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West Point To The Rescue

From: A Story Of The Outdoor West

It was understood that the sheriff should make a perfunctory defense
against the mob in order to "square" him with the voters at the election
soon to be held. But the word had been quietly passed that the bullets
of the prison guards would be fired over the heads of the attackers.
This assurance lent an added braggadocio to the Dutch courage of the
lynchers. Many of them who would otherwise have hung back distinguished
themselves by the enthusiasm which they displayed.

Bannister himself generaled the affair, detailing squads to batter down
the outer door, to guard every side of the prison, and to overpower the
sheriff's guard. That official, according to programme, appeared at a
window and made a little speech, declaring his intention of performing
his duty at whatever cost. He was hooted down with jeers and laughter,
and immediately the attack commenced.

The yells of the attackers mingled with the sound of the axe-blows and
the report of revolvers from inside the building. Among those nearest
to the door being battered down were Denver and the few men he had with
him. His plan offered merely a forlorn hope. It was that in the first
scramble to get in after the way was opened he and his friends might
push up the stairs in the van, and hold the corridor for as long as they
could against the furious mob.

It took less than a quarter of an hour to batter down the door, and
among the first of those who sprang across the threshold were Denver,
Missou, Frisco and their allies. While others stopped to overpower
the struggling deputies according to the arranged farce, they hurried
upstairs and discovered the cell in which their friends were fastened.

Frisco passed a revolver through the grating to McWilliams, and another
to Bannister. "Haven't got the keys, so I can't let y'u out, old hoss,"
he told the foreman. "But mebbe y'u won't feel so lonesome with these
little toys to play with."

Meanwhile Denver, a young giant of seventy-six inches, held the head of
the stairs, with four stalwart plainsmen back of him. The rush of many
feet came up pell-mell, and he flung the leaders back on those behind.

"Hold on there. This isn't a free-lunch counter. Don't you see we're
crowded up here already?"

"What's eating you? Whyfor, can't we come?" growled one of the foremost
nursing an injured nose.

"I've just explained to you, son, that it's crowded. Folks are prevalent
enough up here right now. Send up that bunch of keys and we'll bring
your meat to you fast enough."

"What's that? What's that?" The outlaw chief pushed his way through the
dense mob at the door and reached the stairway.

"He won't let us up," growled one of them.

"Who won't?" demanded Bannister sharply, and at once came leaping up the

"Nothing doing," drawled Frisco, and tossed him over the railing on to
the heads of his followers below.

They carried Bannister into the open air, for his head had struck the
newel-post in his descent. This gave the defense a few minutes respite.

"They're going to come a-shooting next time," remarked Denver. "Just as
soon as he comes back from bye-low land you'll see things hum."

"Y'u bet," agreed Missou. "We'll last about three minutes when the
stampede begins."

The scream of an engine pierced the night.

Denver's face lit. "Make it five minutes, Missou, and Mac is safe. At
least, I'm hoping so awful hard. Miss Helen wired for the militia from
Sheridan this nothing. Chances are they're on that train. I couldn't
tell you earlier because she made me promise not to. She was afraid it
might leak out and get things started sooner."

Weak but furious, the miscreant from the Shoshones returned to the
attack. "Break in the back door and sneak up behind on those fellows.
We'll have the men we want inside of fifteen minutes," he promised the

"We'll rush them from both sides, and show those guys on the landing
whether they can stop us," added Bostwick.

Suddenly some one raised the cry, "The soldiers!" Bannister looked up
the street and swore a vicious oath. Swinging down the road at double
time came a company of militia in khaki. He was mad with baffled fury,
but he made good his retreat at once and disappeared promptly into the
nearest dark alley.

The mob scattered by universal impulse; disintegrated so promptly that
within five minutes the soldiers held the ground alone, save for the
officials of the prison and Denver's little band.

A boyish lieutenant lately out of the Point, and just come in to
a lieutenancy in the militia, was in command. "In time?" he asked
anxiously, for this was his first independent expedition.

