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The Tenderfoot Takes Up A Claim

From: Brand Blotters

Mr. Diller, alias Morse, alias Bellamy, did not long remain at the Bar
Double G as a rider. It developed that he had money, and, tenderfoot
though he was, the man showed a shrewd judgment in his investments. He
bought sheep and put them on the government forest reserve, much to the
annoyance of the cattlemen of the district.

Morse, as he now called himself, was not the first man who had brought
sheep into the border country. Far up in the hills were several camps of
them. But hitherto these had been there on sufferance, and it had been
understood that they were to be kept far from the cattle range. The
extension of the government reserves changed the equation. A good slice of
the range was cut off and thrown open to sheep. When Morse leased this and
put five thousand bleaters upon the feeding ground the sentiment against
him grew very bitter.

Lee had been spokesman of a committee appointed to remonstrate with him.
Morse had met them pleasantly but firmly. This part of the reserve had
been set aside for sheep. If it were not leased by him it would be by
somebody else. Therefore, he declined to withdraw his flocks. Champ lost
his temper and swore that he for one would never submit to yield the
range. Sharp bitter words were passed. Next week masked men drove a small
flock belonging to Morse over a precipice.

The tenderfoot retaliated by jumping a mining claim staked out by Lee upon
which the assessment work had not been kept up. The cattleman contested
this in the courts, lost the decision, and promptly appealed. Meanwhile,
he countered by leasing from the forest supervisor part of the run
previously held by his opponent and putting sheep of his own upon it.

"I reckon I'll play Mr. Morse's own game and see how he likes it," the
angry cattleman told his friends.

But the luck was all with Morse. Before he had been working his new claim
a month the Monte Cristo (he had changed the name from its original one of
Melissy) proved a bonanza. His men ran into a rich streak of dirt that
started a stampede for the vicinity.

Champ indulged in choice profanity. From his point of view he had been
robbed, and he announced the fact freely to such acquaintances as dropped
into the Bar Double G store.

"Dad gum it, I was aimin' to do that assessment work and couldn't jest
lay my hands on the time. I'd been a millionaire three years and didn't
know it. Then this damned Morse butts in and euchres me out of the claim.
Some day him and me'll have a settlement. If the law don't right me, I
reckon I'm most man enough to 'tend to Mr. Morse."

It was his daughter who had hitherto succeeded in keeping the peace. When
the news of the relocation had reached Lee he had at once started to
settle the matter with a Winchester, but Melissy, getting news of his
intention, had caught up a horse and ridden bareback after him in time to
avert by her entreaties a tragedy. For six months after this the men had
not chanced to meet.

Why the tenderfoot had first come West--to hide what wounds in the great
baked desert--no man knew or asked. Melissy had guessed, but she did not
breathe to a soul her knowledge. It was a first article of Arizona's creed
that a man's past belonged to him alone, was a blotted book if he chose to
have it so. No doubt many had private reasons for their untrumpeted
migration to that kindly Southwest which buries identity, but no wise
citizen busied himself with questions about antecedents. The present
served to sift one, and by the way a man met it his neighbors judged him.

And T. L. Morse met it competently. In every emergency with which he had
to cope the man "stood the acid." Arizona approved him a man, without
according him any popularity. He was too dogmatic to win liking, but he
had a genius for success. Everything he touched turned to gold.

The Bar Double G lies half way between Mammoth and Mesa. Its position
makes it a central point for ranchers within a radius of fifteen miles.
Out of the logical need for it was born the store which Beauchamp Lee ran
to supply his neighbors with canned goods, coffee, tobacco, and other
indispensables; also the eating house for stage passengers passing to and
from the towns. Young as she was, Melissy was the competent manager of
both of these.

It was one afternoon during the hour the stage stopped to let the
passengers dine that Melissy's wandering eye fell upon Morse seated at one
of the tables. Anger mounted within her at the cool impudence of the man.
She had half a mind to order him out, but saw he was nearly through dinner
and did not want to make a scene. Unfortunately Beauchamp Lee happened to
come into the store just as his enemy strolled out from the dining-room.

The ranchman stiffened. "What you been doing in there, seh?" he demanded

"I've been eating a very good dinner in a public cafe. Any objections?"

"Plenty of 'em, seh. I don't aim to keep open house for Mr. Morse."

"I understand this is a business proposition. I expect to pay seventy-five
cents for my meal."

The eyes of the older man gleamed wrathfully. "As for yo' six bits, if you
offer it to me I'll take it as an insult. At the Bar Double G we're not
doing friendly business with claim jumpers. Don't you evah set yo' legs
under my table again, seh."

Morse shrugged, turned away to the public desk, and addressed an envelope,
the while Lee glared at him from under his heavy beetling brows. Melissy
saw that her father was still of half a mind to throw out the intruder and
she called him to her.

