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The Signal Lights

From: A Story Of The Outdoor West

In a little hill-rift about a mile back of the Lazy D Ranch was a
deserted miner's cabin.

The hut sat on the edge of a bluff that commanded a view of the
buildings below, while at the same time the pines that surrounded it
screened the shack from any casual observation. A thin curl of smoke was
rising from the mud chimney, and inside the cabin two men lounged before
the open fire.

"It's his move, and he is going to make it soon. Every night I look
for him to drop down on the ranch. His hate's kind of volcanic, Mr. Ned
Bannister's is, and it's bound to bubble over mighty sudden one of these
days," said the younger of the two, rising and stretching himself.

"It did bubble over some when he drove two thousand of my sheep over the
bluff and killed the whole outfit," suggested the namesake of the man

"Yes, I reckon that's some irritating," agreed McWilliams. "But if I
know him, he isn't going to be content with sheep so long as he can take
it out of a real live man."

"Or woman," suggested the sheepman.

"Or woman," agreed the other. "Especially when he thinks he can cut y'u
deeper by striking at her. If he doesn't raid the Lazy D one of these
nights, I'm a blamed poor prophet."

Bannister nodded agreement. "He's near the end of his rope. He could
see that if he were blind. When we captured Bostwick and they got a
confession out of him, that started the landslide against him. It began
to be noised abroad that the government was going to wipe him out. Folks
began to lose their terror of him, and after that his whole outfit began
to want to turn State's evidence. He isn't sure of one of them now;
can't tell when he will be shot in the back by one of his own scoundrels
for that two thousand dollars reward."

The foreman strolled negligently to the door. His eyes drifted
indolently down into the valley, and immediately sparkled with

"The signal's out, Bann," he exclaimed. "It's in your window."

The sheepman leaped to his feet and strode to the door. Down in the
valley a light was gleaming in a window. Even while he looked another
light appeared in a second window.

"She wants us both," cried the foreman, running to the little corral
back of the house.

He presently reappeared with two horses, both saddled, and they took the
downward trail at once.

"If Miss Helen can keep him in play till we arrive," murmured Mac

"She can if he gives her a chance, and I think he will. There's a kind
of cat instinct in him to play with his prey."

"Yes, but he missed his kill last time by letting her fool him. That's
what I'm afraid of' that he won't wait."

They had reached lower ground now, and could put their ponies at a
pounding gallop that ate up the trail fast. As they approached the
houses, both men drew rein and looked carefully to their weapons. Then
they slid from the saddles and slipped noiselessly forward.

What the foreman had said was exactly true. Helen Messiter did want them
both, and she wanted them very much indeed.

After supper she had been dreamily playing over to herself one of
Chopin's waltzes, when she became aware, by some instinct, that she was
not alone in the room. There had been no least sound, no slightest stir
to betray an alien presence. Yet that some one was in the room she knew,
and by some subtle sixth sense could even put a name to the intruder.

Without turning she called over her shoulder: "Shall I finish the
waltz?" No faintest tremor in the clear, sweet voice betrayed the racing

"Y'u're a cool hand, my friend," came his ready answer. "But I think
we'll dispense with the music. I had enough last time to serve me for

She laughed as she swung on the stool, with that musical scorn which
both allured and maddened. "I did rather do you that time," she allowed.

"This is the return match. You won then. I win now," he told her, with a
look that chilled.

"Indeed! But isn't that rather discounting the future?"

"Only the immediate future. Y'u're mine, my beauty, and I mean to take
y'u with me."

Just a disdainful sweep of her eyes she gave him as she rose from the
piano-stool and rearranged the lamps. "You mean so much that never comes
to pass, Mr. Bannister. The road to the nether regions is paved with
good intentions, we are given to understand. Not that yours can by any
stretch of imagination be called 'good intentions.'"

"Contrariwise, then, perhaps the road to heaven may be paved with evil
intentions. Since y'u travel the road with me, wherever it may lead, it
were but gallant to hope so."

He took three sharp steps toward her and stood looking down in her face,
her sweet slenderness so close to him that the perfume mounted to his
brain. Surely no maiden had ever been more desirable than this one, who
held him in such contemptuous estimation that only her steady eyes
moved at his approach. These held to his and defied him, while she stood
leaning motionless against the table with such strong and supple grace.
She knew what he meant to do, hated him for it, and would not give him
the satisfaction of flying an inch from him or struggling with him.