"Y'u bet," chuckled Denver. "We're right glad to see you, and I'll
bet those boys in the cage ain't regretting your arrival any. Fifteen
minutes later and you would have been in time to hold the funeral
services, I reckon."

"Where is Miss Messiter?" asked the young officer.

"She's at the Elk House, colonel. I expect some of us better drift over
there and tell her it's all right. She's the gamest little woman that
ever crossed the Wyoming line. Hadn't been for her these boys would have
been across the divide hours ago. She's a plumb thoroughbred. Wouldn't
give up an inch. All day she has generaled this thing; played a mighty
weak hand for a heap more than it was worth. Sand? Seh: she's grit clear
through, if anybody asks you." And Denver told the story of the
day, making much of her unflinching courage and nothing of her men's
readiness to back whatever steps she decided upon.

It was ten minutes past eleven when a smooth young, apple-cheeked lad in
khaki presented himself before Helen Messiter with a bow never invented
outside of West Point.

"I am Lieutenant Beecher. Governor Raleigh presents his compliments by
me, Miss Messiter, and is very glad to be able to put at your service
such forces as are needed to quiet the town."

"You were in time?" she breathed.

"With about five minutes to spare. I am having the prisoners brought
here for the night if you do not object. In the morning I shall
investigate the affair, and take such steps as are necessary. In
the meantime you may rest assured that there will be no further

"Thank you I am sure that with you in command everything will now be all
right, and I am quite of your opinion that the prisoners had better stay
here for the night. One of them is wounded, and ought to be given the
best attention. But, of course, you will see to that, lieutenant."

The young man blushed. This was the right kind of appreciation. He
wished his old classmates at the Point could hear how implicitly this
sweet girl relied on him.

"Certainly. And now, Miss Messiter, if there is nothing you wish, I
shall retire for the night. You may sleep with perfect confidence."

"I am sure I may, lieutenant." She gave him a broadside of trusting eyes
full of admiration. "But perhaps you would like me to see my foreman
first, just to relieve my mind. And, as you were about to say, his
friend might be brought in, too, since they are together."

The young man promptly assented, though he had not been aware that he
was about to say anything of the kind.

They came in together, Bannister supported by McWilliams's arm. The eyes
of both mistress and maid brimmed over with tears when they saw them.
Helen dragged forward a chair for the sheepman, and he sank into it.
From its depths he looked up with his rare, sweet smile.

"I've heard about it," he told her, in a low voice. "I've heard how
y'u fought for my life all day. There's nothing I can say. I owed y'u
everything already twice, and now I owe it all over again. Give me a
lifetime and I couldn't get even."

Helen's swift glance swept over Nora and the foreman. They were in a
dark alcove, oblivious of anybody else. Also they were in each other's
arms frankly. For some reason wine flowed into the cream of Helen's

"Do you have to 'get even'? Among friends is that necessary?" she asked

"I hope not. If it is, I'm sure bankrupt Even my thanks seem to stay at
home. If y'u hadn't done so much for me, perhaps I could tell y'u how
much y'u had done But I have no words to say it."

"Then don't," she advised.

"Y'u're the best friend a man ever had. That's all I can say."

"It's enough, since you mean it, even though it isn't true," she
answered gently.

Their eyes met, fastened for an instant, and by common consent looked

As it chanced they were close to the window, their shadows reflected on
the blind. A man, slipping past in the street on horseback, stopped
at sight of that lighted window, with the moving shadows, in an
uncontrollable white fury. He slid from the saddle, threw the reins
over the horse's head to the ground, and slipped his revolver from its
holster and back to make sure that he could draw it easily. Then he
passed springily across the road to the hotel and up the stairs. He trod
lightly, stealthily, and by his very wariness defeated his purpose
of eluding observation. For a pair of keen eyes from the hotel office
glimpsed the figure stealing past so noiselessly, and promptly followed
up the stairway.