"Dad, Jose wants you to look at the hoof of one of his wheelers. He asked
if you would come as soon as you could."

Beauchamp still frowned at Morse, rasping his unshaven chin with his hand.
"Ce'tainly, honey. Glad to look at it."

"Dad! Please."

The ranchman went out, grumbling. Five minutes later Morse took his seat
on the stage beside the driver, having first left seventy-five cents on
the counter.

The stage had scarce gone when the girl looked up from her bookkeeping to
see the man with the Chihuahua hat.

"Buenos tardes, senorita," he gave her with a flash of white teeth.

"Buenos," she nodded coolly.

But the dancing eyes of her could not deny their pleasure at sight of him.
They had rested upon men as handsome, but upon none who stirred her blood
so much.

He was in the leather chaps of a cowpuncher, gray-shirted, and a polka dot
kerchief circled the brown throat. Life rippled gloriously from every
motion of him. Hermes himself might have envied the perfect grace of the

She supplied his wants while they chatted.

"Jogged off your range quite a bit, haven't you?" she suggested.

"Some. I'll take two bits' worth of that smokin', nina."

She shook her head. "I'm no little girl. Don't you know I'm now half past

"My--my. That ad didn't do a mite of good, did it?"

"Not a bit."

"And you growing older every day."

"Does my age show?" she wanted to know anxiously.

The scarce veiled admiration of his smoldering eyes drew the blood to her
dusky cheeks. Something vigilant lay crouched panther-like behind the
laughter of his surface badinage.

"You're standing it well, honey."

The color beat into her face, less at the word than at the purring caress
in his voice. A year ago she had been a child. But in the Southland
flowers ripen fast. Adolescence steals hard upon the heels of infancy,
and, though the girl had never wakened to love, Nature was pushing her
relentlessly toward a womanhood for which her unschooled impulses but
scantily safeguarded her.

She turned toward the shelves. "How many air-tights did you say?"

"I didn't say." He leaned forward across the counter. "What's the hurry,
little girl?"

"My name is Melissy Lee," she told him over her shoulder.

"Mine is Phil Norris. Glad to give it to you, Melissy Lee," the man
retorted glibly.

"Can't use it, thank you," came her swift saucy answer.

"Or to lend it to you--say, for a week or two."

She flashed a look at him and passed quickly from behind the counter. Her
father was just coming into the store.

"Will you wait on Mr. Norris, dad? Hop wants to see me in the kitchen."

Norris swore softly under his breath. The last thing he had wanted was to
drive her away. It had been nearly a year since he had seen her last, but
the picture of her had been in the coals of many a night camp fire.

The cattle detective stayed to dinner and to supper. He and her father had
their heads together for hours, their voices pitched to a murmur. Melissy
wondered what business could have brought him, whether it could have
anything to do with the renewed rustling that had of late annoyed the
neighborhood. This brought her thoughts to Jack Flatray. He, too, had
almost dropped from her world, though she heard of him now and again. Not
once had he been to see her since the night she had sprained her ankle.

Later, when Melissy was watering the roses beside the porch, she heard the
name of Morse mentioned by the stock detective. He seemed to be urging
upon her father some course of action at which the latter demurred. The
girl knew a vague unrest. Lee did not need his anger against Morse
incensed. For months she had been trying to allay rather than increase
this. If Philip Norris had come to stir up smoldering fires, she would
give him a piece of her mind.

The men were still together when Melissy told her father good-night. If
she had known that a whisky bottle passed back and forth a good many times
in the course of the evening, the fears of the girl would not have been
lightened. She knew that in the somber moods following a drinking bout the
lawlessness of Beauchamp Lee was most likely to crop out.

As for the girl, now night had fallen--that wondrous velvet night of
Arizona, which blots out garish day with a cloak of violet, purple-edged
where the hills rise vaguely in the distance, and softens magically all
harsh details beneath the starry vault--she slipped out to the summit of
the ridge in the big pasture, climbing lightly, with the springy ease
born of the vigor her nineteen outdoor years had stored in the strong
young body. She wanted to be alone, to puzzle out what the coming of this
man meant to her. Had he intended anything by that last drawling remark of
his in the store? Why was it that his careless, half insulting familiarity
set the blood leaping through her like wine? He lured her to the sex duel,
then trampled down her reserves roughshod. His bold assurance stung her to
anger, but there was a something deeper than anger that left her flushed
and tingling.

Both men slept late, but Norris was down first. He found Melissy
superintending a drive of sheep which old Antonio, the herder, was about
to make to the trading-post at Three Pines. She was on her pony near the
entrance to the corral, her slender, lithe figure sitting in a boy's
saddle with a businesslike air he could not help but admire. The gate bars
had been lifted and the dog was winding its way among the bleating gray
mass, which began to stir uncertainly at its presence. The sheep dribbled
from the corral by ones and twos until the procession swelled to a swollen
stream that poured forth in a torrent. Behind them came Antonio in his
sombrero and blanket, who smiled at his mistress, shouted an "Adios,
senorita," and disappeared into the yellow dust cloud which the herd left
in its wake.