"Your eyes are pools of splendor. That's right. Make them flash fire.
I love to see such spirit, since it offers a more enticing pleasure
in breaking," he told her, with an admiration half ironic but wholly
genuine. "Pools of splendor, my beauty! Therefore I salute them."

At the touch of his lips upon her eyelids a shiver ran through her, but
still she made no movement, was cold to him as marble. "You coward!" she
said softly, with an infinite contempt.

"Your lips," he continued to catalogue, "are ripe as fresh flesh of
Southern fruit. No cupid ever possessed so adorable a mouth. A worshiper
of Eros I, as now I prove."

This time it was the mouth he kissed, the while her unconquered spirit
looked out of the brave eyes, and fain would have murdered him. In turn
he kissed her cold cheeks, the tip of one of her little ears, the small,
clenched fist with which she longed to strike him.

"Are you quite through?"

"For the present, and now, having put the seal of my ownership on her
more obvious charms, I'll take my bride home."

"I would die first."

"Nay, you'll die later, Madam Bannister, but not for many years, I
hope," he told her, with a theatrical bow.

"Do you think me so weak a thing as your words imply?"

"Rather so strong that the glory of overcoming y'u fills me with joy.
Believe me, madam, though your master I am not less your slave," he

"You are neither my master nor my slave, but a thing I detest," she
said, in a low voice that carried extraordinary intensity.

"And obey," he added, suavely. "Come, madam, to horse, for our

"I tell you I shall not go."

"Then, in faith, we'll re-enact a modern edition of 'The Taming of the
Shrew.' Y'u'll find me, sweet, as apt at the part as old Petruchio." He
paced complacently up the room and back, and quoted glibly:

"And thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor. He that knows better
how to tame a shrew, Now let him, speak; 'tis charity to show."

"Would you take me against my will?"

"Y'u have said it. What's your will to me? What I want I take. And I
sure want my beautiful shrew." His half-shuttered eyes gloated on her as
he rattled off a couple more lines from the play he had mentioned.

"Kate, like the hazel-twig, Is straight and slender, and as brown in hue
As hazel-nuts, and sweeter than the kernels."

She let a swift glance travel anxiously to the door. "You are in a very
poetical mood to-day."

"As befits a bridegroom, my own." He stepped lightly to the window and
tapped twice on the pane. "A signal to bring the horses round. If y'u
have any preparations to make, any trousseau to prepare, y'u better set
that girl of yours to work."

"I have no preparations to make."

"Coming to me simply as y'u are? Good! We'll lead the simple life."

Nora, as it chanced, knocked and entered at his moment. The sight of
her vivid good looks truck him for the first time. At sight of him
she stopped, gazing with parted lips, a double row of pearls shining

He turned swiftly to the mistress. "Y'u ought not to be alone there
among so many men. It wouldn't be proper. We'll take the girl along with

"Where?" Nora's parted lips emitted.

"To Arden, my dear." He interrupted himself to look at his watch. "I
wonder why that fellow doesn't come with the horses. They should pass
this window."

Bannister, standing jauntily with his feet astride as he looked out
of the window, heard someone enter the room. "Did y'u bring round the
horses?" he snapped, without looking round.


At sound of the slow drawl the outlaw wheeled like a flash, his hand
traveling to the hilt of the revolver that hung on his hip. But he was
too late. Already two revolvers covered him, and he knew that both his
cousin and McWilliams were dead shots. He flashed one venomous look at
the mistress of the ranch.

"Y'u fooled me again. That lamp business was a signal, and I was too
thick-haided to see it. My compliments to y'u, Miss Messiter."

"Y'u are under arrest," announced his cousin.

"Y'u don't say." His voice was full of sarcastic admiration. "And you
done it with your little gun! My, what a wonder y'u are!"

"Take your hand from the butt of that gun. Y'u better relieve him of
it, Mac. He's got such a restless disposition he might commit suicide by
reaching for it."

"What do y'u think you're going to do with me now y'u have got me,
Cousin Ned?"

"We're going to turn y'u over to the United States Government."

"Guess again. I have a thing, or two to say to that."

