afraid of you, one
to ride close herd on you so as to head off them stampede notions of
yours. Now this lad is the very one. He is a black-haired guy, and when he
says a thing----"

Involuntarily she glanced at his sleek black head. Melissy felt a sudden
clamor of the blood, a pounding of the pulses.

"--he most generally means it. I've wrangled around a heap with him and
there's no manner of doubt he's up to specifications. In appearance he
looks like me. Point of fact, he's a dead ringer for me."

She saw her chance and flashed out. "Now you're flattering him. There
can't be two as--as fascinating as Senor Norris," she mocked.

His smoldering eyes had the possessive insolence she resented and yet
found so stimulating.

"Did I say there were two?" he drawled.

It was his parting shot. With a touch of the spur he was off, leaving her
no time for an adequate answer.

There were no elusions and inferences about Philip Norris when he wanted
to be direct. He had fairly taken her breath away. Melissy's instinct told
her there was something humiliating about such a wooing. But picturesque
and unconventional conduct excuse themselves in a picturesque personality.
And this man had that if nothing else.

She told herself she was angry at him, that he took liberties far beyond
those of any of the other young men. Yet, somehow, she went into the house
smiling. A color born of excitement burned beneath her sparkling eyes. She
had entered into her heritage of womanhood and the call of sex was
summoning her to the adventure that is old as the garden where Eve met

Next: The Tenderfoot Takes Up A Claim

Previous: An Accusation

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