"Hope I don't intrude at this happy family gathering."

Helen, who had been pouring a glass of cordial for the spent and wounded
sheepman, put the glass down on the table and turned at sound of the
silken, sinister voice. After one glance at the vindictive face, from
the cold eyes of which hate seemed to smolder, she took an instinctive
step toward her lover. The cold wave that drenched her heart accompanied
an assurance that the man in the doorway meant trouble.

His sleek smile arrested her. He was standing with his feet apart, his
hands clasped lightly behind his back, as natty and as well groomed as
was his wont.

"Ah, make the most of what ye yet may spend, Before ye, too, into the
Dust descend; Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie, Sans Wine, sans
Song, sans Singer, and--sans End!"

he misquoted, with a sneer; and immediately interrupted his irony to
give way to one of his sudden blind rages.

With incredible swiftness his right hand moved forward and up, catching
revolver from scabbard as it rose. But by a fraction of a second his
purpose had been anticipated. A closed fist shot forward to the salient
jaw in time to fling the bullets into the ceiling. An arm encircled the
outlaw's neck, and flung him backward down the stairs. The railing broke
his fall, and on it his body slid downward, the weapon falling from his
hand. He pulled himself together at the foot of the stairs, crouched for
an upward rush, but changed his mind instantly. The young officer who
had flung him down had him covered with his own six-shooter. He could
hear footsteps running toward him, and he knew that in a few seconds he
would be in the hands of the soldiers. Plunging out of the doorway, the
desperado vaulted to the saddle and drove his spurs home. For a minute
hoofs pounded on the hard, white road. Then the night swallowed him and
the echo of his disappearance.

"That was Bannister of the Shoshones and the Tetons," the girl's white
lips pronounced to Lieutenant Beecher.

"And I let him get away from me," the disappointed lad groaned. "Why, I
had him right in my hands. I could have throttled him as easy. But how
was I to know he would have nerve enough to come rushing into a hotel
full of soldiers hunting him?"

"Y'u have a very persistent cousin, Mr. Bannister," said McWilliams,
coming forward from the alcove with shining eyes. "And I must say he's
game. Did y'u ever hear the like? Come butting in here as cool as if he
hadn't a thing to do but sing out orders like he was in his own home. He
was that easy."

"It seems to me that a little of the praise is due Lieutenant Beecher.
If he hadn't dealt so competently with the situation murder would have
been done. Did you learn your boxing at the Academy, Lieutenant?" Helen
asked, trying to treat the situation lightly in spite of her hammering

"I was the champion middleweight of our class," Beecher could not help
saying boyishly, with another of his blushes.

"I can easily believe it," returned Helen.

"I wish y'u would teach me how to double up a man so prompt and
immediate," said the admiring foreman.

"I expect I'm under particular obligations to that straight right to
the chin, Lieutenant," chimed in the sheepman. "The fact is that I don't
seem to be able to get out anything except thanks these days. I ought
to send my cousin a letter thanking him for giving me a chance to owe so
much kindness to so many people."

"Your cousin?" repeated the uncomprehending officer.

"This desperado, Bannister, is my cousin," answered the sheepman

"But if he was your cousin, why should he want--to kill you?"

"That's a long story, Lieutenant. Will y'u hear it now?"

"If you feel strong enough to tell it."

"Oh, I'm strong enough." He glanced at Helen. "Perhaps we had better not
tire Miss Messiter with it. If y'u'll come to my room--"

"I should like, above all things, to hear it again," interrupted that
young woman promptly.

For the man she loved had just come back to her from the brink of the
grave and she was still reluctant to let him out of her sight.

So Ned Bannister told his story once more, and out of the alcove came
the happy foreman and Nora to listen to the tale. While he told it his
sweetheart's contented eyes were on him. The excitement of the night
burnt pleasantly in her veins, for out of the nettle danger she had
plucked safety for her sheepman.

Next: Two Cases Of Discipline

Previous: Playing For Time

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