"You're going to Gimlet Butte with us, alive or dead."

The outlaw intentionally misunderstood. "If I've got to take y'u, then
we'll say y'u go dead rather than alive."

"He was going to take Nora and me with him," Helen explained to her

Instantly the man swung round on her. "But now I've changed my mind,
ma'am. I'm going to take my cousin with me instead of y'u ladies."

Helen caught his meaning first, and flashed it whitely to her lover. It
dawned on him more slowly.

"I see y'u remember, Miss Messiter," he continued, with a cruel, silken
laugh. "He gave me his parole to go with me whenever I said the word.
I'm saying it now." He sat down astride a chair, put his chin on the
back cross-bar, and grinned malevolently from one to another.

"What's come over this happy family? It don't look so joyous all of a
sudden. Y'u don't need to worry, ma'am, I'll send him back to y'u all
right--alive or dead. With his shield or on it, y'u know. Ha! ha!"

"You will not go with him?" It was wrung from Helen as a low cry, and
struck her lover's heart.

"I must," he answered. "I gave him my word, y'u remember."

"But why keep it? You know what he is, how absolutely devoid of honor."

"That is not quite the question, is it?" he smiled.

"Would he keep his word to you?"

"Not if a lie would do as well. But that isn't the point, either."

"It's quixotic--foolish--worse than that--ridiculous," she implored.

"Perhaps, but the fact remains that I am pledged."

"'I could not love thee, dear, so much
Loved I not honor more,'"

murmured the villain in the chair, apparently to the ceiling. "Dear Ned,
he always was the soul of honor. I'll have those lines carved on his

"You see! He is already bragging that he means to kill you," said the

"I shall go armed," the sheepman answered.

"Yes, but he will take you into the mountain fastnesses, where the men
that serve him will do his bidding. What is one man among so many?"

"Two men, ma'am," corrected the foreman.

"What's that?" The outlaw broke off the snatch of opera he was singing
to slew his head round at McWilliams.

"I said two. Any objections, seh?"

"Yes. That wasn't in the contract."

"We're giving y'u surplusage, that's all. Y'u wanted one of us, and y'u
get two. We don't charge anything for the extra weight," grinned Mac.

"Oh, Mac, will you go with him?" cried Helen, with shining eyes.

"Those are my present intentions, Miss Helen," laughed her foreman.

Whereat Nora emerged from the background and flung herself on him. "Y'u
can't go, Jim! I won't have you go!" she cried.

The young man blushed a beautiful pink, and accepted gladly this overt
evidence of a reconciliation. "It's all right, honey. Don't y'u think
two big, grown-up men are good to handle that scalawag? Sho! Don't y'u

"Miss Nora can come, too, if she likes," suggested he of the Shoshones.
"Looks like we would have quite a party. Won't y'u join us, too,
Miss Messiter, according to the original plan?" he said, extending an
ironical invitation.

"I think we had better cut it down to me alone. We'll not burden your
hospitality, sir," said the sheepman.

"No, sir, I'm in on this. Whyfor can't I go?" demanded Jim.

Bannister, the outlaw, eyed him unpleasantly. "Y'u certainly can so far
as I am concerned. I owe y'u one, too, Mr. McWilliams. Only if y'u come
of your own free will, as y'u are surely welcome to do, don't holler if
y'u're not so welcome to leave whenever y'u take a notion."

"I'll try and look out for that. It's settled, then, that we ride
together. When do y'u want to start?"

"We can't go any sooner than right now. I hate to take these young
men from y'u, lady, but, as I said, I'll send them back in good shape.
Adios, senorita. Don't forget to whom y'u belong." He swaggered to the
door and turned, leaning against the jamb with one hand again it. "I
expect y'u can say those lovey-dov good-byes without my help. I'm going
into the yard. If y'u want to y'u can plug me in the back through the
window," he suggested, with a sneer.

"As y'u would us under similar circumstances," retorted his cousin.

"Be with y'u in five minutes," said the foreman.

"Don't hurry. It's a long good-bye y'u're saying," returned his enemy

Nora and the young man who belonged to her followed him from the room,
leaving Bannister and his hostess alone.

"Shall I ever see you again?" Helen murmured.