"How does Champ like being in the sheep business," Norris said to the

Melissy did not remove her eyes from the vanishing herd, but a slight
frown puckered her forehead. She chose to take this as a criticism of her
father and to resent it.

"Why shouldn't he be?" she said quietly, answering the spirit of his

"I didn't mean it that way," he protested, with his frank laugh.

"Then if you didn't mean it so, I shan't take it that way;" and her smile
met his.

"Here's how I look at this sheep business. Some ranges are better adapted
for sheep than cattle, and you can't keep Mary's little lamb away from
those places. No use for a man to buck against the thing that's bound to
be. Better get into the band-wagon and ride."

"That's what father thought," the girl confessed. "He never would have
been the man to bring sheep in, but after they got into the country he saw
it was a question of whether he was going to get the government reserve
range for his sheep, or another man, some new-comer like Mr. Morse, for
his. It was going to be sheep anyhow."

"Well, I'm glad your father took the chance he saw." He added
reminiscently: "We got to be right good friends again last night before we

She took the opening directly. "If you're so good a friend of his, you
must not excite him about Mr. Morse. You know he's a Southerner, and he
is likely to do something rash--something we shall all be sorry for

"I reckon that will be all right," he said evasively.

Her eyes swept to his. "You won't get father into trouble will you?"

The warm, affectionate smile came back to his face, so that as he looked
at her he seemed a sun-god. But again there was something in his gaze that
was not the frankness of a comrade, some smoldering fire that strangely
stirred her blood and yet left her uneasy.

"I'm not liable to bring trouble to those you love, girl. I stand by my

Her pony began to move toward the house, and he strode beside, as debonair
and gallant a figure as ever filled the eye and the heart of a woman. The
morning sun glow irradiated him, found its sparkling reflection in the
dark curls of his bare head, in the bloom of his tanned cheeks, made a fit
setting for the graceful picture of lingering youth his slim, muscular
figure and springy stride personified. Small wonder the untaught girl
beside him found the merely physical charm of him fascinating. If her
instinct sometimes warned her to beware, her generous heart was eager to
pay small heed to the monition except so far as concerned her father.

After breakfast he came into the office to see her before he left.

"Good-by for a day or two," he said, offering his hand.

"You're coming back again, are you?" she asked quietly, but not without a
deeper dye in her cheeks.

"Yes, I'm coming back. Will you be glad to see me?"

"Why should I be glad? I hardly know you these days."

"You'll know me better before we're through with each other."

She would acknowledge no interest in him, the less because she knew it was
there. "I may do that without liking you better."

And suddenly his swift, winning smile flashed upon her. "But you've got to
like me. I want you to."

"Do you get everything you want?" she smiled back.

"If I want it enough, I usually do."

"Then since you get so much, you'll be better able to do without my

"I'm going to have it too."

"Don't be too sure." She had a feeling that things were moving too fast,
and she hailed the appearance of her father with relief. "Good morning,
dad. Did you sleep well? Mr. Norris is just leaving."

"Wait till I git a bite o' breakfast and I'll go with you, Phil," promised
Lee. "I got to ride over to Mesa anyhow some time this week."

The girl watched them ride away, taking the road gait so characteristic of
the Southwest. As long as they were in sight her gaze followed them, and
when she could see nothing but a wide cloud of dust travelling across the
mesa she went up to her room and sat down to think it out. Something new
had come into her life. What, she did not yet know, but she tried to face
the fact with the elemental frankness that still made her more like a boy
than a woman. Sitting there before the looking-glass, she played absently
with the thick braid of heavy, blue-black hair which hung across her
shoulder to the waist. It came to her for the first time to wonder if she
was pretty, whether she was going to be one of the women that men desire.
Without the least vanity she studied herself, appraised the soft brown
cheeks framed with ebon hair, the steady, dark eyes so quick to passion
and to gaiety, the bronzed throat full and rounded, the supple, flowing
grace of the unrestrained body.

Gradually a wave of color crept into her cheeks as she sat there with her
chin on her little doubled hand. It was the charm of this Apollo of the
plains that had set free such strange thoughts in her head. Why should she
think of him? What did it matter whether she was good-looking? She shook
herself resolutely together and went down to the business of the day.

It was not long after midnight the next day that Champ Lee reached the
ranch. His daughter came out from her room in her night-dress to meet

"What kept you, Daddy?" she asked.

But before he could answer she knew. She read the signs too clearly to
doubt that he had been drinking.

Next: Hands Up

Previous: The Man With The Chihuahua Hat

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