"I think so," the sheepman answered. "The truth is that this opportunity
falls pat. Jim and have been wanting to meet those men who are under my
cousin's influence and have a talk with them. There is no question
but that the gang is disintegrating, and I believe that if we offer to
mediate between its members and the Government something might be done
to stop the outrages that have been terrorizing this country. My cousin
can't be reached, but I believe the rest of them, or, at least a part,
can be induced either to surrender or to flee the country. Anyhow, we
want to try it."

"But the danger?" she breathed.

"Is less than y'u think. Their leader has not anywhere nearly the
absolute power he had a few months ago. They would hardly dare do
violence to a peace envoy."

"Your cousin would. I don't believe he has any scruples."

"We shall keep an eye on him. Both of us will not sleep at the same
time. Y'u may depend on me to bring your foreman safely back to y'u," he

"Oh, my foreman!"

"And your foreman's friend," he added. "I have the best of reasons for
wanting to return alive. I think y'u know them. They have to do with
y'u, Miss Helen."

It had come at last, but, womanlike, she evaded the issue her heart had
sought. "Yes, I know. You think it would not be fair to throw away your
life in this foolish manner after I have saved it for you--how many
times was it you said?" The blue eyes lifted with deceptive frankness to
the gray ones.

"No, that isn't my reason. I have a better one than that. I love y'u,
girl, more than anything in this world."

"And so you try to prove it to me by running into a trap set for you to
take your life. That's a selfish kind of love, isn't it? Or it would be
if I loved you."

"Do y'u love me, Helen?"

"Why should I tell you, since you don't love me enough to give up this
quixotic madness?"

"Don't y'u see, dear, I can't give it up?"

"I see you won't. You care more for your pride than for me."

"No, it isn't that. I've got to go. It isn't that I want to leave y'u,
God knows. But I've given my word, and I must keep it. Do y'u want me
to be a quitter, and y'u so game yourself? Do y'u want it to go all over
this cattle country that I gave my word and took it back because I lost
my nerve?"

"The boy that takes a dare isn't a hero, is he! There's a higher courage
that refuses to be drawn into such foolishness, that doesn't give way to
the jeers of the empty headed."

"I don't think that is a parallel case. I'm sorry, we can't see this
alike, but I've got to go ahead the way that seems to me right."

"You're going to leave me, then, to go with that man?"

"Yes, if that's the way y'u have to put it." He looked at her
sorrowfully, and added gently: "I thought you would see it. I thought
sure you would."

But she could not bear that he should leave her so, and she cried out
after him. "Oh, I see it. I know you must go; but I can't bear it." Her
head buried itself in his coat. "It isn't right--it isn't a--a square
deal that you should go away now, the very minute you belong to me."

A happy smile shone in his eyes. "I belong to you, do I? That's good
hearing, girl o' mine." His arm went round her and he stroked the black
head softly. "I'll not be gone long, dear. Don't y'u worry about me.
I'll be back with y'u soon; just as soon as I have finished this piece
of work I have to do."

"But if you should get--if anything should happen to you?"

"Nothing is going to happen to me. There is a special providence looks
after lovers, y'u know."

"Be careful, Ned, of yourself. For my sake, dear."

"I'll dry my socks every time I get my feet wet for fear of taking
cold," he laughed.

"But you will, won't you?"

"I'll be very careful, Helen," he promised more gravely.

Even then she could hardly let him go, clinging to him with a reluctance
to separate that was a new experience to her independent, vigorous
youth. In the end he unloosened her arm, kissed her once, and hurried
out of the room. In the hallway he met McWilliams, also hurryin out from
a tearful farewell on the part of Nora.

Bannister, the outlaw, already mounted, was waiting for them. "Y'u did
get through at last," he drawled insolently. "Well, if y'u'll kindly give
orders to your seven-foot dwarf to point the Winchester another way I'll
collect my men an we'll be moving."

For, though the outlaw had left his men in command of the ranch when he
went into the house, he found the situation reversed on his return.
With the arrival of reinforcements, in the persons of McWilliams and his
friend, it had been the turn of the raiders to turn over their weapons.

"All right, Denver," nodded the foreman.

The outlaw chief whistled for his men, and with their guests they rode
into the silent, desert night.

Next: Exit The King

Previous: Two Cases Of Discipline

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